Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Who's in Charge: Power in Writing and Life

Somehow, thoughts of the Dylan Thomas poem, "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower" came to your mind, as you were looking at the manuscript of a client.  At first, you could not see the reason why the poem should come to you although, given the nature of the manuscript at the moment, you were pleased for the distraction.

The process of association and connection is often dreamlike, linking things in symbols or codes, providing you the sort of mystery you so often sought without realizing it when you were younger and attracted to secret code rings, elaborate text codes, invisible ink (try lemon juice, for one example), and the still sensual pleasure of "beating" a crossword puzzle.

In this case, you came to realize the Dylan Thomas poem was telling you what the manuscript--quite good up to the point where you began to wander--wanted.  The manuscript wanted a clearer focus on power, where the power came from, which way it was headed, who had it, how it was being used, how the protagonist had to learn the marital arts technique of diverting it to the direction he wished it to take.

All story is in effect a coil, wrapped about the armature of intent.  In some cases, the power is in the possession of convention, other times the elders, still other times the ruling classes.  The better stories define power by objectifying it. investing a person or thing with the power, giving the protagonist a tangible opponent.

Charles Hickman Titus, a favored professor of political science, once made a remark you remember still:  "Whenever two or more persons gather, there you find lurking in the background the politics of power."  This observation led you to consider personal politics, helping you inch along your way toward your own goal of being able to tell a story.

Your own interest in such personal uses of power led you through the corridors and lecture rooms of the social sciences buildings at UCLA, essaying courses in anthropology, sociology, and political science, the latter of which edged out anthropology as your academic minor.  

Politics excite, intrigue, frustrate, and inspire you, all excellent qualities, you reckon, to help you achieve your stated goal of a growing understanding of the dynamic of story.

Many of your earlier, plot-driven ventures had scenes in which there was at least one reversal of power, the metaphoric turning of the tide against, the gradual strengthening of the tide for.  Which character has and with conscious deliberation exerts power over another?  

Are there--can there be--benevolent dictators?  Where is the power within a democracy?  What of all the endless permutations and variations on the theme of "Who's in charge?"

In direct opposition to your attempts at greater self-control, certain things have power over you, causing you to understand you are indeed no ascetic, no Buddhist or renunciate.  You often participate in a ritual of which you've become quite fond, the Homa fire, a Vedic ritual in which Agni, the god of fire, is evoked, offered a tasty snack, flowers, water, sandalwood paste, and the like.  In Agni's fiery presence, the fire of Brahman, the ineffable aspect of divinity, is evoked further.  As a part of the ritual, you offer up thoughts, actions, intentions.  "May all this,"  the recitative goes, "be an offering to Brahman."

Good luck on that, your seriousness and intentions sincere notwithstanding.  Things do have power over you.  They distract you.  Pretty difficult, for instance, to hear J.S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavichord and not be absorbed by it, away from whatever you might have been doing and into deeply felt emotional connections with it.  The same holds true for many varieties of music.  Don't mention the lure of fountain pens, or pasta with clam sauce or shirts or books or note pads.  You have no trouble knowing what to give yourself for any and all gift-giving occasions or occasional splurges.

This list of things fails to include living things, your close chum, Sally, your friends, students, men and women who are your peers, your elders, your juniors, all of whom you have some sort of crush on.  If none of these had power over you, you'd have invented it and given it to them as, indeed, you have, voluntarily and involuntarily delegated power to persons, places, and things.

Only this morning, you were discussing with a student the continuing power the city of Los Angeles exerts over you, although you have not lived there since 1974, speaking of which, the place where you have lived since 1974 exerts a daily power over you, even at those precise moments when you encounter some seeming obstacle of epic proportions.

You thought of some of this briefly when you went to the Mac Store in search of a power cord for an appliance, when you saw a news item about a power outage, and when someone remarked that green was a power color for you.

In one way or another, you think about power the way you think about sex or any of the other emotional and/or physical appetites.  You hope it shows in you, your stories, your narratives, your communications.

A few weeks ago, you sat before an audience at a bookstore in Malibu, about to improvise a presentation on what your new book was about and how you'd been motivated to write it.  At your right was a table on which a potfull of chrysanthemums rested.  

Seated in the audience, a dear old pal, Lizzie, who suggestged to the master of ceremonies that she move the pot lest your gestures collide with it to the discomfort of the pot and you.  Lizzie's observations were apt, an observation of the power that surrounds and sometimes invades you, and which you would mourn with severity were it to depart.

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