Friday, April 19, 2013

Destinations: You Can't Get There from Here

Your cell telephone carries an application called a GPS, a global positioning system, which offers to guide you from one destination to another.  You've begun to use this device with some regularity, , representing a gradual change in you.  Often, you'd rely on what you'd call instinct or memory or perhaps feel.

One event in particular pushed you over the edge.  Although your friends, Steve and Melinda Beisner, live a scant ten miles from where you used to live on Hot Springs Road, you habitually got lost driving there when invited to social events, causing you frustration and your late wife considerable irritation.  The problem aspect of the journey was your impression of their street being below rather than above Foothill Road, an error in perception a GPS device or a street map would have corrected with little effort.

Your persistence in cruising the streets below Foothill only added to your frustration and Anne's mounting irritation.

You find it difficult not to trust your memory or instinct or feel in such matters.  The difficulty in not trusting instinct seems somehow offensive to you if you have any reason at all to believe you know a thing on some instinctive or muscle memory basis.  When you became lost after one wrong right-hand turn recently in Santa Fe, you had no memory or instinct to go on, pulled off to one side immediately, parked, and consulted a GPS device on your phone, and were heading in a profitable course within a matter of minutes.  You mention this to demonstrate the times when you do over rely on memory and the times when logic tells you to seek some informative device right now.

In some growing probability, there are devices of one sort or another to use when you lose your direction in a dramatic narrative.  Of course, there is the original GPS prototype, the Poetics of Aristotle,  Here, you'll find most of the basic dramatic elements, set forth in ways to guide you toward the escape routes for traffic snarls, the sense of setting, and the introduction and descriptions of relevant features.  In a sense, Poetics is a travel guide to the dramatic landscape.

After a number of years studying these Aristotelian concepts, then moving to such excellent modern variations as E. M. Forrester's Aspects of the Novel, you had some reason to believe you could find your way by instinct or memory, writing furiously and doing so as a sort of prototype of your early attempts to find the home of the Beisners without getting lost.  All you had to do is remember to go beyond foothill.  Their street parallels Foothill, but it does so north of rather than south of Foothill.

Although nothing connected with writing is as simple and straightforward as remembering to keep driving north of Foothill Road, you have at times felt yourself relying on similar advice.  But writing is no landscape to be plumbed or divined with a GPS.  Writing wants instinct and memory and feel.  Writing wants you to have the awareness of your frustration in trying to find the Beisner home and as well it wants you to have the irritation with you Anne felt as you with maddening consistency failed to find the Beisner home.

From time to time, you get flashes of life as it is lived in Reality, needing spurring from similar irritation and frustration, if only to remind you that ordinary is boring, tending to be even more painful in its ordinariness as finding your way in fiction or, indeed, finding your way to the Beisner's.

How mistaken it is to think of the times spent learning such basic techniques as the scene, dialogue, point-of-view, and rising action without paying heed to the amount of time you spent scouting out the terrain and making it your own.

You've been to Santa Fe, New Mexico and Salt Lake City, Utah, about the same number of times.  Although you have some affinity for Utah landscape, Santa Fe greatly intrigues you beyond the neat, ordered symmetry of SLC.  Santa Fe is an impossible garble of streets, cow paths, and roads, one of, if not the oldest of North American cities.  You also like the notion that some of the grids here where you live were meted and plotted and mapped by at least one surveyor given over to excessive drinking.

A GPS can get you through traffic, but it cannot get you through life or, least of all, story.  With all due respect to Salt Lake City, you don't wish your stories to have that precision and engineered symmetry.  Nor do you have all that much against symmetry or neatness and orderliness.  You wish to get lost in story and essay.  You wish to flounder and founder and meander.

You have long since been able to find your way to the Beisner's.  You are happy to say you cannot for the life of you approach your work with the same measure of confidence.

When you get to the Beisner's, a beer or margarita is waiting for you.  When you get to the
true locale of a story, satisfaction and wonderment await you, and the knowledge that the next time you set forth, the going will remind you more of Santa Fe than it will of Salt Lake City.

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