Monday, April 1, 2013

Your Story: The Landscape of the Absurd

Your story--the story you more often than not care to read and attempt to craft from your own invention--resides in one or more individuals attempting some activity that seems innocent and harmless enough.  You could stop your description right there because, by your reckoning, you have the classic recipe for story:  One or more persons want something.

In actual fact, you did stop at that point so far as crafting your own narratives was concerned.  Your good fortune lay in your addiction to reading in all genera and in all historical levels, extending as far back as Gilgamesh, and extending to such recent ones as William Gass's Middle C, and the latest collection of stories from Alice Munro.  Sooner or later, the effect of your readings merged with your attempts at writing, forcing upon you the information that your original concept, though sound in dramatic terms, lacked the kinds of nuance and dimension you'd come to prefer.

You like to think the novel-length The Golden Ass, written by Lucius Apuleius sometime before the year 200 of the Common Era, and in all probability the first full-length novel extant, was the beginning of your conversion.  Presented to you as an undergraduate by a favored professor, Claude Jones, The Golden Ass gave you your first hint of how you might do the equivalent of what James Joyce did with Ulysses.  You mention Ulysses because you admired the way Joyce had framed it against a classic, The Odyssey, and made it possible to enjoy both his "version" and the original as independent entities and yet even more significant if one were aware of the similarity.

It was your hope to modernize The Golden Ass by having its protagonist no longer the wannabe magician/sorcerer of the original but rather an athletic coach whose profession had him transforming so-so athletes into more motivated players.  Using his techniques on himself, he "is transformed" into an ass.  Much of this was the outgrowth of a revenge fantasy based on a The Golden Ass as a frame still holds attraction for you to the point where the protagonist has morphed into a psychiatrist.  The original targets of your "vision" have been granted emeritus status, one in fact a retired gym teacher, the other long since married to a dentist in Studio City, your revenge fantasy morphed into a fond and amused memory of you at age twenty.

Framing has also brought you back to Joyce and Ulysses with a project that has seen more actual work, with portions of it published.  In brief, an actor, returns home to Santa Barbara after having played in a long, off-Broadway run of Troilus and Cressida, thus he is  Odysseus in modern metaphor, returning home from a dramatic rendition of the Trojan Wars.  Much of the connection for this framing came when you realized the possibility you'd been working on this connection without realizing it.  Without too much of a stretch, Odysseus' name can be translated to "a man of many turns."  Your protagonist, long before you saw the connection, is called Matthew Bender.

The point here is that an individual setting forth to attempt something can be linear and one-dimensional unless it is done against a background of some sort.  One such background could be stated as "An individual sets forth to attempt something quite innocent, perhaps benign, perhaps even something of an altruistic nature, only to have his or her motives wildly misinterpreted.  In attempts to extricate from the situation, the individual makes things even more fraught with absurdity, being drawn in, through the looking glass into a world where solutions and behavior run on a different set of physics.  This tug between two conflicting visions is a mash-up of Hawthorne and Kafka.

Your landscape nods to Lewis Carrol and Edward Lear, its terrain filled with denizens who are driven by purpose and a near cheerful eagerness to pursue that purpose.

Your entry into that landscape begins with you selecting surrogates to pursue goals that seem simple enough to them.  Fortunate for these surrogates, you believe there is some hope, some sense of connectedness; this is a world of potential for loneliness but as well a possibility of finding someone who not only says Yes, I see, but someone who in all likelihood does in fact see.

Thus your story, scrolling along from its early visions, trying and in some cases succeeding in finding a comfort zone in the landscape of chaos and rabbits, consulting gold pocket watches.

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