Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Speaking of and to ah-ha moments

 There are times when your composition sessions are the literary equivalent of bird watching for a particular type of bird or a butterfly hunter's quest for a specific species.  You are in effect stalking an ah ha-moment, hoping to trap it in the net of your imagination, then bring it to a page in your notebook or some file on your computer's harddrive.

Birds, butterflies, and ah ha-moments are in flight everywhere you look.  Men, women, and children all about you are bringing them in.  A friend of a friend even brought in three four-leaf clovers gleaned from an afternoon's walk.

The higher up the chain of collectible things you go, you reach a point where you move from the tangible bird or butterfly or four-leaf-clover to the more ethereal thing, the idea, the embodiment of a what-if question posed to the Cosmos.  Such quests may provide you in time with tangible solutions to problems, discoveries of near genius.  They may also lead you to the end point of your time for composition, your allotted time for capturing words, concepts, missions, agendas, ideas, when in fact you have nothing to show for your search.  If you were another type of hunter or fisher, you'd either go hungry or eat Plan B, some canned or dried substitute for the sought after goal, be it bird, fish, or some form of mammal.  In either case, whether you'd dined on Plan B or skipped dinner, you'd feel incomplete and thus frustrated, your demeanor tinged with frustration and disappointment.

Finding an ah-ha moment produces a range of tangible excitement and expectation; you are at once energized and aware of some transcendent force now humming within you, allowing you to see the universe much in the manner an astronaut is able to step outside a space vehicle, literally on the rim of a perspective rarely experienced by humans.

Friends who are artists rush to sketch or draw their moment.  Musicians set down in recognizable symbols the thematic sound.  You have words in your toolkit.  You rush to use words to make the ah-ha moment as specific as possible before it fades from your vision.

Your own approach to such matters is to think the moment in however many directions the moment appears to have.  Get as much of it down as you can, neither overthinking the matter nor pausing to recast impressions.  You want a loose document, as complete as you know to expect under these first-tier circumstances.  Fuelled by the excitement and energy of the material, you get as much as possible, continuing during the days to come to get date in however manner you are able, because this is a prospective project.  There is neither guarantee not reason behind the project, it simply for the moment is.

At some point, if you listen closely, the material will begin to talk to you, a paragraph here suggesting a scene there, a detail suggesting an atmospheric event or souvenir.  There could, you begin to understand, be something exciting to you embedded within the project.  You might even have a sense of where and how the something of excitement will present itself.

Days later, you reach a point where you seem to be repeating material you've set down before.  Some of the description or background begins to appear unuseful to you.  The editing process has begun to visit you, wanting your attention.  You give it, aware you have rarely felt so alone, so uncertain about this project.

You've reached one of the most trying times, where you only need to develop a purposeful and effective beginning, middle, and some form of closure.  You need to do this with the only tools in your kit, words.

The whole of what you've learned by doing resides within you as you search for structure, pacing, point-of-view.  Now you begin to think in other ways, the ways of technique and narrative integrity.

Alas, you have only words to help, but as you read what you've set down, you find you've been more formal than you intended, too defensive, perhaps too remote in ways that now seem to compromise the entire project.  Another time through and the material is beginning to resonate a familiar force within you, the force of aptness, of turning both you and it inside out.  You are doing this all with a matter of vocabulary, a few punctuation devices, and a good bit of the alchemy of words as they blend together to form more than mere sentences and paragraphs, rather to form characters, intentions, places, and things.

True to habit and practice, you set the material aside for a time, allowing it to give up its secrets good and evil.

Now you are back to it, curious, caught up in its implicit and explicit themes and story.  Words leap out at you like snarling mosquitoes at a Midwestern picnic.  To be sure, there are numerous right words and effects, but for the moment, you begin to wonder if language has betrayed you.  Haven't you in fact used language to bring down a noble feeling and a first-rate project?

This is a curious and important time, where you are placing your craft on the line in all probability offered you because you did well enough in a previous project.  This is your payoff for doing good previous work, but that was it.  That was then, a wonderful then, where you felt power as you've not felt it before.  You felt power whereby you could make the last project sing out in glorious counterpoint.  But not this one.

You are chastened, humbled, perhaps even a bit frightened at the way words you were so secure about appear to have deserted you.

Now, you are a tad past the halfway mark, thinking how you cannot let this project meet betrayal.  You find a place to strike a word, another place to transport sentences, still another way of having a character say something that causes you to believe the character is after all real and the venture has some possibility.

As for the venture, splendid though it still is, perhaps you are expecting too much from it, but there is a way about it you find compelling, and surely one more time of close reading cannot possibly hurt.

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