Thursday, May 2, 2013

Stasis, Story, and Gravy Stains

Life and story have in common the fact of them each being a thread of instances.  The departure toward story begins when instances become incidents, the more planned the better for the story at hand.

Life on occasion has instances that morph into incidents.  Then, much of life seems to center around those incidents, whether they are health related, say the discovery of a disease, or relationship related, say the initiation of one or the dissolution of one.  Life may also present with no warning such incidents as loss of job, the sudden death or removal from one's immediate circle of a close relative or associate.

True to its form, the instances and incidents in life are often less structured than story, seeming to come from nowhere, with neither forewarning nor previous planning.

Story plays the impressive and showy trick of yanking a tablecloth from under a set-up of dishes, glasses, condiment trays, and serving utensils, a sudden, dramatic snap that leaves the implements in place and the performer acknowledging prowess and precision by virtue of the table linen, now dangling in his or her hand.

Stasis is a deadly enemy to story and to life.  When stasis appears in story, the reader sets the book down, perhaps never to return.  If the reader has thumbed and paged ahead to see if there are any "better" places, say a return to story elements, and found no traces, the return to the book is not at all a likelihood.

Sometimes we seek the stasis of certain events in life that have the same effect as a puppy gnawing and tugging at our cuff or shoe.  We give these time-outs various names such as distraction, hobby, entertainment, and even vacation, knowing we are bound to return after a time with the sense of certainty and inevitability the reader does not entertain when confronting stasis.

On occasion, when life seems to go static, you give serious consideration to reading, knowing from a lifelong experience that there is somewhere some material to transport you not only away from the static surroundings in which you'd become moored, but also to a place quite remarkable in setting, historical landscape, and its stream of individuals cause up at the very least in incidents of someone else's doing if not their own.  On other occasions, you venture into that part of your personal landscape where the urge to create a structured narrative is kept.  You take it out, shake away any potential cobwebs or crumbs, then in a metaphoric way, use it as a tablecloth on which to place settings, glasses, bottles, condiments, implements, and individuals who approach those settings with differing degrees of expectation.

All the while you are setting this table, you are not consciously thinking about yanking the tablecloth in a grand sweep of gesture.  But you are adding dishes, glasses, silverware, and the like with the understanding that there must be some grand, sweeping gesture somewhere along the way, some attempt to demonstrate dexterity and bravado.  Somewhere along the way, notions are beginning to form, letting you know and understand to the fullest how, why, and where this intended bravado will fail.  And you will wonder no longer why you felt the urge to add of all things a gravy boat, nor indeed will you be surprised to discover the gravy boat brimful.  You'll have felt the itch to have at least two characters wearing crisp, starched white shirt or blouse, perhaps one from each gender.

With stasis removed, a persistent sense of crescendo begins to build, a throughline of inevitability.  You understand the destiny awaiting the crisp white shirt and blouse, the effect on the wearers of the trail of gravy.  You amuse yourself thinking how modern detective stories have introduced specialists in blood spatter, the consequences of someone being shot.  You begin to devote serious focus to the splatter patters of gravy.

All you need now is the sense of origin of the tablecloth being yanked, who will do the yanking, what will the metaphor become when translated to dramatic event.

These are matters attacking you the way a hatching of summer fleas board a long-haired dog.  The world about you begins to fade, becomes less impersonal and more deterministic, where event triggers event, where a show-off trick becomes a propellant, sending a destabilizing event into orbit.

Some of the gravy is sure to get yo you.  You are wearing a crisp white shirt, but you don't care. You're not one for crisp white shirts in real life, only when you're caught up in your studied avoidance of stasis.

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