Wednesday, July 24, 2013

R.S.V.P., Regrets, and Dramatic Subtext

The invitation has the design and presentation of well-thought professionalism, and a cordial, conversational text.  After the time, date, and place of the event, there is the final commentary:  regrets only.

This is a step away from the more standard, RSVP, which is in effect asking the invitee--you in this case--to please let us know if you're coming.  Respondez sil vous plait.

Regrets only takes matters to more nuanced levels.  The most conventional meaning to be had  is a question: Are you sorry not to be able to attend this event?  

Looking at the invitation, its promise of a pleasurable event, and its kindness in the hope that you will appear and in consequence contribute to the pleasurableness of the event, you are made aware of the codes of civility, politeness, and protocol necessary to maintain a culture.  

If you are unable to attend the event, politeness and consideration for the host place upon you the burden of conveying your sorrow at not being able to attend.  But are you really sorry?  Is there the possibility you are sorry to have been invited in the first place, putting you in the position of the euphemisms of "fib" or "white lie" of regret.  Are you in fact relieved to have a previous engagement or commitment which allows you to send your regrets?

Such spectrums of nuance and possibility remind you of times where, when asked to RSVP, you were able to respond in the now dated language and verb tense, Shelly Lowenkopf accepts the invitation to dine or to celebrate or to watch two remarkable persons exchange vows or to watch one person graduate from some extended program of study and learning.  

You recall times when you were even moved to accept the invitation with alacrity, or those more special times when you were able to accept the kind invitation with alacrity because of your admiration for the person or persons extending the invitation and your anticipation of time in their company for whatever ritual, be it something as unmomentous as a pot luck supper.

Regret is a human condition well suited to dramatic interpretation, thanks to its power as a motivational force.  In real life, we regret things done and things left undone.  Sometimes the mere thought of your own behavior in a remembered event triggers the potential for a story, which becomes in effect your way of revising, editing the real event, getting some satisfaction of shepherding an invented character through what was once your own naivete, bad judgement, or, worse yet, hubris.

You join others in regretting things said and done to us in addition to things we have said and done.  This sense of regret is key in constructing characters who are setting forth to redress some words or deeds they may have committed, thus the driving force is atonement.  On the other pole, there is the possibility of a character acting to exact symbolic or actual revenge for real or imagined torts committed against them.

When you hear the word regret, used in some formal way, you begin an immediate line of questioning.  "We regret to inform you..."  Do you?, you wonder.  Whoever you are, do you really regret the information you're giving me?  Are you sorry about your having denied me some request?  Is your regret sincere?

You have no regrets about reckoning a number of friends to whom you can extend invitations or they you, where the responses are as conversational and straightforward as, "Aw, jeez, I can't," or, "Consider me there."  In such cases, there is often another question going along with the ritual of invitation and acceptance, "Can I bring anything?"

Sometimes such questions bring surprising results and consequences.  On one occasion, you recall asking if you could being something, thinking a few bottles of wine or some ale or perhaps even a bottle of rum, only to be told, "Potato salad."  This seemed simple enough.  The delicatessens you thought to apply for potato salad had what you considered lackluster potato salad.  Driven by a heady combination of wanting to do well by your hosts and by your own sense of self, you embarked on a process of making--and throwing away--enough types of potato salad to make you reevaluate your entire concept of it.  After consulting recipes, now lost to you, you prepared a large quantity of what you considered remarkable potato salad.

When the event was over, although your potato salad had been at least fifty percent depleted, you had considerable remains to work on.  Even good potato salad becomes boring after a time and thus, by day three, you began adding things to it, the most significant thing of all being sardines.  There was some magical chemistry you've never been able to duplicate, except that now, when someone asks you if they can bring anything or you are the asker, you have the memory of that potato-salad-with-sardines taste.

Thoughts of regret make you aware of the importance it has played in your life and your thinking about stories.  One of the more memorable novels to read relative to regret is Thomas Hardy's stunning novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, which is about a hundred twenty-five years old, and yet still has one of the most compelling opening chapters of a novel yet produced.  Regret for behavior exhibited in that opening chapter inform the balance of the novel.

You regret many things, not so many as the things that give you some sense of purpose and pleasure, but enough to realize these things, these regrettable incidents, both in terms of things done by you and things done to you, supply you with an array of story that move past you like the ancient herds of migrating buffalo.

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