Friday, July 5, 2013

The Storyteller Hidden in the Attic

A GPS tracking device takes its abbreviated name from Global Positioning System.  It is a way of  finding an efficient path from one location to another, thanks to some help from satellites orbiting the earth.  Before you had access to such devices on your iPhone, you relied on Google maps.  Before that, thanks to a boyhood fondness to road maps once given as a courtesy to customers of gasoline stations, and before that, to map reading, the one subject in which you excelled during the classes in ROTC you were required to take while an undergraduate.

With that as backstory, you were  not used being lost for long.  You might become disoriented, momentarily at sea, but not for long.  Even then, although you had the ultimate resource of asking for directions, you acted out the behavior attributed to most of your gender, a process it is charitable to call finding your way by the seat of your pants, or instinct.  A boy thing.

Now, thanks to your iPhone, the Maps application, and the Siri application, you use your home location as a default (which can be changed with ease for starting out from someplace other than home), and your intended destination,  A few taps and you are soon guided by the no-nonsense monotone of the Siri application, telling you to proceed for five hundred years before you turn right or left at X Street or Avenue.  This process literally talks you through the turns, alleys, and intersections between you and your destination.

The process is so simple that it inspires you to wonder what it would be like to have a similar application to guide you through some of the turns, roundabouts, passenger lanes, and on-ramps of reality.  You also find yourself wondering if that were the case, would you in some kind of notional or gender-based hard wiring, ignore those directions, preferring to rely on your instincts.

Having thought this far about potential updates on your iPhone GPS applications, you cannot resist thinking about the future time when GPS would guide you through stories you were working on, providing you, as your present GPS devices do, potential alternate routes to physical locations.  Aha, you tell yourself, you'd type in a few basics of your story, then look for a charted out array of potential routes to closure and the emotional state you'd most like the story to evoke in the reader.

 To your credit, you without exception find closure to such speculations by rejecting any kind of mechanical intervention or even help.  One thing for an editor or your agent to suggest something is not clear or overdone or even unnecessary in the extreme, but being told the same thing by a damned iPhone application is too damned much for your gadget-friendly compulsiveness to accept, even in speculative fantasy.

The truth of the matter is that you want and hope to be lost in your stories, even the nonfiction narratives, even in these vagrant blog essays.  You want to get beyond the recognizable landmarks and into Terra incognita.  You want to be lost enough so that the seat-of-the-pants instincts on which you hope to rely are at first sending you WTF messages, Oliver Hardy messages of "Another fine mess you've gotten us into" sorts because you are more interested in unthinkable solutions rather than the most direct approach.

Originality is not a matter of something no one has thought of before.  Chances are, in one way or another, most things have been thought of, a view that is not cynical in the least.  Originality is using an unexpected route to achieve the desired destination.  The GPS will take you from one tangible place to another, sometimes with a kind of dismissive, "Your destination is on your right in five hundred feet."  This may work for finding a restaurant or a residence or a place where you're supposed to give a lecture or be the principal at a book signing, but this is not the kind of closure you want to the circumstances you try to define in your composing modes.

For some weeks in recent times, you've found yourself thinking about the burn ratio, the number of drafts to get a scene, the number of pages to arrive at a keepable page, the number of alternate route you think through or live through or write through to arrive at closure.  A few years ago, when you were most focused on short stories, you made the discovery that the ending or resolution you sought was not always satisfying, leading you to re-think what endings and closure meant to you, leading to additional realizations about how important it is to leave the party while the party is still at a high enough emotional pitch.

So far as you're concerned, embarking on a work is the equivalent of a journey.  You may think you have the destination firm in your vision, but the more you get into the terrain, you might even realize that you have to change your default beginning, a fact that should suggest to you that the ending could be different.  Your goal is to get lost, to become distracted or preoccupied, or worse, frightened.  Often this state and location is a steroidal leap of understanding--this is where you begin, lost, disoriented, thinking you know the destination and the most interesting if not the most direct way of arriving there.

The GPS is the first thing you turn off, opting instead for the same state you inflict, knowingly or not, on your characters--vulnerability.  Now, you are picking up transmissions from the you who is the fabricator, the unreliable narrator, the storyteller you keep hidden in the attic.

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