Friday, August 23, 2013

Despair

 When persons in real life become desperate, they often resort to prayer, meditation, or some ritual in which they attempt to enlist the assistance of a larger force outside themselves.

Despair brings a different kind of response to characters in story; they may well pray, meditate, or offer a chicken to the likes of the Oracle of Delphi.  They may burn ghee lamps and offer a flower to some aspect of the godhead or chant a mantra, but they also devise a plan, then embark on implementing it.

Some persons in real life are active as well as contemplative.  There are a number of ways to consider and judge such individuals, but you find it a better use of time considering characters who respond to desperate circumstances, situations where most if not all hope is gone, with some kind of plan, however risky or notional.

These are the individuals in real life and fiction you find the most interesting, their ratio of interest increasing in your estimation to the degree that their plan or effort after prayer or meditation or some other kind of offering has originality, even to the point of brashness.

The term "chutzpah" comes into play here, that amalgam of audacity, imaginativeness, and even insolence.  Chutzpah, particularly in the face of despair, is humanity's best hope, the refusal to be daunted, the willingness to stand up to the Fates in the manner of the protesters who stood up against the tanks in Tiannamen Square.  It is also the true artist, standing against convention to present a vision that seems fresh, pure, and sincere.

When the door is opened for despair in story, there is the small crack in the cement of convention through which a flower can volunteer, an idea can emerge, a vision can be discovered.  The worse the despair, the greater the potential for one stunning vision or discovery that will return some modicum of hope to the picture.  

Standing up against despair with a plan of action is no guarantee of a successful ending.  We've suffered through too many stories that had to have a happy ending in order to satisfy some convention or philosophy or psychology, at the same time seeing that some ideas, however good they seemed at the time, weren't good enough to snatch victory from the hungry jaws of the jungle.  It is in fact a jungle out there, one we add to in our own stronger moments.

But look at the dynamic.  In Snow White, the poisoned apple given Snow White by the witch is so virulent that it not only kills her, its very power keeps the apple from being further ingested, thus its effects can be cured with a kiss from the prince.  

Don't try this if you're not sincere.  And desperate for an outcome other than the one you are presented with.  Look at those two love-struck kids, Romeo and Juliet.  Took a tremendous risk, then another, then another.  Thirty-six hours later, they were dead.

You want characters who stand up to despair, once it has been thrust on them.  You don't want them too willing to put everything off to faith in some larger thing that they lack some edge of chutzpah, some plan, some Teflon coating of audacity they take forth into their plan to come through as much intact as possible.

Despair is a challenging thing, a changing thing.  True despair can be life changing.  You neither want nor like smart-ass winners or losers.  You prefer characters who understand the effects of risk and loss, who see the probabilities clashing and colliding all about them.  You want characters who appreciate dignity, will sacrifice illusions to achieve it, understanding all the while that most settlements are negotiated.

In your own negotiations with cancer, you'd seen ways to proceed.  You took the one that said no to the conventions of chemo and radiation.  A past experience with a sudden anomaly in your autoimmune system made the risk seem something you could play with audacity if not chutzpah.  This was certainly not you making a medical decision because it seemed to you the circumstances spoke to the equivalent of a moot court argument.

This was you, making the kind of decision you'd expect from characters you've only just begun to dream about.

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