Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole

Some years ago, never mind how many, you were seated in Royce Hall, more or less the domain of the English Department at University of California, Los Angeles.  Before you, at the lectern, was a man who was in fact chairperson of that English Department, in full presentation of a writer who'd aroused your interest and curiosity.

"How did the little girl get into the rabbit hole?"  the lecturer asked, looking about him at his students, nodding, even bringing his pudgy hands together for the drama of a single clap.  He appeared before you more as a character from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland than the chair of a prestigious English Department.

To this day, the expression "down the rabbit hole" remains a favored vision of entry into another world, one even less rational than those you  haunt during normal times.  You often think of going to one of your teaching jobs as "going down the rabbit hole" because of the administrators and faculty, the saving graces being the students.  

The expression has great resonance for you, thus, this past Friday evening, when you heard the keynote speaker at the writers' conference you attended, use the expression, you were immediately drawn to the lip of hers and, because she spoke with such honesty and clarity, drawn down it with her as she spoke.

The rabbit hole into which Alice fell was a keystone of all rabbit holes.  Over the years since its use, the rabbit hole has become a symbol for the gateway or portal into the other world of the satirist, the fantasy writer, the historical writer.  Any number of writers you follow or their stories you've read have portals that lead the reader into their own world. 

 Any number of times, you've realized you were entering the alternate world you created for yourself, a world that would evoke for you and, in hopeful anticipation, readers who followed you.  This alternate world of yours would evoke through comparison a satirical or sympathetic vision, perhaps even a dystopian one, but this is how story works.  

Story prompts readers to decode events and things, takes them places they would not go under ordinary circumstances, as in, say, Karen Russell's compelling Swamplandia, then causes them to wonder how to get back.

Many of us who write story began with the notion to change the world, which is impossible.  The world has its own agendas and say in the matter.  But we can make a dent in the way persons use their imagination and in the way we use our own imagination.  

We can encode and decode within our own imagination, both hiding and exposing our fantasy life, all the while considering moral and ethical subtext in our out-of-the-rabbit-hole lives.

You think nothing of falling down a rabbit hole when you enter a story, greeting the array of individuals who come forth out of your imagination to pester and cajole you with their version of how the events should be presented.  Even when the work is to be represented by ideas and statements rather than persons, the rabbit hole sends forth notions, concepts, arcs of logic, and examples of real persons doing real things and story persons doing rabbit-hole things.

Questions to consider:  
Are you down a rabbit hole with yourself?
Are you down a rabbit hole with another?
What things should you take with you?
What things ought you to leave behind?
Should you bring the coffee?

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