Friday, September 13, 2013


In an existential sort of way, a story can be regarded as a legal document, where one or more of the characters are primaries in a battle of ethics, resources, and politics, waged against the entire cosmos.

Staying with this theoretical approach to story, the characters are the defendants.  But the true antagonists are not so easy to define.  They are representatives of forces in opposition to the defendants; that part is clear enough because a story needs opposition.  And what would legal matters be without contested visions of what is fair and equitable?

Yet protagonist winning out against antagonist does not tell the entire story.  The cosmos itself, with its long, slow, troglodyte's presence, is the true opponent, the one we often fail to notice when we become so involved in a story of our own or someone else's creation that we fail to see the issue, reduced to its basics.

The enemy is the system, the one the protagonists are told by parents or relatives or teachers or by conventional wisdom to be unbeatable.  Your own sympathy is quickly assigned to the characters in story and the men and women and children in real life who are taking one more--perhaps a final--fling against convention, conventional wisdom, and tradition.

In law, conventional wisdom is given the Latinate name stare decisis, code (and Latin) for previous precedent.  Thus the system that cannot be beat has significant, seemingly impenetrable tradition behind it.  This makes the case against the wilful character seem even more impossible.  The deck is stacked.  The game is rigged.  The odds favor the house.

No wonder we find courtroom drama so fascinating.  No wonder our sympathy is with the underdog.  No wonder we are so willing to accept that the contestant will crash in ways more spectacular than those iconic crashes of Wile E. Coyote.  Less wonder still is our almost dislike and distrust of those who, even in story, give up against the inevitable sense that the cosmos will win.  Even if the character effects a miracle, the cosmos will find a way to leave a parking ticket on his windshield as a last-minute reminder of who the boss really is here.

Your own tendency is to root for the Coyote, in spite of his or her terrible resume of defeat and humiliation, his or her decision to live on the margin of convention rather than seek the white house, green lawn, and picket fence for the cat to sharpen claws.

You identify because of your experience with being drawn to fringe groups, fringe identities, and a strong sense of the potential for the interiors of conventional smart spots to be hollow and as worthless as the lead figure in The Maltese Falcon.

Groups you're drawn to tend to be accomplished at things does not put the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval upon.  Many conventional groups go so far as to recognize the value over all to society of the types of groups you're drawn to, saying in effect that a healthy society needs such talents in order to survive.  But please--not here.  Try someplace remote.  In the desert, perhaps, or on a mountain top, where you will not get in the way of Progress.

You're drawn in your work, your reading, and your vision to the negotiated settlement.  Your stories tend to work in this direction because this is an enactment of your vision.  You sit down with your idea, then begin stirring it, bringing in characters to represent some of its aspects.  With some puttering and editing and revision, you come to the negotiated settlement of getting something as satisfying and close as you believe you're going to get.  Perhaps an editor you trust will be able to do some additional negotiating to bring you closer to what you thought the result should be.

Perhaps not.

In a real sense, nothing works out to be what you expected.  Nothing, not even reality.  The results are better, or worse.  A good deal better or a significant degree of awfulness worse.

Every time you leave 409 E. Sola Street to venture forth for some purpose, you are engaging a negotiation with the cosmos.  Will it be a good meeting?  A good movie?  Will you find the watermelon you crave?  Will the coffee at Peet's be as good as you hoped, or should you have gone to The French Press?  

Every time you set down a sentence, does it have words you'd have done better to ignore?  Is something spectacular or merely splendid?  Should you have referred to it as inspirational, perhaps even transformative?  Maybe it is a role model.  Your role model.

But you are not a lawyer nor a philosopher, arguing a brief in the court of conventional wisdom.  You are in many ways right out of Act four, Scene Seven of Lear.  "Pray, do not mock me.  I am a very foolish, fond old man.  I fear I am not in my perfect mind."

On the up side, you have no idea what your perfect mind is because you are still trying to hammer out the negotiations you began with the cosmos when you were about sixteen.

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