Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Our First Argument

Sometimes when you come home at night, the scene is of you, still sending out vapors of your good time with friends.  You're aware of broadcasting dinner fumes into the doorway, ale or wine tang, and the memories of pleasing exchanges, spiced with a slight chili pepper bite. A friendly bite.

"You're late,"  she'll say, and now you experience an immediate acid squirt of guilt because, until this moment, you've felt no such guilt.

"I hope you had fun,"  she'll say, which causes you to smile at the memory of an inspired zinger you'd gotten off on Laird.  "Let me get this straight,"  you'll have told him.  "Your first play to be produced.  Was that before or after The Great Vowel Shift (a major change in the way English was pronounced, coming somewhere between 1400 and 1700)?"

Had it been Jim you were pranking, you'd have wondered, Does your dieting get in the way of your writing or does your writing get in the way of your dieting?"

Fred, always good for a tease about his tuna pate, might tell you that a number of regular listeners to his TV Show, Literary Gumbo, called to ask when you would not be on as a guest again so that they could return to watching.

"I was beginning to think,"  she'll say, "you'd be out all night.  Then you'd come home, make coffee, shower, then leave for a morning class."

"Shave,"  you'd say then.  "You forgot shave."

By this time, you are in the kitchen, filling the bottom of the octagonal Bialetti espresso maker with water, debating which of the four blends of coffee in the refrigerator you'd use.

"Our first argument,"  she'll say.  "We're having our first argument."

You've had this conversation before, in one way or another, mostly with fiction, where there was a turbulent history and a fear that fiction was beyond you, that you'd had it engaged in a comfortable understanding by which you made a pot of coffee--this before your switch over to espresso--took a few sips, sat at your typewriter, rolled in a sheet of paper, and wrote, Chapter One, at which point some individual would come scurrying forth with a problem and you were suppose to get her out in two or three hundred pages at two hundred fifty words a page.

In practical terms, non-metaphoric terms, you'd written your way into a state of awareness where you no longer wished to work on that plot-driven level.  But the enterprise of storytelling is not practical, at least not so far as you're concerned.  There had to be more.  You simply did not know where in your psyche to apply for the more.  How easy to think, then, that fiction had left you, disappointed that your relationship, which had once seemed so cordial and intimate, had not turned some corners and taken on some growth projects, just the two of you.

She left you the coffee maker and a red Olivetti portable.  A few of your attempts at make-up letters were returned unread.  You grieved mightily for a time before turning to non-fiction, and for a while non-fiction began asking you questions about her, wondering why you were, as she put it, slipping fiction techniques into non-fiction.

You listened carefully, realizing how all of the process was about story, whether non-fiction or fiction; there were scenes, dramatic moments, men and women arriving in appointed places, but having come from other places, having perhaps collided with other life forces on the way.

You enter a scene with expectations.  Perhaps coffee is served.  Perhaps you are at a place of great potential for being wonderful.  Perhaps you have come to that place anticipating that potential, bringing with you chemistry.

You often make a point of cautioning students or clients that one character in a place is dangerous because the character is alone, has no one to share the chemistry with.  Then another character appears, and now there is a potential for a wonderful story at a wonderful place.

It is late for the Olivetti and the Chemex coffee maker; you've moved on to the Mac Book Pro and an iMac and a Bialetti.  But she is back, asking you questions.  And that is all you can ask.  Everything else is pure gift.

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