Monday, September 2, 2013

Trapped Stories and Designated Assholes

Writing is supposed to be a lonely craft, ideal for introverts who, according to some definitions, are more comfortable when they are not in large groups.

With respect, you rise to disagree on nearly every available count.  If writing were such a lonely craft, you'd think there'd be less rather than more of them.  And you'd think that even those who came slinking over to writing because it seemed so easy, and who had yet to discover how difficult it was, would be on to the fact that the entire summer is filled with writers' conferences, most cities, with the possible exception of Victorville, California, and Minot, North Dakota, had writer's groups, and most schools, even colleges and universities of agriculture and mining or some relationship to technical or polytechnical had writing programs.

Even as you write this, you are not altogether certain Victorville and Minot lack at least one writer's group.  Hell, even Jean, Nevada, probably has an un-used house trailer, where writers gather to read stuff.

Convention has it that writing is lonely because there is just you and the blank screen or note pad of your imagination, right?  The only time writing is lonely is when the characters all seem to be out on errands related to the other demands on their presence.  You've had those days, where maybe one or two of them will send a grudging note, explaining why they couldn't make it to work today.  Visiting relatives.  Called in to deal with an emergency at work.  Problems with kids.  Or husbands. Or wives.  Or in-laws.

One character you'd been messing with even said he had to be at a faculty meeting, and another wanted to tell you all about why you should stop eating red meat because of what "they" do to animals.  You had a few surprises for them, when they came back.  Really subjected them to things that would have made faculty meetings and quarter-pounder hamburgers seem like what the Germans refer to as kinderspeil.  You know, fucking child's play.

More often than not, writing is so not lonely that you have to go to Cafe Luna or Peet's, both of which have the ambient noise of soccer stadia, in order to get lonely again.

Since your friend put you on the track of trapped words and trapped dreams, you've begun brooding about trapped stories and the possibility for trapped characters.  You knew your friend was on to something the minute you heard those words, trapped words.

A trapped story is a multi-dimensional combination of trapped words and trapped dreams, stories you're always on the cusp of understanding at the precise moment you fall asleep, when there is that shifting of gears effect as the brain waves move you from one state to another, sometimes with such a thunk that you're snapped back into wakefulness again, wondering how you came to be here instead of at that momentary glimpse of understanding and awareness.

Sometimes you have to listen to a lot of crap from your characters in ways similar to the crap you have to listen to with a semblance of politeness and respect.  You've had enough experience and results to know that even persons you have to listen to a lot of crap from are persons you'd do better to treat with respect.  

One of the few remaining persons you allow yourself not to like from the get-go has just died, causing you in the most ironic but understandable way to be sorry he fucking died.  Now, you won't have him to not respect on sight.  There is another such person, who in fact approached you while you were in conference with a client, his extraordinary rudeness extending to the point where he sat at your table uninvited and began trying to chat up your client.  

You had him well on his way in a few moments, happy to know there was at least one individual you didn't have to feel respect for.  Not only that, you saw little potential for learning something of worth or value from him.  He remains to this day a fulcrum on which you can balance your growing sense of respect and admiration for most persons against the possibility for you being meanspirited.  Is it all right, in effect, for you to have one or two designated asshole individuals in life and fiction?

Most of the time, you're aware that characters, if they are to seem like real persons, must be respected, perhaps even loved in some cases.  Like many people, they have to be made comfortable, made to trust you so that they will share themselves and their inner dreams with you.  Call it trust.

Trapped stories are as difficult to prise out of your characters as a whole nut, intact, from its shell.  The problem, of course, is you.  You've set up the story hoping for an easy way out of some ethical or existential situation to which you hope for an answer.  There is a kind of unselfish love in allowing your characters to see through their crap, even though you may have the ulterior motives of wishing to free your own trapped stories.

The more you respect the characters you create, the more you find yourself willing to go that extra moment or two in listening to real persons telling you things you might not have expected to learn from them.

For the most part, you select friends with care, hoping the give-and-take of conversation and concern will cause more disparate things to come together in your imagination, where you will be able to construct a landscape in which the trapped story feels as though it does not have to stay hidden.  It can stretch within its confines, no longer making you as uncomfortable as when you see animals caged at zoos however well-designed and geared for comfort they are.  

You wonder from time to time if you are deliberately adding minor aspects of comfort, equivalents of candy or soda vending machines or perhaps even washers and driers to the cages in which your stories are trapped.

In a real sense, not many persons with whom you are in some regular form of contact will see you as a person who traps stories.  But what of the friend who has spoken to you of trapped words and trapped dreams and who has caused you to consider your own trapped stories? 

Such questions are additional reasons why writing is not lonely.  What better person to talk to about trapped stories than the friend who is also a writer?


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