Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Journies for Your Inner Travel Writer

When you chose a novel to read or a play to watch, you are in effect inviting at least one stranger off the streets to occupy a portion of you for about a week.

In real life, this analogy stretches the boundary of credibility, often to the point where you begin to wonder how much your personal boundaries need to be overcome each time you pick up a book or attend a performance.

Would you invite Blanche Du Bois, pulling her away from Streetcar?  Would you want to bring Temple Drake, from Faulkner's Sanctuary?  What about the likes of Miss Becky Sharp or a reach back to Shakespeare to borrow his Rosalind?  Ah, while you're there, back at the Globe Theater, you think you might warn Ophelia about her current squeeze.  

No question about counting the silverware after James M. Cain's Frank Chambers left your company.  You've come to admire Faulkner's "idiot," Benjy Compson, but what about Eddie Coyle and his friends, or Ernesto "Ratso" Rizzo?  And you'd be on your toes should Cormac McCarthy's Anton Chigurh come into the neighborhood, about as antagonistic as most antagonists you've encountered in your reading.

The point here is how you might well be limiting yourself if you let some of your social tastes get in the way of your literary ones.  Or perhaps the vector of the point here is that through your reading, you are becoming more tolerant of the society in which you find yourself.  Or perhaps the even more true point is that reading is causing you to see yourself in a place where you understand the need and responsibility for becoming whatever you become, accepting of the consequences.

In the equation of the reading you do being a leading force toward the person you have become, you see a pattern.  The pattern calls for inclusion of characters who are well other than you yet in possession of a dark side that often causes you to see similarities in some of your own behavior or fantasies.

How is it you continue under such circumstances to see yourself as a bottle-is-half-full person rather than the pessimistic writer who is not pleased at all by endings that end on a manufactured note of happiness?

One answer is that you lean toward works where there is some kind of emotional justice, a kind that allows an individual character to stand tall against a system of condition too dug in and intransigent to deviate from received standard wisdom.

Such wisdom can be and has been quite survival oriented.  It can also be the social equivalent of the odds favoring the house in gambling establishments., another way of saying you may win on occasion, but after a while, the house will wear you down.  To survive with a sense of self intact, you must, as Omar Little,a favored character from the TV drama, The Wire,  put it, "have a code."

A favored code of yours to consider from time to time, The Samurai Prayer:

I make the heavens and earth my parents
I have no home.
I make awareness my home
I have no life and death.
I make the tides of breathing my life and death
I have no divine power.
I make honesty my divine power
I have no means.

I make adaptability to all circumstances my principles
I have no tactics
I make my mind my friend
I have no enemy
I make carelessness my enemy
I have no armour
I make benevolence and righteousness my armour
I have no castle
I make immovable mind my castle
I have no sword

I make absence of self-interest my sword.

Things have changed in the eight hundred years since that prayer became received wisdom for a certain profession.  Things have changed more than the human condition or the human psyche.  You see a connection between the writer and the samurai.  Eight hundred years later, men and women can take up the profession of writing, their master or leader, if you will, or employer no longer the feudal lord or suzerain of old but rather the language of literature, which is to test and savor and delve the boundaries of the human condition by pushing it and yourself as far beyond boundaries as necessary in order to come forth with a suitable and plausible resolution.

Not canned morality nor formulaic, one-size-fits-all endings, nor even middle-ground safe approaches to vexing conundrums.  

The persons you've learned most from are those who have traveled to the remote regions of their own psyche, wrestled with what seemed implacable foes, then returned home, somewhat the worse for wear, somewhat the better for their journey, still struggling, still questioning humans.  And through their writing, they have taken you with them.

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