Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Two Types of Foolishness

There are two distinct types of foolishness.

The kind of foolishness you engage because you are bored is the emotional and dramatic equivalent of the so-called bad cholesterol.  You are doing things or, in symbolic ways, not doing them out of a cocktail of spite, rebelliousness, and contrariness.  In a sense, you are deliberate in your perversity, hoping in effect to dig yourself a hole from which you might not be able to extricate yourself for some time if ever.

The foolishness-from-boredom reflex is an elaborate construction, meant to provide you with an excuse for not doing something you wished to do, an excuse that sounds plausible on its face, even to you.  This is the same kind of foolishness that had its first stirrings within you when you fond yourself wondering if you dared rebel against some form of authority.  Thus you were young enough for parents, teachers, and adult friends of your parents to be some aggregate "them" whom you'd show a thing or two.  

Thus you were young enough to be rebellious for the mere sake of rebellion, testing the waters of convention to see how far you could go, what degree of things you could get away with.  Thus you were courting some kind of comeuppance, some kind of punishment, which in fact you already knew would serve not to reform you but rather the opposite.  At the time, this strategy seemed all the more exciting because you had little or no power, or rather you felt you had no power.

Like Emma Bovary, you got much of your foolishness from reading and from those aspects of your education where you recognized the values of using your imagination to transport you into situations and circumstances that were beyond your grasp in the reality of the immediate moment.  And unlike poor Emma, you were too young and inexperienced to indulge your romantic whims of a sexual nature beyond an active fantasy life.

The "other" kind of foolishness, to continue the metaphor, is like the good cholesterol, beneficial, in actuality a necessary presence if your personality is to have any shot at survival.  This foolishness is the foolishness born of risk.

In life and in story, risk and positive outcome are not at all equal.  In fact, there is at least an exponential ratio between risk and positive outcome, which is to say that many risks are bound to end in failure.  You could well ask yourself how you knew when to shift the odds however slightly in your favor by holding off on a particular risk.

The answer is unknowable.  For one thing, you're delegating risk to thought.  The salient thing you've learned here is that thought is an attempt to shout down the part of you wishing to take the risk.  This bit of "wisdom" has been with you some time as a writer.  Before it came to you, your practice for composition was to write a page, then revise it before moving on, to the point where you were revising things you were not yet sure you would keep.  If you were more or less certain the material would remain, you were not at all sure where it would end up.

See how easy it was for you to fall into the process of turning off the thinking apparatus until you felt close to having a completed draft.  This could mean you had enough or a sufficiency of material for a first draft.  This could also mean you had too much material, at which point--too little, too much, or a sufficiency--you could turn on the rational process to begin thinking vital things about the condition of the material, and thoughts about the order in which these things appear.

Foolishness from risk is at once an insightful process and a way of forestalling such squatters as hubris, certainty, and stubbornness.  Whichever path you chose, failure is a likely outcome.  Failure as a result of risk is another matter, one from which you can learn.  Such failure also teaches you a kind of patience you once had when your fondest output was constructing model airplanes rather than sentences and paragraphs.

You may boil over with frustration, but you have had sufficient positive results to encourage your to persist rather than quit.

Foolishness from risk is a product, the end result of you trying something beyond the safety net of confidence.  You surely give up any sense of repeating past risks that worked for the project then underway.  Such repetition would be the same as copying yourself, taking refuge in something that worked once, mistaken in your belief that such risks and responses are one-size-fits-all.  They aren't; it doesn't.

You need to remember you are not in control; you're delegating to your characters.  While this is high-level sophistry, nevertheless you are looking for signs from the characters by which they tell you what they want to do.  If you listen hard enough, you will reach a point where you may lose it with them and remind them in quite certain terms that they will change the story if you listen to them.

At last, you've broken through the fog.  You've been rowing or paddling for hours, and now you can see something that seems like a shoreline.

Even so, you will fail.  You'll get your pants wet from wading.  You may capsize.  Any number of things can go wrong.  Even so, these failures will cause you to see how limited things might have been had you stuck on course.

A simple way to approach this kind of risk taking is to write a scene the way it seems closest to your original plan.  Now rewrite it, using a different character as a point of view narrator.  If there are significant numbers of characters present, rewrite the scene from each of their points of view.

Now put all this material away, where you can't see it to refer to it.  Rewrite the scene from the point of view you'd originally intended.  See the difference.  Feel the difference.

There is no guarantee that all this foolish will achieve the result you wished.

None.

In fact, it is a deliberate excursion into the foolish conviction that you can capture lightning in a bottle.

This kind of foolishness will buoy you when you feel sentences sag and begin to quarrel with one another.  This foolishness will light your way when the moon hides and the clouds occlude the rise of the sun.

Soon, even your computer and note pads will see you for the fool and failure you are, and soon, you will all be able to join forces in the risk of crafting sentences and paragraphs from the hard-to-reach spots of your heart. 

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