Sunday, February 2, 2014

Animal Crackers in My Soup, Lions and Tigers Loop the Loop

When you venture into a bookshop with the intention of browsing, there is less possibility you will come out with a new book.  The act of browsing is at once pleasing and frustrating, reminding you not only of the plentititude of books and the relative lack of time for reading them but as well for the plentitude of books you have no wish to read.

You browse in hopes of finding some intriguing combination of author, cover design, title, and opening pages that will cause you to sign on, much as Ishmael signed on The Pequod,  hopeful of being transported to a time and place you might be least likely to sign on for.  Your hope is to get away from that state expressed by William Wordsworth in his poem, "The world is too much with us; late and soon/ Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers..."

Your destination is nothing less than transportation to a time, place, and circumstance where you feel engaged, challenged, excited.  These are similar to the feelings you experience when your own composition seems to pull you away from the sight of any shoreline that could be thought of as a landmark or guiding point.

When you enter a bookstore with a specific work in mind, that work, on examination, would have to send you exquisite signals of inappropriateness for you to leave the store without it.

The act of visiting a bookshop to browse sets a complex set of conditions into motion.  If your search does not prove successful, you have set yourself into an idiosyncratic inertia where you have two significant choices.  You can hie yourself home to your work space, then begin composing.  This may have been what you wished all along, but you required of yourself this start-up activity.  

Your other choice is to embark on a rereading of one of the many books strewn about your studio.  This, too, may have been your wish all along because rereading is a significant challenge, a way of measuring aspects of you that are not always tested to the degree required when you compose.  Rereading requires of you that you find new visions, new details, a greater critical focus in which you can see the traces of craft and insight you missed on earlier readings. 

There are other requirements as well, requirements that force you to admit the work does not hold your attention the way it once did, whether because you are able to see the author's manipulations or, better still, because you are able to see through them, find them unnecessary or not so exciting or relevant as you'd once thought.

You are in effect measuring the reaches of your craft so that taking risks no longer seems the fearful thing you thought nor will its results in your work seem so obvious a departure.

Your tastes in reading have long ago become a dramatic force, set in motion, causing you to abandon, reexamine, or open yourself to earlier works you'd set aside as beyond your sphere of interest.  Such a work, almost by default, has been George Eliot's Middlemarch, and with one or two notable exceptions, you'd some time back set aside Faulkner as noble, regal, and important, but of no significant use for you.  Don't forget the gradual peeling away of similar responses as you forced your way back to Willa Cather's My Antonia.

How do these lines of reading, rereading, self-evaluation, and composition converge?  If you take a close look, you'll see how the first three provide nourishment to the fourth by the force of implication and absorption of the functions and focus of the major dramatic tools. Seeing where your own interests in reading and the assessment of the various types of journeys possible  will take you can be freeing and frightening.  

The narrative world is your oyster.  The fright is that you will be letting go of techniques and concepts that were once so comfortable that they have become embedded in some of your prose, necessitating a search-and-destroy edit when each draft is completed.

There is a thrill in being able to step back to watch such major forces in you life as browsing, reading, rereading, composition, and editing take a surprising shape.  This is much like sitting outside at a coffee shop this afternoon, between rain splashes, watching the formation of a double rainbow spread across the panorama, or rereading something you'd once thought magisterial, only to find an entire parallel line you'd missed before.  Or finding a sentence you'd written some time back, that still had the 

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