Thursday, February 27, 2014

Spare Change for Your Inner Street Persons

On a recent Sunday afternoon, you sat at an outdoor coffee shop in Carpinteria with your literary agent and a former student (fated to become a current one in less than a month).  

The agenda was to discuss the student's future on the basis of a number of recent events, including her having published a novel, completed another, having a desire for a career in the biological sciences, and in spite of soaring SAT scores, excellent grades, and a CV/resume indicating a dimensional individual, begun to receive polite thank-you-but-no-thank-you notes from a number of graduate schools.

At one point, the student said, "When even Arizona State declines, you know you're in some trouble."

During the arc of conversation, two things left significant impressions on you.  The first event was the arrival in your mental in-box of a potential career choice for the student, its point of origin somewhere deep within your planning center.  To your knowledge, you'd not been in close contact with this part of yourself for some weeks when, as another apparent surprise to yourself, you suggested to the seated curriculum committee a course you wished to teach that seemed well out of your regular patterns of inventiveness.

Yes, the committee pounced on the idea, thus you are scheduled to teach a course in which the main texts will be Joe Heller's Catch-22, Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls, and Joseph Conrad's The Confidential Agent.  But this was not the second event of which you speak.  Rather, it had to do with a whiskered man, beyond middle age, who bicycled to a point where he was abreast of your table, applied the brakes, then dismounted before you in a manner suggesting a cowboy, severing company with a companion horse.
"Have you by any chance some spare change?"  the man directed his question to you.

Such questions do not always produce from you the results the asker anticipates.There is some chemistry afoot, but it is a difficult chemistry to chart.  In this case, you emptied your pocket , then extended it, resisting the impulse to tell the man something he probably had little interest in hearing.  The change was not spare.  Nevertheless.  Perhaps against a day when you will be in the bearded man's position.  Perhaps for other reasons.

The bearded man hefted his loot, smiled, thanked you, then remounted his bicycle.  He rode off into the afternoon, leaving you to consider scenarios in which your own street persons ask you if you have any spare ego supplement or inventiveness or perhaps understanding.

Of late you've noticed an interrelationship with a number of your component parts.  The results are at worst case prone to making you thoughtful, wondering about such things as meanings, relationships of seemingly disparate things as well as unseen relationships between things quite familiar with one another.  You are not so much looking for solutions as you are for conundrums to dwell on, much in the way you dwell on the Sunday crossword puzzle in the Magazine Section of The New York Times.  

To your satisfaction, the probing and thinking are more in the nature of assimilation, seeing yourself in as many kinds and type of persons as you can manage, the better to understand why, when you push your characters the right way, they do things you've not anticipated and can barely get down on the page.  

Perhaps the writing of it will help you understand.  Perhaps the replaying the scene will help you see the consequences from a number of differing points of view, perhaps to the extent where you will wish to change the primary character, promoting--from within, of course--a character you'd originally thought of as a spear carrier.

Over the years and now with increased regularity, students and clients of yours have launched tales where a principle narrator is obsessed with the need to find a lost relative, a parent or grandparent with whom the character had in reality a significant relationship.  

A variation is of the central character feeling cheated by the absence of a significant character gone missing.  One splendid example from Bobbie Ann Mason's first novel,In Country has haunted you since its publication in 1985.  You've been back for seconds, looking for ways Mason has dealt with this theme with such freshness.

Your inner street people seem to request of you not money so much as recognition of their real life counterparts, the men and women you might ignore if you weren't so concerned with finding their analogs within you.

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