Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mad Men, Mad Women, Men with Beards

You are used to the way stretches of tight schedule such as a combination of classes in session, editorial deadlines, and general curiosity produce contrary projects.  Your notebooks are filled with elaborate notations for these.  They are the equivalent of rusted-out cars and washing machines, strewn about rural lawns on the theory that their custodian will likely get around to them.  Someday.

Might well call that a default condition.  An almost daily stream of books ordered from publishers, from Amazon, libraries, and on-line used-book dealers are a constant reminder of such contrary projects.

Finding yourself in a comfortable valley between academic quarters is the default condition on steroids; it is a ramped-up, amped-up time when schemes, dreams, and yearnings have even more time to flourish, raising their heads above the surface like an impatient seedling, determined to follow through on its entelechy.

For the better part of a week, you've been settling yourself into the freedom and leisure of your next project of focus, your work-in-progress tentatively called A Character Prepares, in preparation for which, you are, at meals and coffee breaks, rereading such books on acting as those by Uta Hagen, Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, and the dean of them all, Constantin Stanislavsky.

Early this morning, in an elaborate and vivid dream of the sort you get shortly before awakening in the morning, a scarecrow of a character, sporting a long beard, stove-pipe hat, and a long banner, dashed among a group of customers at a dream coffee shop, stirring up the customers and causing you to forget the context of the dream before the disturbance.  

The scarecrow character's banner was a Spanish-language play on a motto you'd long used with your great pal, Barnaby Conrad and now employ on Carlos, the night chef at Cafe Luna.  This motto, No te rajes Jalisco, is the Spanish equivalent of, say, Don't mess with Texas.  It means, Don't disparage the Mexican state of Jalisco.

The banner of your dream read No te rajes Emerson.  Which was your dream's way of reminding you not only of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) but an essay he once wrote that provided you with one of those long-term projects you've been researching, noting about, and thinking about upwards of thirty years.  

Writing of an 1840 convention in Boston sponsored by The Friends of Universal Progress, Emerson said,  "Madmen, mad women, men with beards, Dunkers, Muggletonians, Groaners, Agrarians, Seventh-Day Baptists, Quakers, Abolitionists, Calvinists, Unitarians and Philosophers, all came successively to the top to seize the moment, if not their hour, wherein to chide, or pray, or preach, or protest."

Thus the rousing, magnificent trumpet fanfare of a title, Madmen, Madwomen, Men with Beards, and the rather literal subtitle, Some Notable American Eccentrics of the Nineteenth Century.  The flap copy and the introduction would conflate those individuals who walk among us today with their prototypes.  You might go so far as to argue that in addition to Baseball, Bourbon Whiskey, and Jazz, America has also spawned eccentricities so remarkable as to defy such a concentration anywhere else.

You really should take that step into putting this material into a more focused form, allowing it to grow by accretion as, indeed, The Fiction Writers' Handbook grew into an entity.

After all, you, yourself are something of an eccentric, your characters are wound tightly about the armature of eccentricity, and haven't you managed these last few days to get several pages into a short story that begins:

"What kind of crazy fucking question was that? Art is thinking when he hears the voice.

"'Is there anyone in there?'

"Right.  Torches burning.  Must be some smoke coming from the entrance to the cave.  A fire of greasy oak burning on the cave floor for more light.  Come on, 'Is there anyone in there?'  Like you didn't know."

The point-of-view character, Art, is a Cro-Magnon, painting a detailed portrait of an aurochs on the cave wall.  Also leaving as a signature, his red ocher hand print.

Ah.  Where will it all end?

You hope you are there to see.

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