Monday, April 21, 2014

In the Writer's Toolkit, There Had Better Be a Magnnifying Glass

You did not give serious thought to the term "tool kit" until the archaeologist, Brian Fagan, began hiring you for editorial readings and consultations on his books.  He spoke offhandedly of the need for prehistoric peoples to have a set of working tools, then went on to describe some of the more common "tool kits."  Your own contribution to that equation was to refer to these items as "the pre-historic Swiss Army knife."

Thinking about some of your own early tool kits has reminded you of some of the more obvious items, more descriptive of the boy you were than mere physical descriptions of you.  The number two Dixon-Ticonderoga pencil, of stub length, was a major feature.  A pocket-sized notebook, quite often one you'd glued together yourself, was a presence, along with a pocket knife, one or more marbles, sometimes a piece of tar (for chewing), and, depending on your ability not to use up the entire box at once, a hard, resinous, fruit-flavored candy, the Jujube.


There was also the Duncan Yo-Yo, as you knew it then:
and, it your finances were opulent, a small envelope containing a yo-you string.  An occasional treasure such as a lump of colored chalk would come your way.  If you were really into your supply mode, there would also be at least one paper match book, because you could never tell when you had to light a fire, but also because, at the time, homes and apartments regularly had incinerators for burning trash. 
From time to time, you came into possession of a pocket-sized box of wooden matches, which you took care to preserve because the box could make a useful transportation for a small turtle or any number of insects you might find agreeable.  Having wooden matches on hand signified to you a level of sophistication your retrospective memory still savors.

At any given time, your toolkit was apt to have a length of string, kept in a neat hank, thanks to instructions from your father in trying knots and his own advice that if you were going to carry string with you, you'd want it in some form where it would not be difficult to access or use.

An occasional small rock would suggest to you that it wished to travel with you for a time before you found something irresistible for you to throw it at.  You did not at the time consider the nuances of that.  Throwing a rock was nothing more than throwing a rock.  Sometimes, you did not even have to throw it at something, rather the mere act of seeing how far you could throw it became satisfaction enough, although there were times as well when the force with which you could throw the rock gave you the satisfaction you wished.  

Now, in retrospect, you are able to think of yourself alternately as an enabler of rocks or at least one who sent them places they might not otherwise have gone.  Thinking about this symbiotic relation between the boy you were and rocks causes you to consider picking up the occasional rock, having some measurable effect on its destiny.

All these were indeed aspects of your toolkit, but you are leaving out a significant tool, one that has a great significance for the man the boy has become.  That vital addition to your toolkit is the pocket-sized magnifying glass, which allowed you to look at blades of grass, fallen leafs, of course your own skin, and such insects you could get to hold still for investigation.

Your first came as a surprise or premium in the box of Cracker-Jacks you often bought.  This magnifier was made of plastic, which gave it a tendency to scratch, impairing your vision of the things you sought to see up close.  Your sister told you to consider this magnifying glass as a message for you to get and carry with you one of better quality for more sophisticated investigations.  She was helpful in getting you to save for
 something more able to withstand the rigors of your pockets.  She also showed you how, by holding the glass at an angle where it captured the rays of the sun, you could in fact focus light to burn a hole in a newspaper--any kind of paper, for that matter; especially the foolscap paper on which your school assignments were written--or pretty much anything you wished.

You now have a sophisticated pocket magnifier, a gift for your renewed subscription to The New York Review of Books.  There are times when you actually carry it with you in the event you will wish to magnify something special.  The device even has a button which will turn on a small reading light.

Sometimes, as you've noted with some frequency, you require a good deal of time to recognize a small miracle, previously hidden from you. In this case, the recognition this very day, this twenty-first day of April in the fourteenth year of the twenty-first century, that the quality of a magnifying glass to focus enough light and, thus, heat to cause smoke, then charring, then actual fire, is the perfect analogy for story.

Story focuses the energy of life onto the reader, causing awareness and warmth to the point where it leaves a mark.  Story causes the reader to experience magnified now, a presence so intense that it can and will burn holes in the fabric of mythological truths surrounding the individual.

Many characters in story are running from things.  Many others are running toward things.  Many readers are yearning to run from or toward.  Story magnifies the yearning.

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