Sunday, April 13, 2014


There are times when you think you have "it" all accounted for, able to locate "it" should the need arise.  Of course there are other times, say times when you return with the intent of revision, when you discover you'd not had nearly so much of "it" in control as you'd thought.

No question what the "it" is, except when you fear "it" has slipped away from you, hiding as though "it" were a small animal, fearful of predators, seeking the comfortable safety of cover.

"It" is the dramatic moment, the story equivalent of Reality.  Unlike Reality, "it" has more focus, its randomness and distractions already pared away, but wishing even more concision.

There are so many aspects of "it" present.  You could compile a laundry list of its qualities and personalities.  You could--and did--write a book in which "it" was the central character.  You could even argue its validity as a character because "it" has an agenda, a goal; "it" wishes recognition.  But "it" is persnickety, wanting things on its terms.  In a manner of speaking, "it" is giving you a bill of particulars, telling you what "it" wants from you.

To the extent that you've been at some pains to find out these things and be able to provide them, you have in effect defined yourself and you have defined "it."  To the extent of your arrival at these things and your subsequent--however occasional--ability to provide these things, you have forged your own voice and your own tastes.

You are well enough aware of the importance of voice, having noted more than once in these essays the sense you get, upon entering room, where you become aware of irritating voices and intriguing ones.  Both these extremes, irritation and intrigue, are of high subjectivity, to the point where you may not always be able to tell why a given voice will irritate you when another will emit waves of intrigue.  The point to be made here is your awareness of your own narrative voice having the certain power to irritate.  

You've had some reasons to believe your narrative voice has the power to intrigue, yet you tend to the cautious position of having the greater certainty of the former than the latter.  From some inner resource, you do find yourself launching forth, regardless of outcome, giving you the heady, not unpleasant feeling of simultaneously whistling your way past the cemetery and losing yourself in your material.  

In other words and terms, you do reach moments where you find yourself launching into "it," becoming one with "it" so that there is no longer a duality.  At such times, it does not even require quotation marks.

In your earlier years, you were unlearned enough to think you had "it" after the simple act of typing a page or two, whereupon the entry and the gradual loss of duality.  Now, you not only rush through the first draft to get into your more favored parts of "it," you've come to believe you can never become entirely one with "it," even though you are motivated to try.  The motivation resides in the hope and potential for you to have occupied enough of "it" to provide a smooth ride as opposed to the bumpy one of stylistic anarchy.

You've reached the point in two of your classes where you assign your students the visit to YouTube, therein to look up one of your choices for a significant, illustrative scene.  You guide them to the Marx Brothers, and the menu of clips from their motion picture, A Night at the Opera, a motion picture you first saw when you were in your late twenties, at a time when things were not going well for you in such matters as profession, finances, and self-confidence.  The antic, raucous humor was a tonic, a wake-up call, an anthem, all rolled into one.  You knew you'd seize opportunities to revisit the film, but you hadn't the slightest inkling how one scene in particular would take a permanent, formative place within the parts of you so at ache to tell stories.

The scene in question is The Stateroom Scene, its venue a tiny closet of a stateroom on a luxury ocean liner.  One by one, the three Marx Brothers find their way into the cabin, the antic, vaudeville cadences increasing as more and more persons, each of a different uniform and function, follow them.  All the while, one of the brothers, Harpo, is steadfastly trying to remain asleep.  The humor intensifies as yet more individuals are brought into the stateroom, occupying every available square foot.  Even more characters appear, until the small room is a chaotic writhe and squirm of activity, reaching and surpassing the point of combustion.

The Stateroom Scene has become a dramatic example of the ingredients of a scene, trying desperately to cram themselves and their agendas into a space too small for them.  Exaggerated, the Stateroom Scene is a paradigm of comedic, over-the-top combustion.  But if you watch other memorable scenes, those which are neither exaggerated nor slapstick, you get the message that a scene should properly hold more elements than it has the ability to contain.

How does the writer do this?  And how can you find your way to do it? The answer is nearly a Zen koan.  Be there.  Be open to the elements,  Be aware of them, then forget them.  You cannot get them by thinking of them, yet you cannot know of them in the first place without some sense of what they want.

Another way to express a scene:  A scene is a dramatic incident taking place in a twelve-ounce container into which are poured sixteen ounces of condition.  Reality is often like that.  You find yourself watching Reality the way you watch people, mouth and eyes open.

Gertrude Stein is now well known for saying of her home town, Oakland, "There is no there there."  You relive your scenes by wanting to inject more "it" into "it."  

"It" is presence, intent, expectation, obsessive desire, suspicion, and agenda.  For starters.  Then someone says the equivalent of "What's it doing here?"

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