Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Writers' Tool Kit: Voices, Real and Imagined

You have been hearing voices long enough not to think much of the phenomenon.  Rather, you accept the activity for what it is, a writer listening to his characters for clues about their agendas, and a person, listening to friends, associates, and acquaintances, listening for clues associated with their interests, personality, and areas of expertise.

You're also on the alert for voices which suggest to you individuals with traits and qualities of which you should be wary.  Of course you listen to voices for hints of individuals whom you should take some pains to avoid.

In this context, hearing voices provides you a diverse, intriguing spectrum from which to partake of the world about you, interact with it, consider ways to pay back in kind the enormity of benefits hearing voices has brought to you during your tenure upon this planet.

If you did not hear so many voices, in fact, if you heard fewer than you have in the past and do now, you might well have evolved a different person than you are.  However pleasant and worthwhile you might be, you would not be nearly so much, had you not heard voices, in fact used them as reference points.

With all this as background and backstory, you have another set of voices to think about, respond to, and, in the process, to continue on your path of working to achieve the more nuanced entity within your potential.

You first began attributing importance to voices when you were five or six, living with your parents and sister in a large, comfortable four-plex at what was then 6145 1/2 Orange Street, Los Angeles.  This was by your accounts of relative comfort from your point of view.  The voices you heard were those of your sister and parents, heard from your relegated place in the rear bedroom, some hours before your sister's bed time, earlier still than your parents.  

You were there by virtue of being informed it was time for you to go to bed, a process involving bathing, teeth washing, and, if you were more desperate to stay up than ordinary times, saying long, convoluted prayers which covered such of your heroes as Admiral Byrd and Mahatma Ghandi.  On some occasions, your orisons included stars of dreadful Western motion pictures, individuals such as Gabby Hayes, Andy Devine, Roy Rogers, and Wild Bill Elliot.

The voices you heard were ordinary voices of an older sister and parents, often in some sort of conversation, on occasion as foot notes to radio programs.  The voices were filtered down the long hallway separating your room and the living room or dining room, where the voices originated.  Yours was a cordial family and a talkative one, when you were present among them or when you were the first to be sent off to sleep for the night. 

It was your lot to hear their night time voices, tinged with good humor, possibly laughter, almost without variation suggesting topics of interest and importance, and it was your frustration as well because of your impression that they were having a good time,  Was your mother nudging your sister to make a plate of her famed, chewy fudge?  Was your father suggesting a whack at at least a quart of ice cream from Thrifty Drug Store?

There was the ambient sounding of fun and your own enhanced version of it from your distance.  Sometimes now, as you venture toward sleep without having to be reminded it is your bedtime, as though that were a specific goal, you think of those Orange Street days and nights.  You think of the happy sounds of chatter that probably was meaningless much of the time, and you think of being down the hall, away, listening.  There is no hallway in your studio now, yet you listen on idiosyncratic occasions, listen to them down the hallway, in another room.  You fall into sleep under such circumstances as you did then, rich and ripe with the sound of them, wondering at the adventure of what they were saying now, in these more personal hours of the night.

From hearing these family voices, you were led to hear yet others, sometimes from complete strangers, other times from real and imagined heroes, for you were, during those days, a sucker for a hero.

On some occasions, you've heard voices of animals in your life, particularly your Blue Tick Hound, Edward, who had a resonant, serious bawl of a voice, reflecting judicial gravitas, but better known as having treed a raccoon or mountain lion, but on occasion Blue or Molly.  Still waiting on Sally.  Still waiting.

In recent years, intriguing and perplexing you, voices have come from inanimate things.  Rocks, rivers, automobiles,even gardens and machines have made themselves known to you, each having something specific to say to you as opposed to being merely inanimate and yet with a voice, while at the same time having some kind of story or thrust to convey.

Such "messages" and "conversations" buoy your spirits because they speak to you of the possibilities of connections with abstractions and things, possibilities you'd not considered before.

Earlier this week, you sat having coffee with a dedicated geologist who'd run quite a risk while leading an expedition to remote parts of an already remote area of the world, the South Pole.  Listening to him acknowledge that some of the rocks he'd gone there to select and collect had begun to speak to him.  You had an overwhelming sense of knowing what he'd meant.  No need for an orientation lecture for you to be able to understand the phenomenon if not the actuality of the conversation.  You even thought, Why would one become a geologist if one did not expect conversation with rocks?  Why would one become a musician if not to have a close personal relationship with each possible note in each instrument?  And why would a writer wish to converse only with humans?

Writers need to converse with their characters and the characters of other writers.  Writers need to converse with places, with nouns, black holes, crevasses, plants, and platters of fire-roasted chills, served as appetizers in Santa Fe restaurants.

You have your ear to the ground, your nose in the air, your eyes on tree branches, your feel in the clouds, or perhaps at the place on the shoreline where the combers break, then roll in, covering your ankles as you pass, reminding you that it and you are at the same place for a brief moment of time, just long enough for you to take some of it away with you.

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