Friday, June 6, 2014

Building Permits for Comfort Zones

The best place to be, with regard to a project, is in the middle of it.  When you are in the early stages, there is, to be sure, a good deal of adrenaline and buzz to fuel you, but underneath is the sense that you have not reached a critical, defining moment, where you know a kind of painful truth.

The painful truth is that you will at some point finish the project.  You are not always sure when you will finish it, such as the story involving a group of Cro-Magnons living in ancient France, which has been whirling around for twenty odd years on the basis of a comment Brian Fagan once made at coffee and which actually morphed for him into a study of the Cro-Magnon people.  

A month or so ago, you were back at this story, seizing the closest available pen, with red ink.  You are a good deal more clear about where the story wants to go than you were twenty years ago, but you are not entirely clear, which is to say you do not know how it will end even after all this time of it set roaming about in your conscious and unconscious processes.

This truth is painful because you're in a kind of shouting contest with it, reminding you of trying to have a meaningful conversation with someone whose language is neither English nor Spanish, yet you are able to make out a few words.  Portuguese?  German?  Italian?  Surely raising your voice will help.  If you raise your volume enough, this individual will understand you.  Of course not.

But this is how it can feel at an early stage, the itch at the precise part of your back you cannot reach, the itch felt under an impenetrable bandage.  

The end game can be problematic because, although you have an open line of communication with the characters and have a sense of where the story ought to go, you are not satisfied yet that you've let the characters work the matter out to the point where the story will somehow get away from you, moving on its own in a direction you're not able to articulate.  This is part of the process that is not fun at all; random details trigger thoughts, doubts, questions.

You sometimes attempt to pave over endings or build things onto them even though it is clear there is inadequate foundation for such edifices.  Time and again, you've realized how you were in such a rush to get to the ending that you overlooked the right place for the ending, ran past it, and here you are, dangling, trying to build who-knows-what onto your narrative.  This, too, is not the fun you associate with storytelling.  This is not the sense of oneness you hope to achieve and which is your best chance for a satisfactory result.

This is also the place where you begin asking questions when you should not be asking questions at all.  You are asking if the work in progress is remaining at all close to the excited jabber and clatter of events and sensations that got the story moving in the first place.  At this point, you're asking yourself if the story is going to turn out to be as good as you thought when you first met it, then became involved with trying to get it to settle down with you.

Bad move.  You should know better by now than to ask such questions at this stage of the game.  This is not the fun you signed on for when you began playing around with the concept.

By now, you've also begun to suspect the collision of events and fender benders that got the concept going in your mind to the point where you suspected there might indeed be a story trapped within the wreckage.  It seemed such a good idea at the start, so audacious, so worth the effort, so worth you rushing forth to meet it.

The safest place of all is the middle, where you know you are launched and away from the beginning.  Perhaps the ending is in sight, but maybe not quite yet.  You are at sea.  Far enough away from the point of origin, but no landfall in sight.  There is safety in coming to work here, knowing you will not yet have to cope with the ending, knowing things will not suffer if, on this work day, you get no clue about where landfall will be.

You are sure enough you are beyond the point of no return, where you had to declare your hand, admit it, yes; this is a story, this has sufficient elements to carry it forward, but for the new few work days, possibly even for the next week or so, all you need do is keep the fabric of tension and causality alive with reminders that yes, this narrative is a story.

This is safe territory.  You are hiding in it, trying to make you and the story seem distant.  If enough distance can be brought into the picture, you may find a way to write off the entire project.

Of course this mid-game safety is an illusion.  Any non-specific way out is more of an illusion than the illusion of story is.  No way out but for someone to fail badly at something she or he once did with easy grace.

The wisdom of story speaks to you, urges you to put enough pressure on your main point-of-view character to cause that individual to drop something, miss something, not make accurate computations, be complete in the misjudgment of human behavior, to push hard enough to nudge you out of your comfort zone.

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