Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Writer at Work: Alone and Palely Loitering

Some years back, you read to escape boredom and the tyranny of your young imagination. You did not look for connections or reasons, only for goals to achieve, discoveries to make, adventures to embrace. You looked to reading for transportation.  The destination did not so much matter, only that it be a place where there was a need for your presence.

You were well beyond school, where you knew for a certainty you'd best leave, before the connections began to come, already working in areas where, in effect, you were hopeful of finding many of the goals to achieve, discoveries to make, and adventures to embrace you'd read for earlier.

You'd already met and become friends with Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, one of your early reading preferences, begun making connections you'd been steered toward making while in school, charting your own course toward the territory of the autodidact, the self-taught, the marginal, the inner directed.

Here you were, by yourself, in a movie theater in New York on a sudden whim, watching a Batman movie in which one of Batman's many arch enemies, The Joker, tells him in so many words, "You need me.  I complete you."

Later that night, you were at a publishing related banquet in which the keynote speaker was one of your favorite science fiction writers, Isaac Asimov.  You do recall what a captivating, animated speaker he was, how you enjoyed the nuance he seemed to project.  

But you did not take his words to the place where you store cherished words and thoughts; you were too busy considering the implications of The Joker, telling Batman "You need me.  I complete you."

To this day, you recall the adventurous flight of fancy that single exchange of dialogue set loose.  You imagined the whale telling that to Ahab, Sancho Panza telling that to Don Quixote.  You recalled telling a group of students how Conan Doyle would never have got beyond A Study in Scarlet if the narrator had been Sherlock Holmes rather than John Watson, M.D.

Later, during a long walk about the city with your great pal, Digby Wolfe, you carried the matter farther with Dionysius and Xanthias, his slave, in Aristophanes play, The Frogs.  "Ah," Wolfe said, his expression heavy with the irony of his creation of the television icon, Laugh-In.  "Rowan," he said, "and Martin."

For the next several blocks, your exchanges were of pairs.  The Smothers Brothers.  Abbott and Costello.  Fred Allen and Portland Hoffa.  Jack Benny and Mary Livingston.

Wherever your conversations with Wolfe, they brought you the nourishing sense of argument with another autodidact.  They brought you love of him and the gradual shedding of the hand-me-down awareness given you and the gravitation to the place where your own visions collide.  

If these collisions do not always produce new matter, as from the collisions within a linear accelerator, they brought--and bring--gifts of energy and curiosity.  Both these gifts fuel you, keep you on toward discovery.  And you have to admit, part of the reason you write, and part of the reason you write as you do is because of discovery.  You write with the same goal you had when you spent so many hours browsing used book stores, thinking in one of them to find a book that will be as a codex for you, causing a lasting vision to snap into place.

Of course you've abandoned that quest.  Such books exist.  They are, in fact, books and stories you must write.

Walking to your car after lunch today, you had an imaginary conversation with Wolfe.  "Beowulf,"  you said.

"What about him?"  said Wolfe, dead these two years.

"Beowulf and Grendel.  Ahab and the whale.  Same story, retold."

"Don't forget Jaws,"  Wolfe reminded you.  "The Roy Scheider character."

"Protagonists and antagonists,"  you said.

"The one completes the other."

"Too bad you couldn't have seen True Detective.  Cohle and Hart, against an antagonist."

"Didn't have to,"  Wolfe said.  "Didn't I give you That Winslow Boy and, while I'm at it, Entertaining Mr. Sloan?"

He did.  

He is not gone.  You couldn't have been more unalike.  The fact of his now being dead and you not is not an active element in this thesis.  The fact of having him to argue with is.

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