Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Keep the Light on and the Door Unlocked for Your Characters and Friends

To be sure, there are men, women, and children swarming about us, some of them quite visible, others, nevertheless swarming, but invisible to us.  We view them with a mixture of admiration, envy, and jealousy.  We see them as the leaders, innovators, courageous ones we in secret long to be but which we know ourselves to be beyond our reach.


The envy and jealousy enter the picture via the door, still ajar, of rationalization.  However grand the achievements of those we admire, we, too, could have been where they are, if only--

The If only trails off into a multitude of excuses.  If only we'd had the time.  If only we'd not had to spend so much time caring for poor old Uncle Fred.  If only we'd not been burdened by the onus of a family mired in poverty.  Then we might have had the piano and the hours to practice on it, memorizing the sounds, positions, and the multifarious sounds.  Then we might have had that pellucid moment in which the memorable lyric or theme came to us.

Alas.  Fate has dealt us blows which had us down for the count, wherein the Cosmic Referee hit seven, eight, nine, and ten while we were unable to raise ourselves from the canvas floor of mediocrity.

No wonder we are so taken with reading.  Small wonder we have our favorites, a list that extends well beyond nice guys.  No wonder we recall so many of those who lived on the margins comparable to the margins on which we feel ourselves residing as squatters.  Even though many of them don't make their way entirely out, many get well beyond where we feel ourselves at this moment stuck, trapped, destined.

Earlier this morning, in your Memoir Writing class, you listened as a woman recalled the time in her early years when he grandmother was reminded by her patron that a girl such as her grandmother had only one career before her, a lifetime of service to a large estate.  

This reminded you of Jane Eyre, about to be graduated out of the orphanage in which she grew up.  Jane was told in all frankness that the only potential employment for her was as a governess, with the implication that Jane was not attractive enough to consider a career as a prostitute.

From such remembrances of things you've read came the litany of the favorite characters of a lifetime, not all of them by any means sympathetic or attractive. The characters either achieved their goals or had a good shot at them, enlisting your belief and support.  In every case, the character had some measure of self-awareness as a cause of your envy.  Why else would you keep the light on and the door unlocked for the likes of The Pardoner, protagonist of his own section within The Canterbury Tales?.

You've met some remarkable individuals in person as well as in print or on film or on the stage, some of the former and many of the latter becoming friends and companions and yes, lovers, too. In a crazy kind of inversion, you judge your friends in Reality by the standards set by individuals in story.  The individuals most dear to you in life have or had the qualities most manifest in books and drama.

You are drawn to individuals with more than the conventional quantity of focus, persons who want something or things with an intensity that by its own nature pushes lesser things off the list of priorities.  In consequence, many of your friends and most of your characters in one way or another bay at the moon, eschew polite conversation for flat-out, passionate argumentation.

With more than due respect and admiration for those who join bowling leagues or stamp clubs or get up early for breakfast meetings of The Toastmasters, you recognize there is some sort of impenetrable schism between you and them at the same moment you salute their humanity and purpose.  You go so far as to apologize in advance if you seem in any way to patronize them, for that is not your intention.

Your intention is to ferret out individuals who might otherwise be lonely, feel themselves on the margins, were it not for some internal drive that makes them want something more, and want it now.

You want nothing less than friends and characters who see life as a metaphor for The Holy Grail, who lose sleep plotting ways to renew their quest.

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