Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Schemes of Mice and Writers

In the manner of a tour guide, eager to move stragglers from one intriguing exhibit within the writers' museum, to the next, you urge yourself from yesterday's observations about concentration, along the steep path of consequences, to the time-share condo of awareness.

For a writer, being aware of a person, place, or thing means being absorbed in it, taken up by it, as attentive of it as of a pebble that has insinuated itself into a walking shoe. In literal and figurative senses, being aware is the equivalent of being yanked away from the quotidian pathways of ordinary reality, into the Santa Monica Freeway, southbound, at four in the afternoon pathway of dramatic narrative.

The closest parallels you see are those between the writer and actor, each of whom creates the sense of plausible presence through techniques related to concentration that leads to the reader's and audience's awareness.  

By turning concentration into a laser of projection, the skilled actor causes us to see a mouse where there is in fact none.  The actor's concentration on an imaginary mouse in effect nudges us into seeing it.  In the great irony that is the filter, the imaginary mouse of the actor is not the mouse seen by the audience.  That mouse is the mouse of the audience's individual experience, thus white, gray, dun, even piebald.

The skilled author knows better than to describe a mouse, for even a person fearful of an actual mouse is not driven to be fearful of a description.  The skilled author shows a character being surprised by the mouse, challenged, upset by its presence.  We, for whom mice hold no fear, are laughing at an adult who is not us, reacting with such motion, to a mouse.  Whether or not we actually see the mouse, wee sleekit, cowerin' beastie, we see the effect of the presence of a mouse.  Which is better?

Through the process of concentration, we arrive at the consequence of what you have called a plausible presence--a thing or condition that with such plausibility to be real has in fact become real, completing the primary responsibility of the actor and the writer.

If nothing else, being a writer all these years has brought you the muscle memory by which you are transported from reality into focus on story, then deeper into the state of awareness where details are calling to you as the Sirens called to Odysseus and his sailors, who were, you'll recall, on their way home from the Trojan Wars.

There are times when you read The Odyssey, or treat yourself to the remarkable reading of it by Derek Jacobi, where narrative circumstances cause you to forget these dudes are on their way back to Ithaca, whence they came, these seven or so years earlier.

More responsibilities, from both the actor and the writer:  to call you away from a stated purpose, which has already been imprinted upon you by the needs expressed by the character.

Spend some time with Vladimir and Estragon, who, in Samuel Becket's play, are waiting for Godot.  If the actors are up to their task of concentration, soon, we, too, await Godot.  The matter does not stop there.  We never see Godot, but consider how, at least for a time, we begin to wonder where he is, what he is doing.  

We are more shrewd than the characters.  We realize, before they do, that Godot is not going to arrive, at least not in this theater, and not on this ticket of admission to it.

Awareness of details will do that to you, in fact should do that to you, if you are immersed in story.  Novels of mystery and detection offer up details as potential clues, aha-moments wherein you recognize a detail that was placed to trigger mischief, and there you go; you've tripped the warning wire, which has succeeded in arousing your suspicions about something.

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