Tuesday, July 1, 2014

You, Revised Edition, Now on Sale

December 8, 2003 is the date of your last major surgery.  In a metaphorical sense you've come to admire and appreciate, you were being edited, revised, as it were, by a crafty, empathetic surgeon with a wry sense of humor.  He was editing you for cancer.

"I think," he said when he came to visit you in ICU the next day, " I got it all.  Just in case, while I was there, I got the appendix.  You didn't seem to be using it."

When you left Cottage Hospital, a few days before Christmas of 2003, there were a few scars and bandages, each in their way the equivalent of a sticker on the front cover of a book, reading:  Second Edition, Revised.

Soon, mid-January of 2004, you were back at work, teaching at USC, making notes for a book, learning to function in your revised edition.  No one at the university seemed to notice or appreciate the fact of your revised appearance, a fact that suited you.

Since that time, you've had two further editorial touch-ups, one to replace a hip, the other to replace a lens in each eye.  Neither was even close to the redacting of 2003.  If you were to give yourself over to the kinds of horrible puns you prefer, you could say the opthamologist,  Dr. Douglas Katsev, performed revision on you.  John Gainor certainly gave you a leg up on mobility.

By all observable means, you are no longer a work in need of editorial attention.  You've achieved a temporary sense of completion, a finished story, an entr'acte within a larger drama whose shape is in large measure beyond your line of horizon.

This does not mean you'll have been vacationing poolside, sipping pinas colladas.  You've branched out into a form of surgery on your own, directing the light of inquiry on a number of characters you created and as well characters created by others.  In the process of this editorial surgery, you've seen the need to do a bit of touch-up on yourself as well.

Within most successful ventures into story, authors seem to you to understand the need for some inspecting and tweaking of the inner life of their characters in comparison to the outer, more visible presentation of traits.  You also have the growing sense of the aptness, the correctness, the necessity you gleaned from one of the more successful writers of your growing-up time.  The author was Frederick Schiller Faust, a name you've tried out on students of varying generations.  The results were almost always the same:  blank, embarrassed looks.

Faust was a journalist, then a classic poet, then a pulp writer, then a screen writer, a man whose prolific output might have been even more prolific if he'd not been such a heavy drinker.  If he is known at all, it is as one of his many pseudonyms, because being prolific often means needing more than one name to account for all the output.

Faust is best known for a Western novel, Destry Rides Again, made into an iconic film with Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Deitrich.  He hit his stride, again as Max Brand, with the Doctor Kildaire series, both in film, radio, and, later, television.

You got Faust's formula from his son-in-law, the novelist Robert Easton.  "The good become bad and, in the same story, the bad become good."

You've had considerable time to think of such implications.  Faust/Brand not only didn't invent the formula, he got it from a writer he admired, who in his turn got it from two others writers.  Thus did Faust/Brand learn from Shakespeare, who learned certainly from his contemporaries, Marlowe and Johnson, but back in time from Seneca and Terence.

You attacked the Faust/Brand formula with a patronizing belief that it was too simplistic to do you any good.  Then you read Macbeth.

When you began to see a character having two opposing forces that needed reconciling, you began to see how this vital aspect of story had the power to attract you to the narratives of men and women who were in a constant flux of the shifting tides of inner forces, brought into situations they had to deal with right now.

Things began to make sense.  But given your own multifarious natures, sense does not always mean the same thing, needs constant investigation.

Last night, on the last segment of your evening walk, you were taking a few moments of rest on an ornamental planter at the corner of Anacapa and Micheltorena Streets.  An auto pulled up to the curb, perhaps ten feet from you.  "Are you all right?"  a throaty male voice from within called.

You waved thanks and assurance.  "Just arguing with myself."

"Ah, si.  Of course,"  the voice said.  "Make sure you speak up for yourself."

You thought you heard a chuckle, and you were sure the sound of his car was a series of chuckles as it pulled away, into the night.

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