Friday, September 19, 2014

Shortcuts to Story Payoff

You have often thought of Santa Barbara as the place you came to in order to get away from Los Angeles, even though that conceit didn't work.  The moment you got the job that would justify leaving Los Angeles, you got another one for which you had to commute to Los Angeles, at least once a week, often two times.

During those thirty-four years of commuting to Los Angeles while essentially being away from it, an infinitude of individuals came to Los Angeles, by no means to make up for you leaving it, but for all the reasons people leave places such as Santa Barbara and move to Los Angeles.  

With all those new individuals, moving to Los Angeles to find their true selves and in the process advance their careers, you were leaving Los Angeles, convinced at the time you'd already found yourself, and now wanting to spend time developing what you'd found.

Los Angeles was giving you the equivalent gift of the eponymous gift of the O. Henry short story, "The Gift of the Magi."  This had nothing to do with having your father's pocket watch as Jim, a principal character in the short story had, although you did indeed and still do have your father's pocket watch, which he apologized for having nothing else than that to have left you.  

This was not the wrench for you it was for Jim.  You already were aware of things he had left you that were of deeper consequence than the watch.  Although the watch is cherished, it was far from his only legacy.

The job you had before leaving Los Angeles, the job that no longer was, became the reason you got "The Gift of the Magi" job in Los Angeles.  The jobs for which emigres to Los Angeles were hopeful caused considerable clotting and mischief in the traffic.  Being familiar with the terrain meant you knew a thing or two about short cuts, a knowledge that played even more of a part on the days when you had occasion to make the commute more than once a week, while still being obligated to giving your employer in Santa Barbara at least a forty-hour week.  This meant to you the need for at least a forty-two or -three hour week.

The job Los Angeles gave you was a job you'd never considered in any form after one semester in which, in the interests of close contact with a potential girlfriend, you signed up for two education courses.  Bad move.  The very word, pedagogy, as deployed about those classes, injected a morbid fear of boredom into your already chaotic visions.  

By this time in your career, you were used to boring lectures, which have the same effect on you as trying for a comfortable night's sleep in a Motel 6.  You responded to boring lectures by a studious avoidance of instructions known by you to be boring.  No surprise that you needed more than four years to graduate.

There you were, on the receiving end of a lesson, teaching courses at graduate level, aware each time you strode into a class room of the potential for being a boring lecturer and teacher.  Since you were in major effect trying to teach these graduate students how to write narratives with little or no boring portions, you were also in effect trying to discover ways you could avoid producing material with boring outcomes or even mere boring moments.

In ways similar to those instinctive moments of knowing shortcuts to avoid traffic sclerosis, you began to develop through cause and effect shortcuts through boredom.  You are now comfortable with the awareness of how one simple number two pencil can provide shortcut to story, to visceral moments, to visions of characters who have no shadows, rather they are individuals who radiate tangible personality.

You are comfortable with an awareness basic enough to border on the outskirts of cliche:  The job of the storyteller is to evoke rather than describe.

What elements is the storyteller to evoke, you ask?  A presence as fraught, confrontational, and seething as the Santa Monica Freeway, southbound, at the Arlington Avenue turnoff, which, by the way, is an excellent shortcut to the target destination of Jefferson and Figueroa Streets, outliers of the university where you were more often on time than not.

Storytellers evoke inner landscapes of individuals trapped in the vehicular thrall of Los Angeles Streets, each with an agenda to pursue, with dreams to color the agenda, and with a compelling sense that the agenda is not only worthwhile, it is fucking vital.

You'd be remiss if you failed to mention shortcuts here in Santa Barbara.  Thanks to an influx of individuals seeking to escape the traffic of Los Angeles in order to find calmness and purpose here, and with equal thanks to the growing fact of Santa Barbara becoming a commuter destination, you've had to develop instincts for shortcuts.

Instead of reaching your favorite local coffee shop, The Daily Grind, by staying on State Street, past the near impossible left turn onto De la Vina, turn left off State Street onto Constance, heading almost due west until you reach De la Vina at the moment it stops being a one-way southbound street.  Turn right, past the Chicken Ranch Barbecue and Laundromat, for another block.  You will be heading in the right direction, be on the right side of the street, and have saved two- or three-tenths of a mile, had you stayed on State Street to Las Positas, where you could get away with the left turn.

Oh yes; don't start your story with background or description or backstory.  Put a few individuals in action.  Let them--and the readers--figure out what's going on to the point where they become curious.

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