Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sisyphys, the One-Trick Pony of Mythology and Literature

Your recent bouts of binging on TV cop shows that were either cancelled--Detroit 187--or sensibly allowed to run its dramatic arc--The Badge--helped you see things about ensemble casts and story shapes necessary for planned chapters in the book you are in effect writing to get back into the two novels causing you the most itch.

The book is about how characters need a toolkit of nuances, denials, neuroses, pluck and a swagger that frightens off any hope of luck or good fortune or even earned credits that will offset mistakes, bad fortune, and worst of all, lousy judgment.

You were watching to see how various characters distinguished themselves in nonverbal and verbal ways, watching much in the same way you read certain writers you much admire or find tendentious and plodding.  In the process, the need came over you to return to your notes on characters you consider iconic from dramatic and print backgrounds.

You have considerable notes on Ahab, Inspector Jaivert, Don Quixote, Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver, Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe and the two ladies in his life, Rebecca and Rowena.  You seem to have had ongoing fascination with Miss Rebecca Sharp and, to a lesser extent, Scarlet O'Hara, and in more recent years, you've settled into preoccupations with some of the characters from Middlemarch, notably Edward Casaubon, the pompous scholar. For almost as long as you've known him, you find yourself as well fascinated by Charles Ryder from Evelyn Waugh's masterful Brideshead Revisited.  

Although this list of characters appears random, they seem to you to be wrapped in tight coils about the armature of yearning.  The one individual from myth who joins this list of focal characters, King Sisyphus, also occupies your notes to the point where you have even gone off on riffs improvising  on the theme of the chore he is doomed to repeat through eternity.  

You see these other characters to the point where they take on the roles of friends in your life, individuals with whom you were once close, say classmates or workmates, individuals you pause to wonder about the way you wonder whatever happened to Stan Cook or Gabe Jellen or Jerry Shamrock, all individuals with whom you exchanged dreams, fantasies, arguments, and long dinners where, long after the food was gone and the bottles were all depleted, the crazy tailoring of friendship reverberated into the pre-dawn hours.

Now, when you think of Sisyphus, there is a hint of the drunken camaraderie of your earlier years.  "Love you, man.  I totally accept you can't hang out any more.  Got your rock to tend to.  Awesome you're so committed to it."

At one point, you'd got to thinking of him answering you, "Fuck you, man.  Fuck you and your patronizing hypocrisy. I've got Albert Camus on record as understanding my unique situation.  I don't fucking need you to love me or think he understands me.  You don't understand me or what I do."

You might suspect such words would have put a dent in your relationship, get you thinking, Fuck you, Sisyphus,  You're not so much.  Just because you have your work cut out for you and can engage it unselfishly, I can remember times when the simple act of thinking about you and the eternal preoccupation with your rock that Zeus put on you, and I could feel your vibes of resentment.

Then, the realization came to you.  

You're caught up in the same round of activity.  You break out a page or two, hone it down, move it around, check for all the weasel words and passivity, perhaps even think you've seen the last of it, so you set it aside to mellow.  

Some people brine chickens or turkeys or even roasts.  You set aside stories and essays, stand-alone pieces or stories or drafts of chapters. A brined turkey is okay to cook but a story you set aside does not necessarily age for the better.  Maybe it was a bad idea all the time, too diffident or nervous to tell you right out it wasn't what you'd hoped when you started.

Then you get to thinking of old Sisyphus.  Love you man, but you aren't so fucking much with your rock, you know.  Other persons have it just as bad, some have it even worse than you and that rock of yours.

You try that kind of messing with a manuscript.  You fucking try revision or such extremes as throwing away a third-person point of view, switching to first or maybe multiple!  Go ahead.See how a writer's got a real problem, nailing the story or the narrative or conveying the essential information without any hitches.  You, even offering some of us a cut to ghost write your memoir because you've gotta be out on the field, keeping the rock moving.

Well fuck you, Sisyphus.  We've got to keep narrative moving, keep the story cranking, coming up with the kind of nuance you wouldn't understand with your one-trick-pony routine, you and your goddamned rock.

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