Saturday, September 27, 2014

When Story Meets Inertia

We are standing in some port of arrival.  A subway station.  An airline terminal.  A bus station.  A train station.  Some conveyance has just arrived.  Now, we are waiting for a particular passenger to debark. We are here because of that passenger.

But wait.  Perhaps instead, we see a new arrival time posted on a nearby screen.  The individual we expect has met with a delay. The journey has not finished with us.  Not yet.

Because of extreme weather or traffic conditions, the conveyance has been rerouted.  The anticipated passenger must take a bus or a train or an alternate flight.  The Godot for whom we wait is stranded at an intermediate point.  The best laid schemes of conveyances and travelers have gone into chaos.

Even though we were not on the conveyance that was supposed to have delivered the anticipated person here, to this terminal, we have been caught up, if only in metaphor, by the mechanics of story.  Our expectations have been engaged.  We have been made to care about the person making the journey.

Whether we have deconstructed the matter or not, we have related somehow, on some level of emotion, to the unraveling of expectation.  We have experienced once again awareness of the ways in which things in motion can be derailed.  This is so because of the times we have found ourselves fretting in the uncertainties of what seems a great Cosmic limbo.

By now, we are well aware of the ease and precision with which our species can send a small object into orbit about a planet other than our own, then return to Earth at a precise point, one less than a single square mile.  

And yet.  We have the ability to arrange configurations of traffic so dense and clotted that movement of any sort within these configurations is all but impossible. 

Story--all story--yearns for destination.  Without a port of final delivery, story is at best a shaggy dog story, a narrative that has played with our collective and individual patience to the point of making us irritated.  In our irritation, we recall the details of the shaggy dog story, firm in our resolve to inflict it upon another victim.

You exaggerate when you suggest the resident streak of resentment within us wherein we begrudge simple, direct movement from Point A to Point B.  Even while you 're aware of the exaggeration there, you understand one of the principal dynamics of the dramatic genome.  Story equals anticipated destination in conflict with actual arrival at the destination.

Depending on its length, complexity, and variety of moral choices the traveler embarks upon, story is a matter of movement from a specific point to another specific point.  So long as it does not seem a mere random choice, the point of closure leaves us with the feeling of having at least come to the right station.   

Some writers, throughout the history of narrative, have left us, or at least some resident part of us, waiting still, our own expectations and unresolved yearnings still supplying shortcuts for the very Godot you mentioned some sever paragraphs earlier.

Seen from the inside of your own attempts at story or the wondrous outside when you travel the stories of other writers, inertia becomes critical.  A story in motion tends to stay in motion until overcome by a greater force.  Alas, that greater force often proves to be the uncertainty of the teller, getting in the way with burdensome details.

Story that stops moving has become narration held for ransom.  Story that loses movement becomes boring, ponderous, potential polemic or Hallmark greeting card sentimentality.  

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