Friday, September 26, 2014

Who's Watching the Store?

Much of what you've learned about the process you indulge when you compose centers around the awareness that someone has to be in charge.  In much network television and many  of the cable TV dramatic series, that individual is called the Show Runner.

You have a Show Runner because of the seniority system rather than any sense of the democratic or political approaches.  Your Show Runner got the job through ignorance.  At the time your show Runner came aboard, you knew nothing about the term or the concept.  

You knew little enough beyond the constructs you'd picked up from one of the books you've had most of your life.  The book was written by a man named Stanley Vestal, who, even though he published it with a prestigious venue, a university press in fact, used a pseudonym so as, you suspect, not to mess with his own career as an academic.  Few things make you feel old, but that is one thing that does.

From this book and that way you have of going about as though you were a magnet, causing things to stick to you, whether they were useful things or not, you knew that stories had to have conflict--"Shoot the sheriff in the first paragraph,"--rising action, denouement, and closure.  You knew stories should also have suspense and if there were no suspense, there should be tension.

This was more than enough to engage your teen-aged self, give you days and weeks and years of writing and rewriting things as though you were following some recipe from the back of a corn meal box.

Difficult to say when your reading habits shifted gears and you were no longer reading for the pleasure of reading, instead reading to see how some of "them" did what they accomplished and how to avoid what some of the "others" did that you found to be discomforting.  Probably around age nineteen, when you came into possession of a convincing-although-false identification attesting you to have been twenty-two.  This meant you could--and did--go to places where writers hung out, places where you began to absorb things that were more apt to come from men and women who wrote every day than from books such as the one on writing you had at home.

By this time, you'd had more than one classroom writing teacher, most of whom were quite nice and sincere, you admit from this remove.  But so far as you could tell, none of them were publishing things, not until you made the move to UCLA, where you found a man who published with some regularity in The New Yorker and who published books via Alfred Knopf.  You were also aware of a wide swath of differing opinion between most teachers and most working writers.

You were still some years from giving the merest thought to teaching, which means you did not come to the conclusion that you were going to teach the way you'd wanted to be taught, not until your second week as a teacher at USC.

You were well along the way to having a mentor, one who not only wrote and published but read your material, made suggestions, and collaborated with you on a run of television plays.  From about that time onward, you gave scant thought to rising action, denouement and suspense, beginning instead to get more familiar with that aspect of you who took over when the time for composition came.

By the time you realized you had a Show Runner who, in turn, had a semblance of a personality and agenda, you were also aware of other editorial-type voices in there, many of whom had a wish to contribute.  This realization was only one of the reasons you sometimes feel the necessity to leave your studio, which is quiet and comfortable, thereupon  to seek the ambient noise and high-jinks of coffee shops.

There are some voices, friends really, you don't mind listening to.  Your two mentors, Rachel and Virginia.  Perhaps Dennis Lynds,  For a certainty, Digby Wolfe.  Although you were more likely to make suggestions for Barnaby Conrad than he to you,there are times when you hear him and listen.

You on occasion hear your agent, wondering if you need a particular passage you like.  The twenty-odd years in which you co-hosted a workshop with Leonard Tourney open the door for his voice as well.  The fact of so many of your inner voices coming from sources long dead or, indeed, from writers you never met in person, have little to do with the matter.

Sometimes your Show Runner wants to take the day off, meaning you're left with the precarious issue of whom you should heed.  A large part of the matter comes down to trust.  Sometimes, it is a shouting match.  You want to yell "Shut up.  Can't you see you're distracting me?"  

But you're too busy to stop, too busy, trying to get it all down.
Who's watching the store? as your father was wont to ask.  We won't know until third, maybe fourth draft.  If then.

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