Monday, January 12, 2015


When story is working for you at its highest degree of effectiveness, whether you are its reader or its composer, you have the delicious sense of boarding a luxury train or cruise ship on a whim, with no real regard for your destination.  

Once on board, you may think you know where you're headed, but a key ingredient of the story before you is the uncertainty surrounding where your trip will end or how you will feel once you get there.

Destination is a tantalizing, exotic-sounding word for a tantalizing and exotic aspect of all narrative, be it story, essay, or persuasive argument.  Whether you are reading the material or composing it, the last thing you want is predictable certainty.  There are too many predictable narratives and assured certainties already.  

You read and compose to discover, to be surprised, to be led down the wrong path.  Stories, narratives, persons, and things in general should not be what they seem.  If a thing is what it has appeared to be all along, why bother to read about it or dramatize it?  

On the other hand, if a thing is less than it seems or more, you, as reader, writer, and viewer, are put on alert to question everything that comes before you.  This does not make you so much cynical as it makes you watchful.  

You enjoy the notion of being watchful, in particular when someone confuses your watchfulness with cynicism. Note the constant pressure about you from those who wish all things to be exactly as they seem, calling you out for your belief that all glasses everywhere are half full, all lives half lived, all of life one big theme park, where the outcomes are managed and contrived.

Beauty, happiness, and a sense of being present are not contrivances, they are explosions of accidental connections, of unexpected results, of momentary capture.  They appear with the sudden, thrumming presence of a hummingbird or ladybug.  They vanish at the snap of a branch or a sudden gust of wind, leaving a picture in someone's mind to be sough after.

One of the more frequent questions you ask of a narrative you see before you as an editor, a teacher, or a reader is the plaintive "Where is this going?"  How wonderful it would be for you if you did not encounter that same question, from yourself or another reader.  

The condition of being wonderful comes at the end of a long line of drafts, revisions, re-thinking, and editorial conversations, all of which lead to an impromptu destination.  Soon, the impromptu aspect is gone.  The destination, itself, begins to speak to you, telling you, yes, once again the destination achieved was not the destination imagined.  There are no farewell luaus or cocktail parties as there are on planned tours and managed destinations.

But there are feelings of effervescence each time you consider this new destination, this unplanned destination, the one that now seems so inevitable you wonder why you had not seen it.

Destination becomes the place we end up after making a decision to do something or not; it becomes the precise closure we were seeking to a journey we did not realize we wished to take.

In this manner, we arrive, surprised-but-alert, as opposed to the end destination of a Disneyland ride or a guided tour.  In this manner, we see what we'd kept hidden from our inner self all along:  Arrival at a destination is the end of one narrative and the beginning of another.

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