Friday, January 30, 2015

Poker as a Metaphor for Story: "In? Or out?"

For reasons not clear to you, the dead bolt on your kitchen door does not engage with any great consistency. You've tried the usual cure-all for such things, the lubricant WD-40, to no effect.  Weather-related warping, expansion, or contraction are possible culprits.  In this, the fifth year of your residency, the variables are at play.  The dead bolt, these days, does not engage.  "Opinionated," your maid, Lupe, says of it.  "Tonto,"  you reply.  "Crazy."

Thus a backdoor deadbolt becomes a suitable metaphor to describe the circumstances attending your sense of being engaged, in the dramatic sense, with a story you are reading, watching, or composing.  There are times when you resort to coffee, standing to stretch, making yourself a snack, consulting your cat, Goldfarb, if he is about, or acting on another metaphor, taking whatever trash you've collected to the medley of waste bins at the outer edge of the garden.  These are all your equivalent of WD-40, the lubricant you hope will ease your way "in," toward the  state of engagement you have, on splendid occasions, come to know.

Being at the state of "in" a story, whether you are creating or observing, is no guarantee of a front-row seat, rather it is recognition you are beyond the front door.  Nor does being "in" guarantee,if you are the composer, the discovery of the essential nature of the story at hand.  This is at once the joy and agony of reading, observing, and creating.

You have no clear memory of your history in gaining admission.  In all probability, the process grew from your early years of reading, where you read for adventure, transportation, information, surprise, and the least tangible destination of all, the sense of being co-conspirators with the characters.  

You cannot say too much about this last destination without the realistic fear you will be distracted, presented with other internal paths to follow through the breaks in the dark forests of your imagination.  But you will say this:  Whether you are reading,watching, or composing, there are times,special times, when your sense is of the story having been created just for you.

Even then, when you are at this state, the potential for surprise is exquisite; there is no telling when some brick wall will loom to stop your progress, some loud noise to raise your suspicions, some burst of whimsical revelation, like candies tumbling from a broken piƱata.

Most times, your goal is arriving "in."  The place to be is "in." you've strived for access to "in" even before you were aware of doing so, well before you could articulate to yourself what "in" meant, much less how one might try to get there.

You were discussing such things at coffee this morning with a chum who is currently in rehearsal for a play in which he has a major role, the portrayal of an actual historical personality, still alive, a complex enigma of a person.  

Your chum spoke of the effects on him of trying to triangulate on this character, define his presence and the form he is taken, in order to track it down, then take possession of it.  He does not speak in specifics just yet, confident they will, as rehearsal continues, present themselves, whereupon he may pounce on it, try to assimilate it.  When he is successful, he will, indeed, be "in" character; he will have left much of himself in such dressing room as made available to him at the theater.

Actors, depending on their skills, are able to find their way "in," and remain there long enough to present the dilemmas, choices, surprises, and understandings the writer has left as a road map for the actor.  Writers, depending on their skills, have to become not just one character, but all.  This explains the complexity of friendships between actor and writer, where, at any given moment, neither is whom he or she appears on the surface to be.

"I am told,"  your actor friend said, "that I am not the best person to be around at home."

"Because,"  you say, "you are not spending as much time with the you that is you, when you are home."

Somehow, the conversation drifts to the unanticipated destinations of the whaler Pequod, sailing out of Nantucket, in search of one particular whale.  The focus is on polar extremes, Ahab, the narcissist/monomaniac, and Pip, the innocent and now daft young cabin boy, whom Ahab readily recognizes as his absolute opposite.  

Then the conversation moves to the degrees of "in-ness" necessary to portray either or both, the joys of ensemble theater where, in theory, the same actor might portray both Ahab and Pip.  Considering the use of young boys in the early English theater to portray girls and women, it is no stretch for one boy to have been both Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Ophelia.

Now, you are ready to address the word the actor and writer have in common, the major implement each carries about in his tool kit--concentration.  The actor must be so "in" that you believe who, what, and where he is, whether he is any of the aforementioned characters or yet others.  The writer must find ways of gaining entry to the story, even though the story may not yet be completely articulated.

Thus another metaphor to demonstrate the sense of "in."  This is the game of poker.  The player--read actor/writer--is asked to ante, to put something in the pot, to demonstrate some yearning to be "in."  "Are you in?"  A few beats of indecision.  The dealer asks once again, "In?  Or out?"

Without hesitation, the actor and writer toss chips into the pot.  These are not the ordinary chips of poker.  These are the chips of self.  You might even go so far as to say selves.

"In,"  they both say.

The dealer nods, then deals.


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