Monday, January 19, 2015

Wide-Open Spaces, and the Stuff in between

Every time you engage in the composition of a story, something quite serious tries to take advantage of your focus.  The "something" begins as conceptual, but soon--quite soon--emerges with a life all its own. Alas, you well know how things with a life of their own are idiosyncratic in their determination.

The "something" you refer to here is Space, which springs to life as the first tentative paragraphs gain some traction, acting like a cat with cabin fever, looking for a way out.  This may or may not be a prudent move for a cat; it is never prudent for Space.

You've had enough experience with cats in your lifetime to understand the how if not the why of their wanting in, if they are outdoor cats, and out, if they are indoor cats.  Perhaps they want the reverse as well, and have only to gain one to understand how they yearn for the other. Perhaps all but the most mild of cats is hardwired to a contrariness when the matter of in or out becomes an issue.

In its personified form, Space, like the cat, wants to reveal its presence to you, stretch its limbs, make room for details you mistake at first for those welcomed allies,dramatic activity and information.  Still in personified form, Space is in effect arguing on its own behalf, wishing to co-opt the shape and size of the landscape on which your story is best presented, reminding you of a conflation between a real estate salesperson and a purveyor of used cars.

Garrulous and controlling to a fault, Space wishes to turn your sentences of ordinary length into Faulknerian meander and reverie, your short stories into novels, your novels into trilogies, your reviews into discourses, your essays into bodies of law and procedure.  

Space wishes to expand tourist-class airline accommodations into divans, those abbreviate cafe tables into trenchers or the groaning boards associated with family gatherings at times where ritual behavior comes spilling forth.

Your regard for Space is uneasy, seeing it at once a seductress and a potential cohort in some narrative tort that only drastic excision can cure.  In most cases, you've followed your personal system of using detail to pry the stuck and warped doors away from the jambs in which they are wedged.  With doors open, cats and associations can come and go in either direction, leaving you at the mercy of unfiltered association.

Next step, you are wide open to vulnerability, reminders of the unedited confidence you had in the early years before you began seeing the slight flaws in your ability to assess individuals, circumstances, and an array of inanimate items you thought you wanted or knew or both.

You're quite sure you were not the first to have said "Write long, then cut short," although you would like to have been the one.  You do in fact write long early drafts, then go about returning entire paragraphs at a time to the limbo whence they came, with sentences from your favored writers and poets sounding counterpoint to your baroque and orotund output.  

If you look closely, you can find traces of Richardson, DeFoe, and Fielding in your locutions.  Just as you tell yourself this is not so awful a thing, perhaps even a good thing, since you have learned things from each of these worthies, traces from the nineteenth century bubble up, bearing with them a hint of the long forgotten Miss Ravenal's Conversion, and of course the ongoing battles with formality in Fanshawe and The Scarlet Letter, or, indeed, the prose so opened to Space of Hawthorne's younger friend, Herman Melville.

You are happiest of all when you see your Space jammed with the mischief of the nineteenth century writer who was not so much of the nineteenth century as he was a writer of most people, most classes, and the most egregious customs to take on, Mr. Clemens.  To this day, you find discovery, attitude, and concern in his Spaces, along with the willingness to wrestle to the ground anything that got in his way.

You nod in continued amazement that such a man could have written so much engaging material, producing such a relatively low percentage of misdirected work.  But then, as you look at the misdirected work, even there you see the places where at first he had some control over the Spaces, before they got away from him.

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