Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hard Wired Opportunism

Throughout its long, adventurous history, the human species has been opportunistic, to the point where one of your long distant relatives, not at all likely to have been a homo sapien, might have been walking across a narrow stream, a walking stick in hand, when he saw at his feet a fish, which he promptly stabbed, then took it home to serve as his dinner.

So far as you have been able to tell, which is to say according to your observations since having learned to read, writers have been opportunistic, using members of their family, work mates, authority figures, and cultural heroes as the basis of characters they have otherwise created from scratch ingredients.

Writers have used actual locales, historical events, natural disasters, and man made disasters as background and thematic foregrounds in their invented realities.  Writers have in a real sense co-opted creation myths, cultural legends, fables, and other such exercises in morality and/or education as the basis for actual story.

Yet another way in which writers have demonstrated a knack for opportunism:  Contemporary writers see no reason not to use some of the longer lasting cultural landmarks as a basis for a modernized version, witness the number of thinly disguised versions of King Lear to appear in modern dress.  

Well before you thought of the opportunistic nature of your species (human or writer) you'd processed and kept stored as a valued memento conversations you'd had as a young man with a forged identity card, slurping vodka tonics at the now defunct Garden of Allah cocktail lounge on the Sunset Strip.  These conversations were with a then hero, Borden Chase, who'd started his career as a sand hog, building bridges and tunnels in New York before turning to write for the pulp magazines before finding his way to Hollywood.

"What I did,"  he said with some pride, "was to take a well-recognized classic, Mutiny on the Bounty,set it in the Old West, far away from the sea, then call it Red River."   Chase was the first writer to have planted a seed within you; it was not his fault that it took so long to grow.  "One way or another, kid--" Whether it was a generational thing or the simple fact that any number of individuals in those days, your elders tended to call you kid.  "One way or another, kid, anything you write can be traced back to a certain story or a type of story.  There aren't that many different stories, but there are different writers to retell the old stories in other ways."

Since then, you've come closer to seeing or think you see what Chase meant, narrowing the number of story types to two or three.  All the more reason then for writers to be opportunistic in that they are bringing themselves into the narrative is some particular, specific way, reflecting her or his attitudes.

In another sense, the near manic number of notebooks you keep and/or carry about with you have frequent scribbles of overheard conversation which find their way into story points, actual dialogue, or some kind of relevant detail.  You heard one regional utterance today that stands an excellent chance of finding its way into some project of yours.  "Well I'll be rolled in cracker crumbs and deep fried!"

Not to forget a recent experimental stage for improvisation--for that is how you see the essence of story development--came about after a recent invitation to join some friends for drinks, with the added postscript of a suggestion that you might like to bring a date.  Thinking about that recent notation has caused you the more immediate one of wondering if the afterthought suggestion of you bringing a date was a subtle way of finding out who or indeed if you are dating anyone.

Opportunism has many aspects.  Today, you were in the midst of a pissing contest between two bearded authors, each showing off for an attractive women, who appeared quite at ease and apparently interested in the one-upsmanship in play.

"I have has this beard," one of the writers said, stroking the bottom of his chin with sweeping gestures of the top of his hand," since 1975."

The other writer, his full beard less trimmed than the first, announced, "This beard has been with me since 1070."

The woman was attractive, you were made mischievous by the male posturing.  Stepping right in, you projected your voice over both men.  "And I,"  you announced, "have shaved rigorously since 1965."

Your opportunism resulted in considerable laughter from the woman, who is a lovely visitor from New Zealand.  "Perhaps," she said, "we could meet for coffee before I return."

Opportunism is a way of walking your individual landscape, alert for targets of opportunity and insight.  The key to the sort of opportunism of which you speak is a cheery pragmatism and an alertness to understand how there are times when response may well be trumped by no response at all.

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