Friday, May 1, 2015

When Reality Is More Absurd Than the Theater of the Absurd

Anthropologists, archaeologists, and geologists have every good reason to divide the known history of the world into such ages as the Ice Age, the Little Ice Age, the Stone Age, and the Bronze Age.  To be sure, there are other characteristic ages and eras.  You found it difficult to acquire any kind of education without being made aware of such times and of their importance in tracking the progress of humanity as it made its way through these benchmarks.

You have certainly had your own equivalents, one of which was brought back home to you today, reminding you of the times between your early and quite late twenties, when you felt yourself borne along in a Hollywood Age or a more nuanced Cusp between TV and Motion Pictures Age, or an Age of taking bizarre and often boring jobs to get away from TV and motion Picture jobs.

You were at UCLA at a time when a number of classmates found niches in what was spoken of in those times as The Industry, resulting in such things as films being shot in your Hollywood Hills apartment, you appearing as an extra in several live TV dramas in order to make enough money to pay your bar tab at a lounge across the street from CBS TV City, and a tab of equal significance at a Hawaiian barbecue restaurant called Kelbos.  

Although you were unaware of it at the time, you were acquiring enough experience to convince you the events and skills of these years were not in your best interests, in consequence of which, you made several attempts at lifestyle changes, such as moving to Mexico City and joining a traveling carnival.  For convenience sake, you call this Hollywood 1.

Typical of the kinds of atmosphere, emotional and artistic landscapes of Hollywood 1 was today's event in which you were exercising skills perfected in Hollywood 2.  While going through an editing job for a book project written by a screenwriter with a long list of motion picture and television credits, you were approached and greeted by another screen writer you've known for the better part of twenty years.  

At first, you supposed they knew one another, but after enough of a silence, you performed the introductions. You'll call them Writer # 1 and Writer # 2. While they were being acquainted, you went to the coffee bar to refill your coffee.  No sooner than you'd done so when Writer # 2 (not your client today) approached you and told you, in strict confidence, of course, that he'd been hired on many occasions to rewrite the work of Writer #1, your client.

There is only one way to take such information, with a nod, which you gave.  Back at the table with Writer #1, you were not surprised in the least to hear him tell you of the times he'd been hired to rewrite Writer #2.

When you were in your Hollywood #2 era, you were running the LA office of a massmarket paperback house with some prestige, thus you heard equivalents of such stories as you'd experienced today, from many screenwriters who wished to break free of their Hollywood Era and become novelists.  

There were two or three close calls for some Hollywood writers you'd ferreted out, writers with what you considered moving and well conceived stories.  In each case, you were authorized to shake hands on a top advance of fifty thousand dollars.  Because you liked each of the three, you approached each with a non-negotiable one-time offer of fifty thousand dollars, feeling good about the possibility of launching three careers for novelists.

You met with each privately.  They listened to your offer, then regarded you as though you'd somehow betrayed or insulted them.  Even though fifty thousand was a generous advance for a first novelist at that time, none of them could afford to accept the fifty thousand dollars because the advance would only buy them, maximum three months to complete their novels.  In effect, they could not afford to take the fifty thousand dollars because of things like rent, tuition for their children, alimony, car payments, and, in one instance, a $200/hour psychiatrist.

In a way, you incorporated such things into a novel which your then agent could not place because no editor was able to believe such things existed.  Your agent believed you, but understood the editors' position.  "In effect,"  the agent told you, "Hollywood stories, however unusual, will always be cliches before they become real."

You found a publisher on your own, but even that publisher did not believe that one character was based on a real person, who made monster movies by gluing menacing-looking wings onto the sides of ordinary lizards.

Novels about publishing are not much easier to place because, once again, expectations and behavior somehow cloud over the reality, making it seem somehow false or exaggerated.  On the other hand, the novel of academia seems to provide you the sort of arena where the behavior and agendas of Hollywood and of publishing take on a plausibility they lack in their own neighborhood.  You have everything you need there.

Perhaps you have everything in academia because there are so many more earnest individuals within administration, faculty, and student cohorts to offset the splendid theater of the absurd you see lurking about.  There is always the potential waiting down the hallway, or in someone's office, or over a cup of coffee at the student union, of an intriguing, inspiring conversation.

In equal measure, there is always room for the surprise of what starts as an inspiring conversation before it catches the scent of true, divine absurdity that sends you scurrying along after it.


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