Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Writer's Responsibility to His Characters and Friends

Every year at about this time and since 1979, you encounter a special group of friends, individuals from other parts of the world who converge on Santa Barbara to participate in a writer's conference.  Some of them, so the joke goes, come from as far away as Los Angeles.  Others arrive from more easterly parts.

Some of these individuals began as students at the conference, worked their ways into the publication and/or production of their stories, poems, essays, films, plays.  All have evolved into the kind of entity you think about when you hear the word "collegiality" brought forth, even though that particular word and others like it have implications for causing you suspicion.

With the exception of an approximately two-year period during the thirty-four years you spent at the University of Southern California, "collegiality" had only the most abstract, neo-Platonic meaning for you, then along came Den Kamei, under whose vision and approach caused the faculty to demonstrate collegiality, which meant family, inter-faculty interest, and with one or two exceptions which were blunted by egotism, a sense of an entire faculty taking concern for an entire student cohort.

In the same way you learn as a writer that there is no way you will please all who read you, you learn how some students will not relate to you nor you to them.  At this same conference, there were two former students of yours from the University of Southern California, one who embraced you the moment she saw you, the other who expressed surprise at seeing you here.  

Was your response bled over into sarcasm from irony when you said, "No more than I, you." ?  Among the conference faculty, one from the days at USC, whom you greeted with the recitation of something he already knew, his name.  And his reply to you, "How's it going?"

In the midst of this collegiality one or two with whom you exchanged sincere expressions of love.  And one other, a colleague in a number of ventures from about 1985 until his recent--2008 or 09 move from Santa Barbara to Provo, Utah, where what had been at least a once-a-week meeting and at least a once-a-month journey to co-host a Bay Area writers' workshop.  

Your contact now is mostly by email, punctuated by this yearly visit of him to here.  The importance is the continued informality in your conversations, the notable lack of awkward silences significant of each trying to produce a thread of conversation.  Rather the opposite, the business-as-usual dynamic of friends sharing enthusiasms.

This week's activities have brought you a generous spectrum of possible relationships with former students, current students, former editorial clients, current editorial clients, colleagues, and friends. From your interactions, you found yourself led to an understanding of how you have a similar relationship with all the characters you have ever created, those you will create in the future, and those you have brought for repeat performances, moving them from one story to the next.

You cannot have nor would wish to have the same relationship with all your characters any more than you would wish one uniform approach to friends and acquaintances.  Indeed, as in the nature of friendships, some acquaintances became friends.  Some characters grew on you to the point where they became indispensable details in other stories.

A writer's responsibilities to his characters is on a level with his responsibilities to his friends:  to listen, to be a presence rather than a presumptive appearance, to be in the moment rather than phoning in friendship, to care, to fucking care.


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