Monday, June 22, 2015

You Expect Me to Believe That?

Among the first things you had to come to terms with in your efforts to perform the alchemy of turning the you who was a mere, if devoted, reader into a storyteller was expectations.  

Now, in retrospect, you recognize how you have come to some comfortable terms with expectations, other terms with a weary acceptance, and other terms yet with the kinds of sad wisdom you have come to associate with humor.

This is not to say you'd have pursued your goals any differently had you the hindsight you lacked then, nor that the results would have been that much different than what they have become.  Expectations being what they are, you can recall a time at about age seventeen, when you were a student in a creative writing class.  You'd had an assignment returned to you by the professor's reading assistant, containing a brief note.  "If,"  the note said, "you clean up the spelling problems, this piece is ready for publication."

You were immediately offended, not because of the comments about spelling, which were all too true, and which you have invested considerable efforts trying to set right, rather because you knew you had more work ahead of you before you could entertain the expectation of a thing you'd written being ready for publication.  And no, student publications did not count, nor did some of the occasional pieces you wrote for what were then called neighborhood newspapers.

In about two years, not quite twenty, your expectations--and your closer attention to spelling--led you to believe you were ready for publication, an expectation that triggered enormous avalanches of rejection slips, which had the effect of speaking to you, each time a new one came in. you seemed to be saying that you were so ready to being published, but "they," by which you meant the world of publishers, were not ready to have you.

Your strategy was to wear "them" down with submissions, meaning you had to have in effect what you believed yourself to be the least good at, plots.  At one point, you became so determined and, yes, desperate, that you dug out the story from you at seventeen, the one ready for publication with its spelling seen to.  You expected it would be returned, but it was not, meaning your original outburst of temper at the teaching assistant was either misguided or misplaced, possibly both.

You expect a storyteller to be a person crackling with expectations.  This is not an unrealistic expectation for you to have because of the number of story and essay-related things you have in mind to complete, then submit, on one hand having a reasonable expectation that these projects will find homes, but on the other hand, the writer's hand, all too aware of the potential for any and indeed all of them to be rejected more than once.

As an undergraduate, majoring in literature, you expected your approach to lead you directly to publication, which is to say you expected the mere reading of works to reveal how you could and then should write the things you had expectations for.  You'd already had achieved a fair number of rejection slips when you cane upon works by a Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, The Everlasting Nay, and No, In Thunder!"  He was addressing things you did not think you needed to know, which was a big mistake on your part, even though you took comfort in the titles of his works.  The Cosmos seemed to be talking to you, and you were laughing with it, not at it.  

Among your mistakes were those in which you did not take adequate time to see in perspective the things you read.  To create a world, however personalized, you need to set that world in a broader context, where characters are not merely happy, they are happy because of the way things have turned out for them, or, conversely, where they are not happy because of tangible obstacles.

To make the move from reader to storyteller, you need more than expectations that your stories will find publishers or producers.  You need expectations that they will illustrate--not describe-conditions that resonate with a segment of society, indeed that they resonate within you so that whether you are alone, writing new material, or out with friends, listening to music and eating at some level of enhanced enjoyment, you are filled with expectations to the point where you are defined.  

Poor Lowenkopf, someone might say regarding you, his [your] expectations are all he has right now except perhaps that enormous vocabulary and that absurd memory.  They may also say of you, He hasn't really hit it with his last two.  He's all about reaching.  They could even venture, He never seemed to have reached the level he thought he deserved.

One character with significant expectations is enough in the abstract to give you a story, but there seems more substance and mischief in the notion that several characters, all with complex expectations, are thrust together, as a family, classmates, inmates of a rehab or asylum, perhaps even workmates.

The matter gets better at that point because you realize added possibilities when each of these characters has expectations that she or he will be understood, agreed with, and applauded by the others, which is so often not the case.

Because you believe each new project much differ from the previous lest you become repetitive and derivative of yourself, you have the bar of expectations raised high that the next project will be better than the previous, that the new will always outshine the next, that ability always increases, builds upon itself and, thus, comes bearing the gifts of greater insights and the abilities necessary to dramatize them.

Beware of Trojans bearing gifts.  Beware of taking your expectations home from a day's writing.  Do the work.  Reach.  Try to have a mattress handy.  Just in case.

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