Friday, July 24, 2015


Back in the days when you were a frequent consulter of The Daily Racing Form, there were two or three variable that always caught your attention.  Had the horse you were researching run any contests against any of the other entries in today's race?  Was the horse able to run well on a middy track, or, in racing lingo, was the horse a good mudder?  You were also interested to discover if the horse had been given a handicap in its previous outings.  

Again in reference to racing lingo, handicap of this sort meant the horse had one or more weights of a specific amount placed in his saddle.  In addition to carrying the jockey, who often weighed less than one hundred pounds, the weight of the jockey;s uniform, and such items of tack as saddle, reins, stirrups, halter, and the like went into the occasion.  Horses previously assigned a weight handicap, who finished well in their last performance were animals to watch.

Some individuals appear to do well, which is to say they consistently perform at better than average level.  However admirable this may be for individuals in the Real World, such persons must be assigned some form of handicap if they are to engage our concerns, attention, and empathy for the long haul of a novel. 

What must be said of them or apparent by observing them is that they have some quirk or perversity, some element of discord or fallibility that overcomes them at specific times.  The specific times will, of course be brought to bear in the story otherwise why have it.  If a man must be over six feet tall, he must at least have the good sense to bang his head against something once or his legs must protrude over the edge of his bed.

Story is as dense and interrelated as our human condition has become.  You, for example, are a walking library of tics and quirks, most of them so well known to you that you take them for complete granted and feel no reason to warn others of them or apologize in advance for them.  If you have not achieved complete comfort with your quirks, you tag the minimum accept them for what they are, perhaps to the point of being able to discuss the climate of their onset.  This extensive familiarity with and acceptance of your quirks makes you a rather tepid potential for being a front rank character in a story.

Self-knowledge and self-reliance in characters speaks of a kind of Sherlock Holmesian aloofness which at the least requires that his activities be screened through the equivalent of a John Watson, M.D,  Either that or, should you find yourself patterning a character on yourself, some other form of handicap is required.  Jonathan Lethem handled that admirably by inflicting a significant degree of Tourette's syndrome on a principal character, Lionel Esseog, in the novel Motherless Brooklyn.

You could try yet another approach to make the ordinary seem more able to introduce surprise to the story.  Your noticeable flaw to the reader would be your belief that you were ordinary or, even more intriguing, your belief that you were a considerable echelon above normal (when in fact the reader would discern your good fortune at being at the level of normal or, to quantify with numbers, at the IQ level of 100.

In the same paragraphs in which you speak of a confident, reliant level of self-awareness, there must come an ever increasing belief of yours covering the gap between self and self-awareness inherent in most individuals.  You enjoy watching (and, alas, sometimes find your own self indulging) two or more individuals in a circumstance where they are convinced an authentic conversation is in place, yet no such thing is evident to the outside viewer, the reader, the reviewer, the witness.

At darkness most evenings, the sky is filled with stars, planets, comets, constellations, orbiting satellites, and the vast swarm of of passenger and cargo jets, plying their routes, transporting great gobs of us and our goods from one continent to another.  The immensity of the transactions is humbling and stunning, sending tingles running through you at the thoughts of all these orbits, agendas, and communications in place.

In a universe where the human species can put satellites in orbit about distant bodies, then cause them to return to a predetermined landing site less than a square mile is mind boggling.  A species that can on one hand do such things with relative ease and miss connections on conversations, intentions, and interpretations requires story to keep it sane.

For your part in the matter, you relate better to story than to orbiting satellites.  Both have much to do with communication.  You are content to the awe of wonder at the work of those whose work is with the satellites while you attempt to send stories and essays out into a different kind of orbit.

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