Tuesday, August 4, 2015

One Sardine on a Wheat Thin

When we take up writing after being seduced by the notion that we can write with as much conviction and truthfulness as we found in the reading we enjoyed, we begin a fraught, complex relationship with event and purpose.  The relationship reminds you of your first cat, who was in fact your neighbor's cat, who visited you because you were home most days, writing impossible stories on a red Olivetti portable typewriter.

The cat came to you from boredom.  Surely it had good company when his owner was home, but days are long and languorous in the Hollywood Hills, and there you were, your mother's son, mindful that a visitor, even a cat visitor, should be offered refreshment.  

At the time, it was your nature to splurge on tins of pate, cornichons, deviled ham, sardines, anchovy, and other similar elements including wheels and balls of cheese, which could be transformed into suitable accompaniments for bottles of wine or cognac, should you suddenly find yourself with five or six guests debating politics, literature, or a suitable place to go for dinner.

Still in the role of being your mother's son, it did not occur to stock cat food for your afternoon guest because it was also your thought that the cat should not have to eat alone.  In this fashion, the occasional visit from the cat became a daily ritual.  If there happened to be an inch or two of wine left from a previous meal, you finished that, providing the cat with whipping cream, milk, or water to accompany his own serving.

So yes, your growing relationship with the event and purpose of characters in pursuit of some goal took on that quality of feeding a neighbor's cat.  There was a definite string of causality initiated by the cat's boredom, his awareness of you being home, and your mother's having programmed you to be a gracious host.  After about two weeks of the cat's visit, you began to hear your neighbor, addressing the cat.  "That happens to be quality cat food you're turning your nose up at."  You also heard, "Well, if you don't eat that, you aren't getting anything."

In the setting you think of as Reality, random events are more common than linked, consequential acts.  A look at a the front page of newspaper with a global outreach, say The New York Times, the Washington Post, or The Guardian may reflect fires in California next to a feature on Syrian refugees and China's aggressive campaigning for the 2016 Olympic Games.

Seen in the proper perspective, randomness becomes the landscape for Reality.  The moment we switch to story, mysteries, in particular police procedurals, someone is bound to say--and we are ready to accept--"One event is random, two similar events are not coincidental."

Story has become our relief from the randomness of Reality.  Stories in which the same event has transpired serially in a number of countries ratifies our willingness to accept conspiracy theories,  and a belief in a universe governed by determinism, where most events are the result of previous events.  

When the time comes for you to revise something you've written, whether it be invented incidents or what nonfiction has become for you, which is to say a combination of opinion, memory, and a linked association which may or may not come in first or early drafts but which eventually does come.  You had, for example, not given much thought to Sam, the cat of your first paragraph, whom you'd not thought about until you'd completed the first sentence of the first paragraph.

You also attend to more mechanical things, such as looking for habit words, repetitions you've made without thought.  A frequent habit word of yours is a, which you become at pains to remove wherever possible without causing a potential reader reaction, "Aha, he edited that sentence to get a few a out of there."  Yet another is the search for sentences that seem to want to go on in the belief that they have what it takes to stand as a paragraph.

This last is painful.  You enjoy long, rambling, meandering sentences to the point where you think you've become pretty good at constructing them.  But the payback you often get, in particular from editors, is that you are piling too much on the plate for the reader, who in effect wants one canapĂ© at a time.

Your argument holds out for the position where most long sentences reflect a related string of events, piling on the clauses to accommodate for the passage of time and for the accumulation of purpose, but even you can see that quite often, one sardine on a wheat thin is quite enough; the while tin of sardines is quite unnecessary.

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