Sunday, August 2, 2015

Story as Negotiated Settlements

You did not begin teaching until you were in your forties.  Even when you began, you approached it with an air of suspicion, born of a long, painful time of reading through the slush piles of unsolicited manuscripts on your way to becoming an editor.  This suspicion made great sense at the time, because teaching had called to you rather than you calling to it.

Your teaching appointment came because you were an editor, which meant you no longer had to read through slush piles; you had assistants who did that.  Instead, you got to invite and solicit things, most of which you were at the extreme rat tail of the curve of choice likely to read all the way through.  When you explained this to the person who hired you to teach, he offered you a teaching assistant, who would in effect read through the slush from students.

The icing on the teaching cake was the fact of the teaching assistant having himself already published a book  At the time you were called to teaching, the entire concept of it was an outlier, one of the farthest things from your mind. The last time you'd given any thought at all to teaching was when you'd signed up for a course in education to allow you to pursue a student named Janet.  Neither the course nor Janet went the way you'd hoped. There was no future in either.

Having a job as an editor meant you were established enough in an occupation to move you beyond such previous jobs as a painter's assistant, a parking lot attendant, an assistant at a luggage repair shop, a telephone solicitor, a carnival pitchman, an auctioneer's assistant, and a night watchman.  

Being an editor was a respectable job for a writer.  There was no need to consider teaching.  Because there is in fact, reason to believe irony occupies a place in the genome of Reality, things one does not need to consider often come to one, either as an inducement from Reality or an indication that Reality has a sense of humor.

In much the same way being an editor became a negotiated settlement between you and Reality, teaching became another such negotiation.  After you've been teaching for at least five years, you heard yourself in class one evening, offering in a brief lecture about the structure of a short story the observation, "The payoff of a short story is a negotiated settlement with reality."

There'd been other things you'd said that impressed you, but this one has remained constant over the years since its first utterance.  With that statement, you recognized you were not only giving students worthwhile guidance, you were in a vivid sense accepting the fact of you being a teacher as well as an editor, and were on your way to the additional negotiation that you needed both to be the writer you wished to be.

Growing into Reality can be a ponderous, difficult thing, filled with unexpected turns, mazes, dead ends, and one-way streets.  This awareness is hard-won at best, given the way you were introduced to it by your parents and the propaganda presented by your culture as you appeared on the planet in time to feel many of the effects of The Great Depression and World War II.

Reality, as you see it, can be compared to the publishing industry in the sense of it being a constant stream of unsolicited events as they overwhelm the planned considered ones.  If Reality has a personality at all, it is a stolid one of near troglodytes.  Reality is Capitalism as the sorcerer's apprentice, an avalanche of event, overwhelming, incessant.  

In most ways, Reality is what the individual brings to it.  Hopeful, propaganda-biased individuals are more likely to arrive at the awareness of Reality as an analog to the house odds at a gambling casino, a few occasional payoffs, many near misses, and disappointing outcomes.

Many individuals approach story the way they save for vacations to Las Vegas, with hope for the big win or at least enough to have paid expenses. You admire their perennial hope as they board the bus to the nearest casino or stand in line for tickets to the latest feel-good movie.  You have nothing against them, but you do have the sense of them not sharing your tastes nor you theirs.  They are not likely to be readers of your stories nor you of theirs.

The only certainty you can see in Reality is that it will continue, without form or attribute.  Your dealings with it depend on your ability to have conversations with your expectations when you are offered options.

In this universe where Reality takes on the role of the Casino in terms of house odds, you see ambiguity and flexibility as key players in story.  You admire gamblers who are thrown out of casinos for counting cards or demonstrating an in-the-moment ability to compute event.  Their ability intrigues you without causing you envy.  Players who double down seem to radiate a way of confronting desperation, risk, and openness to consequence that attracts you, makes you want to stop and watch the outcome.


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