Friday, January 8, 2016

The Piquant Story in a Five-Ingredient Pasta

  When you were in the depths of your encounter with the flu and norovirus, not being able to think gave you a good deal to think about.  Your difficulty came in linking thoughts to action.  Get up, meant get out of bed.  One beat.  Get up, go to the bathroom, brush your teeth.  Three beats, and, for the record, pretty much the way you had to organize your movements.


There often was a considerable space between beats.  Get up.  Now organize the shifting of weight to allow for standing.  Now, lurch to the bathroom.  Once there, lean on the sink.  Reach for the electric toothbrush.  Reach for the tube of dental paste.  

As you progressed through this double-whammy of an affliction, you became able to make better connections, see yourself as you frequently do, from above or below or next to, observing the you in action, aware of the decisions and implementations linking the basic beats, doing things you in ordinary circumstances, not narovirus and flue circumstances.

Not that you needed the education to the basic concepts of movement, although in all things connected with writing, finding dramatic reinforcement is vital.  Writing, seeing story, looking for story, identifying traces of story embedded in reality, these are all learned responses.  

In the same way the musician must practice and the dancer spend time at the barre, the painter or drawer put in hours with the sketchbook, moments in real life and in story must be examined, practiced, not taken for granted.Writers often forget their own need to practice, with the result that all the characters begin sounding alike.

A favored memory from the few times you spent in company with Julia Child was one in which she observed, perhaps to you, perhaps to her niece, who is the wife of your dearest friend, perhaps to the effects of sipping away at bloody mary's:  "The true chef  achieves results not by adding ingredients but by not adding them."  Somewhere later in the afternoon, she spoke of her favorite recipe for pasta being one in which there were only five ingredients, one of those being the pasta.  

Since you tend to be a kitchen-sink type of person, this caught your interest.  You began to experiment:  1)linguini, 2) kalamata olives, 3) fruity olive oil, [California of Sicilian] 4) chopped scallions, 5) grated Romano cheese.  Depending on the contents of your fridge, 4) often became buds of garlic, and if you'd snacked away all the olives, as you tend to do, 2) could become a tin of anchovy or a tin of sardines.

While it is abundantly clear to you that you could survive on a diet of linguini with clam sauce, this five-ingredient pasta has had a notable impact on the way you behave in the kitchen, while shopping for groceries, and your attitude toward beats, those telling, dramatic moments in story where the writer reveals, willingly or not, his or her mastery of movement.

Another matter of abundant clarity is your own tendency at one time to put too many movements into a given story, your frequent marginal note to author/clients:  "Do we need this scene?" or "Do we need this altercation to go on for so many pages?" You still believe in the process of over-orchestration in order to achieve the right balance, thus your dialogue sometimes reminds you of Jose Ferrer, cast as Cyrano de Bergerac, simultaneously fencing with an opponent with sword and with words.  "And as I end the refrain--thrust home!"  Ouch, but yes.

Too many beats in a scene and you have opened the door for that most unwelcomed of all guests in story--boredom.  You recall the time when one of your clients, an emeritus professor in some aspect of a social science, was reading a scene in which his protagonist was engaged in a fight.  When he finished reading, you noticed a fine mist of perspiration on his brow.  "What I want to know,"  you said, "is who won that fight?"  And he, no stranger to last-minute epiphany, said, "I don't really know."

When unnecessary movements get in the way of you navigating from bed to bathroom sink to brush your teeth, the result is not so much direct boredom as it is the presence of another real enemy, the overthink.  It comes down to your preference for being able to see who won the fight, then get on with the action involved in the consequences.

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