Monday, March 21, 2016

Agreement, the Insect Spray of Story

The effects of two habits from your early years remain in full adult sway even as you set this down. The habitual desire to have an ample supply of pocket-sized notebooks close at hand persists to this day. Your fondness for fountain pens causes a regular procession of catalogues featuring fountain pens to arrive by mail.

 These two passions meet in the form of notebooks, filled with notes and observations, expressed in brown ink which has flowed through a gallery of instruments you keep variously in a Mason jar on your desk and a cigar box, stashed behind you on a piece of furniture too small for you, but the ideal size for your mother.

This is no empty rhetoric. Only yesterday, you ordered a new batch of notebooks from a company in Chicago whose work you favor, and only today, you were unable to scroll past a black, lacquered fountain pen with birds, Chinese figures, and calligraphic flourishes rendered on its sleek, thin body.  

You probably don't have as many notebooks as you do shirts (ah, shirts are yet another matter), but you are not in anything approaching immediate need of new notebooks. Nor is there a danger of you running out of fountain pens. Notebooks and fountain pens and, for the matter of actual composition of early drafts, lined legal tablets seem to be the psychological (or notional) tools you associate with composition.

One of these pocket-sized notebooks is of historical interest to you; it contains one- and two-page descriptions of books you think you might like to write, books you believe you ought to write, and projects for which you feel degrees of interest and affection, aware they are still lacking in form. Flipping through the pages of this notebook often has the effect of one of your daily favorites, a double-shot, nonfat latte. 

There are more nonfiction projects than novels, although there are quite a few paragraphs representing your attempts to capture the intrigues and energy of short stories, a form that remains your favorite. Your current project is in there, well enough realized that you used portions of these notes in the proposal you created when you realized you were going to proceed with the project.

Your rationale for the notebooks and pens is simplicity personified; they get you writing, keep you writing, keep you reading, keep you making more notes. Thumbing through the brown-ink pages, you're sometimes reminded of athletes, particular baseball players, who have quirks that might be thought of as superstitions. 

This reminder is a way of keeping you from attaching any mystical qualities to your own methods and approaches. Thumbing through your notebooks, if done properly, can cause you to hear voices.More often than not, these voices become so purposeful that they begin challenging one another, not necessarily over the same matter.

You come from a culture where details, nuances, and passionate convictions are taken for granted to the point where, if they go missing, someone, somewhere, will ask, "Is something wrong?" Part of your working culture, beyond the need to amass quantities of notebooks and fountain pens, insists that you hear the voices of characters if the work at hand is fiction or the voice of narrative, should the work be anything else.

Agreement that comes from a dispassionate, logical framework seems almost counter-dramatic. When you envision Hamlet, hearing the voice of his father's ghost, you appreciate the depth and genius of the creator, but you want the dimension of the ghost, arguing with someone else while trying to secure promises of revenge from the kid. You want to see and hear the ghost turn to someone who has a passionate agenda, then say to that person, "Let me finish, will you?"Then the ghost turns back to Hamlet. "What was I saying? Ah, yes, your uncle. Your mother. You see where I'm going?"

You are not making fun of Shakespeare; you have a deep respect and admiration for his work, but you have arrived at the point where your awareness of your own voices has some stature as well. Your voices want recognition of how fragile and hard come by agreement is. When there is agreement, however flimsy, the story either stops dead in its tracks, it begins, having served notice that the agreement was too lacking in foundation to support the terms of the discussion.

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