Monday, March 28, 2016

It Was All Greek to Me, Until it Became Greek

The idea has been buzzing about in your head like a hungry mosquito in search of her dinner, casual at first, the intriguing but closed-end notion in which most of the books you liked and knew you'd revisit seemed simpler than you knew they were. 


Being inspired by a particular novel or short story to the point where you'd decided to write your version of it or your answer to it proved your point and taught you the lesson that was a long time being learned.

The things that seem the easiest are in fact the most difficult of all. Here, in the perspective of your aged awareness, is the revelation of a truth long hidden to you: Complexity may well be a cover-up for lack of technique in bringing the inspiring concept to fruition.  For years, you couldn't get past the word-by-word density of James Joyce's Ulysses. To this day, you still have trouble unraveling Finnegan's Wake.

Nevertheless, the vision still holds; each of those two novels was not written to be complex; each of them is as simple and direct as it can be. Proof of this comes with rereading. 

When, as a boy, you first approached the Greek drama that eventually taught you more about characterization and motivation than many of its contemporaries, you had an understanding of the issues involved, but they seemed remote until you were along into your late twenties and a dear, longtime chum died of cancer. Entering the chapel for his funeral service, you saw another longtime friend, his eyes watery, standing outside the entryway. "Come," you said, "we'll go in together."

"Can't," he said. "Not allowed."

"What do you mean, 'Not allowed.'?"

The answer was one of the many historical and cultural cracks you'd come to discover in the religion into which you were born. It was one thing for your classmates to be friends in life, but a tribal matter, who knows how many generations back, prevented the survivor from entering the temple to pay final respects. 

You entered the temple for the service, your emotions awash with anger and amazement, missing the service, itself, and to your bewilderment thinking about the enormous range of motives, relationships, and cultural imperatives in, of all things, Antigone.  What twentieth-century, second-generation American boy of moderate Jewish background, attends a funeral for a classmate not yet thirty, then thinks of Antigone in the midst of a service being conducted in Hebrew?  

You were at the time, five or six years away from marriage, which among many other things, would once again call Antigone to mind, over the refusal of a rabbi who presided at your and your sister's coming-of-age rituals, and your sister's wedding, to officiate at your wedding. 

These events were not tangential by any means to the understanding you pulled out of the cosmos, then crafted into the fabric of defining narrative and vision. Being a part of your birth culture influenced your early behavior and your accommodation of the life you wished to lead.

Each of us composes a cultural narrative from which to enact, and in your case to fabricate imaginary and, you hoped, imaginative stories, accessible to a potential segment of readers, perhaps even agreeable and resonant for some of them. Big, thick, and ponderous as it is, Moby-Dick was not written to be complex.  

It was written to be the simplest, most direct statement of the author's comprehensive sense of what Transcendentalism was, is, and can be, told, as many effective dramas are, against a particular background (whaling) that might seem at first blush to have nothing to do with Nature, and yet embodied the clash of natural forces.

The underlying force behind your choice of career path was embedded in the early novels you read that seemed so simple and accessible that you assumed you could do likewise. Then came the years of discovery that the ease was the reflection of the writer's craft. You were well past your forties when you understood the nature of storytelling was causing the complex, recondite, and nuanced dealings of the human condition to seem easy to replicate.

Until that time, you were living in a state of ease. Since then, you have been living in a state of unease, of the overwhelming difficulties involved in telling a story, and making it seem easy.


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