Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Orange Street

More than once, while engaged with the early draft of a story, you allow a character to ask some question of existential curiosity. "What's this really about?" she said. In response, another character will respond, "Nothing is what it seems."


Much as you relish such moments, they are pretty much short-listed for excision on the simple grounds of your having used them in earlier stories, having ,different implications than they do in the current narrative.  Things, details, meanings, and implications are more than mere words to you; they are actual tools in your narrative toolkit, much more likely to be picked up and used than plot or suspense or even another favored approach of yours, reversal. 

All of these are significant elements within the dramatic genome to the point where you believe it impossible for a story to emerge from a narrative without them fitted into place. Plot, of course, is the tide, waxing or waning on a stretch of shore, tugging at anything in its way, a force to be reckoned with. Suspense is the hovering atmosphere of wonderment at what will happen next or, in direct opposition, wondering why a thing that was supposed to happen did not. 

Reversal is the actual occurrence of an event or condition as it negates the sensory and moral expectations of a character. Fred can be seen achieving or accomplishing a goal only to discover that it was not what he expected. Mary expected to be more powerful, now that she has the information she sought, but instead, Mary feels weakened, vulnerable.

At an early stage in your life, when you lived on Orange Street, scant blocks from the fabled Miracle Mile of midtown Los Angeles, individuals would see you at play, stop to offer you things, ask existential questions of you, offer to show you how to do or make things. Life was like that, then. In the space of a few years, a grizzled individual who swore to you he was a veteran of World War I introduced you to the word ductility, a vital word for a boy such as you to know.

Another person, who pushed a cart and in a Yiddish sing-song, announced to the neighborhood that he was buying old clothes. He assured you that the two words he was about to teach you would open more doors for you than the words, "Open, O Sesame," he heard you using in play. "Repeat after me,"he said, "I should see you have it in memory."  "Cat-" you began.  "Catalytic," he said.  "Catalytic agent." 

Yet another individual with a large carving knife executed from the slat of a fruit box a curved scimitar. "Enjoy your play," he encouraged. "Soon enough, you will go to college, where you will be made permanently unhappy because of the abstruse nature of learning. He applauded your honesty in admitting you did not know what abstruse meant. 

"The more you learn," he said, "the more you will be plagued by the implications of that word." Handing you your curved scimitar, he questioned you about your knowledge of implication. "A suggestion," you said, sure of yourself, for you had then and would continue to have for a considerable time a bright sister."This is not Damascus steel," the man said of your wooden sword, "but it will do for now. At some time in your life, you will want Damascus steel."

A woman, mistaking Orange Street for Orange Grove, insisted you learn about Heraclitus, which caused you gales of laughter at the mischief you would ultimately unloosen on your mother, who insisted you take a bath before going to bed at night. "I don't understand him," you mother said of you at dinner one night, "always laughing about not being able to take the same bath twice."

Your sister did not have the same relationship with and regard for your mother as you did. "He is teasing you with Heraclitus," your sister said. "I don't know where he gets those things," your mother said. "Everybody knows about Heraclitus," your sister said.  "Okay," your father said, "That's enough."

These things from your memory of Orange Street are early examples in your life of things being about themselves and, yet, about completely differing things, where you went from one kind of ignorance to a step beyond, an information plateau, then a step forward, as though you'd been initiated into the next level of awareness in a secret society.  

You'd been in any number of libraries before, but somehow, standing for the first time in the midst of the Lawrence Clark Powell Library at UCLA, you recalled the man who'd carved you a scimitar.

There were--and still are--more books in that library than you could possibly read, more things to learn than you could possibly digest or somehow or other process. The first thing you noticed was that they were not shelved according to the Dewey Decimal System. This was big time, the world of implication, the world of the abstruse, the abstract, the coded, the sensory and intellectual and practical,the catalysts,. waiting for you to decide which was which.

"Hurry," they said.

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