Saturday, May 21, 2016

Dramatic Wisdom and Conventions, Double-Breasted Suits

The same creative writing teacher who lost sixty pounds and began wearing double-breasted suits, and who also told you to either literally or figuratively shoot the sheriff in the first paragraph, was fierce in reminding you how accidents could make things worse but they could not make things better.

In one of your final meetings with him, he also spoke of the Russian formalists, whom he assumed you would study when you got to the university. Some of them posited that a story with a carpenter driving a nail in an opening scene required you to hang something from that nail before the story could be considered done.

You did in fact spend some time trying to figure out what the Russian formalists were all about and after much confusion and indecision settled on a theory that was in fact influenced by them: details had to be relevant. 

Your reading of the so-called American realists meant you could go around, listing details all over the place by way of providing information about the characters. A favorite approach of yours was to get a character to open a kitchen cupboard or a bathroom cabinet, therein to list such medications or foodstuffs as pleased your picture of the individual. 

The sad reality you encountered somewhere well down the line was that you'd given yourself over to various devices and approaches to storytelling that appealed more to critical theory and the intellect than they did to the senses and to the emotions. 

At about the time you became aware of this, you were taken on as a client by a literary agent who had his own list of particulars, with the result that your output was in its way like a dog of unknown and multiple parentage,

Only today, while you were composing, you were aware of  significant character, a close friend of your narrator, using one of your all-time favorite lines of dialogue, "I can't do this any more." This stopped you cold in your writing tracks to the point where you capped your fountain pen, then took a long, thoughtful slug of coffee, thinking once again about the former creative writing teacher who was also formerly overweight.  

He warned you about the expressions, "But it really happened that way," relating to an incident you were writing about in a story, and "But this character is based on my Uncle Fred, who really said that." You were reminded of the "I can't do this anymore" spoken by you, when you'd reached a critical point in your attempts to write stories including all the dramatic wisdom and conventions you'd picked up over the years.

The years to which you refer span the time between high school and now and thus have come to merit the adjective considerable because you have been collecting dramatic wisdom and convention for a long fucking time. 

To your credit, you've been working at distinguishing between the wisdom and convention you no longer wish to listen to and the wisdom and conventions that speak to you on a level that seems to begin somewhere in your viscera, then proceed to a place somewhere within muscle memory, where intent, word order, and a code book of user instructions reside in the equivalent of companionable unity.

If there is, as some exotic cultures believe, a particular residing place for the intuition, this place is the home for the code book of user instructions you follow when setting down early drafts and when you edit these to remove some of the reflexes and habits you have not been able to purge from the operating system.

Now that you think about it, you have been a creative writing teacher for a long fucking time, although your preference for self-description is not so much a creative writing teacher as an editor and a writing instructor. Long fucking time can stand on its own. You sometimes what mosquito-like buzzing you put into your students' head, causing them to awaken at night with a sound of something they will need time to remove from their psyche. 

You tell your students Don't think, not for the first draft. The more you spend time thinking, the more time you will have to spend removing. Time enough for considerations about removing things when the revision begins.

In your lifetime, you have had five double-breasted suits, one given you by your mother's youngest brother, the other four, all of a distinct Italian nature, were given you by an actor you used to work for. The suit from your uncle never seemed to drape well, and you were pleased to outgrow it. The suits from the actor were taken immediately to a tailor named Sol, who transformed them into single-breasted garments,

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