Sunday, May 15, 2016

Terms of Endearment

Within your career in writing and publishing, many disappointments came to visit you, linger about, and settle in like the overcast and coastal layer at this time of year, not to burn off until you were visited by some shimmering, pulsating new idea. 

Although many of these new ideas had the potential to find yet newer ways to disappoint you, many of them gave you the excitement the Wright Brothers must have experienced when their heavier-than-air craft managed to stay aloft for what must have seemed like young eternities.

Among the squadrons of enthusiasms, taking off most days for reconnaissance, only to slink back home, hunkering in disappointment was your first experience with the word and concept of denouement. 

It is a French word, tossed about by your early college creative writing instructors and fellow students, who, after hearing you read, were wont to say such things as, "You are a brave person to so conspicuously avoid denouement," and "Surely in your revision, you will let us see the denouement."

Thanks to a used-bookstore owner who took it upon himself to be your mentor, you were already trying to understand what the Russian formalists were trying to get at with syuzhet, and so a French concept was not something you were going to waste time on. At one point, you told a group of classmates you had no use for the French, particularly their denouement, feeling rather more a rebel than the ignoramus you in fact were.

To your credit and ultimatge benefit, curiosity prevailed. One soggy, rain-soaked afternoon, you bit down on the bullet of pride and asked your used-bookstore mentor if he had any opinions about denouement he'd be willing to share. "Jesus Christ, boy," he said, coming from behind the counter where he customarily lurked to grad you by one arm and a shirt collar, leading you to Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, third edition, wherein he began a furious leafing through pages, muttering, "Next thing, you'll be telling me you don't know apophasis when you see it.  Jesus Christ.  And you say you're majoring in English literature."

Denouement is a comfortable way of bringing a series of causal events to a conclusive outcome, a form of closure, as it were, or in terms you'd later invent for yourself and your own use, a negotiated settlement between the worlds of Reality and Story, a definition you'd arrived at with the help of Russian syuzhet.

Painful experiences are quite useful in self-education, the pain invariably coming at one's own expense for having been somewhere on a revolving path of stubbornness, ignorance, intransigence, and, worse yet, assuming you did not need to know something because you did not understand it in the first place.

You threw around the adjective Chekhovian as an explanation for the way your narratives reached their final paragraphs, but your future reading and reflections on the stories and techniques of Chekhov left you pained at the cavalier way you set aside narrative form and the notion that an effective story could have a lingering aftertaste.

At length, you began to find your way through the morass to the place where the words that sound best to you are the ones comming not from theory or imitation, although they were of dome help, but from being out in the nights, soggy and dry, pausing to watch such seasonal celebrations as the spread of the violet bloom of the jacaranda tree, depositing a momentary throw rug on the sidewalk, listening to the chatter of jays, the clinking chirp of the towee, the excelent mimicry of the mocking bird, and the chuckle of tree squirrels. Then, listening to the voices that come percolating from within.

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