Friday, May 20, 2016

Territory, Monopoly, and Story

You didn't equate Territory, your favorite game of early years, with Monopoly, until you were moving on through your late teens. Territory was played with many participants, in your estimation the more players the better.  A large territory, a rectangle or circle was drawn in schoolyard dirt, the more moist the better.  


Each player began with a piece of his own turf, the rules of the game dictating that a player's turf must be at least large enough to accommodate his entire footprint. Each player used a jackknife, with which he would attempt to expand his own landhold at the expense of the other players. 

The player would aim and throw his knife, hopeful the blade would stick in the ground. If the blade did stick, the player was entitled to draw a line connecting to his landhold, in effect annexing a portion of the victim's territory. If the knife did not stick, the player lost is turn to the next player. If a given throw of a knife did not allow the thrower to connect his opponent's land with his, he lost his turn.

Territory depended on a player's ability to throw a knife into the ground so that it stuck, the added skill being to throw with enough accuracy that a direct line between the thrower's territory and an opponent's territory could be drawn. You were good enough at the game to win more than you lost. 

By your reckoning now, you were not yet advanced in metaphoric and conceptual thinking to realize you were, among other things, reinforcing the notion of drawing lines in the dirt, or establishing boundaries, playing an impromptu version of Monopoly (c), and imprinting certain Marxist themes within such psyche as you had at the time.

The activity of drawing a line in the dirt to establish your own turf did lead you to thoughts and daydreams whereby you owned actual property as, indeed, your parents had at one time before the disastrous effects of what has been called the Great Depression. Driving by the places they owned in Santa Monica, you saw how they'd in effect been Territotied out of their turf, and watched with them as they sought to regain in later years a sense of comfort and security.

Although you were brought from the hospital where you were born to a comfortable upper middle class home owned by your parents, you left that house to a succession of rentals and have spent all the years since as a tenant rather than owner.  

Your father, who at one time wished to be a dentist and then a lawyer, had a conversation with you when you were in your early twenties, after he'd not only accepted your choice of occupations but encouraged it. "You will probably own properties and concepts of other natures than real estate," he told you. "There is nothing wrong with owning real estate, but you must not let it disturb you that you do not."

Appreciative of his support but also wishing to strut and show off for him, you asked if he were implying that you might not be successful at your chosen occupation.  He replied, To have chosen an occupation and remained with it is success, no matter what the outcome.

In later years, during a remarkable picnic of hamburgers, vegetable curry, and a tangy iced tea prepared for you by nuns of the Vedanta Society, you thought of this conversation with your father while discussing with Christopher Isherwood a poetic line he'd helped translate from the significant Hindu morality epic, The Bhagavad Gita.  "To the work you are entitled," the line ran, "but not the fruits thereof."

Since that day, you've interpreted the line to mean you'd bloody well better find work you enjoy if you are to have any pleasure from such things because there are enough boring activities and responsibilities to keep you in a steady fog of routine.  "If," Isherwood said, "one loves what one does, one is a lover." To which you were able to reply, "And that makes you a success."  "That's one way of looking at it," he said. Then, hamburgers and silence while we ate.

Drawing lines, defining tastes and territory, and knowing when and where to step over the boundaries are abilities you've picked up since your knife-throwing days playing Territory. On occasion, your blade has not stuck in the ground, or you were not able to annex new experiences and understanding to your own turf.

You recognize how, within Story, you must show the reader how a character is at risk of losing his territory, how his concerns and actions often cause him to reach what appears to be a boundary, where he must overstep to encounter the vital next step.

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