Wednesday, July 20, 2016


 When the discussions turn to literary, writerly topics among your writer friends, you find yourself hopeful the conversation will turn to those rare individuals of your early reading experiences and those even rarer contemporaries for whom there are few descriptions as appropriate as "a natural writer."

There is, of course, no such thing as a natural writer, even though language does appear to manifest itself in most of us within a certain time frame, and with the arrival of language and vocabulary the need to tell a story. Some narratives begin as excuses, variations on "The dog ate my homework" meme. 

Others emerge as self-promotion in disguise: "Here is the story of how I accomplished some remarkable feat, the details of which I want to make sure you all know and do not forget." Yet other narratives fall into grandmothers, telling us how they met their husband, or how they emigrated from Country X to Country Y.

Many of us, almost before we are aware of it, have seemed to make the transition from using language to communicate--"Two lumps, please," of "No milk or lemon, thank you."--to using language to present some form of narrative. You can recall times while you were undergoing that transition from language to communicate--"I will." "I won"t." "I want." "I don't want." "Do I have to?" etc--to the language of conveying narrative.

Given the narratives of others you heard, and those narratives you'd have read, you became aware as well of a significant lack of personal narratives with which to engage others in conversation. The best you could do was express opinions, aware as you went that such simplistic opinions as "I really liked that book." "That story excited me," and "I hope to find other stories as good as that one," were good for holding the interest of others for scant moments. 

If you wished to be an active part of a conversation instead of a mere listener, you needed the equivalent of a story, which is to say an intriguing setup, a resulting search or attempt, some form of reversal, and the introduction of a surprise interpretation for a payoff.

Throughout your early teens and well into seventeen and eighteen, the best narratives for social interaction were jokes. Given your reliable memory, you could wait your turn until there was a break in the conversation or another individual had recounted some event or told a joke, then grab a piece of the stage by saying, "That reminds me of--" by which point, you'd be launched either into a review of some film or play or book, and failing any of those, a joke.

At that age, you were already launched toward what you wished to be, aware still that you had few actual adventures of your own and of the enormous journey of reading you had facing you before you could think to invent plausible stories about plausible persons.

Even though you'd been taken from your home turf across a continent along what was then the iconic route 66, to worlds varied and alien from your own, the best you could manage was a sense that the men and women whose narratives you most admired had come by their abilities with the same ease you had when recognizing you were right=hand dominant.

You were "away" for four years, returned in time to join a junior high school in grade eight, where you recognized many friends and classmates. But you were different and so were they, which is one of the first things you leaned about narrative. He or she who is away and returned is no longer the same,

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