Writing in the current issue of The American Scholar, the novelist and sometime essayist, Amitav Ghosh, along with possible help from an uncredited editor-caption writer, asks about the consequences of future generations of fiction readers make of the failure of contemporary novelists to address what he calls the crisis of climate change.
From your own readings of Ghosh's fiction, notably The Circle of Reason, and to a lesser extent, The Hungry Tide, you have sufficient cause to believe he is a significant and devoted reader. You do not consider his (or the caption writer's) use of the word "crisis," hyperbole nor indeed of the hysteria-producing rhetoric often found in sources whose default more likely than not relies on exaggeration to attract readers.
Ghosh's essay is excerpted from a work of nonfiction due to appear as a book within the next weeks, further distancing it from the kinds of text and headlines for publication on the Internet and, thus, measurable for the number of "hits" or pages read associated with hyperbolic headlines and shock value.
Ghosh impresses you as a writer with a writer's conscience, which is to say a writer who is concerned with the resident issues of his time, caste system within the global sense, and who demonstrates the conscience of a writer.
In this regard, your thesis herewith, without diminishing your own concern for the climate, which you acknowledge to be a worthwhile issue. Your thesis begins with the awareness that most of the writers whose works you've valued over the years tend to wrap their narratives of fiction and fact about the armature of a time and place, often (but not necessarily) sharpening their focus on some local or global issue of a broad, general urgency.
Perhaps the writer is not as aware of the downstream aspects of the narrative as we, as readers and all the I Told You So of the Monday Morning quarterback, would appreciate.
Your thesis goes forth to believe how human life is, within your space within a bubble, populated with individuals whose awareness of crises and emergencies are spread thin with modern life. They may care about such issues as climate change, migration, and racial injustice, but only as spectators at the likes of one of the more contact prone sports, from the watching of which they may wonder about the ability of the human body to endure such impacts on a regular basis without suffering future consequences as well as the more immediate ones of, say, concussion.
Writers, whether knowingly or not, choose topics and characters from a menu of their own concerns and experiences.For every Rachel Carson of blessed Silent Spring memory, countless other writers are prescient only so far as their awareness of the issues of the moment allow.
We may read works from the past with bewilderment at how "they," those of the past, could not know, how, for instance, they could have been serious in their belief in the scientific reliability of phrenology, those aspects of spiritism that included seances, trance mediums, and contacts with"the other world." Even today, the equivalent of evoking the pro/con ire at hand for the discussion of climate change is to speak to or against the efficacy and reliability of astrology.
Some years ago, you indulged yet another argument about related matters with Sidney Kimmelman, ne Sidney Omar, the astrologer whose daily column was in wide circulation. "Watch out, Virgo," he'd say at such times, "You're running off at your critical worst." Then he'd grow more thoughtful. "You do know there's big money in it, don't you?"
And then his, and your partner in a magazine venture, Borderline: The Magazine That Dares the Unknown, Henry Miller, was wont to say, "There's big money in anything if you're willing to exploit it."
The thing holding contemporary writers back from a more prescient focus of the future is the extent of their vision of the immediate present and its denizens. Sometimes when the time of night, weather and atmospheric conditions here in Santa Barbara allow you an awe-inspiring awareness of the starry skies, or those times when you are in deserts or other remote areas and bedazzled by the spectral view, you have brief, sobering moments of wonder.
Which of those lights you're seeing had their origins at stars who are long dead?
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Writing in the current issue of The American Scholar, the novelist and sometime essayist, Amitav Ghosh, along with possible help from an uncredited editor-caption writer, asks about the consequences of future generations of fiction readers make of the failure of contemporary novelists to address what he calls the crisis of climate change.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
An actor lives to portray a variety of other individuals. Some actors, in live performances, may even "double," or portray more than one person in a single venture.
Among your favorite actors at the moment is the English performer, Mark Rylance, who, in various roles, has been the female lead of Twelfth Night, a friendly giant in BFM, a filmed version of Roald Dahl's story for young readers, a Russian spy in the film, The Bridge of Sighs, and Thomas Cromwell, confidante and minister to Henry (Tudor)VIII in Hilary Mantel's epic Wolf Hall.
There have been times when you have wished to undergo the training that might make you an actor, if only to more understand and appreciate the diversity of emotions and techniques that go into acting. On some occasions, you have performed as an actor, the outcome of happy coincidence.
Unless an actor has achieved a significant status, the need to audition for a part is as commonplace as putting on makeup. Some higher authority, a director or producer, must be convinced of the actor's ability to fit a particular role and as well to engage other actors in the same production with a high degree of chemistry, a portmanteau word for the qualities of engagement, spontaneity, and plausibility.
All those times in which you've argued how any individual at any given time becomes in fact a composite of selves, representing a spectrum of emotional and cultural selves, you were well aware of the rather large ensemble cast residing within your person.
This brings you to a place where you experience the same fraught and suspenseful moments when an actor auditions for a part, not just any part, but a desired, coveted one.
Your own auditions are often conducted without preparation, perhaps even without any thought at all. Nevertheless, there you are, from time to time, wanting to do well, wanting to be the best you possible, wanting to be extended to a quality of performance you've never reached before.
Who, in effect, gets the role? Is it the brash, super confidant seventeen-year-old you? Is it the aspect of yourself you refer to as Built-in Cynic? Is it the Inner Critic, who has fond fault with so many of your ideas and ventures?
Such questions are not mere frivolity or exaggeration; these are questions you ask on occasions of retrospect, where you process the fact that you might have given the role to an aspect of you that got the job done, but now, you wish to bring to events even more appropriate and vigorous characters who will bring confidence, lightheartedness, and empathy to the audition.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Not long after one of your recent ruminations about the endings you'd encountered in the first wave of books and stories you'd read, which nudged you forward to consider the types of endings you prefer now in the things you read and, not without surprise, the things you write, you came upon a remarkable film clip from a film dating back to the silent days.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
At one time in your childhood in the greater Los Angeles area, there were at least three movie theaters which bore the name The Hitching Post. The one most convenient for your purposes was the on in the 6200 block of Hollywood Boulevard, which could be achieved by a ten-cent bus ride on either the La Brea or Fairfax Avenue routes.
In time, The Hitching Post in Santa Monica became convenient thanks to the fact of your father having command of what was called The Boulevard Luggage Shop and which actually sold luggage and repaired old steamer trunks as a blind for various activities related to the outcome of horse races or the turn of a card in a wild farrago of a game favored by Fillipino chefs and line cooks.
Clearly The Hitching Post theaters stir the gumbo of nostalgia; look at how you place them, roughly between the years of 1940 and 1950, where the menu, as the title suggested, was Western movies in a steady stream.
You could--and did--enter when the theaters opened at ten of a morning, and could remain all day, confident you'd be seeing different films, with no repetitions.
Of course they were awful, but they were Westerns, each of which had an element that prompted this memory in the first place. What's a Western film without a chase? Hence the expression, "Cut to the chase," or, "Get on with the reason we're here."
Another similar expression, which has no such glamorous association as The Hitching Post Theaters, is an equivalent of "Cut to the chase," in this case as "the bottom line," as in "What's the bottom line?" or "How much is it going to cost?" and with even greater effect, "How much is it going to cost me?" usually asked of one or more of his children by a father.
The chase in the Western movie was a posse of good guys, in pursuit of a gang or bad guys. The bottom line, as it referred to cost or the final, crucial decision, means an acknowledgment of what issues or matters are at stake in this immediate transaction.
Both the chase and bottom line have reference to story, which always has a pursuit of some sort and a reckoning, a price to be paid or a prize to be won. Life is not nearly so clear because life is filled with a plethora of details and diversions unrelated to the task at hand.
The moment we begin to consider story, we begin the drudgery of editing out the details and elements connecting the characters and their agendas. One question you're fond of asking yourself, when times come to revise something you're working on, or to students when you're teaching lit courses or to writers when you're teaching writing classes: Can this story do without this detail? Is this scene vital to the story or is it a red herring?
A significant reason for the popularity of story is the bottom line of there always being a chase and some price to be paid.
Saturday, August 27, 2016
In the warp and weft of your non-reading and writing lives, which is to say the greater universe of reality, you tend to regard a given outcome as the completion of an event, a task, perhaps even a life cycle. To these completions, you often attach a degree of feeling and consideration in what seems to you a commensurate degree of regard.
Will you, for instance, feel pangs of regret for the last batch of asters and iris you discarded this past Sunday? Not likely because your Sunday trip to the grocer allowed you to replace those now sagging flowers with more vibrant avatars.
And so, as Kurt Vonnegut was so fond of saying, it goes. You light those memorial candles from the culture into which you were born (the yahrzeit or year anniversary of a death) for both parents, a sister, and a wife, doing so with a nod to the culture but a greater nod to the individuals.
You would not be excommunicated nor reinvested into your birth culture, were you not to light such memorial candles, thus the argument that your rituals are more for you and the individual loads of grief you carry for each individual.
You also light candles for three remarkable companions along what Dante Alagheri referred to in metaphor as the road of life, Sam, Molly, and Sally, respectively a shorthair domestic cat, a multicultural dog, and a half-Australian Cattle Dog, half Australian shepherd, actual rituals to supplement the thoughts you carry of each.
Such behavior distinguishes you, distinctions you have come to understand you require to the same degree you are reminded of your six-foot-three-inch height, your dominant right-handedness, and the facts of your bionic nature, wherein you have neither hip you were born with nor, indeed, neither lens of each eye, nor, in fact the bladder.
These replacements are accommodations and outcomes; you did not on the spur of the moment, decide to have your hips or lenses or bladder replaced. Having sufficient time to learn and insure yourself to the probable outcomes of the greater universe of reality into which you were born, you learned to maneuver and adjust to the laws of observable and, on great occasion, unobservable probability.
The stories you read and write have a collateral set of outcomes, most of which you are able to chose as a matter of preference, but also from the same sort of observation and accommodations required of you out in the greater universe of reality.
You are aware of the need for an outcome in a story, in fact feel cheated if a narrative you read does not have one, and within the same equation, you feel discomfited when you cannot see a way out of a narrative you've begun.
You are not so much looking for a happy ending as an instructive one, which, like it or not, is based on your experiences with the GUR, the greater universe of reality. On a number of occasions, you've reached the formula that guides you in your preferences for reading and your own writing--the negotiated settlement with the universe of reality.
Do you want a happy ending? Fuck, no. Happy endings represent to you some attempt on your part to control the entirety of the greater universe of reality, where you have enough to do keeping yourself afloat within it and aware of its many unspeakable beauties which you, nevertheless are at pains to recognize and evoke, both within your life and your work.
Thus your attraction to the noir, the sad humor of reality, the awareness of how, no matter their external attractive colors and splotchy bold patterns, the goddamned pears at Gelson's Market are always a disappointment from the first bite.
Endings reflect individual nature. Who ever heard of lighting a yahrzeit candle for a cat or dog? You know with a noir-like certainty that the pears at Gelson's Market have not seen the last of you. Endings reflect the you, trying to effect an outcome in a greater world of reality that does not give a rat's ass because it is too busy being itself.
Friday, August 26, 2016
Reporters gain their stature as insightful, reliable presenters of data and events, their reputations often based on how effective they are at conveying relevant, illuminating information. Narrators often create a likeness or approximation of events and their related data, at times inventing their production from the whole cloth of imagination.
The difference between the reporter and the narrator: each strives for a defining result. The reporter's result is accurate description of place and circumstances, the narrator's result is a plausible evocation of time, place, and the feelings of those involved.
The more the narrator strives, the less general and more biased and circumstantial the narration, The reporter, if successful, achieves approximation of descriptive objectivity by providing a few glimpses off witnessed detail.
In the former case, the narrator, striving for that state often described as simulacrum or approximation, begins to reach for details he or she finds to have some personal resonance. This brings into play a risk of botched metaphor in the form of one of your most favored lines of poetry, the third line from John Keats' The Eve of St. Agnes," The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass.
The reporter is showing us how the evening was so cold, the hare was limping and trembling while making its way through the grass. The narrator will already have blown breath on his own hands to warm them while writing of the hare's journey out and about in the chill of that night.
A line out of context from a poem becomes a report, but the opening stanzas of the poem give us the full narrative effect of the chilly night of which Keats wrote and the context as well as the temperature for the drama that was to come.
You could argue away some between-the-drinks conversation with the opening line to Dashiell Hammett's short story, "They Can only Hang You Once," which puts this information on the table:
"Sam Spade said, 'My name is Ronald Ames.' "
Report, narrative, or a mash-up of both? The first thing we learn about the character is a deliberate lie. If we already know who Sam Spade is, we are all the more intrigued by the immediacy of the subterfuge. Spade is working on a case, right? Subtext, deception, and hidden agenda are tools in the narrator's toolkit.
At one time in your life, when you saw yourself as a reporter, you were alert for the vocabulary and proper filters to insure your descriptions would illuminate, but even as your interests in reporting grew, you found yourself eager to express the bias of opinion and, by fancy footwork and triangulation, attitude.
If the sort of objectivity called for in journalism represented Reality, then you wanted none of it or, at best, only enough to inform you of the events and attitudes thrumming about you, so that you could braid them into realities of their own.
The difference between what you were reaching for and what you saw yourself in the process of becoming was the difference between the descriptive focus of the reporter and the evocative flair of narration. One does not tell in narration, one chooses events, details, and responses which convey the ashes and embers of fires that once raged.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Your fascination for the work of F. Scott.Fitzgerald began while you were still in your teens, leading you, step-by-step, through his work in hopes of finding, beyond mere enjoyment of his stories, a plank in the platform of your own ventures into storytelling.
In addition to the enjoyment and absorbed sense of placement in his world of writing and the individuals about whom he wrote, you came upon one unforgettable statement and its unforgettable effect on you each time you create a character of your own.
The matter of influence does not rest there; the statement manifests itself, almost like the ghost of Hamlet the Elder as it appears before the presence of young prince Hamlet, who, if you do some reckoning and shrewd questioning of Prince Hamlet's conversations with Horatio and the gravedigger, was about the age you were when you found Fitzgerald.
You've written of this material before, often with the precise goal of taking something more away from your considerations. The material begins the longish short story, "The Rich Boy;" it reminds you of the Waltham pocket watch that was once your father's, given you, he said, because he wanted to leave you with something old, serviceable, and reliable. You take out the wind-up Waltham to look at and be reminded of Jake in much the same way you consult this opening of "The Rich Boy:"
Begin with an individual, and before you know it you find that you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find that you have created–nothing. That is because we are all queer fish, queerer behind our faces and voices than we want any one to know or than we know ourselves.
Your takeaway from this is a near compulsive effort to build an individuality about whatever character you bring on stage, even he or she who delivers minimal lines. You once caught yourself, in a classroom, having moments before telling--imploring--a student: "Even if the characters is only there to tell us 'The Redcoats are coming,' I want to know that character's accents, background, and motives."
In your own writing, your editing, and your teaching, the character is propelled not only by agenda but as well by the details of how he or she came into the story in the first place, got sight of the Redcoats, and what, if any, connections he or she has/had with the Redcoats.
This is the product of a long, painful education in which the characters of any book ever published seemed more alive and alert to the vicissitudes of the human condition than your characters, the characters of writers you admired having yet more wrappings of individuality and presence than your own.
Although painful to admit, you did not always like your characters, thus there was no surprise in the discovery that there were times when you did not always like yourself, your own details seeming to you at those time like the contortions you went through on those times you'd stepped in or come in contact with a wad of chewing gum and were at some pains to be rid of the encounter.
The details of which you speak are only minimally those of physical description, red hair, liver-spotted hands, lantern jaw. These details are the things and ties by which an individual is linked to the landscape of your narrative. How did they get here, or there? Whom did they know? What things do they like or abhor? How does their particularity get them into trouble or speak to their reliability as witnesses.
Even so-called walk-on characters, those warning the front-rank characters of the imminent arrival of the Redcoats, are there to add to the flux and confusion of the story. They, too, step in unanticipated wads of chewing gum.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
In keeping with yesterday's observation of how the greater likelihood of you being hit by things excludes such phenomena as meteors, rogue Uber vehicles, and unattended skateboards in favor of ideas, and concepts, you're further driven to conclude how such ideas and concepts are connected to that greatest of all enigmas, the mystery.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Everywhere you look--local newspapers, foreign newspapers, TV clips on Facebook, news and commentary magazines--people are being hit. They are being hit with an array of vehicles including but not limited to supermarket shopping baskets, stray skateboards, bicycles (two- and three-wheel) and in one incident you noted in The Weekly Guardian, a baby carriage, although in The Guardian, the baby carriage was called a pram.
For most of your life, you've avoided being hit by such things, not because you are essentially a graceful person as much as you are a fortunate one.
Nor is this to suggest you've not experienced many of the experiences individuals the world over think of as accidents in which they and large objects, indeed, often large stationary objects, come in contact.
If you are to be hit with anything, the effective agent is that great intangible vehicle, the idea. On occasion, you catch yourself announcing to the world that you have a gut feeling or its close variant, that you can feel some awareness of impact in your gut, although the more common collision in the areas you inhabit is somewhere in the head, whereupon a sensation is dispatched to the general area of your stomach.
In fairness to the collision, the idea does not seem to you to have any mean spirited or otherwise malevolent intent. Rather it makes itself known to you with an intensity equal to the need to get your interest, which is another way of saying that you, pursuing the warp and woof of your life, may well have your attention focused elsewhere.
One example of this is the time, back in the days when you were engaged in distance running, you ran into a Chevrolet Impala that was not only light blue, it was parked and driverless.
Being hit with such intangibles as ideas, like most other things in life, has at least a binary aspect. You are rarely bored, thanks to the Santa Monica Pier arcade of distractions going on inside your head, but as well your chances, even now, of walking into or onto things that would best not be walked into or onto of.
Having a hip replacement may have put an end to your distance running days, but such limitations should not prevent you from tripping, as recently, over a fallen tree branch large enough for most persons to see or, indeed, walking into a light blue Chevrolet Impala, parked where you least suspect.
Monday, August 22, 2016
While watching a television drama a few days ago, you couldn't help noticing the kind of anomaly an editor would notice. This was a breakfast room scene, in which one character waved a bit of toast about, collateral to some dialogue, before taking a bite out of it.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
The first several times you heard the folk song "Green Sleeves," you were of an age and temperament to consider it a love song. You had indeed been from time to time cast off, even on occasion discourteously, although, that said,there were times when Lady Greensleeves was well advised to have cast you off, thus the nature and humors of young adrenals and the fallout residue of puberty.
Saturday, August 20, 2016
Friday, August 19, 2016
The scene is in the rehearsal room with a tape and chair for the director, a few tiers of benches for the twelve major actors and four or five walk-on or minor characters, some of whom will be doubled, which is to say portrayed by one of the major characters.
This play, King Lear, was first performed in 1606. meaning we are back in time to that historical era, the consequence of which is that three of the major characters, Lear's daughters; Ragan, Cordelia, and Goneril, are portrayed by boys.
Of course, this was the case in all plays in England until 1660, thus such famous Shakespearean women as the Lear daughters, Rosalind, Ophelia, Queen Gertrude, Mistress Quickly, and Lady Macbeth were portrayed by boys.
If the boy actors were not accomplished, the entire production would sag with a noticeable and horrific effect. In addition, such noted actors of the original troupe such as Richard Burbage and Will Kemp would have tired of the cognitive dissonance, then sought employment with other companies.
The most extreme case of a boy portraying a female character would be the young man cast to portray Viola in Twelfth Night,which happens to be your favorite of the many wonderful Shakespeare plays.
Thus a situation with a boy, portraying a girl pretending to be a boy, in love with and in the service of Duke Orsino, who uses Viola as a go-between to express his devotion to Olivia who, thinking Viola a young man, falls in love with him.
Here we agree then, the director wanting three boys to portray the daughters in Lear, by all accounts important roles, their importance carrying with it a presence of gravitas, particularly in the need for nuance and polarity in Cordelia and Goneril.
Now comes the problem. The boys with the most skills and experience at acting are at the stage in their life when their voice is changing, resulting in a probability of an unintended croak during the rendering of a critical speech, such as when Lear first broaches the question of loyalty he puts to Cordelia. Croak.
Such a concept is close to wonderful story, a judgement you make because such situations and conditions have great appeal for you. Only natural you'd think such a concept worth pursuing to the point of developing characters, dramatic circumstances, and a condition in which some character, manufactured to have a vision of the world similar to yours, decides on a solution.
One of the boys has a sister who's watched enough plays and likes the idea of acting enough for the director to consider her for the role of Cordelia. Here we go, once again: a girl pretending to be a boy in order to portray the daughter of a king.
There is a similar situation in Antonia Byatt's remarkably dense and nuanced novel, Possession, in which Byatt uses the dramatic monologues of the poet Robert Browning to guide her into writing the poems of a fictional poet, Randolph Henry Ash, thus a woman using a male poet's showcase product to create the work and personality of a fictional male poet of a particular temperament.
But Possession doesn't stop at that; its author also channels the work of two female poets, the American Emily Dickinson and the British Christina Rosetti to produce the poetry of a fictional woman poet, Christabel LaMott, named for the protagonist of a major minor poem written by the male poet/critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Nor do we stop there: Antonia Byatt, through her characters, Ash and LaMott, is writing letters from one character to another. Acting is a challenging and demanding profession, made even more so when we see an individual of either gender portray a role with convincing vigor and notable insight.
Acting also allows actors to work across gender, as in Shakespeare's time, but also in modern time when Mark Rylance, at about age forty-five, portrayed Viola in Twelfth Night, Dustin Hoffman as the eponymous Tootsie, and Ben Wishaw, portraying Georgette in the film made of the novel Cloud Atlas.
Writing is fraught with gender and identity problems; the writer of necessity has to be everyone, often in some kind of on-stage relationship with everyone else, but certainly the one who has to fragment his or her psyche to bring the story to believable life.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
The primary idea of one's exact counterpart abroad and with agendas, and the secondary idea of you encountering said double or double goer or, better yet, doppleganger, has been a living presence in the attic of your memory ever since you first encountered the concept and the Germanic name for it.
Of course the encounter took place within the pulp pages of Weird Tales, or some other platform for stories in which reality is bent and twisted to form shapes that cause you to question and, at times, yawn at the realities in which you live.
Let the romanticists go on about finding one's soul mate. For your part, you have no objection to a soul mate, but that said, your enhanced interest is in this individual bopping about the universe as though he were you.
The doppelganger theory would explain some of the many times you've been taken for a self of whom you have no prior knowledge, no voting rights in his behavioral or motivational agenda. If, for instance, you were to encounter a doppelganger with an interest in the law or medicine, ave atque vale, as the saying goes, hail and farewell.
Were this doppelganger to be a librarian, a musician, or an actor, perhaps you might be swayed, but you do see how this works, don't you? In direct proportion to the universe giving little, if any, concern to your wishes, your interest in a potential doppelganger is in your hands, to do with as you see fit.
The closest you've come to success here resides in the times when you were confronted by persons who'd apparently seen your doppelganger, leaving you to confront the results, which you tend to do with characteristic mischievousness.
Not long after you learned about doppelgangers, your career path took you down the perilous slide of the screenplay and teleplay, where you learned certain buzzwords related to the filmed story. In so doing, you learned another term that could influence the end product of a screenplay or teleplay written by you. Quite often, characters are required to fall out of windows, leap off bridges, be hit by a speeding car, or ride a bucking bronco.
These and other similar activities are called stunts. More often than not, these stunts are performed by individuals who specialize in being blown up by IEDs or surviving automobile crashes. You were well aware of the men and women who did nothing but these stunts, some of them chosen for their resemblance to an actor or actress who was otherwise playing a role in a film.
Such individuals are called stunt doubles, their title a give-away for their part in a film: They are temporary doppelgangers for the actors for whom such stunt activity is thought to be a reach.
Over the years, you've heard said of a particular actor or actress that he or she does his/her own stunts, this said with a modicum of respect. For your part, you respected, them moved on, not linking the delicious possibilities of doppelgangers and stunt doubles in both real and dramatic life.
Nice as it would be to have the physical abilities to work as a stunt double, you're content to consider the possibilities within the comfort and solitude of your own inner work area. Real life gave you extra long leash when it allowed you to discover that Arnold Schwarzenegger, as actor, had various writers writing his dialogue, one for when he spoke to children, another time when he spoke to peers, and yet another who write his lines in romance-based circumstances.
In retrospect, there are times when you wish you'd had the service of a stunt double taking on various romantic and professional activities on your behalf, enduring for you the high dives, crashes, and calamities.
But your better self always wins the arm wrestle with your wishes for stunt double intervention, wins and helps you regard yourself in those various moments when you rise from a chair without pushing off on the arm rests or correct your balance when it goes awry, or when you scan the mirrored image of your face when you look to see if you've missed some patch of stubble on your lantern jaw.
Your doppelganger may be out in the world, working mischief, but to this day, you do your own stunts.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
The often neglected benefits of having kept a journal for many years, then beginning this blog back in 2007 relate less to the content and its development and more to the specific use of words, the order in which they appear, the length of sentences within paragraphs, and the balance between the long, complex sentence and the short, emphatic and declarative one.
Most of those daily journals were a step short of free association, written as the words began to resonate in your inner year, for you don't need much reminding that you hear voices, perhaps in respect to your first mentor, Rachel Maddux, whom you met in your early twenties, and who straightaway asked you, after reading some things you'd written, "You do hear voices, don't you?"
At the time, you hadn't given the matter much thought; writing was something you did, without paying too much heed to the causal factors. In reading or recall of your writings, you see a binary arising, starting at about age thirty, when you began to suspect your writing, although facile and edgy enough, was lacking in substance.
The years between then and now represent the parallel lines you're so fond of talking about in writing classes, one line being the output itself, the other being the forces and causes surrounding it; theme, you might say, versus action.
For the longest time, you heard for the integrity of your ideas, notions, and even questions, wondering if, were you able to arrive at an original idea in the first place, would you be able to recognize it as such. Thus the ongoing relationship with your own inner editor began, holding some measure of sway until you took it to one side, then effected a useful compromise with it: The first draft was to be yours. If you chose to do so, the second draft also belonged to you. At that point, the internal editor was to be welcomed inside.
This detente with your inner editor led you to abandon your preoccupation with originality as a tangible presence. The way to approach it was through your study of the life about you, your readings of the causes and effects of past times, and your engagement with the speculative nature of your own curiosity.
You still hear Rachel's voice, particularly after she'd moved across the continent to a new life, some greater sense of fulfillment, and then the by-product of her voice during those long, late-night phone calls when her own voice was made husky by a combination of cigarettes and sour mash whiskey.
You hear other voices as well, particularly Mark Twain, who, because you have read and reread so many of his work, and because you took a step that seemed impossible, following him to Virginia City, then securing a job as a correspondent for The Territorial Enterprise, in its way causing you to feel you knew him in person. He died on April 21, 1910, meaning your father was alive, if only a lad, when he lived. But because of your father's own dead-pan ironic visions, it became easy for you to conflate the two voices.
Of course there are other voices. You spent some time capturing the voice of Willa Cather, who indeed you find difficulty in separating from Rachel. There are others as well, men and women with towering voices, clamoring for your attention. Dorothy Parker. John O'Hara. Ring Lardner. F. Scott Fitzgerald.
How do you manage to hear your own in such company?
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
In your attempts to keep track of your own past, you've become painfully aware how much of it you've lost, giving you the sense of trying to keep cats from escaping and puppies to mind you. This self-awareness of the multifarious nature of time and substance has behaved like yet another animal form, if a pigeon coming home to roost can be regarded, even in metaphor, as an animal.
The direct and proximate causes of your observations emerged and continue to persist as a result of a simple list, one of the sort you are in the habit of making. One such list would be the ten things you'd hope to mention in a lecture or its variation, the ten questions you'd pose to a particular class during a specific lecture.
Another list has been, until the events in play here, the ten books you wish to read neat, the one on top being the one you read next, the one or ones at the bottom being those you've placed on the list as a result of reviews, relevant essays, or their relationship to a subject or author of interest.
For various classes, you've compiled lists of mainstream novels, mystery novels, novels of speculation, noir novels, and novels which span one or more genera. Small wonder then that you should fgind yourself curious to see the results of a list of the hundred novels that have had the most significant influence on the person you were when, at some point toward the last quarter of 2015, you began compiling the list.
Soon after compiling the list, you found yourself teetering on the edge, then falling into the void of a new project, which was a brief five- to six-hundred-word annotation for each of the hundred novels. Thus the project, which needed only two more things, a breakdown of the hundred titles into subsets, which came easily enough, and then the challenge to the reader, the very notion of which meant you saw this as a book you knew you were committed to taking to conclusion, along with the challenge to whomever shall read this work, "These are my hundred. Which are yours?"
The existential senses of growth, loss, and the natural transmogrification attendint on any project did not beginto emerge until you'd reread several of the books on the list, then began to write about the nature and quality of their influences on you.
Rereading, however pleasurable, is also dangerous; doing so often causes you to see things about the novel and yourself you'd not noticed before. The trap you were springing on yourself began in earnest some years before, when you began teaching courses in literary theory and engaging in furious, long arguments with the academic Ernest Sturm.
At some length, you came upon and were quite taken with another academic, Caroline Levine, whose magisterial work on narrative form, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network caused you to spend considerable time examining narrative format and your own vision of self, story, and hard-wired response to narrative.
Instead of arguing with scholars with opposing views of a topic, Levine spoke of her reading of a particular narrative . You began to follow this beyond the mere use of an approach but as a part of a broader approach from which you began to see any given narrative as a text in evolution, sometimes to the point where the forces prompting the writing of the text were obscured by time to the point where some details might be lost to modern readers.
In similar fashion, ytou saw how your own evolution as an individual could well cause you to have missed things in earlier readings or, not having missed them, misunderstood them and only now were able to get close to the author's intent.
If you were not confident of gaining fresh and remarkable insight from rereading, you might well ease up on rereading because of the revelation of the callow nature of your youth and earlier readings. This binary approach is resident in all who read, experience, and venture opinion.
The past at once frightens and fascinates you with its reminders of who and what you were and how, even though the past cannot be changed, your vision of it and your relationship to it can be better understood.
Monday, August 15, 2016
With few exceptions, you've only taught classes you wished in the first place to teach, based on your increased belief that the best way to learn a subject is to teach a class or write a book about it. So far as the former is concerned, you only agreed to teach a course in grammar because of your belief that it was something you'd found yourself railing about a great deal.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
In your mind's eye, in the richest, most iconic memories of such things, it is a lustrous dark mahogany, a pair of forty-fives: forty-five feet long, set at a forty-five-degree angle. It is a banister. It is the banister, put there, no doubt, to make an architectural statement. You, suppose the statement was made, but to your Preteen awareness, the statement was not of architectural voice but rather of pure adventure.
You did not begin to notice the banister until you moved beyond the candy and soft drink stand at the Ritz Theater, just east of La Brea Avenue on L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard Miracle Mile. The Ritz resided, a living presence, on the south side of Wilshire, such a commanding presence with its ingratiating smile of a marquis that you paid no heed to what was across the street.
The Ritz drew us with promises of transportation to the remote,secret places of adventure and romance that required a boy's impatient imagination for a passport. Like the retro grandeur of the El Rey, further north on Wilshire, the Ritz was fortified with the chandeliers, rococo nooks, and lavish carpeting of a world long past.
Unlike the El Rey, the Ritz had a balcony--hence the banister--and weekly serials on Saturday. You only went to the El Rey when the double bill at the Ritz was the then unthinkable combination of two love stories.
If you were in luck, the Ritz's Saturday feature was a Western followed by either a mystery or an outdoor adventure, sandwiched around an episode of Batman or The Green Hornet. Although most of us thought Batman was cooler, we all tried our hand at the faux-Irish brogue of the rumpled reporter, Axford, with his emblematic, "Sufferin' snakes, the Green Haarnet!"
Of course the angle was not forty-five degrees, but age and retrospect have not dimmed the thought that the banister might easily have been forty-five feet long.
Ten cents to get in. Another five for a Peter Paul Mounds bar (with two almonds). And the ride began.
Ten or fifteen minutes into the main feature, there was usually the perfect opportunity--a love scene. Up to the second floor, and a for-show visit to the men's room which smelled better than the lavatory at the El Rey.
You would have thought the ushers were on to our stratagem. Quickly out of the men's room and over to the banister, a brief check to see if the coast were clear. Some chose the side-saddle approach. Your approach, the full-on two-leg mount. Sliding down the polished slope, it was all you could do to keep the whoop of joy internalized.
As matters stood those days, you'd already signed two promises not to slide down the banister. There was no three-strikes law on the books then, nevertheless you lived in fear that the third offense would sentence you to a lifetime of Saturdays at the El Rey.
With luck and careful planning, you could manage three rides a Saturday, three opportunities to ride out the excitement of the double feature and serial or ameliorate the disappointment of their being duds.
Fate has not been kind to the Ritz. The El Rey has been declared an historical site; it still has regular showings. The Ritz, its bodacious banister still polished, is leased for special performances, waiting, you like to think, for adventurers who relish the steep thrill of the grandest downhill ride in town.
Saturday, August 13, 2016
Measuring distances between two points seems simple enough; any measuring device such as a yardstick, surveyor's transit, ruler or even a piece of string will do for starters. That is, if the two points are stationary. And not people.
The fact of two individuals being a foot or so apart becomes an immediate matter of relativism, in which their past and present attitudes toward one another apply. One individual may, at a given moment, be a foot away from another person in terms of physical proximity, but the same individual may have reached some point of impending rupture with respect to some trait, say lack of promptness, or other aspects of untrustworthiness, and the present activity, the deal breaker, would override any physical proximity.
Thanks to trigonometry and geometry, another method of measurement emerges, using triangles instead of mere tape measures, this method for determining the location of a third point. Thus we have the concept of triangulation, introduced not only to the physical sciences but as well to such man-made concepts as logic, philosophy, even social sciences and psychology.
Given the useful tools of trigonometry and geometry for determining relationships between various points, you find yourself considering triangulation, or the use of triangles to determine and, indeed, measure positions as a useful tool to apply to story.
Early in your consideration of triangulation as a potential for measuring the physical and emotional states of various persons within a specific story, you saw how, logical as the concept of triangulation is, it remains nevertheless a human form of measuring events and positions, just as story is a human form of measuring events and positions.
Without humans to apply triangulation, there would be no need for it because the world without humans was evolving on its own time span, although with no humans to record it, nevertheless with consequences and a potential for the movement out of the ocean onto land that produced a number of species including our own.
Without humans, the occasional band of pack-traveling animals might use some form of geometry or triangulation to trap an evening's meal, but the matters of geography, trigonometry, and story would have to wait until humans came along with an evolved need for such tools.
Story is certainly a tool; it can help us better visualize observed behavior. Story can also help us profit from past experience and triangulate with some--but not entire--potential into a future point where, for instance, if we don't save some of these acorns for times when the world is covered with snow and ice and when a number of roaming species either migrate or find ways to go dormant, then we will be screwed.
The more we understand ourselves as a species and as distinct individuals, the more we have use for triangulation because, as our information and observations increase, the greater the likelihood we'll resort to some behavior that might not be to our longterm advantage.
Like the early bird, we may indeed get the worm but we are reaching a time when we need to better consider what we are going to do with all these worms. We may well discover we've been missing a number of possibilities. We may also, in our desire to be the early bird, missing out on something of greater survival value than worms.
You've been trying for over fifty years to teach yourself how to communicate, first and foremost with yourself, although you did not know this at the time. You thought of story as a recipe, in which you added equivalents of flour, eggs, baking soda, perhaps even yeast. The results were as effective as most recipes from most cookbooks. It took your mother, who was more or less forced into cooking, to achieve a true understanding of the chemistry of elements needed to produce a varied array of appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, and, ah, yes, deserts.
Through observation and triangulation, you've moved beyond the strict adherence to recipe and come closer to the place your mother was when she merged with the chemistry of the understanding of the elements of food.
You are out in the streets, the coffee shops, the class rooms, the bookstores, and the untrodden alleyways of your imagination, as alert for angles as you were that first time you thought you were ready for a custom-made pool cue.
Friday, August 12, 2016
The younger we are, the more inconsolable we are in the face of loss, squirreling away significant losses, compartmentalizing them, hopeful of forgetting them, but in reality burying them in the midst of new targets of acquisitions.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
When the narrator of a story tells you, either in effect or so many words, I strained my six-foot-three-inch frame to reach the shelf where the box containing the valuable files lay, you can say of that narrator with great certainty, "You're so nineteenth century."