Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Future Imperfect as Verb Tense and Existential Reality

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?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Individual as an Ensemble

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

End Game

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.

In the film clip were two actors you'd known better as performers in the films of your youth, in which there was indeed a sound track. In this particular clip, a young John Barrymore sat disconsolate at a table, ravaged by age and regret, the spirit beginning to lift from him and, thus, signifying how we were observing him at the moment of his death. 

At that moment, his image seemed young, ardent, handsome. Across the room, the spirit of an individual portrayed by Mary Astor. Even when you saw her, in her middle age, as Brigid Shaughnessy, in The Maltese Falcon, she didn't merely radiate beauty and stature, she exuded it.

The two spirits in the film clip before you meet, embrace, seem to melt into one another for a long, poignant moment before they drift off together to eternity, the embodiment--no pun here--of the romantic happy ending and, indeed, one you could see for your parents.

This film clip reminded you of a number of other films in which the ghosts reunite or gather to greet one who has recently crossed over the metaphoric rainbow bridge, separating those of us who live from those who await us "on the other side."

How then could this not remind you of a pair of adverts from Facebook, one in which you are offered the opportunity to buy a commemorative bracelet honoring your furry pals who have preceded you over the rainbow bridge and who surely will greet you on your own venture across that span. The other linked some wind chimes outside a cemetery dedicated to animals. 

You could, by pressing a button, hear the wind chimes which, presumably, would tug at your heart strings to the point where you donated to some animal memorial fund and the almost certain happy ending knowledge that your own friends, Sam, Edward, Blue,Jed, Armand, Molly, Sally, and Goldfarb would gather to greet you on your own venture into the dark hole of eternity.

Happy endings thus assure you of the connective tissue that binds you to those you care for and, even against your contrary beliefs, the prospect of some sense of awareness in which you will experience belonging to the universal elements, their governing forces, and the qualities that govern them.

In the happy-ending movie, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, a down-on-her-fortunes widow is forced to a remote cottage, now haunted by the ghost of its former-but-still-irascible owner, a one-time captain of a merchant vessel. The ghost and the widow not only meet, the ghost dictates his memoirs to the widow, who publishes them, earns enough royalty to get by and raise her children in comfort. When the widow's time to cross the bridge arrives, who is there, waiting for her? And of course they stroll off to their destiny hand in hand. No sex in the other world, but jolly good company.

Unless there is some unaccountable traumatic event in the immediate future, you see no Rainbow Bridge beckoning you, which condition may, with proper deliberation, provide a story for you. At the moment, your own preferences for endings are neither happy nor laden with the heavy blankets of noir, rather then of some irony in which:

1. An individual whom you will portray as a loner yet by no means a misanthrope, is led by circumstances to a maze garden, becomes lost, attempts to peer through a hedge for some directional clue, only to meet the inquiring eyes of another being.

2. An individual who voluntarily opts into an assisted-living facility the, in the act of sorting out his few remaining belongings, discovers a box of correspondence from the former occupant, all letters unsent over the years, addressed to him.

3. An individual every bit as convinced as you about any activity subsequent to the individual's death, awakening as if from a dream, finding himself in what appears to be a park, a park with a name such as Bridgeway, persistently followed by a dog of the breed and sort you find least attractive, bearing a collar with a name tag of the sort you would never give a dog, and with an ID on the collar listing you and your last address as its owner and place of residence.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cut to the Chase

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

To What End

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

The Bias of Opinion

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

Queer Fish and Chewing Gum

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

It's a Mystery to Me

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.

You consume novels shelved under the heading of mystery to the same degree persons you know consume M and Ms, your tastes in nonfiction running toward speculations or explanations of problems plaguing humanity and of topics where some aspect of humanity or the physical plane upon which humanity finds itself lodged tweak your curiosity to the point where you wish to have their workings unfolded. 

Thus your enjoyment of a process in which a matter presents itself to you as a mystery, offers some clues (not all of which are reliable), then challenges you to investigate with enough dilligence to provide some solution for yourself. 

Most processes of interest to you tick along at their own reliable pace, your understanding of them of no consequence to them, yet of monumental importance to you. Your understanding of the various processes with which you are confronted help you become the you of your fondest youthful dreams and aspirations as well as the you of whom you've been at some pains to improve these last several years. 

You engage this self-editing with a growing sense of responsibility to the extraordinary good fortune of having been born to the surroundings and conditions in which you now find yourself.

Your resume includes the various occupations and interests associated with writers who, from the necessity of making a living and the coeval necessity of curiosity pursued interests in such fields as philosophy, music, anthropology, physics, education, and marketing, not to forget a summer of being a housepainter's apprentice, a solderer of telephone line connections, a delivery person for a butcher, a box boy at a supermarket, and a dogsbody for an auctioneer. 

All this was grist for the mill of having things to write and think about in your urgent wish to become a writer and, then, to see proof and validation of your wishes come-to-life.

Mystery represents to you the questions of how, what if, why not, and how about. You come upon things, yourself included, with one or more of those questions, tugging at your sleeves for attention, then pestering you until you seek, then find satisfactory answers.  

For days, weeks, sometimes even years, these satisfactory answers remain satisfactory--until you are hit with ideas, concepts, and questions that cause you to begin the process of reexamining your previously held satisfactory answers. In metaphor, this process is reexamining yourself much as you reread a favored novel, poetry collection, or transformative work of inquiry known as nonfiction.

Some days, you doubt you will ever solve the one mystery you feel you must solve before you can take on the daunting task of solving such others as appear before you in dreams, in dreamless sleep, and waking hours--the mystery of you.  

Some days, when you are hit by ideas, questions, and concepts, you feel as though you've done the equivalent of moving from a large city, say Los Angeles, driven to a remote corner of desert, then stood to regard the night sky, filled with the same sense of awe and wonder you felt that memorable day you first entered the Powell Library as an undergraduate at UCLA.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fancy Running into You Here

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

To the Rescue

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. 

A moment later, the slice of bread had returned to its pristine state, with no bite having been taken from it. On a scale of one to ten covering the problems and anomalies in a given performance, this was a one or, at best, a two.

Aha, you thought, in so few words. One of the actors flubbed a line or the director was not happy with the proceedings. A new scene was shot, some editing was performed. Someone else may have noticed the missing bite and decided the viewers wouldn't notice such a detail.

This got you thinking about so-called body or stunt doubles, those men and women cast to portray an actor assigned some task or tasks of physicality the actor is unable to perform, unwilling to perform, or who, in rehearsals, was thought not to provide sufficient élan to the required physicality.

The stunt double must not only fall out the window in a more plausible way than the actor was able to fall out the window, said stunt double must resemble, or be made through artful makeup and manipulation, to resemble the actor who could not so artfully fall out a window or, indeed, fall out the window at all.

The closest you ever came to requiring the services of a stunt double came in relatively recent years, when you appeared in a play, overstepped your markers, and took a spectacular tumble off a setting, recovered immediately, then, in character, stepped back into the scene, having created some adjustment in the reactions of your fellow actors, but making your spectacular fall appear as something scripted for you. 

Never mind the effect on the seam of the rear of your trousers, which was quite unprepared for the demands of your impromptu tumble. The net result was you, faced with an unexpected breeze for the balance of the performance.

The stunt double suffers all such consequences on your behalf even though, were you to see such a person and know that person's intent, you might be presented with the curious binary of envy and relief, envy of the stunt double's physicality and relief that you would not have to put your own to risk.

In a realer version of life than in story, there are not so many close marching events present; you are not living in a state of constant denouement. This condition frees you from the mere thought of being yanked out of the narrative at the key moment in order to be replaced by your stunt double. 

At the more relaxed pace of real life, however fraught real life may be, there never is the manufactured potential of an individual who looks like you and who can be called in to endure the delights and surprises the story has in reserve, waiting for you. 

In more reflective moments about the differences between real life and story, and the potential metaphors for characters as persons or persons as characters, you are led on occasion to think of that most remarkable stunt double of all, The Golem, an elaborate, magical character who is ccomposed of sticks and branches, river mud, and clay. 

The Rabbi who constructed the Golem animates him with a word, written in Hebrew, which he places, according to the version you read of the story, in the creature's ear or on his forehead.

After The Golem performs his task of keeping the Jewish ghetto of Prague safe from menace, he is decommissioned, again relative to the version you read, by removing the scroll from the creature's ear or erasing one of the letters of the Hebrew word on the creature's forehead.

At this time, the best you can do is to consider your own stories with care, alert for the times the story itself requires a stunt double, then wondering what word or words to put on the scroll.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

For I have loved you well and long/ Delighting in your company

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.

There were times,even then, when you equated puberty to the plague, writing and speaking of an equivalent to the Decameron, a framework for likewise afflicted youth gathered in such places as Lake Arrowhead or Avalon, Catalina, to read and write during the day, then regale one another with tales of our romantic adventures and misadventures. Any plague in a story, any story in a plague; all grist for the mill of romanticism.

At about the time of your early encounters with "Greensleeves," you also came across what you considered a twentieth-century version, of equal poignancy, "One for my Baby, and One More for the Road."  Romance was tricky business back then. Not that it has got any less so, rather more nuanced. But so have neighborhood taco trucks. The trick is knowing that not all tacos al pastor are alike.

During these encounters with the ebb and flow of dramatic fortunes, you encountered an old friend from the days of your serious engagement with jazz in most of its then incarnations. 

Al McKibbon was a bassist you followed not only for his stories of the greats of early bebop and hard bop he played with but for the sound of his dream instrument, a bass hand built by the legendary Jacob Steiner. Your friendship grew particularly when he teamed up with a pianist of great technical ability and some taste for jazz, but nothing like some of the legends he'd worked with.  

This pianist, Calvin Jackson, Julliard trained and jazz oriented, spent much of his career as an arranger or studio composer, in all likelihood working as a duo with McKibben less for the money than to keep his chops up. Jackson had a stylized version of "Greensleeves," which he featured at least once an evening at Frascatti's on Sunset and Crescent Heights, the French/Belgian restaurant where he and McKibbon appeared most often and, thus, you, either solo or in pursuit of "Greensleeves" romanticism, to dine and indulge yourself or to dine with a date, thereby to explore the frets and chords of the heartstrings.

"Greensleeves" remained for some time a gateway song, flinging open the portals wide into the vast landscape of romanticism, leading you in one memorable swirl of lyric heartstrings to another song introduced to you by Calvin Jackson, Claude Debussy's "La fille aux cheveux de lin," "The Maid with the Flaxen Hair."  Back-to-back with "Greensleeves," and you were as good as the errant knight in Keats' poem, La Belle Dame sans Merci," "O, what can ail thee, knight at arms/ Alone and palely loitering?"

But the next thing you knew, you were not hearing Calvin Jackson play "Greensleeves," nor any of your favored folk singers rendering the vocal; you were hearing it as the nasal drone of a single bag pipe, casting a mournful cry over a funeral, reminding you of the tendrils of melancholy connecting the grief of one kind of loss with the grief of another, and you had no choice but to take it in, then grow further up.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

If It Quacks Like a Euphemism, It Probably Is One

Language is fraught with the possibilities for expression, rich with simile, metaphor, rhetorical questions, exaggeration, burlesque, and irony. Any and all of these expressions are tools, shaping and facilitating the progression of narrative.

Sometimes, when the occasion sends a writer to the toolkit for the right implement, the writer will come forth with a trope that by its exact nature, seeks to find a middle ground which, the more you think about it, computes to near equivalence to the protective buffer zone or that often referenced terrain in novels and accounts of war, "no man's land."  

Such tropes are known as euphemisms, or more polite, gentle, and perhaps otherwise more palatable ways of saying things related to human and animal behavior for which there are often more graphic, direct descriptions. 

When one substitutes the phrase "passing on" or "walking the rainbow bridge" for death, as in "John passed on" or "Mary walked the rainbow bridge" for "John died," or "Mary died," you are using a euphemism, a language filter meant to take the edge off of a stark, perhaps even ugly concept, in order to replace it with something more palatable. 

Another euphemism for death, which in your opinion has an even more harsh sound and meaning is "croaked," as in "Old Fred, he croaked." This use also suggests to you a certain social, geographical, and gender strata. 

You'd be surprised to hear a woman from, say, Massachusetts or Rhode Island use the trope under any circumstances and while you might yourself use it as dialogue from a women in Texas or thereabouts, you'd have to strain to see yourself writing of such a character in the near future.

Depending on where and how we live, there are less direct and, thus, more protective ways for expressing not only the human and animal condition but as well the human and animal fate. A popular euphemism you encountered early in your pursuit of the literary life was the euphemistic approach to the class system in England, whereby two Englishmen meeting in a foreign local would through a modern euphemism known as Q and A, attempt each to find the home turf and social caste of the other, as if the way they spoke wasn't sufficient evidence at the outset.

Already lurking in the back of your mind was the awareness of the caste system in India, beginning with the Brahmin at the top of the pyramid and at its lowest echelon the Untouchable, The ranking was so severe that the mere shadow of an Untouchable on a Brahmin was cause for uproar and ritual cleansing. 

As the English and Indian caste systems expanded in your awareness, and with your own personal experiences with aspects within what you'd been educated to believe was the casteless American system, you were an eager recipient for some of the distinctions of working classes you found in the writings of Karl Marx.

Within the culture to which you were born, there are equivalents of caste and since, in a major way, your adopted culture puts you in direct and indirect contact with East Indians, more often than not of the Hindu culture, you are not only back with a social caste system but as well a regional and language-based one. 

Not only are you confronted with the awareness of various languages spoken in India, you are aware of an entire language--Sanskrit--as a euphemism; its speakers are educated and focused in their purpose.

As a devoted student of the language of drama, you've attempted to teach yourself to use language to convey story in much the same way some of the religious sects have used Sanskrit to convey the occult and direct meanings of the ineffable nature of the Hindu belief system.

At this moment, much as you appreciate simile and metaphor in language as tools to clarify and enhance meaning, you can't help noticing how euphemism is employed to cover the culturally unthinkable by making the unthinkable appear if not polite at least nicer than it seems.

Reality is by no means nicer than it seems, no matter what euphemisms are evoked to make it seem so.

Friday, August 19, 2016

And You Think You Have Identity Problems

 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

Stunt Doubles and Dopplegangers

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

Una Voce Poco Fa

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

Past Imperfect as Role Model for Present Imperfect

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

What if?

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. 

With respect to the latter, there were two times you agreed to write books about subjects of no particular interest to you for an understandable but not acceptable reason--you needed the money. In these cases, you returned the advance on the first, andalthough you ended up returning the advance on the second, you did so only after having instead of writing the book you'd contracted to write, wrote a book you wantged to write,

The course in grammar produced a dramatic resolution of a near similarity to writing the book you wrote instead of the book you did not wish to write. The program director called you into one of those "Come in and close the door" meetings superiors sometimes have when dealing with subordinates as notional as you. 

The director's first words upon your closing of the door behind you was an observation that it had come to her attention you were modifying lesson plan assignments and introducing disturbing arguments about not using the verb to be in any of its forms when you couold possibly substitute another verb.

The payoff of your director's observations and questions relative  to your admonitions against the verb to be was her appearance in the next meeting of your class, wherein you asked the assembled students, "Is there anyone in this room who categorically has no interest in having something they've written appearing in print as a published work?"  

One young man wrinkled his nose sufficient times to cause the frames of his eyeglasses to migrate back to their intended position on the bridge, They, he joined his classmates in conveying not only through silence but body language his tacit admission that he would not mind being published.

This was neither the question your superior expected nor, once it was answered, the results. In the hallway outside the classroom, you and your superior reached an agreement whereby you could finish the semester teaching the class any way you saw fit so long as you did not return to your vilification--her word--of the verb to be, which, she feared, would create confusion and possible trauma--again, her words--among these students who, it was felt, needed this exposure to  a course called Subject A, when you were an undergraduate, Remedial Composition during your early days teaching in a graduate-level program and Freshman Comp at yet another school where your students were undergraduates.

The significant joy you pulled from grammar-related classes in which you were a pupil was the uncanny ability to diagram sentences to the point where the excitement overcame your smartass proclivities, translated to outright pleasure, then secured into place a sense of a sentence being the equivalent of a map in which some treasure or hidden cache were located. "We are going to learn," you told your class, how to locate and liberate buried secrets and treasures."

"You're fucking with us, right?" the young man with the glasses said.

"No," you said. You had a bigger target in mind.

Amusing as the experience was ans remains at this distance of retrospect, these events also led you to a favored trope not only in your teaching but as well in your reading and writing: what if?

As in, What if you taught a course on Chaucer? What if you wrote a story about a man who was accepted into a group of friends not because of his accomplishments as an highly paid actor but because of his dog? What if you taught a course in satire? Humor? Writing the modern short story? Genre fiction?

Your awareness of and, over the years, responses to What if? have been the lathe on which your personality and sensibilities were articulated. You can still replay in the YouTube of your memory the clip of Mr. Bailey, the woodshop teacher from Middle School, securing in place a two-foot length of sugar pine on a lathe, then beginning to demonstrate how to use the lathe and what its transformative powers were. 

As the rectangle morphed before your eyes into the potential leg of a table or chest of drawers, you wondered What if ? there were ways to turn paragraphs from textbooks into segments of story.

Over the years, What if? has led you over an arc of existential and dramatic observation in which the escape portal from any situation of boredom or brueaucratic rote is yours, literally and of course figuratively for the asking.

What if? What fucking if?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Angle of Reprise

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

What's a Little Triangulation among Friends?

 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

It's Your Loss

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. 

We go forth from such times of loss, triumphant in our belief that new acquisitions will bury old losses. But then we reach the point where loss confronts us, daring us to cope with it, understand it, come to terms with it.

This is about the time when we recognize we are at mid-game, the point where we have lost as much or possibly more than we have gained; we are operating at a deficit of possessions, whether those are teeth, hair, ability to see and thus hit a curve ball, ambition, imagination.

Among the things you've lost:

A Buck pocket knife with wooden inlay handle

A red child's ball with a row of white Scottie dogs

A plastic, bugle-shaped toy instrument, used to perform in recitals designed to irk your sister

A splendid yellow Stipula Castoni fountain pen

A Duncan super yo-you, white with blue stipple

A lower molar


A copy of a book with an autographed front cover of the book as designed by the artist, Sam Francis

Two stunning human friends

An edgy blue tick hound named Edward

A cat who gave up his original owner to come take his chances with you

A draft of a story about prehistoric humans you've been trying to replicate for twenty years

An orange-and-blue shirt that disappeared after one wearing

An autographed copy of a work of nonfiction, written by a friend

There are, to be sure, other things which will clamor for attention once you pursue the path of writing about lost things. But doing so will remind you as well of time you have lost due to procrastination, toward what you will call casual and deliberate engagement, and growth that was either hoped for or unanticipated, reminders that time is a measurement, not an agenda or a sentient thing,rather a means of perspective.

In the process, you have and will continue to gain perspective. a driver in metaphor, who sees his youth in the rear view mirror, and is aware of things found along the way toward a final destination that outweigh the things lost in the tangible things they've provided.

There is no guarantee that loss and gain balance out in your life or those of others. But there is opportunity, in its way every bit as impersonal as time, yet relevant to the human condition. There is no guarantee, either for life or story to arrive at one or more successful destinations, but there is awareness that each, life and story, are potentials for starting points, losses, some measure of accommodation, and some manner of closure.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Rock of Ages

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."

You could say a few more things, such as "over the top," and "exaggerated," but to those in the know, which is to say quality readers, quality writers, and experienced editors, "so nineteenth century" is quite enough, does not, in fact, require an exclamation point, which, in its own way, is every bit a relic from those distant times.

Things have changed. Much as you'd like to try your hand at portraying the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder's play, Our Town, you'd look for ways to move him into the early twenty-first century, perhaps with gestures and pacing to get him up to some relevant speed, which is a different speed than a convenient, descriptive speed. 

Perhaps you'd work on a way to show the stage manager's angst at having had such a descriptive role, considering all the high school senior class plays he's appeared in, describing a wonderful story rather than reflecting or evoking it.Perhaps you'd try to find a way to portray an individual rather than a nameless character who is in effect a substitute for the author.

That's right; sometimes writers can figure no other way to "freight" or "filter" or convey a story other than to have some person appear in the guise of another character, his or her only purpose to serve as a mash-up of a person connected with the story and a Greek chorus or even the wonderful rendition Derek Jacobi gave in the Kenneth Branagh film version of Henry V, appearing as he did in a floppy duffel coat as the first person we saw on stage.

You're more than familiar with the older approach to narrative, having learned to experience fiction from that authorial presence, telling you what Character A was doing and who Character B reminded Character C of.  Having as well learned to write stories in which you thought nothing of stepping in upon to instruct whoever might choose to read your narratives.

There are a number of books, intended for readers of all ages, out there as reminders of how far back in history story goes, making  for a belief that "Once upon a time," or "In the city of X, there lived an ambitious man named Y" openings are suitable approaches to telling modern short stories, novellas, and novels.

In all your years of pushing story around as though it were some Sisyphean rock, you acquired a sense of the era into which a narrative fit, simply by hearing a few of its paragraphs read aloud, a standard by which you are able to measure such things as time and culture from which the story emerged. Only in recent times have you learned to do your best to keep yourself out to the matter.