Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Expanding Horizons: Story on a Trampoline

 Some of your most favored points of departure are sources you passed over when you first encountered them, often with an attitude bordering on impatience. These points, as you sometimes think of them, have become recurrent themes, trampolines of a sort on which you enjoy applying as much pressure as possible, hopeful the momentum will take you for those moments of being aloft, to an ever higher horizon.

There is great probability that one of the earliest of these points of departure is Moby Dick, which you have now come to cherish as the Transcendentalist equivalent of The Bhagavad Gita, a dramatic presentation of how a person may find some traces of significance, grounding, and purpose in the worlds about him or her. 

Even though you had frequent access to a noted Melville specialist, a man generous with insight and the sort of deadpan humor you've long since admired, you did not seem to be ready for the reading experience until you were into your thirties. This means among other things that your writings about the novel and your own personal reflections and interpretations was put on hold for the better part of ten years.

You were also impatient with Wile E. Coyote, a character you have long since taken into your sphere as though he were some long lost brother. Your retrospective take on the impatience was first and foremost because he was not literary enough nor did he relate to things close about you. In similar fashion to Mark Twain's growing  reflections on how his father had grown into significance, you now regard the coyote as more than literary; he is in fact a cultural icon, willing, if not doomed, to risk humiliation in order to have yet another shot at achieving his goal, which, of course, is the Roadrunner.

Sisyphus seemed too stock a character, too much a type, too little a character. Then you saw how, for you, he became the paradigm of an individual, caught up in the paradigm of a story. Difficult to assess the degree to which he taught you about the orbital nature of story and how, depending where you began watching that orbit, the story assumes a different voice or narrative attitude.

Twelfth Night seemed too much an exercise of exaggeration, carried to extreme over the impatience at the then contemporary ban on the appearance of women actors on stage, thus something you might do as a last-minute something or other to fill a blank in the college humor magazine with which you had so much association. Oh, please, a boy actor, portraying a girl disguised as a boy, in the service of a man who used her to help establish a relationship with another woman who, thinking the girl disguised as a boy was in fact a young man, began to feel tugs of her heart for him. The only thing you could add to that formula was in fact added by the playwright: causing the girl masquerading as a boy, in the service of a young noble, to have romantic feelings of her own for her boss.  When you settled down to take all the aspects of the story into the world of perspectives and visions, you quite fell in love with the play, no longer content to be a mediocre student of Shakespeare, wanting a deeper dive into all the riches of his creations.

There are others, not the least of which would be The Canterbury Tales, which drew not so much your impatience as your sense of their quaintness. How fortunate for you that you persisted. Each time you returned to these trampolines, eager for a vision of the higher horizons, you came late to the table, but still there were grand meals to be had, beginning with the most basic on all, the literary equivalent of the simple dish of scrambled eggs.  The more effective the presentation of a story, whether short story, novel, play, motion picture, or the Robert Browning dramatic monologue you've come to admire, the greater the opportunity for the reader/audience to participate by adding vital emotional enhancements which make the story yet more personal and relevant.

Seeing the same story performed by different actors, directed by different directors, or the same narrative given a different setting and voice, walked you beyond the point where you were only writing for yourself or only writing for the audience. You are seeing the story through the filter that will have it seem important enough for you that you'll have seen it at a new level.

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