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.

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