Friday, September 23, 2016

Smiling Men and Grumpy Ideologues

You once knew a psychotherapist who, if she is to be believed, told of greeting a proposed new patient with the single question, "What's your complaint? " if the individual took the rest of the first hour, going on about his or her complaint, the psychotherapist was only too willing to take on the complainer as a patient. One thing you know from a long friendship with the psychotherapist, her interview standards were successful; most of her patients were with her for quite a while.

You know a few writers for whom you will take the liberty of naming them as complainers, their source material seeming to compact as much conflict and complaint as possible into a narrative. As well, you understand how you are essentially a complainer, too distracted at first with learning the bits and pieces of narrative technique to see your way clear to the straightforward, unvarnished complaint as one of the pillars if not the very foundation of story.

At this stage of your time in the game, you are well up on your own complaints and your awareness of the complaints you find in editing clients, students, and friends who are writers. After one or two times too many of having to ask of a student why she or he was afraid to let the inner complaints come rushing forth, you saw the terrain of your own narrative. 

This was a terrain where one or more individuals had a perpetual chip on his/her shoulder because "People don't say what they mean. They only say what they think other persons want to hear."

About midway into your career in organized publishing, you reported to a publisher who more than once told you of his opinion that you were such a person, too willing to be agreeable and too easy to come by some ameliorating response to any serious conversation. 

Each time he told you this, your reply was immediate. "You must have me confused with someone else,. I only rarely agree with you, and for someone who is so opposed to speculative thinking rather than Kantian pure reason, you rely overmuch on your instincts."

You went into detail the first time this conversation took place, hopeful of either being fired or putting an end to his belief. The publisher's response was invariable, "You prove my point by appearing to disagree with me."  

There was no possible way for you to have a meaningful conversation with this man, even though you had at least one meeting a week with him in the presence of other department managers and one meeting a week with only the two of you to suggest that some sort of rapprochement was waiting, if only you were to see how to word it.

These years helped form what you have come to think of as your vision of complaint, which is essentially a funny vision, which is another way of saying that funny visions are often the direct result of painful circumstances.

What's your complaint? Why, of course, it is a complaint about how individuals often become the most passionate, confidential, honest, and empathetic when they are in a misdirected transaction, where each party believes he understands what the other is saying, but in the process is at least off on a tangent, if not completely off.

At one earlier time in your journey to see where writing stories would take you, there was a musk of irritation and impatience about you. By then, you had some notion of how irritation and impatience turn sour and unproductive, whereupon things began to seem funny, then, progressively, funnier.

Funny covers over a good deal of irritation and impatience. Some individuals of your acquaintance have grown used to seeing you, from time to time, sitting at a coffee shop, reading a journal, possibly writing on a series of note pads, pausing for a sip of coffee and what appears to be an involuntary outburst of laughter.

You are far from irrascible or misanthropic, which probably explains some of the laughter. Far better to be seen as a smiling man with a weathered face than a grumpy ideologue. 

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