Saturday, October 15, 2016

Middle March

In the beginning is the problem, which has come to you like the metaphorical bug on the equally metaphoric windshield, an unavoidable splat before your consciousness, caused in part because a part of you was in motion, occupying the same space as the insect of connection.

Although you go sometimes days or weeks on end without such collisions, they are your strength in your desire to become and remain a storyteller. No matter about the near misses or deliberate pauses to wipe the windshield clean; the bug splats that do occur are often significant enough to tide you over the in-between days.

When you began your addiction to story, the motion picture experience was different. With the exception of the Saturday matinee, which began at one p.m., unfolding such features as a newsreel, coming attractions (or teasers), a cartoon, and a serial, sandwiched like steaming piles of pastrami between those two deli slices of rye, the A movie and the B movie, screenings were not separate. 

Going to the movies meant a double feature, a newsreel, and a cartoon. You took the matter into your own hands by entering at whim and remaining until, somewhere during either of the two feature-length films, you reached the place of continuity where you of a sudden were aware of the entire arc of the story.

At the time, this seemed more a challenge than an inconvenience. There you were, thrust into the midst of some activity, knowing only that you're be filled in on the beginning scene or scenes you'd missed. In some significant way, this helped you with the causal nature of story, allowing you to see two trains about to collide or one ship, intent on running aground, with no immediate suggestion of how these calamities had come to be. 

From about age eight to about fifteen, you knew to suspect the worst of characters, whether you rooted for them or against them. They were on collision courses; that was all you needed to know.

Your recent observations about all not being well that ends well carry you into a greater sophistication about resolutions of the problems set forth in the beginning scenes. An ending must represent the end of a cycle rather than the final ingredient in a recipe, wherein "bake at 350 for 35 minutes gives you corn bread every time. Endings are more whimsical than they seem; they must leave you with some feeling other than the impatience of time wasted on a fable or sermon. 

You chose to call that proper, ending feeling an aftertaste, which is all about your attention being directed to filling blanks, preferences, and consequential future action. What, for instance, happens after the last act of Hamlet, where the only two major survivors are Horatio and Fortinbras?

You want an end that may cause you to disagree or to say you told them so, or surprise because you hadn't seen a perfectly plausible outcome. You wanted a few bugs to meet their fate on a few windshields, for instance the payoff of the final scene of one of your favorite movies, The Third Man. 

The protagonist, Holly Martens, has just come from the second funeral of the scoundrel, Harry Lime, and is now hoping to talk to Lime's former girlfriend, Anna Schmidt,with whom he has fallen in love. But as Anna approaches him, it is clear she sees right through him, and continues walking past him without a trace of recognition.  Martens lights a cigarette as he watches her walk past. And the scene fades to black, but we know Anna will be deported from Vienna to Czechoslovakia, and Martens will return to America.

Middles are the places where your characters get their revenge on you because of your need to listen to them carefully, explore and understand them to get at the driving forces at work that cause them to behave as they do, to behave as you rightly understand real persons to do. Sometimes when you are poised on the edge of the middle and don't know which ledge to jump from, you set yourself in motion by reading George Orwell's masterly essay, "Charles Dickens."

From the first paragraph, you are in thrall, because it is everything a beginning has come to represent to you:  "Dickens is one of those writers who are well worth stealing. Even the 
burial of his body in Westminster Abbey was a species of theft, if you come to think of it."

Orwell's exegesis represents to you everything a middle should be; it drives you along with information that seems vital not only to place Dickens in perspective as a writer but for the manner in which it represents the ways Dickens played out his social, ethical, and class-related senses. You come to see him for who he was, a primary character in his own story. But you also see him in comparison and contrast with some of his prominent contemporaries.

Straightaway, after rereading a few paragraphs of the Orwell essay on Dickens. you are transported to a worrisome concern for whether you have articulated your characters enough.

You have two pieces of what you assume will be short fiction, haunting you with their characters' quandaries, each of which shines in the dark like the face and hands of your wristwatch, each of which has led you toward what seems like a brick wall, but is only a middle. A few more paragraphs of the Orwell and you are lit up with speculations about what these inventions of yours wish, why they are perhaps fearful of speaking out for it, and what the consequences will be if they do not.

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