Monday, November 14, 2016

A Theme Park of the Mind (with apologies to Lawrence Ferlinghetti)

Don't you love it when someone explains how the book you recently read for the cheap thrills of a quick trip away from the daily lurch and buckle of Reality is in fact a grand metaphor for all of creation? 

You come away feeling a double traitor. Bad enough you didn't stand up with some affirmative response of your own, you also felt the need for a hit or two of escapism.

After devoting much of your young life to reading everything you could get your hands on as a way of finding your own path to regular publication and, thus, a semblance of a living, you had some notion of where to go in order to escape, as Thomas Paine put it in 1776, "these [are the}times that try men's souls," or, as William Wordsworth put it in 1806, "The world is too much with us, late and soon." 

Some of that escapism was because of the callowness of your youth, a tincture of not knowing any better, and the already growing pressure from instructors and friends for you to "settle down and get serious."  In your secret heart, which was at times filled with a boozy sense of resentment, as in, you'll show them how serious you are, you had the experience of conversation with that well-hidden and serious you, tucked away like a time capsule within the outer you of you.

So far as the hidden metaphor was concerned, you were reading trash, plot-driven stuff, and escapism for the rush and excitement of adventurous action. You forget who it was, could have been as far back as high school when Mr. Herman Quick said to someone (not! you) "Don't worry about theme. Theme will come to your writing whether you want it to or not, and to the degree that no one can see theme in your writing, they will later attach more theme to it after you are published."

You did not know how to deal with that when you first heard it. As a teacher yourself, as an editor who had to justify taking on certain projects, as a writer being informed of themes you did not know you possessed by readers you did not know you possessed, you are more earnest about the matter now, these years later. 

This observation rates a retrospective nod of appreciation to Ruth, one of your earlier publisher bosses, who warned you one night over thick steaks and cloudy cocktails of the dangers of mentioning thematic implications of a project when advocating for its publication in an editorial meeting. "When you say theme," she said, "I begin to ask why you need to tell me than and I begin to question why you didn't pick something more tangible such as dialogue, setting, motive, and levels of action."

All the readers and, indeed, the writers you know, read and write for different reasons. You read for slightly different reasons than you write, the former being to escape the potential for boredom and malaise, the latter, although aware of boredom and malaise, more for a way to pay tribute to the vast potentials of mischief in free circulation. 

Without a human presence, there would be no mischief. To give personification for a moment to Nature, she doesn't need to endow her landscapes and creations with mischief, substituting instead a graduatged scale of grandeur. Making comes along, and before you know it, there is the mischief of the pool hall, the tattoo parlor, the House of Representatives, and one of the best offerings to the gods of mischief we know of so far, the theme park.

Mr. Quick never said this, but you can almost fit him in as having done so, "Keep your stories loaded with the mischief of individuals having various notions of what constitutes correctness, and keep your themes in theme parks."

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