Sunday, November 20, 2016

Heraclitus Can't Change Costumes in the Same Dressingroom

In your attempts to finish up on your booklength project, Required Reading: The One Hundred Novels You Must Read before You Write Your Own,  you find yourself bamboozled and tossed about by your old friend, change.

The book doesn't change; it remains the unique amalgam of technique, inspiration, evocation and the mystical x-factor found in all enduring works of fiction. But there is also a mystical x-factor in you, manifesting its presence each time you reread something you read before. 

Regardless of the outcome of rereading--you either conclude you've outgrown the book entirely or if it happens to be a so-called young reader book, you respect but realize you've outgrown it, or, better yet, you wonder how you missed all the newly discovered wonders within its pages--there has been a change within you.

Some of the obvious changes are your loss of interest in the theme or lead character of a novel, perhaps the nature of the problem he or she has set forth to grapple with, perhaps yet your awareness that earlier readings triggered a false or overbearing sentimentality which you now find intolerable. 

Best of all, a sense of having grown into something, where you can identify more of the nuances you'd missed in previous readings, even to the extent of sweeping these nuances under the same rug where you swept details.

Some of your hundred choices have been lifelong friends; even this last revisit in 2016 to Huckleberry Finn, caused you to wonder how, even as recently as the last time you taught the work in a classroom, you thought you were on intimate terms with that mystical x-factor of a narrative. 

You can readily understand the how and why of your appreciation for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which, as you listen to an old books-on-tape version, read by Paul Newman, you realize you know close to from memory.  But that novel is not one of the hundred you winnowed from all those you've read and remembered. 

Part of the distractions you're encountering with the final sections of this work in progress have to do with the inversion process, where you understand now how you are describing changes within you rather than changes in a given novel. You are also recognizing how a number of these hundred novels of which you write are narratives from your more immediate reading than the reading of your childhood, teens, twenties, and even into your thirties.

This results in a kind of perfect sense only you will see or experience, resident in today's revisit to the fiction you are writing to distract you from the nonfiction you are writing. Reading through pages you thought well of yesterday, you wonder today what caused you to see mischief and energy in them yesterday.

Something has changed. Also, paragraphs you gave little thought to yesterday suddenly seem alive with potential and promise. You stopped writing yesterday having come to a point where you'd run out of clues or possibilities. Where to go next? No clue.

Even more disconcerting, much of your fiction has migrated from Los Angeles northward to Santa Barbara, where you have lived nearly half your life. The project you want to begin directly after getting past The Hundred Novels Project is set in Santa Barbara. The distraction fiction had its beginnings of all places in  a men's room in Royce Hall, the building at UCLA where most of your literature classes were held.

You were out of clues that would whisper hints of where your next scenes would take place, until a passing remark from a student moved you out of your westside Los Angeles dead end, perhaps sixty miles northward to the outer reaches of Los Angeles County, a large campus you have never visited, at least not in reality. 

This campus is the retirement home for the men and women who worked in the multifarious aspects of the motion picture and television industry, where you and your protagonist will be coping with the outcomes of change.

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