Sunday, November 13, 2016

Shapeshifting

Shapeshifting words can, when the occasion calls for it, switch from noun to verb, from a person, place, or thing, to an action. Such words and possibilities enliven stories; the reader is in a constant state of wonder, which is a good thing, and the writer is in a constant state of amazement, which is an even better thing for all concerned.


The shapeshifter word haunting you on this crisp weekend is answer, which in one sense is something you know to have your characters seeking, thinking how, in the process, you might learn from their array of responses answers to questions you've been trying to coax out of the shadows, much in the manner of the two sentries we first meet on the battlements of Elsinore castle in Act I, Scene I of Hamlet.

"Who's there?" one of the sentries asks of it.

"Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself."

Two guards at change of shift, from night watch to graveyard shift. No wonder they're uneasy; there's talk of a ghost prowling about. Since you first read this play at age seventeen, you've known the payoff--a ghost indeed, a ghost wanting it's son to exact revenge.

When you think of answers you're seeking to some secular, professional, or existential problem, you sometimes wonder if the answer will turn out to be a ghost from your own earlier life, demanding you carry out revenge or restitution of some sort. The ghost could also be some of the many opportunities to learn things you turned away from at the time, wondering how such material could possibly add to your toolkit for survival. This would mean something will have caused you to stop in the present moment, in order to learn something you didn't learn in a more natural order of progression.

In the rascally way of shapeshifters, answer decides to present itself to you as an action, meaning you have to answer to or for something. In the process, you learn how little you know about what you may well have been comfortable with. Listening to yourself as you answer, you are aware of how you have a relative pinch of information gleaned from your own observations or activities and how much you are forced to rely on other sources.  

At such times, when the day has come to an end, you wonder about the reliability of your own narration. To be sure, there is some comfort in the breadth and integrity of the sources you cite to fill in the gaps between what you've observed and the opinions of others.

Your answers are the sum total of the things you've experimented with, watched from up close and a distance, and researched by reading and listening to others. In some ways, you've become a miser for information and the ability to connect seemingly disparate facts and behavior. Last week your maid asked you why it was that you had so many books, which was a pointed enough question without her taking it one step beyond to ask which were present in the greater number, fiction or non fiction.  "And what about poetry?" she asked.

She remembers the days when you lived in more of a house than a studio, when the garage was filled with shelves, which overflowed with books. "What drives you to recreate that garage of books here?"

You answered with one word. "Story."

But there are more words in your answer. Story means constructing a tangible, complex world, one of motive, dream, fantasy, science, history, music, and language. You have to see them all, and oh, the number of times you yanked paper from the typewriter, balled it into a sphere, and sent it in orbit toward the wastebasket in those precomputer days, and on, the number of times you hit the delete key now.


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