Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Status Symbols

In recent classes, you found yourself making a statement with the metaphoric equivalent of creating static electricity when sliding over the seat covers of an automobile, then creating a visible shard of static electricity when you reach for and touch something metallic.

The statement has to do with the absolute need of a scene to show tangible recognition to the need for the presence of power and/or status. In earlier times, you made a similar statement about the need for any given scene in any given story to cause the evocation of at least one emotion. During those earlier times, you were at least far enough along the trail of your own learning process to count suspense as an emotion.

You're well beyond such homilies and take-for-granted recognition in which a scene must, among other things, advance the story or in some way define the growth of one or more characters. You're well beyond to the point of noting the tremendous load the scene must carry in order to be successful, immersed in the awareness of all the basic elements or dramatic DNA traces necessary for a scene to qualify as a scene.

The difference between a scene and event is every bit as extraordinary as the difference between a protozoan and a human. While both are living organisms, the latter is exponentially more complex and intraconnected. An event may have one or two dimensions, a scene can reach the state of being an extended moibius strip, the Klein bottle, itself the embodiment of properties and conditions a simple, two-sided object such as a sheet of manuscript paper cannot express in physical form, but can serve as host for a physical description of the complexity.

Scenes in which more than one person appear have a built-in status, a notion you first heard in a valued political science course and a part of your undergraduate minor. "Whenever two or more persons gather," the instructor said, "a political condition arises." You snapped alert, notions of status and power whirling about in the interstices of your thought process. 

You recall spending your spare time over the next few days compiling a list of such bi-polar circumstances. Indeed, these are bi-polar circumstances, even among identical twins. In such cases, the status or class awareness may shift (all the better for story dynamics) as differing aspects of personality and ability assume prominence.

We read story to experience these shifts in status and power, following the shift with the same kind of excitement inherent in a close contest, election, or sporting event. Unbalanced status or power is always a splendid entry into a story; we form allegiances with the characters (example: Ivanhoe) rooting for one to gather the power or status to bring down the other, to restore in effect what may have been usurped.

Upset status has long been recognized as one of the major starting points for kind of story in which the goal is to show at least one character restoring enough self- and ethnic or national esteem to satisfy our inner scale of acceptable stasis.

Class, power, and status are manifest in every culture, thus such tropes as the wisdom or respect for one's elders, the notion that youth must be served, and a concept you first investigated in depth in a course in anthropology wherein the clash between generations. The young generation wants its inheritance in order to work its own epic successes and discoveries while at the same time the older generation understands how much status and power it loses after passing over the inheritance.

You are acute these days to individuals opening doors for you or seating you at the head of a table or serving you first. These activities are tributes and conventions of politeness. Although you have held doors open for countless others, referred to yet others as Sir or Ma'am, offered your seat or position to elders or those for whom you had a strong sense of respect, you neither sought such recognition for yourself not felt entirely comfortable when they were extended to you.

This sense of what you think of as status pluses and minuses had its beginning, so far as you can recall, before your move from Los Angeles to what appears to be your new permanent home, Santa Barbara, and your participation in the writers' baseball game, in season played weekly. On those times when there were not enough of your tribe present, you relied on "drafting" neighborhood kids, all too willing to join in.  Your memory takes you back then, to your late 30's, edging into fourth decade, and a youngster named Ronnie Gunderson.

On the day you have in mind, Gunderson was acquired for your side, with the thought to move George Bishop, generally as capable a second baseman as could be wanted, to shortstop, with young Gunderson at second.  There you are, in your customary center field, positioning yourself under a tall, lazy fly ball, waiting for it to drop into your glove, already aware of your next move, which would be to throw it to George Bishop, covering second, against the potential of the runner on first base thinking to advance himself to second after your catch.

"He's tagging up," Gunderson called, warning you in acceptable baseball dialogue of teamwork. But he didn't leave it at that. Gunderson had to add, "Sir," to his warning and the additional admonition, "Throw to second, sir."

You did indeed throw the ball you'd just caught on the fly, sending it over to George Bishop in time to send the base runner scurrying back to first base. After the final out of the inning, when you were trotting in toward the sidelines with Bishop, you couldn't help saying, "Little fucker's got to go."

"He calls everybody sir," Bishop said.

"No excuse," you said. "You come out here to play or get called sir?"

Bishop, whose editor you were, had an answer for that. "I come out here to play ball, grow a bit older, and resent those in our midst with no traces of arthritis."

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