Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Moment of Introspection

Why do we write?

Sometimes we write because there is an idea in our heads which has been floating around forever, and we feel that if we don't put it down on paper (real or virtual), we will burst. We write because we have created something in our minds that must be shared, explored, discussed, understood.

Sometimes we write because there is an idea which pops up suddenly - without forethought, without planning, without even knowing how it is all going to turn out in the end – and we find ourselves intrigued by the little scene or world or universe we have created, and want to play in it for awhile.

     The short man in the gray flannel suit and bowler hat walked down the boulevard towards the tea shoppe holding the Cane of Power, laughing to himself in the knowledge that only he understood the secrets of the Magic Arts which soon would bring him fame, power, and wealth beyond his imagination.

So we start with a thought, an idea, an image; and we spend hours, days, weeks, months on end, trying to figure out whether that short little man in the gray flannel suit is going to win or lose or change or die; and we let the story unfold without logic, without form, without forethought because the joy is in the discovery of where our imaginations will take us.

And where it takes us, depends on the day.

On one day we may feel like the short man in the gray flannel suit will conquer the world; and on another day we believe that he will be destroyed by his own lust for power; and on yet another day, we find that love steps into his little world and transforms him into someone worthy of admiration and hope.

But in the beginning, it is just a paragraph about a short gray man in a flannel suit.

One can write for days and days and end up with a pile of paper (or a few kilobytes of computer memory) which amount to nothing. Or one can end up with the Great American Novel. How does it happen? How can it happen?

Anyone can create. Anyone can tell a story. The best storytellers are the ones who not only know where the story is going, they know how to make the trip interesting. They add details which flush out the pictures which form in our heads when we read stories; they give their characters the same faults and frailties that plague us all; they hide little hints throughout the pages so that our subconcious minds pick up on clues which help us find meaning in the tale.

There is a lot to be said for spelling and grammar and rhythm and meter and punctuation and all those other things that help the words become special and poetic and irresistable; but if there is no story, all those trappings are for naught.

The best writers come to the table with all their tools in place, all their elementary education firmly implanted in their minds, all their paintbrushes freshly cleaned, all their canvases stretched tight, all the colors in their palettes properly mixed and ready to apply.

And the best writers practice their craft every day, working to find that inner voice that will speak to their readers, working to sharpen and amplify and tune that inner voice so that it never mis-steps, never stutters, never puts the right phrase in the wrong place (or the wrong phrase in the wrong place).

Sometimes the practice leads to nothing more than exercise.

Sometimes the best exercise opens up a whole new area of exploration.


     The short man in the gray flannel suit and bowler hat walked down the boulevard towards the tea shoppe holding the Cane of Power, laughing to himself in the knowledge that only he understood the secrets of the Magic Arts which soon would bring him fame, power, and wealth beyond his imagination. It was his habit to begin his day with a cup of tea at the shoppe, drinking deeply of the special herbal mixture and then, when it was down to the dregs, tapping the side of the cup three times in the manner described by the ancient Arts; he would peer down into the depths of the tiny porcelain container and watch as the granules of crushed herbs arranged themselves in peculiar patterns which had meaning only to himself. And then, armed with a new insight into the future, he would go out into the world and face it with a confidence which guaranteed success.
     Except for today. Because on this day, the little girl in the ragged clothes stepped into his path from the alleyway beside the tea shoppe; and so focused was he on the thoughts in his head about the things he would do and the riches he would obtain that he did not see her until his shiny black patent-leather shoe intersected her own worn-out sneakers; and then he found himself falling through the air with the sidewalk rapidly approaching his face. By instinct, he threw out his hands to arrest his fall; but in so doing, he inadvertently lost his grip on the Cane of Power, which hit the little girl on the top of her head before bouncing off and falling into the gutter which lined the street. And the girl, sensing imminent catastrophe by the fact that she had collided with an adult of probable standing in the community, as evidenced by his clothing and the fact that he wasn't watching where he was going, fled the scene without looking back to see if the man had been injured.
     She did not feel the impact of the Cane upon her head, nor the Power which surged from it, so frightened was she of the consequences of the accident; but she would never be the same again.
     Nor would the man, who, after getting to his feet and collecting the Cane from the gutter with a few choice curses under his breath, entered the little tea shoppe and performed his daily ritual of ordering the hot, steaming cup of specially-prepared tea and drinking it deeply until only the dregs remained, and then tapping the side of the cup three times and peering over the rim to see what lay in his immediate future.
     For there was no meaning in the random arrangement of wet, blackened particles which lay at the bottom. None.
     It was as though … No, that couldn't be. He tapped again. And peered. And tapped. And peered. And felt a chill run through his bones.
     And as he turned his head to look out through the window of the little tea shoppe toward the street beyond, he wondered: Where had she gone?