Writerly Think

MTU FORD CAMPUS, ALBERTA VILLAGE, BARAGASTAN– Sunday June 6, 2016:  I am reading essays from Living With Shakespeare (Viking, 2013). In it, David Farr quotes in “The Sea Change,” lines for the character Antipholus of Syracuse (from The Comedy of Errors):

I to the world am a drop of water

That in the ocean seeks another drip

Who, falling there to find his fellow forth

Unseen, inquisitive – confounds himself.

 I read this over coffee as the rain pounds down. Moments ago an obviously pregnant doe paddled slowly along the lip of the shallow gully beside the house. Perhaps she slept in the long grass last night, hoping wind would keep the bugs off her, or perhaps she is looking for a suitable place to drop a scentless fawn. My attention is not on the animal. Instead I am thinking raindrops fall alone to disappear into the ground or in some cases to find other drops from which they form or swell existing liquid creatures which can wreak havoc until the creature’s natural life is spent (think of Houston recently, or Paris).

Farr is a playwright, screenwriter and a director at the Royal Shakespeare Company. He writes of the words of Antipholus, “This wistfully fluid elasticity of self is a great challenge for an actor. To contain at one moment oceans of passion, at the next to feel as tiny as a single drop, to sense the hugeness of fate and destiny to be both agent and nothingness, this is at the heart the challenge of Shakespearean comic acting.” He concludes, “No one in Shakespearean comedy knows who the hell they are. All are in a constant state of becoming. And the performers need this liquid lightness, their unknowability, this strange magic.”

Fiction writers, (my brothers and sisters of the scribbling craft), like directors, share this state of searching and becoming in all the characters we noodle into life, but whereas action and change must be quite rapid within the confines of a play. The playwright can jump forward or backwards a hundred years between scenes but ultimately is limited to about two hours to get done what needs to get done.  

Fiction is more forgiving and more life-like, especially in a series where the author can long-game the table and expose (reveal?) character change gradually, over three or four books of a hundred thousand words each. In a series you write each book in the context of that book’s theme/subject, but with a critical eye on the span of life and change for recurring characters. Seldom do characters act or change as authors expect at the beginning of the series and this is in great part because life itself brings change to the author as the series begins to take form.

It makes one wonder – if one accepts we are “made in God’s image,” – if God (whatever name you prefer) feels change as he/she/it looks at how the characters God created are changing or have changed, or how much he/she/it wished they had changed. I have no answers here, only questions.

Human beings are actors in life’s drama. We all change, some of us consciously, some unconsciously, some of us dramatically and some of us in small measures. But all of us create narratives of ourselves that are most often not visible to our fellow actors, and which may or may not coincide with the facts we use in that narrative. This is why autobiography is sometimes considered so much fiction – under another name – and often not reality as it was, but as it is wished for – an exercise in wishful thinking.

Life is messy, chaotic, unpredictable and cruel (though chance has no emotion; it is only a cold-blooded extension of mathy concepts).  A grizzly kills a human to protect territory or for food and without emotion as we know it. The victim is no more than a messy result of chance and crappy location.

Shakespeare’s characters are us. They may dress and talk differently, but their inner lives are ours and one of the things that made Shakespeare great was that he was the first writer to truly express the minutae of the inner life of the characters he created.As his career went on his characters became more and more complex and we got to see and feel more and more of their heretofore secret inner lives.

We writers of today, all of us, are products of all who went before us and all of us are inheritors of Shakespeare’s way of doing things with his pen.

Consider this line from a short story I call “Out Here Your Name is Different.” In Shakespeare (often women, sometimes men) change their names for various purposes (ironically such changes happen in pastoral settings), often in a forest, which seems to me a symbol for outside the mainstream. My mind took this nugget of thought and began to assert mull-mode and I found myself thinking of my air force days and how we gave nicknames to each other, and how these names often replaced the names we used back in our home-base lives.

These nicknames existed only out there where they are both relevant and earned. I recall, for example, Hump, Zorro, Goose, Bear, Baby Huey, Mighty Mouse, and while I can remember these men I can hardly remember the real names of most others. It’s like we go into an artificial world and recreate something for only in that world, then shed it like a stinky uniform when we’re finished with it.

As I was thinking these thoughts a character came to me—not visually, just a voice, which is often how my characters come to me – and I hear this male voice telling someone, “Your name from out there means shit out here till you have a name of here for here. And when or if you finally leave this shit place here, for there, you’re here-name stays here because here-names won’t do out where there-names become their own here-names, copy?”

The short story will grow from this nugget of voice. Sometime over the summer, I’ll sit down one morning and let the voice carry on and reveal the story behind it. Now that I have the voice written down, I don’t worry about losing it. One reading later will put me right back into whatever it is going to become. Got two short story nuggets this morning, both from the Shakespeare essays.

Easy-peasy. This is not a job, it’s a way of life.

I read once that at the time of Shakespeare the English nation was yet struggling to emerge from barbarity. Tomorrow I’ll mosey down to  the courthouse in Crystal Falls to a hearing for a female murderer, who may or may not be a serial killer. Not sure yet what will come of my attention, a book alone or something for the series, but we shall see.  Here we are 400 years after Shakespeare, yet struggling to emerge from barbarity.

Over.