Saturday, March 21, 2009

In Search of One-Word Answers

As writers we lay down text then we push it around to readers and we see what happens.

I have been doing this for more than 45 years. Write something down, show it to someone, and say, “Hey, what do you think of this crap that I wrote down?”

To me that complex process is writing, and it is a whole lot more important to my life as a kernel of activity than publishing. Publishing is mostly an accident and for the most part as a writer we have no control over how it goes. But we do have control over our decision to write something down and we do have control over a decision to share it with anyone.

As readers we read what is in front of us and we can either comprehend it, or not. If we do comprehend it then we have a choice if we want to pay attention to our comprehension, or not.

What is comprehension? It is what we as the reader think happened when we read the text -- the reading was an event in our consciousness (and this is one of those interesting places where the idea of the character changing over time or the reader changing in their consciousness over time through the reading is plot -- and why some readers think some writers write stories that don't go anywhere or end in a galaxy far far away). So then we have another choice, we can either write down as best as we can figure to do it what we think happened, or we can keep our mouths shut, or say 'curious'.

So, my response to a recent question in regard to my response of the one-word 'curious' to my reading comprehension of a three sentence story written by a friend, another writer:

Your brain is warped? Curious means it left me curious. I am not really sure what is going on with it. I figure I am not supposed to know. So I am curious. I suppose I could have said intrigued. Guba is a curious name, at least for me it is. At first I think it might be a dog’s name. But then the ten years makes me think it must be a young woman, possibly a teenager. Ten years is a bit old for a dog and they do not remember even five minutes all that well. I wonder what Guba was doing before she looked up. If Guba is a dog I can kind of imagine what they were doing, as a young woman I don’t know, there are so many things that she could be doing. Possibly she was darning a sock. Or maybe she was eating oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins on a cold morning, mist rising up from the forested valley behind the house. I don’t really know but then I am told it is a funny thing. Then again I’m not sure what the narrator was holding in front of Guba. As I don’t know how they looked at whatever it is the way they looked at it before I cannot judge for myself if they looked at it differently, or not, but there is a nice little flash back with feelings. Is it a mirror, is it a photograph? If Guba was a dog then I kind of have an idea it could be poop smeared on a newspaper. I would say not a mirror, but a photograph. Or maybe it is a camera. That is curious. It is surely something if it makes Guba to make faces. Then the narrator scratches their head. I suppose this should be taken in context to signify thinking and not that they have itchy dandruff, and as it does connect with contemplation it seems almost a meditative scratching. It seems to me almost unconsciously scratching the head. The narrator is trying to dig at something, again, curiosity, possibly the brain warp? And then ‘somehow.’ We don’t know how. Some sort of mystery. Makes me curious, again. A sister in law, ok, another character, so now we have the narrator, Guba and Rita. At least I feel comfortable in thinking that Rita is not a dog. I do not know very many people that would name a dog Rita. Then the reference to Carly Simon, which though I presume is a singer, since she has an album cover, means pretty much nothing to me. Is she Canadian? I am not good at keeping catalogs of celebrity faces in my head, my bad. But I presume Carly Simon is shorthand for an entire nexus of facial image, with, I hope the safe presumption that it is her face on the album and not her bum... though these days you never know. Not that I have anything against album covers with celebrity bums on them. I also kind of feel that it is reasonable to assume that the narrator was not showing Guba either a photo of Guba’s bum, or the narrator’s naked bum for real like, though that would be curious too, right in Guba’s face I would not blame her if she made a face. Then there is Leah. Now, I have no clue if Leah is a male or female name, so the gender here is androgynous until proven otherwise. So that makes the narrator’s gender curious. Meaning, I don’t know for sure anything much but I am curious. They gave birth, hmmm, it may be safe to assume they are a heterosexual pair, but that these days is never certain, either. They could have had a surrogate or had it done with artificial insemination from a sperm bank and be a lesbian couple. I’m not clear on that, and do not feel comfortable to read too much into the story. Then the mini Cherokee Indian... seeing as half of my family is Seneca Indian I can go along with the idea that they look a bit unique and I can kind of get the idea that the reference is to the afornamed Guba. So then I am thinking that the narrator and Leah are parents of Guba. That Rita and Leah are siblings. That Rita looks like a lounge singer, so Leah must either be a genetic facial mutant, or the narrator is a facial mutant, or a bum mutant, or maybe Guba has Down Syndrome, but the reference to the Native American heritage seems to preclude this simple answer. The potential stereotype of movie injuns causes me to have a brain synapse, and I ignore it. Is Carly Simon a Native Canadian? Then we end off with a pretty blue dress, which seems odd, seeing as blue is usually associated with boy children. So then I begin to think that there is a human baby, it is a boy, not a girl, and that the narrator can’t see very well – due to a warped brain, or they need glasses real bad -- and insist that his boy child is a girl and that he cannot quite understand why his boy child makes ungirly faces at him. And so there it is a Family Portrait and I am made curious. It seemed, for me, the first time around it was safer to say curious.

It takes less energy to say nothing, less energy to read nothing, a little bit to say one word, but to say what you think went on in your consciousness usually gets someone upset and a whole bunch of crap goes on and so the QUESTION to speak, or not to speak, is always gauged by an assessment of the transactional cost... as in, "If I speak up what sort of crap will I have to deal with after that?"

As writers we can take this scribbling habit and step away a bit from our personal autobiographical relationship to the text and like flip a switch in our heads so that we are not ourselves, but some other reader that is like not quite us, and we read what we wrote as if we were a reader and if we have comprehension, and pay attention to our consciousness, then we slowly adjust... until suddenly one day a real other than us reader says, "Oh, I get that."

Then it is over because immediately you turn around a few times and suddenly nobody has a clue, including yourself, what you were trying to get at. So, if you are actually a writer then you start over because you don't quite know what else to do with yourself. If you are a wood carver then you give up writing and go carve wood. In my particular case I find it more convenient and profitable to put holes in walls and then not to look into them. More on that later...