“Allow me to relieve you of that budding enthusiasm. Here, do let me nip those tender dicotyledons [editor’s note: the first two leaves of a plant] unfolding left and
right, boop, boop, before the stem pushes up further , encouraging more, perhaps unmanageable foliage, and thence—forbid, forbid—a tree, a fore—”
Okay, that’s enough. I’ve hung the orator who opened this blog by the armpits like the letter T on two hand-turned oak pegs a couple feet above floor level, where he can sputter and dangle and go bullish in the face until his top hat falls off and I’ve finished writing what I choose to say here.
A character of mine from long ago has become a best-selling fiction author. For the purpose of this post, I shall call her Joy Berry-Hansen. It is not her real fictitious name. I see her nomenclature spelled out, JOY BERRY-HANSEN, in bold white caps on the cover of a whopping trade paperback—600 pages, easily—on the lap of a notably calm man sitting across from me at my usual coffee haunt.
Joy starred in the bestselling book of my first writing career in 1988. In her 85,000 word arc, she helped to overthrow a dictator, fell in love with and married the rebel leader who’d escaped, bravely, of course, from political imprisonment and who threw himself at her mercy in the book’s inciting incident with a fake passport and a refugee claim. You can understand, I’m sure, why I’m excited to see where life has taken Joy.
What, wait a minute…you’re not excited? You’re not sharing my unbridled, happily galloping certainty that a figment of my imagination found a way to continue her existence apart from mine, to thrive and make her successes known to me in a most elegant and charming manner? That’s okay. Certain fringe particle physicists and New Age feel-gooders might agree that such things are possible, if not probable, but for the most part, they don’t associate (with each other) either. The size of the airplane hanger I’d have to rent to allot each specialized belief system and its entourage of non-beliefs enough space to feel comfortable would be so gargantuan, I might as well wash my hands clean of it and pass the whole concept to that being-state we call Infinite.
To think, perchance believe, is beautiful. The process of thought enjoys giving us the impression that what we think/believe/know resides on a flat plane, concrete and highly polished with a clear sightline to whatever appears at its perimeter, or pops up from the center, or creeps into the neatly planted rows between. If life happens to feel messy at the moment, you might view this plane as more of a Mad Max post-apocalyptic wilderness, in which case, of course, you’ll be armed and ready. With a dictionary, with a pack of memories, a sawed-off something you can use to shoot holes.
In the front inside cover of How Fiction Works by James Wood, I wrote in pencil, dated precisely, Dec. 21, 2008: “To write in a free, indirect style allows me to say whatever I want about a character, through the multiple vertical layers of his thought process.” I also wrote the words, “I’m about to launch.”
I have no recollection of what was going on that solstice to make me jot something so definitive, and I don’t know whether my comment on style is original or lifted from Wood’s book. And I don’t care. I’m not going to listen to my little friend, the Diminisher, who’s expounding from the wall with, “Citation, mutter. . . lawsuit, mutter, mutter . . . cover your tracks. . . mutter, mutter, mutter.”
He’s quite red-faced by now. Seventy-seven degrees hotter than embarrassed, he’s boiling at shame level, poor dear. He’ll implode any minute for lack of attention, achieving whatever it is black holes achieve in the service of Creation. Meanwhile, I am so proud of Joy!
I went to the grocery story right after the coffee shop where a handsome little guy about three, riding in the toddler seat of the shopping cart, dropped an entire package of blueberries that he’d wanted to hold to help his Mom. Their fall created a spectacular constellation of cobalt across alabaster tile; a sea of blueberries they were, a Jackson Pollock masterpiece of antioxidants.
We, who are mothers, who witnessed the incident, reacted or associated in two distinct steps. There was a moment of empathy for the mother—been there, erk!—but it lasted mere nano-seconds. Our hearts reached far more enthusiastically to the boy who stared bemused at “what he’d done” while his poor Mom bounced from wanting to mother well in front of everyone and the floor to open up and swallow her.
When I left with my groceries, she was still pushing the cart from store employee to employee, her face a burning scarlet, saying, “It was my son who dropped these blueberries, I’m sorry, it was my son.” Meanwhile, two clerks, a generation older than her, squatted, deadly serious, picking up the berries one by one like gaunt, 16th century penitents. You’d think the Blessed Pietá had shattered!
Back in the days of the Inquisition, there was an instrument of torture called the Iron Maiden. It was a cage with spikes pointing inward, designed to perforate the heretic, to poke holes into his or her audacity of belief. Sometimes, as in the case of today’s berries, we’ll take on torment to spare an innocent, but really, where was the harm? And where is the harm in letting people think what they think and experience their doing? Would our Earth have spun off into an asteroid belt if someone at the store had laughed and we’d shared spillage stories for a few minutes?
Ah well, that little fellow is going to do just fine. He’s made his story debut here, and meanwhile, I’m going to take Joy whom I recognized on the cover of that big fat novel to heart. I’m going to bring her to my sweet paradoxical center of anarchy where all manner of beasts and free wild things associate.
© Elaine Stirling, 2013