Saturday, August 12, 2017


Google photo stock

This little short story I posted yesterday about “the kid” is a key genre known by many peoples — maybe all peoples who tell stories.  It's a "bildungsroman" -- a story of coming of age.  It's a natural source of stories.

Here I’ll look at the specifics and where I got them in a way sort of like dream analysis: a bit here and a bit there, all stuck together.  It’s not “deep” or “special” in the way that some intense dreams might be, but just an assemblage of raw materials that are always around: family history, writing by friends, scenes from books, natural history, and so on.  We all have this resource.  You don’t buy it or learn it.  You are it.  

What you learn is how to access and use what you already know.  This is what T helped me learn to do with more courage than I had earlier, to go into the darkness and violence.  But I wanted this little exercise to be something that could be used in a classroom without being censored.

In a shadow way the original premise of the powerful father with intimate henchman son-in-law comes from current politics, both Trump and Manafort having closely associated sons-in-law, extensions of themselves through their daughters.  So this is a generational story (a genre?) that prompts the grandfather and “the kid” in an alliance that helps the kid grow up.  

The psych-out passive-aggressive women, who don’t help, come from a complaint of a friend about his childhood.  Women who are dependent on marriage will sometimes sacrifice their children.  Step children, esp. defiant boys, are easy to force out, but that's not this story.

If I were developing this into a novel, I’d look for ways the women resented their husbands taking priority over them, the limits put on them.  The outcome among the women is often alcoholism, violence or runaways, except that the larger culture may hold them in place.  

Gay is a wild card.  It can be a reason for throwing a kid out, or it can be a way for a kid to find a new family.  

The situation of extended family on a subsistence farm away from urban areas is certainly common in America and was the way most people lived a few decades ago, including my family on both sides.  My mother’s family was the one with tension among collaborating/competing alpha males, in that case brothers, living along a "creek".  People were forced together without enough ways to find happiness, because the economy -- and the lack of possibility that’s in cities -- holds them there.  And the culture insisted this was right and proper and just “suck it up.”  Those with a bit of education could escape through books.  This is as true in Valier today as it was in Roseburg when my cousins were kids.

I stole some of this from T from when we were writing together — alternating posts.  All writers and artists “steal” and sometimes they know it.  Other times they don't see it until much later.  Objections come from people who are trying to convert the art into a saleable product, reducing it to what they think will make people buy.  Stealing makes them nervous.  "Intellectual property" is sort of diaphanous.

Very UN-T-like is the low key of the story.  No “rising action” emergencies like near-drowning or accidental shooting.  No sex.  Everything is simply “told, not shown” which according to the experts is a rookie thing to do, and a big no-no because it isn’t immersive which is what they think sells — that experience of becoming part of the story because of triggered inner states like fear or love — hormonal and visceral responses.  By this state of the media, it takes something pretty outrageous to reach people's guts.  I'm not going there.

It’s a mode of story that I got from two sources, both oral.  One was listening to young kids tell the plots of movies or about something that happened, like over the past weekend.  They take great care for the narrative sequence and try to make sure they get in all the steps of action.  But they don’t tell description or motives.  The other source was casual story-telling while at coffee or sitting around.  Campfire stories sometimes, but those tend to have more description and artistic strategies that build suspense.  

I developed this style when writing “12 Blackfeet Stories” because I wanted the stories to be simple and logical in sequence so they could be retold orally, not dependent on a paper book being read.  I wanted them to be like people’s oral histories of their families and even maybe to be confused with reality, which they are based on, so that people told the stories to each other as truth.  A film with a lot of flashbacks and dream episodes can be pretty hard to tell someone.  Also, I wanted others to write stories and hoped this would be one way for them to copy.

When people talked to us about artifacts, people like John Hellson, they didn’t point out materials and so on, as much as they told stories about them.  They didn’t say, “the brass tacks on this belt were originally meant to be for upholstering furniture.”  They said, “This was my grandmother’s belt.  You can see that as she grew older and wider she had to make an extension in the back with this thong.”

Each of the "12 Blackfeet Stories" is based on an artifact in Bob Scriver’s book that is a photographic record of the Scriver Collection.  “The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains.”  The collection includes a gun collection that Bob bought complete.  A trader sells guns by telling a story about them.  One could sell a physical pre-existing book by telling a story about the bound object:  “This is a copy of ‘Bob, Son of Battle’, which belonged to my Scots immigrant grandfather, and it is written in an imitation of a Scots vernacular which makes it very hard to read.  See, here on the front is a photo of Bob.”  (I'm teasing you.  Bob and Battle are both collies, way before Lassie.)

Published in 1898

A bildungsroman could be told about every culture, place or time, whether or not the people there themselves told oral stories about boys coming of age and acquiring the powers of a man.  Most do.  In our culture, at least, they weren’t often told about girls.  There is a new genre called “Princess Stories” about girls like Arya in “Game of Thrones” who are of special birth and so claim power.  The “specialness” may not be genetic royal blood, but just the conviction that they can rise above class and hardship.  

Maybe Cinderella and the Little Mermaid are Princess Stories, and surely “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is.   And Princess Leia. But’s not a bildungsroman if the protagonist marries their way up, is it?  And has babies?  Struggle as an individual is what makes heroes strong.  So in this story Milt and Hup have used marriage in a slantwise way that might be cheating.  The kid will not.

A sub-category of male bildungsroman is the outcast story, the boy caught in war, the boy who is gay, who is an immigrant, who has grown up on the street, and still he manages to survive and to grow into adulthood.  “Kim.”  “Empire of the Sun.”  “Huck Finn.”  I meant this short story to be in that sub-category.  And to be a pattern.

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