Saturday, April 6, 2013

Plots and Life

There are times when I feel opaque, almost transparent. All emotions I have had that could be expanded have been spent, for good or for ill, and whatever I believe I am capable of teaching has been taught ad nauseam. Maybe it’s a function of age, this strange repetition of feelings, events, history, passions and sensations. The core of me says everything I listen to has been said too many times before, and even in Western music, there are only 12 notes, and every possible arrangement has been composed, hummed and played. I finally understand the full meaning of Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Obviously, even Shakespeare was willing to rehash these older feelings, (oh how I hate to quote Shakespeare… So déclassé) in Sonnet 59, when he wrote:

If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled,
Which, labouring for invention, bear amiss
The second burden of a former child.

This sense of not-quite-déjà-vu is insidious. If everything has been done, thought, written and said, then what’s the point? Is life really a simple replay of all that’s already been accomplished?

If life is stranger than fiction, and fiction is too often representative of life, then the truth of it all might be found only in the footnotes, and lets be honest, who among us has time for footnotes, prologues, epilogues or addenda? Most of us read pages diagonally, getting the gist rather than the details. We want the meat and potatoes, not the parsley lining the main course. In fact, we get sort of impatient if the heart of the matter is obscured by the writer’s garnish.  And that’s OK, for the most part. After all, no less an authority than Christopher Booker, a British writer and founder of the magazine Private Eye, believes all literature—and here I would add all life—hinges on a few simple plot lines.

The first is Overcoming the Monster. From Beowulf to modern horror novels, we strive to defeat something bigger and more evil than ourselves.

The second story line is Rags to Riches, where we better ourselves along accepted social lines.

Then we might go on to plot number three, The Quest, or the search for meaning which will almost certainly involve plot line four, The Voyage and Return. All this may bear traces of both or either Comedy and Tragedy and inevitably as spring follows winter, leads to Rebirth, or perhaps salvation. In more recent times and bowing to changes in modern literature, Booker had added two more entries, Rebellion (think 1984) and Mystery.

From my standpoint, plot lines one through seven perfectly exemplify modern lives. Some of us will live at least two of them, and many of us will exist and struggle through three or more. They repeat themselves, though wearing different costumes and playing different roles. Death, romance, work, play, family and friends, even faith, are cyclical. We pretend to see newness where there is none because doing otherwise will take the wind out of any ship’s sails.

Hmmm. I have no more deep thoughts today, nor even shallow ones, and it’s time for the brown rice and egg whites.

But give this some thought: out of the seven plots, which ones are yours?




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