Monday, April 06, 2009

Positive Contact

Yesterday, in the shower, a scene from Buffy came to me. Yes, I've been working my way through all seven seasons since Christmas, and I really dig the intelligence of the program, the challenge of outsider status of Vampires and also the TV factor. I don't watch a lot of it, but what I watch I want to matter. Buffy matters.

The scene: Giles gives Buffy a crapton of money to get her out of a rough spot. It's season six, second disc, I won't give any spoilers. Let's just say he's helping her out in a big way. It's a Deus ex Machina (God and the Machine) moment, where the audience is thinking "How the heck is she going to get herself out of this one?" and Lo and Behold, Giles jumps in and does it. Mind you, it's not completely random - he's been a father figure for a long time - but nothing tells us before it that he has cash.

In the shower, rinsing my shampoo, something hit me really strongly: If Joss Whedon and co had tried to plan for that moment way back in Season One (clearly it's not the only turn-around moment, but it's a big one) they couldn't have done it. It's not like they said "We are going to insert this Giles character so that later after saving Buffy's butt in any number of ways he can help her pay her bills." No, they just invented him, placed him in, and over time Giles and the actor who plays him and the writers let the character organically develop. By the time that moment happened, it was the right thing for Giles to do. The kind of thing he would do. Consistent.

I struggle with teaching my JHS students consistency in their creative writing. Works pretty well in essays and poetry, but when they get to fiction, all manner of bizarre things happen out of nowhere. To the writer, of course, these occurences seem natural - "I wanted it to wind up that way," "It makes sense to me," or even "I don't have to explain it, because Polar Bears taking over Mars is a natural outcome of the Apocalypse." You can feel, especially in these young kids' writings, when they have just "let it happen" and when they have an "agenda" in their writing.

This lead me to two epiphanies of sorts:

1. Fiction works like life works. There's cause and effect. Things seem to happen without reason but in fact causes and conditions work up to those moments. Later, with bigger picture (or in the case of an author who has a bigger view all around) it all fits together, though bizarrely at times.
Writing fiction is, in fact, a practice, a Buddhist practice, a practice for life, or can be - if one keeps this in mind. That we are not God, we never are, even when we "author" something. We are a part of God or the Universe, and when we are creating, we need to be a responsible part, but our creations and the world are much larger than the sum of the parts we put together.
This reminded me to let go - not worry about the endings of my novels (which right now are bogging me down because I don't "know where I am going").

2. I have learned to let go of a LOT in writing fiction. Poetry and essays work that way a bit, too, in the essential process of letting go and how that happens with all creativity if we let it. Let go and the net appears. But somehow in working with characters, letting them come alive and guide me, I have seen a sense of faith I wouldn't have been able to accept not being a Buddhist practicioner (and believe me it's still hard to accept even with that!), and have also re-discovered a joy and patience for human beings through writing about their lives. Seeing just how much luck, chance and development work together with intention is phenomenal, and something about witnessing it through the act of creating has been really powerful for me as a human being.

Two "minor" epiphanies I'll be working through for awhile now that I uncovered them for myself are these (and they followed on the heels of the fiction ones, somehow are related to me):

3. We measure time as a way to seem to make things more solid, more permanent. It would seem to be a tool for recognizing impermanence (moments pass and don't return) but we measure it in a form which allows us to believe all days are the same, or Mondays are the same as other Mondays, that I always do such and such at 4pm. It's never the same 4pm, though.

4. This last one was prompted by an excerpt from a Leonard Cohen interview reprinted in this month's Shambhala Sun. He points out that even the word "acceptance" is falsely permanent-izing. To say "just be," "accept," "have equanimity," "have compassion" all give some kind of solidity to what is actually constantly an act of letting go. This was reaffirmed yesterday at a talk when the director said "Basically we are just constantly letting go, every second," and my favorite line from Acharya Judith Lief, who says the best way to practice for the ultimate impermanence of death is to let go of every single breath and realize it will never return. A student at Miksang a couple of weeks ago pointed out the irony in trying to "capture" a perception on film - "It'd would be like saying 'I'm going to capture this breath and reproduce it.'" Good point. We can still use time, use a sense of permanence, use all of these, but recognizing the limits of our tools is significant. Positive, even. Liberating.

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