Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Introduction to "Auteur Theory," Part One

Yes, yes, I know I should be working on new stories. I'm getting there, honest. But I'm still being lured into the whole world of e-books (or should that be "ebooks"? Shows you how little I know about this world). Hey, I used to have some of my old stories with Alexandria Digital Literature. Remember how well that worked out? Okay, let's not remember that ...

I've been working out ways of packaging the stories, of putting out the equivalent of little chapbooks, pairing the stories one way or another. The weekend of Father's Day it occurred to me that three of my stories featured dads. So I said, "Okay, how about we put "Auteur Theory," "Where We Go" and "The Cthulhu Orthodontist" together. That will be one book. And maybe I'll write an introduction for it, explain where the character of Andrew came about."

So I started working on the introduction and got this far. I wouldn't ordinarily bother you with it, but I'm still playing around with committing acts of bloggery. I'm sort of intrigued as to how far I might go. If I ever manage to make a point I might even learn a thing or two about my creative process or lack thereof.

"About the time I was in fourth grade, maybe earlier but certainly no later, I invented a father.

"Not that I didn’t have a father already. It’s just that I needed another one. One who wasn’t so – not to get too deep into it at this time – so … 'real.'

"Kids invent imaginary friends. Often, they invent other kids – kids who exhibit the qualities they desire in themselves, or who represent some part of themselves they cannot or will not express. I don’t know too many people who talk about their imaginary friends, but I’m sure many more had them than will ’fess up to it now, even among the people of my tribe – writers.

"My imaginary friends were all adults. I was no fool (an idiot, yes, but not a complete fool). I knew who had all the power and where all the fun was to be had. Adults will disagree with that assessment. I disagree with it myself, now.

"I claim to be no better or worse than the next stunted, insecure, psychically-injured-down-to-the-root-of-the-soul-type kid who grew up in a cultural desert of bungalows and raised ranch houses of the mid-twentieth century. All I know is that my fantasies had a slightly odd curve to them.

"You see, if I went to a movie like, let’s say, The Time Machine, I didn’t come back wanting to be the character Rod Taylor played, the time traveler rescuing the helpless Eloi and fighting off the scary Morlocks (or, as we used to call them, Morons). I wanted to be the guy who made the movie about the time traveler rescuing Eloi and battling Morlocks.

When I read a book, I didn’t want to be the hero of the story; I wanted to be the guy who wrote the story, or a story very like it.

"And so with the comic books at the Rexall. And so with music. And so with paintings in the Art Institute. I didn’t know much about art – Hell, I didn’t know about anything. You couldn’t get dumber than me without being scraped up, placed into a clay pot and watered twice a week. I didn’t know a thing about art – except that it was made.

"Made. It didn’t fall out of the sky. It wasn’t the product of air masses or sunspots. Even if you wanted to attribute art to a godlike entity, an intermediary did all the grunt work. Art is made.

"And I wanted to make it.

"Not that I knew how. I didn’t even know how to make my bed. I didn’t know how to carry numbers in arithmetic. I didn’t know how to bring home the correct change if my mother sent me to the store for milk (she did that once and once only – in my household, you had but one chance to do anything; if you screwed up you were forever labeled a screw-up and never, ever, trusted again to do anything of importance).

"But I knew I wanted to make some kind of art. Movies. Books. Paintings. Music. Whatever. I wanted to tell stories. Nothing could have been more important. In second grade, I had to fill out a questionnaire and one of the questions had been about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I ran out of space somewhere between doctor and paratrooper. But if I had filled out that form two years later, I most likely would have limited myself to movie maker, writer and, running a close third, paleontologist (look at it this way: if I wrote books about dinosaurs I would be telling their stories. Scientists can be storytellers, too).

"How to get there? I couldn’t see how, though I was very willing to try. But … to make it as plain as I possibly can, kids from the Southwest Side of Chicago did not grow up to be movie makers, or writers, or visual artists. Kids from the Southwest Side grew up to work in factories. Or drive trucks. Or pump gas (when such jobs could be had). That’s what I was given to believe. If you had high aspirations, you could apply yourself so that maybe one day you would wear a white shirt and a tie to work every day and not carry your lunch in a metal container. You’d be working for a company that manufactured screws, or cables, or plastic shims that would fit under your Formica-topped kitchen table. Or you’d be selling insurance, or keeping books for the company that made those ever-so-essential shims. But not much more than that. Nothing wrong with such a life. One does what one needs to do. Shims are valuable objects, easily worth their weight in … shims. That just wasn’t where I wanted to go.

"From where I stood, at my age, weight and height, the future looked like a still sea of death, smooth as glass.

"Of course I fantasized. Of course I invented a person who could do the things I couldn’t do. Of course I often imagined I was him and he was me.

"And even when I grew older, old enough to leave behind much of the world I created inside my head, every now and then my thoughts returned to that guy.

"He became the basis for Andrew Ulaszek, the retired movie maker of “Auteur Theory.” He showed up again in “The Cthulhu Orthodontist,” and once more in “Where We Go.” He’s the father of one of my most frequent narrators (see “Surfaces” and “The Ambiguities”). The old dude and his family get around.

"I’m not through with him yet.

"Or he’s not through with me.

"What's the deal with that?"

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