Saturday, May 18, 2013

In Which I'm Caught Identifying With All the Wrong Characters

It's been a truly hectic week at the Fane, or more accurately outside the Fane. There's been much to do well away from the comforts of the writing desk, so much of my work has amounted to little additions to ongoing projections, jotted down on the fly. I thoroughly enjoy practicing the art of toting the necessary work materials around with me, and I think the current contents of my messenger bag might be my favorite combination of traveling scholarly and literary materials: two notebooks, one for fiction and one for reviews; a moleskine journal; two novels, one for research and one for review; a dvd of the review novel's cinematic adaptation; a copy of Stephen King's On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft; and The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner. Unfortunately, despite my preparedness, I've been more or less scrounging for time to work, as the exceptionally fine spring weather has inspired a host of cleaning projects and outdoor activities. To be sure, this time has been well spent, but exhaustive, particularly when combined with the onset of allergy season and the zombifying effects of allegedly "non-drowsy" antihistamines. And so it is that, after several action-packed days abroad, I find myself home, and feeling not only worse for wear, but quite a bit like a number of characters with whom I'd rather not empathize quite so strongly...

Gregor Samsa - The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka 

For the short story on which I'm working, which is developing what can only be described as Kafkaesque elements, I've been re-reading Kafka's The Trial, thus far the best of my admittedly limited experience with the author's work. Though I can appreciate the legacy of The Metamorphosis, I failed to enjoy it as I'd expected. That having been said, I cannot escape some of the latter title's poignancy, especially while I, much like Gregor Samsa, have persisted in my devotion to my family and friends, neglecting entirely the fact that by burning the candle at both ends I have, metaphorically speaking, found myself having transformed into a rather large insect. I've had much better luck than he, as far working around the effects of the past week's harried lifestyle, but the essential bug-ness of my allergies and exhaustion has remained. It's been amusing, to say the least, to find myself identifying with this somewhat loathsome creature, considering my response to his story. Then again, maybe that was Kafka's point all along...

Charlie Gordon - Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes

As the days have mounted, rather than passing in succession, my wits have succumbed to an interminable exhaustion, and all but resigned their post entirely. I do a fair job of scraping along on the precious few brain cells I have left, but I begin to despair that the damage might become permanent. I'm left thinking of poor Charlie, Daniel Keyes' human guinea pig from Flowers for Algernon, and Charly, the 1968 adaptation thereof. The novel, written from the perspective of the aforementioned guinea pig, details the intellectual rise and fall of a mentally challenged man who, through a miracle of neurosurgical science, is transformed into an unparalleled genius. Charlie's progress on the path to actualization reaches a blistering pace, but it's a level of output that can't be maintained for long. After discovering nuances to human existence previously beyond his limited grasp, Charlie is left frustrated and helpless as the effects of the procedure begin to wear off. It's at this point that my empathy comes into play, the powerlessness in the face of mental entropy. Slowly but surely, I've felt my brain flickering, sputtering, grinding to a halt...

Robert Arctor - A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick

I know it's not just the busy schedule that's led me to this dilapidated state. I can't say I recall ever suffering from allergies quite so badly as I have this season, and I've been relying on antihistamines far more regularly than ever before. Frankly, I'm not sure which is worse, the sneezing fits and waterlogged vision or the complete numbness of having taken something to alleviate those symptoms. More than any character, I find myself identifying with Bob Arctor, whose drug use slowly chips away at his grip on reality in Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly. It's one of my favorite novels for many reasons, but this is not one of them. Being able to identify with the increasingly incapable Arctor is far from fun. I'd seen it said once that the fictional drug in the novel, Substance D, was inspired by use of a real OTC medication that happened to be an antihistamine. After a week attacking my allergy symptoms, the connection isn't hard to see. Much like Arctor, I feel as if everything—within and without—has become impenetrably murky...


So where does this leave me, now that this brief run of busy days has finally given way to freer time in which to catch up on sleep and various ongoing projects? I did well to realize that my distaste for these negative associations was part of the problem: none of these characters is particularly happy about being themselves, either. By rejecting the connection, I was still participating in the identification process. So what did it take to break these chains and return to my old self? I embraced each of them in turn. Poor Gregor, never really understanding what had happened, nor how his behavior had effected his family, needed only to worry about himself a bit more and trust that things would work out for everyone else just fine in the end; Charlie needed to accept that his character was revealed not in the alleviation of his handicap but throughout the transition from his natural state to that affected by the procedure and back; Bob Arctor, who not only wished for an escape from his lifestyle but nearly forgot he was Arctor at all...well, he just needed to lay off the pills. 

As conditions have improved, I've been able to rely less on allergy medication, and things are slowly coming back into focus. I've got some great notes for the work in progress, and a few new reviews in the works (including A Scanner Darkly). The forecast calls for isolated thunderstorms, which will hopefully knock the rest of the pollen out of the air. My sinuses are relatively clear, and my schedule and mindset are getting even clearer still. I expect it's going to be a lovely day back at the workdesk, then, and I'm looking forward to spending it not as Gregor, Charlie, or Bob, but my recently revived—and fully functioning—self.

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