One of my big struggles as an artist, whether I’m writing or patching together a collage, is literalism. Literal, literacy, literature, litigate, liturgical all have their origin in the mysterious word “littera” meaning a letter of the alphabet. To use the alphabet, everyone using a particular alphabetical system must agree on what the signs mean. Strict adherence to those meanings is imperative. To be a literate person one must agree and abide by those values. In a sense, everyone who reads is trained to work with fixed meanings.
Writing strives to be literate. Even the most far-fetched fantasy uses words to paint realistic details, which encourage the reader to suspend his belief in his own preconceptions of reality and his disbelief in things that contradict that reality.
The problem is this- how does one break the bonds of that literalism? Beginning writers often struggle in incorporating scenes from memory into story because to fit the plot some detail in the anecdote must be left out, added or tweaked. A feeling of wrongness steals over them because “it didn’t actually happen that way.” In other words it wasn’t written that way into memory.
You may think that understanding this tendency would serve to correct it- not so. It just becomes more subtle. This week, striving to use my own first prompt, I got hung up on the word positive. I define the word as meaning something one is attracted to, nevertheless a little voice in my head keeps harping on the literal meaning of positive. So I looked it up and found that its roots lie in the French word ponere meaning ‘to put” or “place.” Not until 1916 did it acquire its psychological sense of “concentrating on what is constructive and good.”
Good brings us right back to Red Riding Hood and her story, which tells us terrible things happen to good little girls who act badly. Even though, like Red, I prefer to make my own rules, part of me still wants desperately to hear a parent say, “Good girl!” However, I like outcasts, lone wolves and strangers and I find the bleaker side of human nature fascinating in its complexity and grim sadness. Like most humans I had some grim sad moments of my own as a child; hence, my affinity for fairy tales.
In summary, I want to appear to be positive (good), though in the case of Red Riding Hood I really relish the odd and grotesque details of her story.
So here’s what I am going to do- concentrate on placing the elements at hand in positions that satisfy both my aesthetic and my need to play in the shadows once in a while. Whatever happens I’ll call it “good.”