Friday, July 27, 2012

The Curtain

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It's a favorite saying of mine, originating in the classic movie The Wizard of Oz. I think it can be applied to so many different situations. There are plenty of things in life that, I'll admit, I really don't want to think too hard about where it came from. Perhaps that makes me a bad person.

For instance, when I'm having a nice steak at a local restaurant, I don't want to think about the cow that was killed to create the meal. I know it's a controversial issue, and I don't really want to get into all that. Let's just say there's a certain amount of guilt that goes with being human. You either come to terms with it, alter your behavior, or it eats you.

I'm Catholic. Guilt is nothing new for me. That, and everyone experiences guilt differently. What works for me probably won't work for everyone else. But I digress.

What I wanted to do was relate this idea to stories. The more I learn about the craft of writing, the more I recognize certain techniques in my reading. I'm starting to wonder if chefs have the same phenomenon at restaurants. Do they sit down, look at a plate, and immediately dissect the ingredients? Do they take a bite and say, "Ah yes, nutmeg. I should use that more in my own dishes?"

There's a certain amount of innocence that one can never regain. The more you learn, the more the magic of the world fades. Generally, we call this "maturing." Maturing as a writer, chef, or human being. It's all just a nice way of saying "loss of wonder."

Maybe this sort of musing explains why I gravitate toward fantasy novels. I want to believe there is something more. College trained me as a scientist, that doesn't mean I stopped wishing for magic. It just gets harder and harder to find in the real world. There's nothing better, then, than losing yourself in a novel where magic really happens.

Still, I have to be careful. The more I learn, the thinner that curtain gets. I see shadows of the man behind. His loafers peek out from underneath the obstruction. I know I'm catching glimpses, and part of me wants to know. If I want to reproduce the magic, it is probably a good idea to consult and learn from the magician. But knowing a trick ruins its mystique.

UNLESS -- and this is the cool thing about writing -- you consult the magician and learn that there is no trick. It's real magic.

The fact that there are basically no hard guidelines to succeeding with writing fiction is something that can be infinitely frustrating. It can be infinitely comforting at the same time. Crazy, huh?

Whaddya mean I had a brain this whole time?! Can someone check this guy's Wizarding License? Bah!


Elizabeth Anne Mitchell said...

I suspect a chef does exactly that. My oldest son, after two years of installing hardwood floors, walked into the house, gave me a big hug, looked at the floor, and said, "Oak. Your porch is fir."

However, I don't think we lose the sense of wonder. My son still points out gorgeous floors, with an added appreciation of what went into them. Maybe my Pollyanna is showing, but when done right, the work is more than the sum of its parts. That is real magic.

Matt said...

That true. I didn't really touch on the additional appreciation you can gain from being able to recognize masterful use of ingredients. That is another key aspect that I think swings the pendulum away from "ignorance is bliss."

Lauralynn Elliott said...

I like the chef analogy. I can just bet chef's do exactly what you refer to. We writers do the same thing.

I don't think you HAVE to lose that wonder as you mature. To me, the whole world is full of wonder. :)

Matt said...

I definitely think you can hold on to the wonder... it's just that you're sort of working against society. That is, to some extent, a sense of wonder as an adult is viewed with disdain. We're "supposed" to grow up and learn "how the world works."

My point is just that I think we have to work at it do maintain a sense of wonder. We have to remain open minded and receptive to wondrous possibilities. And we may get called names in the process.

Kudos to those who dig their nails into their sense of wonder, and hang on for all they're worth!

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