Thursday, July 09, 2009

446. "The Psychopathic Koan" A Short Story

PDF for "The Psychopathic Koan" is found here: If I receive great reviews for this story, I'll take this blog entry off line and consider it for submission to a few literary journals.

As I had told Barry Spacks, I was struggling about the last two weeks of June with a story entitled "The Peacock and the Bowerbird." I had been collecting, amassing data, trying to organize the story as much as possible... and then I reached a threshold in which I could no longer work on it anymore. Why? (1) I had quarantined all the information I needed. Instead of becoming a never-ending diffuse identity, the tumor of T suddenly became discrete and bounded. (2) Right now my life is flowing, changing all the time, at hourly, daily, and longer scales. Everything is flowing positive. I am not ready yet to tackle a failure in my life. I am not ready to end a story in a tragedy. (3) I had some level of difficulty in organizing the material because I didn't have a more simplified recipe for a controversial character with "psychopathic qualities." I returned to Santa Barbara feeling my head was a lot cleaner, a lot calmer, a lot more open and vacant, especially since the tumor had now been contained, yet still not removed. But a LOT less painful. The process of containment removed the possibility of "spread" into any other parts of my mind and body. Then again, it's still a fairly large tumor.

So, as I was driving through Santa Barbara, out of all the layers chaos involved in "The Peacock and the Bowerbird," a VERY CLEAR IDEA came to me. As the T tumor or T parasite (I can't wait to scoop out) told me one time a koan-story about a man who broke a jug of water in which he worked so hard to acquire and walked on from the scene as if nothing ever happened, and at the time he seemed to perceive the koan as a way of how he wanted to lead his life (dthfthr)(freeneasywndr learn from mistakes?). Sorry, those were just personal notes. The context of telling the koan story. So, then I started to think about it more and more... and now I was in Goleta, and I realized this is it. This story is it--a formula for a simplification of the character! A fundamental unit of organization I needed in order to better understand the construction of the character... and as a result, the overall story. A simple koan could suddenly describe this horde of information of a method of existence of a person who injured, wounded, damaged my inner emotions, intellect, meaning of existence overall.... The word psychopathy quickly crept up to me.... And the story marinated in my head for a day, and finally on the Fourth of July, down in San Diego, I had a fabulous conversation with Jules about the koan, and he added his own twist to the interpretation. The following morning (after a good night's Fourth of July sleep, without watching fireworks, boohoo), I woke up and cranked out a rough draft for "The Psychopathic Koan." Then followed by a jog, a dodge to Kinkos in a white truck, I cranked out the pictures and a first working rough final draft by the evening. The story was 3 pages long with my formatting, about 7 pages long with standard page formatting.

I was amazed. I wished I could write stories like that, in such a fabulous workflow... almost all the time! The best part is that the evil demon that drives the plot and tragic ending for "The Peacock and the Bowerbird" was formulated into a simple formula, recipe. I really needed that. By the time I returned to Santa Barbara once again. My mind became even calmer. I had more room for positive thoughts.

Yesterday, I talked with Barry Spacks about the story. I told him out the revelation of this story was an act of impulse, and sometimes I feel fresh stories are absent of vital details that add vital sprits of resolution... reality... just as long as it's not too much. At first Barry tried to halt me in telling him about the story because it's like Don't ruin the story for Barry! But I think he saw the struggle in my eyes and voice, and "The Psychopathic Koan" was a very bothersome issue for me worth discussing. I ended up spewing the story in sketch form. Barry really liked the idea of a "psychopathic" koan. I informed him that I was surprised that many of my peers did not know what a koan was, given that Buddhism is pretty popular. Barry informed me that koans are found in the less popular branch of the two branches of Buddhism (Renzai?). Koans are short stories inteded to be anti-rationality... insult rationality all together. And I chuckled, "Well that makes sense!" Barry also stated that koans, like the Bible, can give people an "surface-value jitter" or shakiness. Either the religious association compels them to read the story... or urges them to shy away... But I suppose koans are good (Buddhism overall), and it invites people to think. I suppose when I add "psychopathic" in front of "koan" perhaps the flavor of religion is toned down a bit. And lastly, Barry mentioned that at the beginning of the story there seemes to be an emphasis in telling the koan-story, and after the break, two characters at a bar took interest in the koan simply because they sensed that the story pertained to their own personal past failures, but were still trying to figure it out. Barry flat out told me in the end it seemed like the most important aspect of the story is not necessarily the koan itself, but how the two main characters related to each other, as well as their own inner selves and lives. Ooops! As soon as Barry said that, I internally flipped a switch and realized I had to figure out a few more aspects of the story and add a few more lines to further develop the relationship in the story. I made one more final round of edits, and now I am about ready to send "The Psychopathic Koan" to him.


Victoria "Stokastika" said...

Consider entering in the Short Short Fiction Contest for Glimmer Train Stories. Entry is in July

Victoria "Stokastika" said...

I have great news. I completed the SECOND VERSION of Psychopathic Koan yesterday (a la Barry Spacks edits: (1) promising structure and topic (2) tree metaphor confusing (3) not enough contrast of characters in dialogue, a bit too dominant with one character, a bit of a male-female thing going (5) the different possibilities not clearly pointed out, which can transform the writing appearance again (4) unsatisfying, unresolving ending.

The story is ultimately kicking off with a koan, then followed up by a conversation between two people who are novelly involved in a relationship. The girl is interested in better understanding the koan, while the guy is satisfied with his initial interpretation. They both start to analyze the koan as a story with multiple endings, and search for the multiple endings. At first there was literal interpretation, then gone to figurative, metaphorical interpretation over time, and in the end, it is ultimately how each character relates to the koan, and how their individaul relationship to the koan leads to an "unwritten promise" as to how to conduct their relationship, never to serve the role of the man who drops the jug of water on the road.

So I told Jules last night that the story I wrote no longer really reflected out conversations, nor our personalities anymore.

Here's Barry's response.

The structure of the piece is wonderfully fresh, the tree metaphor-within-a-metaphor—tree of options confusing, the distinction between the two interlocutors as to the working out of possibilities in the koan-story not sharply drawn (he agrees most of the time with her riffs of interpretation but the drama of the structure requests more marked differences to fuel the vigor of the exchange). The ending is too vague, drifty, its implications unclear, and the wording of the koan itself at the start not cleanly formed enough to project koanic-style and feeling.

I find a need for greater logical necessity in the inclusion of each of the variations (are they all illustrative of possible turns of thought and consequence? -- if not, the dialogue, though energetic and entertaining, goes on too long and would be happier stylistically (give the terseness of koanic discourse) if there were a tighter feeling of inductive sequence to the various sub-possibilities.

In short: the form is the strongest feature, namely koan with following contemporary discussion -- this is fresh and engaging.

A work in progress. Beckett would continue to serve well as a stylistic model. Maybe do some reading in a collection of koans?

promising work!

Victoria "Stokastika" said...


Maybe next time I could deal with how to visually portray the different alternatives, as well as a sideview picture of the man, his pathos, and his logos.

Victoria "Stokastika" said...