Vacation time–packing lists, new shoes to try out before I go, it’s all expensive and exciting. I can hardly contain myself. Say what? I had to go, so I told myself, to The Container Store, more exciting to me than any amusement park. I came away with a purse-sized planner to contain my appointments, a neon-green scratch pad to contain my random thoughts and to-do lists, a tiny bag that holds a bigger bag and a battery-operated toothbrush in the cutest little case. Things that I didn’t know I “needed” until I saw them. Poorer and no wiser, I have the new shoes on my feet and the other things inside what will be my shoulder bag en route to New Orleans. Within the next day or two I’ll take the small suitcase out of the large suitcase and fill that container, which must fit into the overhead luggage bin inside the big airborn tube.
Art, like my life, is often about containment. A book contains pages, a story contains detail and action and emotion–the contents. Content comes from the Latin contentus, satisfied. My how that word has morphed, sprouted legs and wings. So much depends on the accent: CONtent or conTENT. I’m rarely contented with the content of my early drafts. And lately I am aware of the containers within a piece of writing. Of course there are the parts that contain the contents, the chapters, paragraphs, sentences, phrases, nested like ubiquitous Russian dolls. And there are the scenes within a story that are contained. For example, in The Glass Castle (Jeanette Walls), the opening scene is narrated by a woman from inside a cab. She sees on the street her mother picking through the trash. That the narrator is contained within the cab limits her ability to describe her mother. She can only report the visual, not the sound, smell, or texture.
This containment interests me and I find myself wondering now how much of what I write is restricted by what contains the action. I would welcome other examples of this walling off of a scene and the effect of that containment on the story. Ideas? Anyone?