The Economics of Unease

Happy Independence Day.

These days, I greet this holiday with more trepidation than enthusiasm. I have a little dachshund who is terrified of loud, booming noises like thunderstorms and fireworks. Though we live in the country, there is always some yahoo who thinks it’s fun to shoot off a rifle or handgun on the Fourth or New Year’s Eve, or when he’s drunk. And possessing a cache of fireworks always seems to wear on the minds of some people such that they can’t resist getting a few screamers out early, so the days leading up to the Fourth can be nearly as noisy as the day itself.

This year has been uncommonly quiet. No loud noises to date. I don’t know if the fires in Colorado have scared people or if the Fourth falling on a Wednesday, where a hangover is likely to have to be ported to work the next day, has put people off. All I know is that it has been almost eerily still – not even the usual hordes of day trippers straddling cacaphonies of Harley-Davidsons have broken the peace.

Yet, Little Dog has been restless and whiny since yesterday.

I wonder if he has picked up on my own worry that the stillness will be broken by a waterfall of shrieks and bangs once dusk has descended. Or perhaps he has some internal clock that not only can tell when walk-time and dinner-time is due, but is able to somehow measure months and recognize the summer as the Time of The Loud Noises.

As a writer, I ponder that what we often write about has as much to do with those interstices between anxious anticipation and reactive action. We tend to play upon our characters’ fears as much as the realization of those fears. We squeeze our thumbs and forefingers as hard as we can to force the last drops of mental and emotional unease and suspend our readers in the timeless moment before the unease is fulfilled or revealed as unwarranted or maybe shown as the harbinger of some other, greater disaster.

How intimately do we come to know those moments. As Observers, we can delight in our ability to inflict this torture. But if we identify greatly with our creations, we may be like to suffer with them.

If we, as story manipulators, can wind this tension tight, tight, tight, it doesn’t matter what the release – joy or sorrow – as long as that release seems true to the story and the characters. It doesn’t matter if the reader comments “What a great display!” or “Thank God that’s over!” Our job is to provide them with the moments of unease that stretch their nerves, to torture them, really, and then to earn their praise for ending the torture.

If you think about it that way, it’s a strange way to make a living.

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