Oscilations, Politics & Story

On Facebook the other day, I clicked on ‘like’ Mitt Romney. One of my friends on Facebook responded to my like with “Are u frickin kidding me? Romney?? REALLY???”

Well, yes … really. Now I want to be clear. The fact that Lindsay Lohan has endorsed Mitt Romney for President in no way informed my decision on this subject. For that matter, Honey Boo Boo’s endorsement of Barack Obama has not influenced me either. And, perhaps, the fact that I ‘like’ Mitt Romney on Facebook should no more influence or inform your own opinion on the United States Presidential Election than the preferences of either of the above mentioned celebrities. I certainly will not be looking for any of the major networks to carry my endorsement. The truth is that I like President Barack Obama a great deal and, in a different time and circumstance, might well vote for him.

It was this video that clarified my mind regarding my choice this November as well as gave me some insight into my writing process … a bunch of metronomes.

Now, I originally saw this from a Facebook post (it’s sounding like I’m spending too much time on Facebook) that linked me to the video on io9. The article by Robert T. Gonzalez tells us:

If you place 32 metronomes on a static object and set them rocking out of phase with one another, they will remain that way indefinitely. Place them on a moveable surface, however, and something very interesting (and very mesmerizing) happens.

The metronomes in this video fall into the latter camp. Energy from the motion of one ticking metronome can affect the motion of every metronome around it, while the motion of every other metronome affects the motion of our original metronome right back. All this inter-metranome “communication” is facilitated by the board, which serves as an energetic intermediary between all the metronomes that rest upon its surface. The metronomes in this video (which are really just pendulums, or, if you want to get really technical, oscillators) are said to be “coupled.”

There is also another video on YouTube which talks in more detail about this effect. What interested me as I watched the video of these metronomes — all moving independent of each other on a fixed base — they looked like people to me all going their own way and ‘standing their ground’. They reminded me of politicians who refused to move because of party affiliations or entrenched dogmatic ideas, promises or commitments. As long as the foundation that linked them all — the board beneath them — was also immovable then there would never be synchronization between the metronomes as they all kept ticking along their own way and be unable to effect change in any of the other metronomes.

But, when the unifying foundation was allowed to shift freely albeit ever so slightly with the motion of the metronomes on top of it, that’s when the metronomes begin to change slightly as well until all of them are moving in unison. It takes a unifying foundation capable of connecting and bringing compromise (coupled oscillation) to all the independent motion that results in unified action.

I’ve said for some time now that what we need in the White House is a referee rather than a man with fixed ideas. The media and others have often complained that Romney ‘flip-flops’ on issues and is ‘wishy-washy’ on positions. That sounds pretty good to me. I want a President who can flip to a working compromise on the tough issues and not be stuck with a fixed position. I ‘wishy’ for a President who can be ‘washy’ enough to reach a consensus between divergent politicians and their interests.

I certainly believe that these goals are also the things which Barack Obama had hoped to achieve in his first term and, as I said before, I think he’s a fine President. But I also believe that right at this juncture in history we need a manager in the White House. We need a problem-solver who can get us all moving in the same direction again. We need to find a way to reach a consensus and act rather than just beat each other over the heads with dogmatic positions.

Many of my good friends believe that President Obama and the Democrats in congress could have fixed the problems of our nation if they were stopped by Republicans who stymied their efforts at every turn. Not surprisingly, I have many other good friends who believe that the Republicans could have fixed everything if they weren’t stopped by the Democrats. This ‘stand your ground’ partisanship is tearing us apart as a nation. What we need is some ‘give and take’.

This isn’t a football game. We have to stop wearing team jerseys, trash talking and cheering as though our self-worth were bound up in beating the ‘other side’. We’re one nation — or should be. ‘E Pluribus Unum’; out of many, one. I’m gonna vote for the guy I think can get us working together. You should, too … whoever you believe that to be.

Do I agree with everything Romney says? No. Do I agree with everything President Obama says? No. Do I agree with everything my wife says? Pretty much.

So what do metronomes, politics and coupled oscillators have to do with story structure and writing?

Different writers take different approaches to their writing. In my case, I like to start with structure and outline. I want to craft my story from the very beginning, know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. My backgrounds can be pretty extensive and my outlines very, very detailed. However, I find that if I cling too tightly to the outline and think of my structure as completely rigid, then my story can get just as deadlocked as congress on a Line Item Veto vote. If I start getting dogmatic about my original outline then I start trying to push my characters around in the story, making them say and do things that just aren’t natural and suddenly the story is suffering and skids to a halt.

That’s when I have to remind myself as a writer to lighten up my grip on the outline, let it shift a little back and forth on its own and take my story places which I had not anticipated but which were growing naturally out of the characters, settings and events.

When I allow myself to be open to compromise, that’s when the story starts to breath, live and soar again.

That’s good advice for any writer … and, perhaps, good advice, too, for whoever sits in the Oval Office this time next year.


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