Commencement

sunrise

Image from personal collection

Morning, a thin textured blanket on my feet as winter air enters through the window screen to my neck, down between my shoulder blades and I press the back of my head into this old blue sweatshirt hood and bring my knees close together.  The quiet that’s outside, though there isn’t snow yet, is a quiet that waits for the snow, which will happen today.  The air is already veiled with wet.  I listen to the steady blow from the vents, different from the modulation of breeze through leafless branches outside.  I sit in this quiet and wait.  This day, this is my beginning.  This is one start.

*

This day, this is my beginning: I boil water for tea over a mostly blue flame, orange creeping up the kettle sides like old, desperate fingers seeking a grip on a mirror, sliding away, sinking back to blue, then to try again.  I look at the fire and consider its genesis: I can start it with the flick of a match, a thumb and spark from flint, add gas, fuel, and the fire burns.  Our days are occupied with variant beginnings, offered as they are offered most days, with indifference, like shelves of thick book spines, rows of vacant parking spaces and we can grasp at whichever we choose; if we choose, we can enter this corn maze through a number of the spaces between the stalks to find paths.

This is the life as a writer.  We anoint ourselves with sovereignty, rightfully so, and introduce our story to the world with a well-directed dart, call me Ishmael; Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  We own space and are as much a part of our stories as our characters; we are part of our stories because we are their tellers.

*

We’re in beginnings and potential beginnings, always.  Even more, we’re consistently in middles, like we’re in air.  The beginnings are as we ascribe them from where we make our first cut, where we choose to access them.  We watch, look back and relive and wait and then strike.  This will be our beginning, discovered right there in so much middle. The thing about our good stories is that they are always middles.  This is important, because we want what we’re telling to have stretch, extension.  We offer our readers a section of road and want them to recognize that that road came from far off and that it goes far off.  Our stories are glimpses into the expansive. They are snapshots.  When you are reading and realize this truth, you are humbled to know that the story isn’t page 1 to page 254 but is a life.  And lives are much longer than stories.  Thinking of this as we approach our work will naturally inject fullness into our characters and their beingness.  We are more interested as writers.  There is dimension, seemingly endless dimension, and that stimulates our writerly exploration.

When you start your story, independent from it being a shorter piece or a lengthy one, think about the life that you’re plucking your story from.  Think of what your characters were before the first page, what shaped them, what they were before the day started.  Try this: write about your morning; pick any point of that morning to start your story.  After that, write it again but move your start point an hour earlier.  Do it again if you have another hour more than that to go back to.  Then do the same thing with a fictional character.  What changes by moving your start point?  How does this shape your character?  Does the direction of your story differ?  Because it’s still the same life, the same maze.  You’ve just chosen where you want to enter it.