Sunday, March 7, 2010

Now and Then

Of all the mischievous, intriguing, and pesky words in the English language, few are cantankerous as now. In some broad, dictionary sense, now means at the present moment. Yet there are other senses attaching themselves to now so that the word buzzes about you like a persistent housefly on a summery day, more attracted to you than you would want anything to be. You swat at it, hopeful of driving it away, and for a time you appear to have been successful, but then it returns wanting something from you, persisting until, at some length, you are driven away. It has won. You have moved on from now to then.


Then is, of course, another matter. Then is a lovely transitional word meaning at that time, which is in a sense a rear view mirror that lets you see where you've been; it may also connote the notion of future activity via such trampolines as subsequently. Then is a word that can be handled, fine-tuned, even tamed to do a writer's bidding without the need for calling in a linguist or a Word Whisperer to tell you where you were going wrong.

At the present moment--now--you are in the midst of something or you are poised on the brink of leaping into something, your ideas and enthusiasm all fired up and ready to go. Now, you say, I'm ready with my writing time, whereupon, if you are not careful, a voice whispers, What took you so long? By the time you have answered, Now has departed, and you are confronted with a Then that is looking at you expectantly, as if to ask where the previous material is. You don't like to write from a defensive stance and so you move on to another seemingly innocent word that also has albatrosses hanging about it. That word is coffee. After making and drinking some coffee, you will have arrived at a new and non defensive now, the better to get some pages. Along about the time you'd decided to call it quits with smoking, you'd come to realize that the inner whisper encouraging you that now would be a good time to fill up your pipe or light a cigarette was merely a device, a task to perform so that the now of putting some words down would be transferred to then, ostensibly a time when you'd be comfortable and settled, "in" the story, a word and concept that are pesky only when you are "out" of story and "in" futzing around. Coffee contains caffeine, which is a known enhancement of the tools you bring to the keyboard or the notepad. Coffee is not a distraction, for which read excuse, but an enhancement. You are quite not being devious by carefully washing out the inside of your stove-top espresso maker, measuring out the proper amount of coffee (which you have retrieved from under the frozen okra and spinach in the freezer), which particular blend or type you have considered for some minutes, not wishing to sail forth into your work powered by caffeine from the wrong coffee. And the special, battery-powered frother has saved you the time of needing to pour the heated milk into the Oster blender, which would then have to be taken apart and scrubbed. You are minutes ahead, which you will squander on being "in" your story, now that the proper coffee is ready.

In guarded enthusiasm, you look at notes and reread what you had written then, ready to pounce upon the now. Ah, you think. This works. You are ready to make that step, the one you often feel just as you slide from waking state into the chummy clubroom of sleep, the confident step into the now of in.

What took you so long, the voice asks.

The fly of now buzzes about you. With luck and a bit of discipline, you won't even think about it; you'll step forward to where it lives and you will be well beyond then and now.

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