Monday, December 5, 2011

Beginnings

Beginnings, however fraught with challenge, are nothing compared to endings.  True enough, you need a strong dose of focus to shove you onto the stage of The Beginning.  But the moment you set your characters into doing things as opposed to standing around in little groups, chatting, or one character alone wondering how she’d got herself into such a jam, you are at least dipping a toe into the dramatic waters.

With a semblance of beginning action in mind, you add judicious amounts of mischief, which is to say complications, until you reach the point where you realize being judicious doesn’t produce the right chemistry with storytelling or, for that matter, any writing.

You are reminded of that superb cook who was your mother, disdaining printed recipe, adding ingredients as though bestowing blessings to a crowd, engaged in her own litany of a creation to be presented to an audience, then shared.  You reflect on her image for a brief moment, scarcely long enough to form words, long enough, oh, yes, long enough to reaffirm being her son—then you add ingredients of your own to the beginning that is coming to a nice simmer before you.

Early on with beginnings, you take care to add ingredients, wary of using imitations or items lacking freshness and personality.  You reach the point of piling them on.  Judiciousness has vanished from your agenda.  Both feet ate immersed in the stream.  You may even see—or think you see—the opposite shore from which you entered.

Thus wet, you test the submerged terrain, alert for unseen drop-off, slippery footing, hidden tangles.  All of this produces within you the tingle of yet another venture underway in a different stream, the delicious aromas and sounds of uncertainty swirling about you.

Endings often thrust themselves upon you with rudeness.  After all the beginning adventures and reversals, you are momentarily comfortable with the characters and their terrain, understanding that they have thought enough of you to let you in on some of their secrets, but they might have even more they are hanging onto as bargaining chips.

You have come to accept that you always—invariably—write past the point you will eventually use for your ending.  You’ll have tried to tack entire scenes, perhaps even differing points of view, onto the story, a remarkable metaphor for the childhood game of pin the tail on the donkey because you are out there for a time, blindfolded in the sense of not being able to see the interior of the story or, indeed, the interior feelings of you, the creator of the story.

What a temptation to stay on, explain things, perhaps show off some insights.  Might even be, you’d slip in some literature.  But it is always nicer to let the characters take the curtain calls, see the flaws in themselves and, as a consequence, in their friends, family, and such enemies as they may have accrued in the process of keeping hold of the secrets they continue to nourish, the sense of enmity they may pretend to have relinquished while at some deeper inner level still clinging to it with imaginative vengeance.

It is difficult to leave early.  You have created a most remarkable party.  The guests are at that splendid moment of the evening where they are pleasantly sloshed and starting to get close to revealing more secrets.  This is why it is tempting to stay—look how this reflects upon your awareness of the dark and mysterious places within us all.  Perhaps another few moments, another scene, another beer or glass of wine and you’d want to be matching your secrets with theirs.

You have no wish to emulate Gabriel Conroy, the seeming focus of James Joyce’s haunting (and haunted) short story, “The Dead,” speculating ruefully on what he’d missed, rather to set out in the chill air of these wintry nights, walking the streets alert for traces of new possibilities for the beginnings to come.


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