Friday, June 19, 2015

Beginnings Are Easy, Endings Are Hard

When your exercise lifestyle was built around distance running, there was something as exciting and exhilarating about the first step of a ten-mile run as the first sip of a cold, bitter pale ale on a sweetly Summer afternoon.


When the addition of titanium to your hips made running such extravagant distances a memory, and your exercise lifestyle switched to swimming, there was a special, commemorative moment when you pushed off from the wall, then felt your body find its natural level in the glide before your first stroke of arm or kick of feet.

When the implications of a new idea grips you in a bear hug, then lifts all hundred eighty-five pounds of you off the pavement, or when the chemistry between two characters becomes so crackling with static electricity that you have no choice but to shove your own concerns aside, then plunge into discovering what they're up to, you are in a similar position of that first step in running or that early glide in swimming.  

You are at that remarkable, buoyant, charged place called beginning or starting point.  The world, for all its misanthropy and artificial barriers, becomes transformed into the teen-age equivalent of romanticism, the twenties and thirties equivalent of the kind of challenge you knew you were meant for, the middle-aged sense of just enough confidence to get you launched into the dark, hooded unknown, the later-in-life thrill of still finding your way to the starting line--any starting line, with all the implications that come with an enthusiastic new beginning.

The great, often hulking comic actor, Samuel Joel "Zero" Mostel, is credited with having said close to the time of his death, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard," a credit that may have been apocryphal, even though it is the sort of things Mostel would say.  In the same spirit, you venture "Beginnings are easy.  Well, easier.  Endings are hard."

You have written your share of endings, but you have written far more beginnings, meaning there are notes for projects scattered among your work area and somehow into the kitchen, where they are mixed with piles of unfinished books, New Yorkers, literary journals, and reviews.  When you were eighteen or so, borne aloft by a subscription to The New Yorker, you somehow managed to read each issue, cover to cover.  As the years progressed, you met more and more persons with unread copies at their night stand, so much so that you wonder if there are persons today who manage to read each issue as it arrives.

Finishing things is difficult.  Some of the things you have not finished still rankle, behave in mindful metaphor as a pebble having worked its way into your shoe.  There is one story you sometimes put yourself to sleep at night trying to finish, refusing to believe it has not been finished because it was not really a story.

Beginnings seem to come to you like a sandwich of irony and enigma, where you feel driven to fit a pattern of scenes in motion, drawing the characters and you into what are at the outset unspeakable calamities.  At this point, you're faced with trespassing beyond the boundaries you've set for yourself, forcing yourself to become, just this last time, an overachiever.

There was often a point, when you were running, when you heard a voice telling you that today didn't look so good for ten miles; you'd have to settle for two or three, at best a mild sweat.  But somehow the second wind kicked in or you'd forget your promise of only two or three.  Before you knew it, you were up to five or six, which still wasn't ten, but a hell of a lot better than two or three.

In similar fashion, some manuscripts contain more than a thousand or two words, some beginning to thicken, send forth the news that you might in the next day or two get a first draft, which would be as awful as first drafts are supposed to be because in them you are finding out things about yourself that are the equivalent of a jab to your ego as the occasional second or third grade fear that you would not get to the boy's room in time and would have to suffer the consequences and urine scald.

Beginnings set things in motion.  Middles stir them up into circumstances beyond your threshold for fear or pain of humiliation or embarrassment or simply fear of the dark or being left alone.  "They will now and then,"  your older sister said of your parents, "forget you or appear to have forgotten you,"  She will tell of the time they forgot her, left her waiting at school, her fear and anger playing games with each other within her mind.  "But they will forget you because they are human and humans do forget once in a while, and once in a while, things happen to grown-ups over which they have no control.  And so you will wait and grow angry at them and not understand why, days later, you are still doing things that will cause them to be very much aware of you.

Having a sister like that for as long as you had her has made a big difference in your ability to handle things, in particular endings.  When endings come to your beginnings, there is a real sense of parents having remembered you waiting.  One by one, fellow students and playground leaders depart, asking you if you're okay.  Of course you're not okay.  You are in that helpless childhood place called abeyance, and when your parents do come to pick you up, even though you will have once again been comforted by your sister's advice, you are somehow going to show the world that of all the places you could be, the only place worse than New Jersey and Florida, where you were also in a sense waiting for the closure of getting back to California, is abeyance.

You have some record of endings, of finishing things, and you also have a record of some things left hanging, even if the manuscripts are long gone.  The endings nevertheless await, because the beginnings were so easy.  

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