2016, Archives, July 2016, The MFA Years

Beginnings are Sexy. Middles are Tough. Ends are Sad, with Relief. Reset. Begin Again.

A year ago, minus three days, I concluded my first ever blog-post, an energy-filled diatribe, with: “I open my heart to America.” I was so excited I could barely write a complete sentence. But America has changed, and so have I. My personal life has taken a 360. My writing life a 180 and my soul is top-spinning every time the news appears on the screen. The compass needle wobbles dramatically. I feel, more than ever, like a ghost-guest with no return ticket. Uncertainty.

Where is the confidence we all had before things began?

Beginnings are sexy. Easy and fun. That first draft, first-date, first-kiss, those moments at the boarding gate, pulling onto the interstate, opening the door of a restaurant for that someone you just can’t wait to talk to, meeting that advisor who has written your newest latest favorite poem, short-story or book. The words just pore out as the road opens, as the plane ascends through stormcloud, as the train leaves the station and the known behind. Nerves inject hope. Anticipation is a wonderful drug. Then a few hours, days, weeks, say a year into the trip, the meal, the draft, stock is taken and sinister doubt, fear paralyzes. Petrification arrows your heart. Say you’re watching your best-friends daughter at the beach with her buckets of sand constructing pies and castles and dinosaurs so sweet, and that little voice in your head starting at a whisper, builds to a bellow, “You’ve done it all wrong, you’re doing it wrong….” And you hide behind mirrored shades. The end of the beginning. 40 000 words in and you’ve lost the plot, had to use the map for kindling, phone battery on half a bar, useless, all alone in the desert with an empty water bottle unable to recall a tune to hum.

The middle is tough. That marathon mile 20. The month’s third week when the groceries are put on credit, that rented canoe springs a leak halfway across the lake and you don’t know whether to go back or forward and there aren’t enough life jackets. This is the moment where reading the newspaper is not helpful. Hate and fear mongers will blur your hope. Demagogues will find your weakness and extinguish your love. That daily video of public execution will crack your heart with injustice and you won’t be able to paddle or swim or walk or write or even speak your mother-tongue clearly. So go to bed, if you have one, it’ll be better in the morning, maybe.

The end is sad. Someone has to pay the bill, someone will cry because they have to go home. Your protagonist will haunt your dreams spouting bizarre proverbs. No one likes death, especially characters. You read the final sentence of that author who was giving you hope and feel a puff of accomplishment before opening the next cover on the pile. That exhale of “done, wow, good,” before the “what’s next?” is what we seek and wish could remain. Turning the page is better than closing the book. Experiments need conclusions, which must be accepted or rejected.

And the “so what?”

Add an “and then” and continue…

Last week, I was sitting with my Grandmother in her rose-blooming garden 13 kilometres south of Dublin. The sun and radio ablaze, but she can’t hear. Her eyes are too weak to read. Yet there’s a book on her lap. She pours a glass of white wine and forgets to drink. She’s 96 years old and talking about her brother, a jockey, who died at age 21 of TB while mounting a horse. “He just collapsed. He wasn’t eating. Never ate. Far too tall for a jockey, obsessive over keeping his weight. Of course, we could heal that now.” Then she shifts to talk about the horse, “his name was Throwaway, or was that in a book I read somewhere? Either way the horse won the race and I’d wagered my savings on him.”

Succumbing and opening the news, I’m seduced by passion and patriotic rhetoric from the outgoing First Lady, who anyone with a brain, wishes would stay longer. She’s a rare, essential, fount of inspiration, my Grandmother would no doubt agree, if only she could hear, We cannot afford to be tired, or frustrated, or cynical.

Turn the page. Reset for next term. Get back on the program. Don’t think. Stay in the book. Onboard. Full sails ahead. This sea will calm. Keep going. Count the sunsets. Land will come. Look, the sun is rising. Yes. Again!

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