|The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch|
|Leo: back on his feet|
So, every day I'm in the middle of it making dental appointments, overseeing middle school applications, sitting in the vet's waiting room. Soon it will be time to get everyone signed up for summer camps and swim lessons. It's pretty much that middle panel of Bosch's triptych: everything all the time, perhaps with slightly less nakedness.
I am also in the middle of two stories. One is technically a revision. Formerly a thousand-word flash piece, I'm expanding it to a 5,000 to 6,000 word short story. The other is my "January" story. The first brand new one of the twelve I promised to write this year.
I usually have no problem beginning a story. I have all sorts of ideas, themes, characters, vignettes stored away in my journal, on sticky notes stuck to my journal, or just floating around in my head. I generally start out with a strong opening, interesting character or two, and at least some idea of where the story is headed. I do sketch out a soft outline with scenes and ideas for scenes to get me through the middle, but I really don't have the middles down to a science yet. Just like Dante:
Getting through the middles of my stories usually looks a lot like Bosch's middle panel again. There are so many choices, so many ways things could play out. So many earthly delights of which to partake. I really like to keep a little play in the narrative as I'm working through a story in the hopes that I'll discover something wonderful, and sometimes I do. When I get the middle right (and by right I mean mostly right) the ending almost always clicks into place.In the middle of the journey of life, I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard it is to tell of that wood, savage and harsh and dense, the thought of which renews my fear.
~Dante Alighieri, The Inferno
More often making my way through the middle feels like walking through a dark wood full of invisible creatures rustling around and calling to each other. Discussing in their animal language their plans to devour me. I know if I just keep going, pausing to adjust my outline then moving on, I'll come out at the other end with a complete draft.
When Beat writer William Burroughs said, "Everything is permitted," it's easy to think he's simply talking about that middle panel alone, without the reward and punishment panels that flank it. But read some of Burroughs' work and it's clear that everything isn't as fun as it looks and it sure isn't easy.
I think Mr. Burroughs means that when so much is available to us, our lives and our stories are defined by the choices we make. The only way to confront the "everything" of everyday, of each story's middle, of that dark wood, is one choice at a time until you find you've made it safely through.