TO BEGIN IS to admit an infatuation, a longing, a love.
A beginning signals that one has moved well past being merely interested and is now immersed in what is most likely an obsession. To begin connotes more than falling in love: to begin is to commit, to stay, to hold.
To write is to encounter a love affair. And as we groom ourselves and struggle to appear our most attractive to our beloveds, so too do we, as writers, want to present ourselves to our readers at our very best.
Or perhaps we get caught unawares: our ragged, disheveled, unsure, untidy, and ugly selves are what make someone else love us, for in writing there is always, inevitably, the ugly.
Love, in writing, is mostly a one-sided love.
Either I love or you love.
And, sometimes—although this is quite rare—we love each other. That is what makes the reader flip the page, that is, read past the beginning.
I am thinking about a beginning that I love, that I adore. I remember, always, so dearly, the beginning of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer: “I am living in the Villa Borghese.” I will always remember “I am living in the Villa Borghese” and the rest of the ﬁrst page and a half of Tropic of Cancer. My teenage marginalia reads, not naively, “This is the most beautiful beginning to a book. Ever.” This is something I still believe today. It is the most beautiful beginning to a book. Ever.
I adore beginnings.
I adore the beginnings of love affairs.
When I teach a creative writing course, I sometimes photocopy the ﬁrst pages of books that I adore. I ask my students to guess the writers, the books. They are often wrong. Not only are they unable to identify a writer or book, they cannot identify the genre.
The uneasy transmission of genre tells me a lot about the nature of love: spontaneous, unplanned, risky, and, yes, that most beautiful of writerly and loverly attributes: suicidal. For to write and to love, and to write and to love sincerely, is to write and to love like a kamikaze.
I loved the GRE Subject Test in Literature because I was asked to match ﬁrst lines of literature to their authors and books. I, too, often guessed incorrectly, but I enjoyed so deeply the thrill of matchmaking.
However much I love beginnings, I know that eventually, I must write about endings.
I fear endings with the same intensity that I adore beginnings.
The fear is not the opposite, nor the negation, of adoration; it is an altogether different sort of trepidation, for love is nothing if it is not trepidation.
An ending tumbles toward you over and over again; an ending will not stay flat, will not stay put; an ending troubles and taunts; an ending is sleep lost.
An ending is a puzzle without a picture; an ending says that despite whatever it is that one of us wanted, nothing more can be done.
The doctor tells the family of the dying patient: there is nothing more to be done.
An ending tugs and tugs and tugs.
The beginning does not want the ending; the beginning, like so many young people, believes itself to be immortal, trusts the illusory material of existence, and trusts that the distant point in the future that is ever-so-distant will continue to remain ever-so-distant. The ending is composed of distance and illusion; that is why the beginning, having not gone through the middle, believes that it too will live forever.
But we know, despite the feelings a writer possesses upon writing a beginning, that endings happen, that beginnings do indeed come to an end. The book spine betrays; the word count is a demise; each page number a crossing out of calendar days.
An ending is when a leaving leaves.
A beginning is asking: more please.
A beginning, in asking for more please, steps into that nebulous, often forgetful, amnesiatic land of the middle.
The middle is the leaving.
The middle is ever-so-full of things that we did together as lovers that matter to no one else but one of us. For the middle is the story of love unrequited.
And so, an ending is when a leaving leaves.
When even the leaving has left you, there still exists ever-so-much white space, an emptiness that tugs you to read the ending once more, to read the beginning again.
An ending says, I might have loved you once, but things have changed between us; things are different now. An ending says, It’s not you, it’s me.
Someone has moved on. Someone has lost his heartbeat.
When I began to write The Book of Beginnings and Endings, I felt that beginnings and endings were true; that is, the middle was nonsensical: the middle was all but a dream. A beginning stabbed like bright light, sharp stars. An ending lived inside me forever and forever; an ending was played out over and over again until it took on the shape of mourning, and then an ending was mourned until I felt that I could approach a beginning again.
The Book of Beginnings and Endings is just that: it is a book of solely beginnings and endings to hypothetical books. The beginnings end abruptly; the endings begin in the middle of things. It was my book about how love is always only a beginning and an ending.
The middles were only about the despair of the endings: the approaching ending and the ending of beginnings.
The importance of the beginning is to make possible the love affair; the importance of the ending is to make impossible the love affair.
The ending says, There is nothing else that I can do to keep you, and so—despite the heaviness and the utter heartbreak that you may feel—I leave you with such a small message, such a small sorrow, such a small sound. That is what an ending should do.