The moment in which everything is different
Six days before what has been touted as the most important American presidential election ever, I finished reading Chuck Palahniuk’s memoir/ writing instruction manual, “Consider This.” Palahniuk, a diesel mechanic turned award-winning author, is best known for penning the philosophically violent Fight Club.
“Consider This” is loaded with practical writing advice. And I would recommend it to anyone who has writing aspirations. My single biggest takeaway was a piece of advice Palahniuk received from his mentor, writer Tom Spanbauer, who encouraged Palahiunk to always write about “the moment in which everything is different.”
For the writer this moment is fertile ground where good stories root and sprout. This is the moment of crisis and conflict and when characters are their most valuable to the writer. Because, more than anything, reader’s crave vulnerable characters. Reader’s want to see how a character either overcomes or submits to the new, pressing facts of their lives.
Yet this is writing advice that crosses over into life. The moment in which everything is different is, for better or worse, how we define ourselves.
One of my favorite plays is Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Yes, the one that is over-analyze, over-criticized, and often taught poorly in high school English classes. I will not bore you with a summary. But I will tell you the entire play hinges on Hamlet’s actions after everything is different. Hamlet is able to gracefully disregard time and curriculum revisions because at the play’s heart there beats the timeless human predicament of deciding what actions to take in the moment when everything is different.
5 years ago, I started this blog as a reaction to the literal hole my brain. In a way, all the writing I’ve done since has been a reaction to the moment when things were different. Does this make me courageous? A hero? God, no. I could easily turn to vodka or meth or various other forms of self-destruction later tonight. So why writing? Because, for some reason which I haven’t figured out yet, writing is the substance I’ve been sold to deal with my holey fate. Because writing has brought order, relief, and joy to the moment after everything was different. Because writing is free and legal. And because writing rarely leaves you with a hangover.
But what about you? What about your moments after which everything was different? These are precious moments. Our vulnerable moments are the moments that will define us. That which we choose to become is a choice we made at our lowest point. It’s not fair. But life is not fair. And the actions we take in life after everything is different are the most important actions we will take.
A few years ago, I bumped into a former student. He was taller and skinnier than I remember. He wore a black t-shirt, black jeans, and the soft flesh inside his elbow punched with blue holes. He smiled but looked old. Leathery. Deep cracks carved around his brown eyes. He told me after he failed out of college he turned to drugs. First painkillers than meth. “It happened so fast.”
Now, two years sober, he was a recovery counselor. He said that everyone he meets seemed to have similar stories. Something bad happens. People don’t know how to react. So, instead of choosing to deal with their problems, they try to avoid them with substances. Avoidance just creates more problems to avoid. “I was just like them.” He smiled, “But now I help them.” I smiled. Here was a young man who destroyed himself in order to find the compassion that resided in his heart. He reminded me of so many fictional characters I meet in the pages of books I read. Characters who suffered, learned, and transformed into heroes you can’t forget.
We shook hands and parted ways. I haven’t seen him since but I think about him often. He had a presence about him. Like when you meet some one who experienced an earthly horror, a story tattooed with so much pain, so much suffering, only to comeback, scarred and smiling, and courageous enough to tell their story.
Yesterday I drove past an election ballot drop box. With their headlights blinking in the rain, a line of cars patiently huffed. The last few months have been hard. And if they have taught us anything, it’s that we’re a vulnerable nation. A nation with scar spangled lungs. Gasping for air, from sea to shining sea, whispering a national soliloquy, “To be or not to be…”, wrestling with the tragedy of choice. A choice with consequences. A choice from which everything will be different.
And no matter the choice, for better or worse, it will someday make for a great story.
P.S.– VOTE. LIKE YOU’VE NEVER VOTED BEFORE!!!
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