Starting and Stopping: whether in writing or in life, the beginning and end are crucial. A writer’s punchiest point, nestled two-thirds through the page, will fall flat without an introduction and conclusion. Why? Because human beings are like trucks that take turns slowly. It’s why you spend dinner still angry from the talk-show you heard on the way home, and it’s why you were still signing the date “2016” well after New Year’s.
What does this slow turning look like? You see it when we fixate on things that are either emotionally gripping or mindless. Let’s examine our examples more closely. That talk-show you were listening to on the way home ran at a high emotional pitch, and you cut it off abruptly as you pulled in the driveway. So you were still angry about that new policy or social initiative as you sat down to your pot roast. It was, and continued to be, emotionally gripping. On the other hand, the problem with dating your checks didn’t arise because you felt so strongly about 2016. Quite the opposite. You kept dating your signatures to last year because you hadn’t thought about it then and you’re not thinking about it now. It was, and is, a mindless behavior.
Here’s the common denominator: We lose control of our behavior when we act without consciously considering what we are doing. We might fail to consider what we are engaged in because it sweeps us away with its own energy, or we might fail to consider it because it is too commonplace to give it the time of day. With smaller behaviors, like writing the date, our lack of reflection tends to result in nothing more than the annoyance of writing another check. So (to return to our steering metaphor) you don’t drive off the road, just a little onto the yellow line, and you can correct yourself. But with bigger things, you’re in danger of running off the asphalt—and maybe striking a pedestrian. The issue with the talk-show isn’t so grand, but still, coming testy to the table can cause some hurt feelings. In other cases, this lack of conscious consideration can be the difference between a finished project and a missed deadline. It can be the difference between aging gracefully and turning bitter.
Starting and Stopping: that’s the way to practice this conscious consideration. Before you begin something, you need to know why you’re going to do it and how. If you don’t know, perhaps you need to take it slower. Get a grip on the wheel. And when you finish something, even if it ends abruptly, you should know how it went and what effect it has on you. If you don’t know that, how will you course-correct? How will you give thanks where it’s due? Introductions and conclusions, and the silence it takes to make them, are crucial to a happy life.
Image: Seb Creativo, Sky Route.