Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Beginnings rock. I love the way possibility rages like a rhino hepped up on a trough of coffee at the beginnings of things. (Not that I've seen such a rhino.) I love the way everything feels open, plausible, free. In the beginning, the vision counts for everything, and everything can be a part of the vision.

Endings are pretty cool, too. They usually make me cry, or laugh, or nod like I have a secret understanding with whatever ending I am reading, or watching, or living. Yup, my mind offers, you totally get this, man! This emotion and wisdom is so stinking deep and profound, but its crawling into your soul right now, right as you nod and watch, live and breathe, watching the credits roll and the sense of completeness arrive.

But I'll confess: middles and me don't fare all too well together. I think it's because middles are far too independent, far too demanding, and much too stubborn for me to get along with. Then again, I am also all of those things, so blaming myself rather than middles may be a much more realistic and logical idea.

Middles also take work. A lot of work. Work that involves sweat. (Both real sweat and metaphorical sweat.) This work is the kind of work that doesn't get much recognition, either.

When you're just starting out with something, it's really fun to discuss and visualize and people can say, aaahhhhh and people can say interesting! and people can wonder about the journey ahead.

When you're finishing something, there's a consensus: you did it! Holy crap! You finished! You can use the fact of finishing to prove to yourself what you thought you couldn't do. You can use the fact of finishing to prove to others who bet on a much stronger, faster, prettier horse with a better-built jockey riding atop.

But middles don't really get much mileage for you. You can't share glowingly with someone, Hey, I'm in the middle of this cool novel or adventure or journey, and it's really hard and I don't know if I'm even going to be able to finish the thing because, well, it's really stinking hard and I'm am sweating profusely (both literally and metaphorically) and, did I mention that it's really hard?

Technically, you couldshare the above with someone, but you won't get those admiring looks in return. Instead, you'll get the strange, cross-eyed, are you nuts look in return, which doesn't really help you get through the middle of whatever you're trying to get through because then you find that you, too, start asking yourself, Am I nuts?

So how do we come to terms with middles? Okay, sorry, you're right: How do I come to terms with middles? Because you may be reading this thinking, Luke really has a problem. I'm fine with middles. Middles and me dance like we're old friends, cheek-to-cheek, and then we sip champagne and laugh together until an ending comes along, whereby we kiss each other goodnight and think lovely thoughts about our time together.

However, if you're with me on being a middles-struggler, then how do we come to terms with middles? Because, the bad news is this: they're not going anywhere. In the stories we write and in the stories we live, there are always going to be middles.

Middles fraught with tons of confusion, questioning, fear, worry, all-seems-lost-but-it's-not-but-now-all-seems-lost-again-but-it's-not-again-but-now-it-does-seem-lost-yet-agains.

Middles have amazing staying power. In a book I co-edited with Audrey Friedman, Burned In, we explored how teachers can stay motivated, even while the stats say that 50% of all teachers quit within their first three years. But Middles aren't like that. The stats are even more harrowing for middles: 100% of middles remain for their entire life, and sometimes that 's a heck of a lot of years.

Middles never quit.

So if we're going to learn to live well or to write well (and hopefully we'll learn to do both), then we have to learn to love middles. We may not fall in love with middles, but we've got to learn that old-fashioned, deeply true love is a verb kind of love for middles. We've got to look middles in the eyes and say, Alright. You and I haven't always gotten along. Like, remember the time I blindfolded you and set you on fire? Or, like, remember when I blended up jalapeno peppers and mixed them in with your pasta sauce? Or, like, remember when I called you a Squishy Poopie Head? Well, I'm sorry. Really. I'm going to try to love you. I swear. I promise. What? No, that's not me stepping on your face. Really. Oh, you're right, that is my shoe. Let me repeat, then, I'm sorry (for stepping on your face). I didn't mean it. I am going to try really, really hard to love you. I promise. Just have some grace with me, okay?

We're probably still going to want to do some serious fingernail-digging into the flesh of middles every now and again. Maybe more now than again. But if we can somehow keep committing ourselves to love middles, to find that there is beauty and truth and redemption even before the end, and that there is possibility and freedom long after the beginning, then I think we'll be happier writers, and happier people, too.

I for one have got to give it a shot. I've only got so many hate tactics left to employ for middles, after all.