I’m Not Finished Yet

I glanced at the end of Shot Across the River Styx this morning. I’ve placed the illustration for that epilogue, curtesy of Michael Swearingen, above. The image captures the work of transforming a violent bullet into a healing basketball. That sentence doesn’t make sense? Buy the book.

Shot Across the River Styx was an experiment. I was thirty-three. I’d been writing my entire life, but this was the first time I produced a finished piece with an audience in mind. And, genre be damned, I wanted to share the work. So, after countless queries, I gave into Amazon and made the thing available. I’m indie-rock, baby. Like Bob Pollard. Or Pavement. Did I make any money? No. But I’m proud of the book. And glancing at the short epilogue this morning reminded me of something.

I’m not finished yet.

***

It’s been about six years since I wrote “I wasn’t finished yet” as the last line of Shot Across the River Styx.

Lots has happened since then.

Two sons. Solomon and Samson. I’ve left Minneapolis, moved to State College, and became a college professor. I bought a house in the country. I wrote three more books and countless articles. I co-founded an improv theatre company. My belly is a little bigger. My hair is a little thinner. I have less energy, more anxiety, and am generally a more peaceful person. How’s that for a character description? I’m more aware of complexity these days. That’s adulthood for you.

Here’s what I wrote about complexity in the final chapter of Shot Across the River Styx six years ago:

“Of course the universe is far more complicated than our wants and needs. Need evidence? Go outside and look up into the sky. That shit is reckless.” (p. 157).

Those sentences made me laugh this morning. Here’s how I followed up that short paragraph:

“To think that people get so caught up in their own comings and goings, their trials and tribulations, their specific versions of how things ought to be. They rage and rumble for brief and specific moments of time and then woosh, they transform. They can’t help it.” (p. 157).

These words made me laugh too. I don’t know. It was fun to connect with my thirty-three year old-self through the pages of a book. There’s something wild about that returning to the past.

Brief and specific moments of time? I’m in one of those right now. I always am. So are you. My moment concerns a little family, getting tenured at Penn State, and all sorts of little creative projects. It’s so easy to get caught up in my comings and goings, my trials and tribulations. Especially as the semester ends and I feel swamped. Or when Solomon screams at Samson. Or Samson hits Solomon. But this moment will pass. Woosh. Things will change. Transform. There’s nothing that can be done about that. It’s better, to paraphrase the wise words of the completely fictional Magic “Fucking” Johnson in my book, to enjoy the ride. Travel peacefully.

Easier said than done. But you gotta say something if you want to do it. Words are a conduit to the vital expressions of an eternal universe. That’s why writing feels worthwhile to me. Whether I make money or not. Whether anybody reads the words or not. I’m conjuring and connecting with powerful energies – participating in the creation. Something like that.

***

I think the same thing is true now that was true six years ago – I’m not finished yet. The writing I’ve done so far has felt like warming up the engine.

I wanted to be C. S. Lewis when I was a kid. Then Stephen King, then Frank Herbert, then John Steinbeck, Richard Wright, then Toni Morrison. Hopes and dreams and visions. I want to finish a piece of fiction. Haven’t done it yet.

There’s a science fiction novel brewing. Sure, the brief and specific moments of time are keeping me busy. But I’ve got more writing to do.

I’m glad my thirty-three year-old self reminded me of that this morning. Thanks, buddy.

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