By Eleanor Shelton
On Facebook Live recently, I watched my nephew graduate from high school by driving up to a makeshift podium. He got out of his car to receive a diploma from his principal. He returned to his car, and move forward, making room for the next vehicle. That was his COVID-19 induced beginning into the next phase of his life. It wasn’t the kind of commencement ceremony he had envisioned at the outset of his senior year, but it’s the one he got.
For writers, our beginnings tend to look at the big picture: Once upon a time; It was a dark and stormy night; A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away; It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Opening tropes to stories, we can’t wait to get lost in. They make promises of sweeping adventures while bringing the reader into the tale from the top down. We like to begin by building a world. Establishing shots as they’re referred to in film. From a bird’s eye view down to the intimate detail of someone’s life. As if the minutiae are the least important aspects of our personal stories.
Sometimes the world is in the details.
When I step outside my house, a rare event, I notice how green the grass is. I hear the clack of wood being delivered to the nearby lumberyard and moths thwumping our sliding glass door. I can smell steak or chicken sizzling on a grill. And I can feel the texture of gravel underneath my tennis shoes. It’s the details of life that grab my attention now, not the grand sweep.
From the safety of my windows, I’ve noticed the same two squirrels chase each other up and down the old oak tree in my backyard, one with a notched tail, the two baby rabbits gnawing on the grass. The cat next door eyeing them with a twitching tail. One baby rabbit now missing. Behind my house is a pizza parlor. Each late afternoon before diners come to pick up their pizzas, one lone employee emerges through the back door and smokes a cigarette. As the smoke curls up, he stares straight ahead at nothing. I wonder if he’s thinking about someone, in particular, a love that’s lost perhaps, or a one yet to come.
Whether it’s the beginning of a story or the commencement of the next phase of life, it will be different—our expectations will be altered.
How would I begin?
I’d like to launch my new beginning after COVID-19, with this line, “I walk into a restaurant, sit close to my dearest, take off my well-worn mask and wrap my arms around all those who matter to me. A small moment, the whole world.”