In March of this year, author Andrew Solomon addressed the audience at the Whiting Writers’ Awards and then adapted that speech for publication in The New Yorker. The title of that article is “The Middle of Things: Advice for Young Writers.” It’s not just about an older generation doling out proverbs to a younger one. It actually causes you to think about the middle of things.
I’m in the middle of a lot of things right now: my marriage, my parenting, my career, my friendships, my being parented, the list goes on. So much of life – most of it, really – is the middle. Not the exciting, clearly defined beginning, nor the anticipated (for better or worse) end. We have many starts and stops with each new day, but the overarching feeling is that we are in the middle of something. And the middle is where the good stuff is, at least the good stuff to write about.
The middle is where things grow and develop. The middle might sweeten, sour, rot, thrive, or all of the above. My middle is just that: mine. And your middle is yours. When our middles cross each other and other people, that’s the time our stories overlap. Whether it’s from boredom or shock or fear, sometimes it’s hard to appreciate or articulate our middles and their overlay.
Solomon encourages patience in that time. When it’s hard to name, hard to place, hard to say, that’s when the writer hears the siren and knows that it is his or her job to name it, place it, say it. “Remember that writing things down makes them real; that it is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know; and, most of all, that even in our post-postmodern era, writing has a moral purpose. With twenty-six shapes arranged in varying patterns, we can tell every story known to mankind, and make up all the new ones—indeed, we can do so in most of the world’s known tongues. If you can give language to experiences previously starved for it, you can make the world a better place.”
When I think about the middle, I think about Oreos, but I think Solomon’s on to something, too.