Tuesday, July 10, 2007

By Amy

If you're in an existential state and you've not yet read Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, don't. Or do.

I read it with the intention of immersing myself in only the story. I planned to finish -- it's only an afternoon's commitment -- and then promptly re-read it to wallow in his language. It's easy to do, Mr. McEwan is deft enough to make the strings fall away. I'd left time enough in my battered schedule to go back, that is until I reached the last page and was stopped. Minutes passed one into the next until they became hours, each moment wasted -- or not. Where's the time to think anymore? It was a single line that was the sum of the two hundred odd pages, at least for me: This is how the entire course of a life can be changed -- by doing nothing.

We've read the same sentiment a thousand times, but because I'm currently in the aforementioned existential state, it struck me to the core. Doing nothing is a choice just as much as doing something.

How many writers do you know who are plagued by inaction? Their complaints a litany of doing nothing: not enough time to write, too afraid to submit their work, indecisive about leaving an ineffectual agent, etcetera.

And then there are the ones who choose to create their opportunities. They choose again and again to make their work matter, first to themselves, then to anyone who will listen. They battle along against self-doubt and group-doubt, the fractured road to publication and then relevance. They choose to be heard and experienced and read.

Today, take a moment, choose to live outside of yourself for a bit, and then ask that person you're regarding, What do you choose to be the course of your life?


Lisa Marnell said...


Each time I sit down to write, there is a moment, maybe two or three seconds of doubt, when I question what I'm doing and how I am choosing to spend my time.

Last night I watched a sports special about the 1980 Lake Placid Gold Medal winning hockey team. They were a rag-tag group of college boys whose fathers were blue collar "nobodies". They took on the challenge, they took a chance that they might win.

Do you believe in Miracles? You must be willing to take that chance. What do we chose to be the course of our lives?

Thank You, Amy! Just the validation and inspiration I needed.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

You made your choice long ago, Lisa. Having read your work, it's clearly the right choice.


Maddy said...

Hmm, that's the second review of his book that I've read in the last 48 hours. I may need to succumb.
Best wishes

kristen spina said...

I think a lot about choices--the ones we make, the ones we don't and the ones we just let slide by. And the consequences for doing, not doing, simply doing nothing. Thanks for this, Amy. A lot to think about. How about the choices we make for our characters? And the consequences they face as a result. Very often amounts to the heart of the story, doesn't it?

I carried On Chesil Beach with me on the plane, thinking it would be a good read for the ride. I should have known better than to think I could read with a five-year-old in tow, but I'm determined to get to it. He's one of my all-time favorite authors.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

McEwen, succumb. Slip into it the way you would a warm pool or your favorite slippers. Wallow there for a while. Don't you deserve it?

Kristen, several weeks ago, my dear friend Deb was trying to explain how inaction is really an action. After reading this book, she lent it to me, I now understand. As for traveling with children, my apprehension is always worse than reality. And I completely understand how being on the left as opposed to the right would make the world feel upside down and slippery. Chatting does help. GP and I are not so different that way.


Lisa said...

We live in a culture that's all about taking action -- you mentioned the time to think and your discussion about inaction really being an action. For a long time, I was part of the "do something, even if it's wrong mindset". My father said something to me once that was one of the most profound things I think I've ever heard. "When in doubt -- don't". This is the piece of advice that has led me to much greater reflection and much better decision making. The key is the "when in doubt". Sometimes "don't" is the decision and sometimes it just affords the time to think a thing through.

Larramie said...

On Chesil Beach is on my TBR stack and, yes, I've heard the last ten pages described as "devastating." Yet, Amy, isn't that the nature of too many human conditions that lead to roads not taken and lives wasted? Inaction is a choice one makes and the consequences are probably ten times worse than the wrong choice. Therefore, "trying" -- at least -- gives one hope.

Ahem, on a much lighter note, I'm tagging you, Lisa, Hannah and Lynne with a meme. Please forgive, but I need 8 individuals to tag...*sigh* Participation is optional and you'll find the rules tomorrow on http://seizeadaisy.blogspot.com
where my own 8 memes will be posted.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Lisa, you have a very wise father; thanks for passing along his advice. That sentence you referred to as inspired by one of your own recent posts. So thank you.

Larramie, I go back and forth on those last ten pages.Devastating at first, but then maybe not at all. As for the meme, thanks! I'll pass it along. Maybe a MLLF?


Therese said...

Amy, this post has a sort of spare poetry in it that's nothing short of provocative.

My life, and my writing, are studies on the consequences of action, and inaction. A lot of wise and thoughtful commenters preceded me here, so I'll just add something related that comes to mind.

I'm convinced that the "right" choice is often the hardest choice--and that choice CAN be inaction.

Now imagine what a conversation we'd all have if we took illicit drugs and played some Hendrix while we talked...

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thank you, Therese. I agree wholeheartedly that very often the best choice directs us toward the hardest path. And, yes, inaction is most definitely a choice, but personally I find inaction to be difficult. From what I can gather, you do too.

As for drugs, I have trouble taking Advil. And Hendrix? How about Al Green while we read a little Note from the Underground?


Therese said...

Ha! Al Green and existentialism--you may have invented a new pairing there. :)