Discover more from sifting
when starting is so much fun
One of the Real Fun Tricks of the Universe is that starting things is so much fun, and finishing is a pleasure, but continuing— well. Continuing can be a drag.
Outside of (or, depending on your outlook, including) the fact that every day you get on planet Earth is its own kind of continuation, continuing is just profoundly unsexy. Continuing is the final third of a once-fresh loaf of bread. Continuing is the fourteenth minute of a thirty minute workout.
Continuing is the moment you look at your life and realise: I will never publish a book before I’m [insert arbitrary round-numbered age you determined was the point at which you needed to publish a book in order to consider yourself successful], because I am probably not going to finish writing this book before I’m [insert aforementioned arbitrary age], but I guess I’ll keep going anyway.
Continuing is wanting to give up on the resolution you set seven months ago and still doing the five stupid minutes of morning stretches anyway. Continuing is the part of commitment where you’re just still going but you’re never there. Continuing is marriage. Continuing is this Substack.
Continuing is either stasis, or a reflex, or an endless contract with the self — and in any instance it’s just not got the thrilling spark of a fresh new bright-white start or the satisfying thud of a boot hitting the final step of a hike, the part right before you get inside, and the fire’s warm, and your boots are muddy, and your socks are wet, so you take them off and lay them over the mantel, and you strip down to your underwear because you’ve just realised that actually your whole outfit is soaked, and your bare skin dries quickly, and your lungs feel victorious and clean, and your body hums with tiredness and satisfaction and the whole hiking bit—the gruelling, continuing part—is firmly behind you. You don’t get there without continuing. But continuing isn’t that.
I, in case you can’t tell, both revere and suck at continuing. (Many things are like this for me!) I look at natural continuers with slack-jawed admiration: those creatures among us who never abandon a project, who stay in jobs or fields that require and reward gruelling years of dedication, who enjoy the ongoingness of it, who see no appeal whatsoever in arbitrarily starting over. Who don’t wish, every so often, for a reset button. I’m glad they exist! (Surgeons! Librarians!) I wonder what element of their upbringing diverged from mine!
Of course, being bad at it doesn’t mean I can’t do it. Like you, I can continue. Make me and I will. Last summer, in Cornwall, I went to the beach alone. The weather forecast didn’t look great but it didn’t look bad. I went for a nice swim: delighting at the moment of cold entry, followed by the sudden adaptation happening in my cells, followed by the sheer pleasure of floating, while cold rain fell and the sun kept shining. After ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, I headed back to shore. I towelled off, pulled on my jeans. The sun was still out, the rain had stopped. I decided to take the long walk back to our Airbnb: the coastal path, no reception, the best views. A straight shot. A great day.
Well. At the steep edge of the second curve on the path, my luck turned. The drizzle returned, and then came the gale. Two hikers heading past me were walking with their windbreakers held over their heads, their bodies bent at ninety-degree angles, as if trying to become aerodynamic. I was walking against the wind, upright, when the pelting rain began. I looked behind me: I had come a third of the way. I could turn around, walk with the others, seek shelter near the beach. Or I could continue: move slowly, avoid the cliff edge, get beat silly by the rain. Those were the only two options. They were both bad. I went on.
The walk was gruelling and at several points I had to stop and sit to avoid being knocked over by the wind and rain. But there was something peaceful about it all: once I decided to keep going, there was no reversing course. I had to continue.
Eventually the skies closed back up and of course it was a relief. When I got back to the front door my skin was flushed and every item of clothing on me was heavy with rain. I knew that if someone else had been with me, I’d have probably been more fearful, or more cautious, depending on how you look at it. In retrospect I was in some kind of danger. But there was an intoxicating clarity to just going on: and in the year since I’ve wondered why all continuing can’t feel like that. Present and sudden and only.
Lately life has felt like the opposite of continuing: I’m writing this now in my emptied-out flat, waiting in disbelief for the clear next chapter of my life to begin. (Beginnings! My speciality!) (I promise every edition of this newsletter won’t be about my move!)
Earlier this week I sat in my husband’s granny’s garden, in Glasgow, where we’d decamped for a few glorious days of long Scottish daylight. I’ve been coming to that garden for six years now, nearly for as long as I’ve known Jonathan. I’ve seen it in all seasons. But I’ve never seen it look as lush and full and green as it looked this week. The last time we were in Glasgow was for the funeral, and in the months since I think Granny has turned a special eye to the garden: giving it some kind of extra, excess love that she needs somewhere to place. It’s thriving.
I asked her about it, though, pointing at the vines and flowers that seemed to burst up all over, simultaneously wild and part of some balanced design. She laughed her loud laugh, clearly deducing I’ve never grown a garden of my own—never been anywhere I could. “That just happens,” she says. “The plants seed themselves all over. Sometimes where you want them, sometimes somewhere else.”
I had basically assumed gardening was a waiting game: you plant, you watch, you ooh-ahh, you trim. But it turns out gardening, over the course of years and decades, is as much about release as it is about control. You have to keep on keeping on, and then things happen and emerge, and the correlation is unclear, except that your showing up, over and over, did have something to do with it. A way of courting surprise.
So continuing, I guess, can be that. Sometimes you’re the gardener. Sometimes you’re the seed.
“The novel, this bird in my mind, I have carried it there since Austria, suddenly alighted in Madrid.” “You want to name the new thing, but you need new syntax to do it.” “WHETHER YOU LOVE WHAT YOU LOVE / OR LIVE IN DIVIDED CEASELESS REVOLT AGAINST IT / WHAT YOU LOVE IS YOUR FATE” “Diski wound up with prose compelling for its air of choiceless surrender—her writing always seems to take a hapless preordained form, which she frames as a kind of affliction—but this effect is, in truth, a result of her formidable control. Her polish gives it away.” The wobbly moon.
Thank you for reading! xxxx