Writing the present

I’ve found, over the years, that I cannot usually write about things as they happen, except in an unvarnished journal. The things I collect must mature, or compost, or maybe age like cheese, in order to be useful to me.

As I grow older, though, I find this less true–maybe because I’m not experiencing as many brand-new things, or maybe because the things that are new are not wholly new the way they were when I was very young. For example, I went climbing on Thursday for the first time, and although I had never climbed before, I still had a frame of reference: I’ve tried new sports before, I’ve joined new gyms, I’ve climbed to high places, and I’ve fallen off stuff, so combining those experiences didn’t feel shockingly strange.

What I’m actually writing about now–in a story that has no title yet–is Chicago. I’ve been there a dozen times, or so, almost always in autumn; I know the colour of the sunshine and the breadth of the streets, and I’ve owned these memories long enough that there’s something I need to say about this place.

The new thing, the thing I only experienced recently, is the feeling of being still young, instead of young. It’s the feeling of early August, when you see the first yellow leaf on your way home from the cottage, and you know that although you have a good month of summer yet, you can see autumn on the horizon, and you know that beyond autumn there’s winter.

Youth, on the other hand, is June: peak heat, fresh greenery, and days so long you can’t believe the sun will ever leave you.

I’ve seen the horizon now, and what’s past it. I know none of this will last. I am unable to forget these things.

But I’m still young, so I run up the hill past the milky red trees, and fill my lungs with smoky air, and I feel in myself as much power as I’ve ever had. My prime is upon me, and it will be for years yet. And this will be the meat of the story.

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