Now I'm going to tie this into writing. I promise.
These two kids don't know each other when this photo is taken. I think the thing I was thinking was, "My dress is itchy, but I did a damn good job not scratching my face in the last week. My bow is pulling my head. I want my promised Happy Meal."
I have no idea what Alex is thinking. He probably liked that bow tie.
But regardless of what thoughts were rushing through our heads, there was no way of knowing that these pics were going to end up displayed at a wedding that brought us together with a virtual stranger (at the time). There was absolutely no way of understanding who the person was who we were going to marry, or what our lives were going to be like when we hit the age that we are in the current day.
But how can we, as readers of these photographs, even attempt to detach our connotations with these two and their futures? You can't just look at a picture of the little girl and think, "Oh she knows she's cute," or look at the little boy and think, "What a swank bow tie," or even look at them both and think, "I bet they enjoy x,y, and z at this age." Maybe you could before I told you they were going to get married. But now you know how this ends.
It's sort of the same thing when I look at a photograph like this:
You guessed it, that's me at a bit older age.
And there next to me is Gramma.
If you're a sharp reader, you may remember that I posted a picture of my bridal bouquet a few days ago, and there was a name attached to a memorial tag. If you didn't know this and you're still sharp, you will probably know where I'm going with this.
Gramma died in 2013.
But what led to her death was almost as bad or as worse as the death itself. When I was fifteen, Gramma was put in a nursing facility overnight. Literally overnight. Since my brothers and I lived with her part-time, we lost our home before the sun went down ... and before we even knew it was gone. Gramma wasn't the same after that, and the facility was far away from where we lived or where we used to live with her. What followed was ten years of dementia, until our final meeting about eight weeks before she passed, when she looked at me and asked who I was.
Her funeral was nice. It was short. I sang a song. My cousin did a nice eulogy. She was buried next to my grandpa.
But is there any way to look at this picture that my mother gave me on the anniversary of her passing, and not think about my mother singing "Nearer my God to Thee" to her in the hospice? Of course I can remember this day in first grade and how her hairspray smelled and how excited I was to show off my classroom. But I know how our story ends.
Which brings me to character arcs.
I've got all these characters who end in certain places at the end of the story, and as of late, I've had a hard time decided where exactly they are at the current age at which I'm writing them. Our leading man is seventeen when the book starts, and he's much older when the series ends. Our leading lady is twenty. How do these two grow from strangers to where they end up? How do they mature? When do they hit their beats? How can I divorce myself from their futures when looking at them in a scene in the past?
And where exactly do writers live within their work? Is everything we write the past, because we've already thought it up? Is it all the future, because we're still parsing out exactly what is going to happen in the final draft?
I'd like to think that the best place to be for a writer is in the present.
If I want to write my life set in a specific moment in the most honest voice, I have to rid myself of the moments that happen afterwards. In that picture of my grandmother and me, anything could have still happened after it was taken. What happened didn't have to happen, and so that possibility still pulses in our echoed shadows. Those two children up above didn't have to meet. I didn't have to become a writer, he didn't have to be a lawyer. When you're a kid, anything is still up for grabs.
So when writing our characters, as easy as it is to look ahead and force them to their destinies, their destinies are still being written. Let them choose. Let them win. Let them lose. Let them grow as they will grow. Live in the present of your piece.
Now here is another adorable picture of me.