“It’s not that you think too much, it’s that you can peer through time […] The beginning and the end of most things is yours if you concentrate hard enough.”
-Sandra McDonald, “Sea of Cortez”
In McDonald’s short story, “you” can follow thoughts forward and back through time: your lover as they are now, and early in their childhood, and late in their old age. The house you’re in, and the builders making it, and time or another construction crew taking it down. One of the things that first drew me to creative writing was this hope to slide through time and space, to freeze a moment, and cast your perspective out from inside the room to another character on the street, to the driver of a car passing by, to a crow. From this moment pushing your niece on a swing to your own swinging, safe near a mother’s hands, and back again, and on into years and years ahead.
Beautiful, and curious, and strange. It’s a kind of thought that constructs narratives. Lines. It’s useful. It’s part of how I practice compassion, and how I try to make plans about what I’m doing. And there are other ways a mind can move. I remember sitting near a beach, looking at a tree, and trying to bend all my various thoughts (which were pinging back and forth through what I’d done and what I would do) back to the tree. The rough of the wood. The rise of the sap. The spread of the leaves. A little funny, looking back, that I didn’t get up and go touch it, smell it, put my ear to its trunk and listen. But I think I had noticed, in that moment, how my thoughts reached out in lines of this to that. Cause and effect. In plans. I think I was trying to sit differently in my mind.
Near another beach, at the end of “Sea of Cortez,” “you” do something similar: “you realize you can’t see the future anymore. Your gift is gone, if it ever was a gift at all.” In the story there’s something like joy, or connection, in that realization. Yesterday I finished reading and went for a walk. After days and days of a sharp, sweet cold down in the single digits, it was so warm the snow was melting, the trees running with drips that held little reflected worlds. The air full of rivulets. For a moment walking wasn’t going anywhere at all. It was wash of sound and color and touch. I want to think that way, to be that way, sometimes, beyond the lines.