Moving Up

Why is it that our characters always have to move? I have rarely read a story about a character sitting still—even imagining it evokes boredom, the weight of it hovering in the distance like a cloud. 

Of course, there are authors who have written about characters caught in stillness, because when we sit still we find ourselves going on inner journeys, journeys of the mind. And stories are always about one kind of journey or another. 

The main character leaves home to fight a war. She is captured by ogres and taken away, and has to fight her way back. The princess must marry to bring about peace between kingdoms, and she leaves behind everything and everyone she knows. The main character travels to a new planet, or a new universe, or through time. She leaves one place after another, often unwillingly, and always encounters difficulties along the way. 

This is the kind of story we like, isn’t it? I know that I enjoy a good adventure, and the further the character goes from home, the better. 

But my life—and I suspect the lives of many of us readers—has not been that kind of story. In fact, from an author’s perspective, it has hardly been a story at all. My life has been with stillness and a lack of movement. I have gone on no grand adventures. No screenwriters will ever want to write a film about my life (despite the fact that it is full of beauty), and no authors will write a biography of my name (though my life has, I hope, been an important one). 

 I was born five miles from the place where I live. I did not leave my home to go to college. I have only rarely travelled. I have not married or had children. My circle of friends is close, and quiet. We do not throw raucous parties or talk every day. I work a steady job, I eat mostly vegetarian food, and I masturbate only occasionally, when the whim takes me. My life is quiet and still, filled with steady rhythms and routines. 

While Western media likes to portray the ideal life as one full of travel and adventure, I think that most of us live our lives in a kind of stillness. We move in a kind of rhythm, the kind that is so steady and regular that it takes on the appearance of stillness; we move between work, home, school, church (or some variation thereof) and back again. This kind of rhythmic existence becomes background noise to us, so regular and soothing that we tune it out. After all, we do not think of the movement of the waves as utter stillness, but as a constant of the world, something so eternal that it will never cease. 

Right now, I am in the midst of moving. I am picking up, packing up, and soon I will be living in a new home. I have thrown myself out of the rhythm of my life, and I’m taking myself on a new adventure. I’m all shaken up about it. 

This is the kind of life change that stories are made of, where I go on a journey from one kind of life to another. It may not be a big, dramatic story with magic and dragons, but my little move—the act of packing up my things and carting them down the winding roads—could be a story all the same, as long as I tune into it. 

I have spent the last month sorting through my things and deciding what to carry with me. What books will I keep? What art will I hang on the walls? I have been packing clothes and kitchen tools into boxes, losing some things along the way and finding others. I found a pair of ceramic shishi statuettes (little, snarling guardian lions) that I had packed away years ago and thought had been broken, whole and in one piece. I even packed away my computer for a time, and couldn’t remember which box I had put it in for nearly a week. I am throwing out old things and broken gadgets. I am trying to take with me only the things that I love. 

In a week, I will be done. The worst will be over, and the movers will be gone. I will be in my new home, and I will settle into stillness again. 

In this moment, in the midst of movement, what I long for is stillness. I do not relish the journey, though I know it is necessary. I am excited to set up my new office and get ready to write. I am imagining the reading corner I will set up, between two bookcases stacked high with books, where I can curl up and enjoy a new story. I keep thinking about the rugs I will lay down, layers of them so thick that when I step onto them my toes sink deep into the steady, luxurious pile. I am ready to cultivate a routine again, the steady rhythm of life. I want to fall into the swaying stillness of the waves. 

Let my characters go on grand journeys and get carried away by life. Me, I plan to meditate on the rhythm of stillness, and breathe in the color of the setting sun. My journeys are ones of the mind.