Creation Myths

I’m a completist: books, TV shows, pints of ice cream. When I finish something it’s like I’ve found my way to the center of one of those hedge mazes, and from the platform in the middle I can see the pattern that brought me there.

When I’m stressed or heartbroken, I clean the bathroom. It’s a convenient coping mechanism, especially coupled as it is with a well-honed ability to ignore my bathroom’s relative cleanliness during the workaday, joyful parts of my life.

Plus the super nice thing about a bathroom is that it’s finite: tub, floor, sink, toilet. Four walls and a door and you’re done, with a sense of accomplishment and a slight buzz from the cleaning solution.

Making things isn’t like this. How in the world do you know when you’re done?

Next question: Would you like a scarf?

A scarf is pretty much the only thing I can knit, although sometimes the scarf folds in on itself like a jellyfish exhaling and I find that I have made a hat.

Other things I can make for you include:

  • 5–6 dozen cookies when you are probably trying to cut back and stick to salad;
  • a poorly rendered abstract drawing done in crayon pressed down so hard on the page that I have scratched some white space back into the color;
  • a medium-length poem written almost entirely on the subway.

Or, if you’ll follow me to the stream bed (bear with me) at the park by my house, I will dig my fingers down into the mud at the edge of the water and pull out a handful and make a small bowl that you can dry in the sun and later keep loose change in. It will probably break within the week, the allotted lifespan of most small delicate things that children can hold in their hands.

(See also: goldfish).

Finishing things is kind of a bummer. A little lonely. So I make small things with clearly demarcated endpoints, and I stretch big things out as far as they’ll go without breaking.

Here is one of my favorite phrases, which I am fond of saying and incapable of internalizing:

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Once, while I was waiting for my plane to board in Florida, a man at an airport bar told me about his unpublished novel, as you do. He didn’t tell me what it was about, just that he had some concerns about maintaining copyright. I had mentioned in the opening volleys of small talk, again as you do, that I worked in publishing, and I now tried to assuage his fears while very quickly finishing my beer and declining his offer of another.

I imagine his book, 300 typed and printed pages, sitting finished inside the top drawer of his home office desk in, let’s say, Rochester.

Meanwhile if the novel that I am writing were a child, it would by now have a rudimentary understanding of conversational Mandarin, courtesy of the progressive public school I had enrolled it in several years ago. I have been writing it for a long time.

It’s “done,” though. I finished the first draft hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve two years ago. The second draft is slated for completion by the end of this month, though the convenient thing about “slating” something is that you do it in chalk, not permanent marker.

My biggest concern about my novel is that I’ll be writing it for the rest of my life. That what I’m really writing is a journal, albeit one with pseudonyms and made-up place names. That I’m making a Borgian, meaningless, map-the-same-size-as-the-absolutist-empire-inside-my-head.

I have a really horrific sense of direction, and perhaps consequently I love maps: ancient ones with dragons in the oceans, new ones with just-born countries. There’s a good chance I’ll love a book if it comes with a really detailed pen-and-ink map in its opening pages.

Lately I’ve been trying to imagine myself in the middle of a body of water. I imagine all the things I might never make and all the things I might:

  • balls of yarn unspooling across the sea floor;
  • flour erupting upwards out of the stand mixer to form new islands;
  • 1s and 0s, and maybe even some ink, crashing lorem ipsum on the beach.

Ending an essay about endings is tough, which I probably should have seen coming. I’m tempted to just make the font smaller and smaller and smaller until it disappears entirely, but that seems a little twee and I have no idea how to format it.

I imagine making a sculpture so large I could live inside it; a drawing so intensely colored it would saturate your eyeballs and change the color of your irises; a story that goes on forever, but I’m pretty sure that one’s just the internet.

Let me not be too dramatic. I’d just like to make something big enough to have an ending, so at the end I’ll know what the beginning looked like. Where I was when I stood at midnight, spoon poised mid-air above the pristine Ben & Jerry’s.