coal mine, a view from underground

Why are things the way they are? I recently wrote a post about someone who answers this question on a grand scale, encompassing all of humanity and time. But it’s also valuable to answer this question on a small scale: the scale of one person’s life.

It’s especially valuable when that one person is you.

Fiction helps here. No one—not even your closest friends and family members—can know every detail and facet of your life in the same way that you can. In many ways, you’re on your own when it comes to piecing together the why of your own life. But talking to people and hearing their stories helps. That’s because you can draw parallels between your life and the lives you hear about. And understanding why things happen on a small scale can help you make decisions that will, through cause and effect, build the type of life you want.

Fiction, of course, is powerful in being a compact source of such stories. Because sometimes your friends and family members have other stuff to do, other than sit around and talk to you. Plus, it’s helpful to gain a wide range of perspectives, which is less possible when you stick to your current, limited social group.

But enough of this extolling of the art of fiction in general. Let’s get to specifics! I just read a wonderful collection of short stories by Deborah Eisenberg called Your Duck Is My Duck. It was published last year. Eisenberg has won many prestigious awards for her fiction, which I will not list here out of pure jealousy.

I’m kidding! I would list her awards, if they wouldn’t take up so much space in this relatively short blog post. (If you’re curious, you can read the full list here.)

Your Duck Is My Duck is a great book for witnessing how various choices play out in the real world. And as it happens, this interplay between cause and effect is the topic of the first sentence of the first story in the collection. It’s a brilliant first sentence. It’s also one that takes some concentration and backtracking to put together. So read this one very carefully, at least twice over:

“Way back—oh, not all that long ago, actually, just a couple of years, but back before I’d gotten a glimpse of the gears and levers and pulleys that dredge the future up from the earth’s core to its surface—I was going to a lot of parties.”

Ain’t that a gorgeous metaphor, and a gorgeous beginning? Yes, as we grow older and wiser, we begin to understand more and more about those gears, levers, pulleys, and other deep inner workings. When we’re young and innocent (read: naive), we go to parties . . . and we make foolish mistakes.

Have you ever made a mistake that resulted from naivety? What gears, levers, pulleys, and other deep inner workings of the universe did you wish you had known about beforehand?