If you need someone to start something, ah, hi. Nice to meet you. I’m your man. I am skilled at beginning things. I’m very good at starting. I’ve started applications, started reading large books, started writing long books, I’ve started two or three screenplays, I’ve started brewing beers, I’ve begun to begin. I am what is called a beginner.
What, the hell, does begin even mean? It’s one of those common words that when closely inspected can really freak you out. Be-gin. BEgin. Like vegan. Begin. If you say it over and over again, it begins to make less sense. It’s not like finish where you can just think, oh fin- final, finally, finale, it all makes sense. Begin makes no sense. The word is of Germanic origin, then Old English, and now it’s New English and here we are.
I was looking at grad school, and there’s this cool creative writing program that requires forty pages of fiction in order to apply. So wouldn’t you know it, I started writing a forty-page fiction piece and it’s coming along the same way that a plant you never water is coming along which is to say it’s dead. But I did begin it.
I am a beginner. Start; perform or undergo the first part of (an action or activity). Do you know how many of these posts I have started? Do you have any idea how many Google Docs I have, sitting like lonely fallen apples in November, lost in the tall grass of the orchard that is my Google Drive? I don’t mean to brag but I have a lot of unfinished work. That’s the opposite of beginning, right? Finishing.
In hockey, if we needed to score, people would say, “We gotta finish, guys!” As in, finish putting the puck in the net after you make it all the way to their goalie. Not to brag, but I was pretty good at getting the puck all the way to the net and not scoring. It was kind of my thing. Pull a really nice move, embarrass their defensemen, get the crowd into it, shoot the puck directly at the goalie’s chest.
Maybe it’s all in the way you think about things. If you think that you’re a finisher, maybe you’ll start to finish stuff. I’d like to think I’m a fairly logical person—I’m not a technical person, but facts are important to me, thinking practically about issues, making decisions based on information. But I also am a complete believer in the mystique of God and life and possibilities. I am a full on subscriber of the notion that we do not have all the answers, that things are at the same time more simple and more complex than we could ever imagine and that makes no sense and complete sense.
In the way back of my mind, if I don’t finish something, or if I don’t complete something, I think it wasn’t meant to happen. I think of life as dating—if I go on a date and I’m not enthralled with a person, it wasn’t meant to be. If I see an opportunity and I put in the minimum effort and it wasn’t given to me, it wasn’t meant to be.
And then I think about God again: I’m listening to the old part of the Bible, and God is telling the Israelites to take a census. Count how many men above the age of twenty are ready to fight in a war that I’m going to line up for you. Because you have to have some skin in the game, too. And yes, war means that some of you are going to die. I’ve promised you something, but if you don’t fight for it, no one can have it.
I don’t know a lot about war, but I know that you can’t jump into a battle if you are unprepared to finish. It’s the same with writing and working and everything that matter—if it matters, you finish.
Bart Tocci (’11) lives in Boston where he writes essays, performs at open mics, and threatens to start taco restaurants. He’s been told that he looks like the kind of guy who stands up for what’s right. And who goes to the store before the party. Read more here: barttocci.wordpress.com