In Media Res

“How did it start?”

How tempting to begin at the beginning. But where lies the beginning for two men carving each other up on a city street, mid-afternoon?

This is not the question the shop keeper was asking me. Nor was I being asked to describe how one of the men sauntered from a building, looked left, right, and up and down at a pretty young thing before scratching his ass across the intersection, a cigarette on his lip.

The question aimed to divine how two characters met and why they were fighting. Relaying how one man exited a nearby building gives context and introduces a moment about to go sideways. Relaying the protracted ass-scratch does not.

My answer began in media res because everything begins in media res; clear edges exist neither in life nor in stories. There is only an unravelling of relevant threads from an oversized tale, followed by a tying off at a satisfying juncture.

There was no satisfying juncture that afternoon. The police rolled up and away they went, one man in each cruiser, of interest to no one but themselves.

Kind of like photographs of other people’s breakfast. Breakfast photos are tedious and have little inherent value. Yes, exceptions exist–but most of us are not the exception so skip the protracted introduction and go straight what you’re going to journal about instead. And if you do journal about your breakfast dish may God have mercy on you because no reading audience will.

If I wouldn’t photograph a moment I re-examine whether I should write about it. This experiment isn’t as simplistic as it seems; silent moments team with micro-expressions and subtle shifts of mood and energy.

Would I photograph those subtleties if I could? Hell yes. They are ripe for examination, for being tilted this way and that and sifted through for evidence; artifice and obviousness can be scraped away to uncover the tension that binds the subjects to the moment.

It is a rough experiment in rough hands. But if there is no thread worth pulling or no visible thread at all I move on, never mind the light glistening off its edges, the patina of memories threatening to alight to the moment I turn away, or the manipulations I could undertake to make that moment appear substantial.

If there is nothing to see then there is nothing to tell, and that is the end of a story I did not waste time beginning.

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