The Blank Page

On New Year's Eve I went, as I have gone for the past decade or more, to St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral here in Seattle to walk the labyrinth. Each last day of the calendar year, the folks at St. Mark's push aside the two central tiers of pews and spread a tarpaulin carpet on the floor imprinted with a replica of the labyrinth that is carved in stone into the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France.

There were four of us this year, four friends together, walking the path toward the center and back out again, negotiating the way with those on the return journey. We brushed arms at times as the pathway looped back upon itself. One after another and side by side at the same time. Together, but each with her own thoughts, his own thoughts. Individuals within community, community within community within community. Friends, fellow walkers, the cathedral, the city. All walking into a New Year together.

On my journey inward, I concentrated on the past. The variety of walks I have taken in my life. And the various people with whom I have walked. When I began the return journey, I tried to concentrate on the future. On where I was walking to, what I was walking into, who I might be walking with. As I walked the path out of the labyrinth, paying close attention to where I put my feet so as not to stray onto the wrong loop, the white outline I was following took on the aspect of a blank page, a white sheet of paper, an untrodden path. Plan the future as I would, it didn't happen until the next step was taken.

There weren't any pictures painted on that strip. It conjured no memories. I would have no memory of having completed that walk until I had completed it. I had no idea of what would happen next. Oh, we had plans, my friends and I. But I didn't know we would exit the church through the back door and discover the library. I knew I planned to tell Kathleen about the path as a blank page image on our way to meet other friends. But I didn't know the conversation would take another turn - one I don't quite recall - and that I didn't tell that story. I didn't know that I would tell the story of Bill and the Russians later on. But I did.

I'm a writer. Which is, of course, where the image of the blank page came from to begin with. It's not a new image - pretty much a cliché, you could say, if you wanted to be mean. But clichés become clichés by having heaping teaspoonfuls of truth to them. The cumulative experience of the ten thousand things. And the blank page - both of the future and of my next chapter - is what I am facing now.

All books begin with a blank page. That page is scary enough. Imagine rolling out a sheet of paper, covered with words and pictures that stretch out behind you but looking ahead, you see there is nothing there.

"Nobody," said Monty Python, "expects the Spanish Inquisition." But take it from me (I'm currently reading a book about that very thing), it happened. It was, at one time, a possible future. Someone took out a blank sheet of paper and sketched out the whole thing. And so, where it had not previously existed, it came to pass.

I have a blank sheet of paper - figuratively speaking, it's just a line on a computer screen beneath which nothing is currently written except "Chapter 37" - and today I will spend some time imagining fragments of a story that didn't exist before I began to tell it and the ending, although I have plans, is still in some doubt.

Blank pages are scary as hell. Probably the only thing worse than writing on them is not writing on them. Because if you don't, how will you ever find out what happens next, not to mention what happened in the end?