I read a fantastic short story by Steven Millhauser called “Getting Closer” in the January 3, 2011 edition of the New Yorker today that really hit me hard. I wasn’t expecting this story to affect me at all, especially not with the way the first few paragraphs flowed, which is one of the reasons I’m writing about it. The other reason is because the protagonist of the story, a 9 year old boy, tells dictates a short, simple and devastatingly powerful idea that really resonated with me because I often feel the same way that this kid does in the story. Basically, the story is about how his family has decided to go to a river for a day’s worth of fun and while he is oh so excited to lay in a tube and float around, he can’t seem to get into the river because to get into the river and the tube would mean that the day is now ending, it is no longer beginning, and he wants the joy of the anticipation of getting in the tube to linger as long as possible.
Everything has led up to this moment. No, wrong, he isn’t there yet. The moment’s just ahead of him. This is the time before the waiting stops and he crosses over into what he’s been waiting for.
I really don’t want to ruin this story – as I said, its short – only 3,000 words, but the idea it raises is one that I’ve struggled with most of my life. I often do not like to do things that I really, really want to do, or am really looking forward to doing, because once I’ve done them they are over and I am living in the past and no longer looking forward to the future. For instance, I will keep a book that I really want to read on my shelf for a year because once I read it, I no longer have the wonderful anticipatory joy of waiting to read it. This idea of stretching waiting time out is exactly what this kid echos – he doesn’t want to jump in the river because when he does, the countdown starts towards when he needs to get out of the river.
I’ve felt this way about all sorts of experiences, whether its trips (where the second I get on the airplane to go somewhere I’m already thinking about coming back), concerts (where the second I hear the first song I wonder how many songs will they play before this show ends), books (where the second I read the first page I wonder how it will end), movies, you name it. Basically anything I like I delay, because the anticipation of the event to me is almost if not as good as the event itself. Weird but true. That is what this story is about and I love it because I’ve never had these emotions that I feel put into words the way that Mr. Millhauser did. Well done sir.