As I read the lines I don’t always remember writing, lines I put away for days and weeks and sometimes months between work sessions, I see things that I didn’t know snuck their way in. I see hitchhikers. I see viruses. I see ideas unremembered for 18 years. I see memories I would have sworn were my own vibrant original content. Oh, no, that’s a converted memory from middle school. There’s something I remembered cooking up during college. Here’s something, no I swear to you that’s brand new and I made it up right here in this moment I remember so clearly, but no, wait, it’s a version, made writ, of a familiar where and when. I know that smell. I know that feeling. Dammit. There it is. Something new.
I think about Ireland a lot. On the northern shore of the island's portion that chose to join the United Kingdom, about four hours’ drive from Dublin, is a beach town named Portrush. We arrived in late summer, excited to visit the Giant’s Causeway where armies of fractured hexagonal volcanic stone thrust up from the ocean to cliffs we did not expect. The world there is windswept and green. Cliffs is the best word because there is no slope. Farms dot the world above. Then that world drops several hundred feet to the beach below. The world ends.
Solomon Northup’s account is difficult to accept. I don’t want to believe people are so easily capable of such evil. It is easier to believe universally of humanity, as Mr. Northup does for Master Ford, that such people are products of a system but are otherwise whole and good. He knows better than I ever will. But he takes great care, despite all the injustice and rage he must have felt every day from his capture through the end of his life, to highlight those who enjoy harm and see themselves as superior. That their harm is justified, even incumbent to, their superiority. That you can do awful things to human beings not because of anything they’ve done but because of how they, and you, were born.
We rode bicycles through the clear early morning air to Dun Ducathair. Our innkeeper warned us that the day trippers would rush to the more famous Dun Aonghasa as they hurried to visit “the most magnificent barbaric monument in Europe” before the ferry departed for Doolin or Galway Bay. Having visited both Duns in the space of a day, I submit that if faced with a choice, you should abandon your ferry, your friends, and your guidebook and walk the many miles over rough karst boundary markers to Dun Ducathair, the Black Fort.
It is the kind of line that sparks an ember in the mind and heart of those with a bent for writing. It’s the kind of line that haunts you for the rest of your days, hundreds of books and thousands of pages later, when someone asks what your favorite opening line might be. Easy choice.