“Everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. “So, what's your point?” asked the “First Take” guy when I called him to toss around my ideas for this column. And I didn't know. Then he offered an intriguing quote from the opening of one of Chaim Potok's books, called In the Beginning: “All beginnings are hard, especially a beginning that you make by yourself. That's the hardest beginning of all.”
It was an apropos thought and made me realize that, given the importance of beginnings, there must be many fascinating quotes on the subject. Indeed, I found quite a few, which I have woven into the rest of this column. And so, we begin:
Beginnings are a vital part of life. Days break, careers take turns, people fall in love, new works are started, worlds form. A new beginning is meaningful and significant, but its significance may be good (“Things are always at their best in their beginning,” wrote Blaise Pascal) or bad (“Resist beginnings: it is too late to employ medicine when the evil has grown strong by inveterate habit,” opined Ovid). And its meaning may change over time. In fact, a beginning can involve a complex mix of emotions and can have an assortment of ramifications.
A beginning may happen by design, like deciding to buy a house or producing a new album. (“First comes thought; then organization of that thought into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination,” wrote Napoleon Hill.) Or maybe a beginning can be caused by a turn of affairs, like meeting someone or having an opportunity drop in your lap. According to Albert Camus, “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant's revolving door.”
A beginning is often precipitated by something ending, for example, completing a project or a band breaking up. It may well be that a beginning is forced on you by an ending (“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end,” said Semisonic).
However it comes about, a beginning can present opportunities and choices. (“The beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression more readily taken,” said Plato.) You can take the next step in an ongoing development effort. For instance, if you move your studio to a new space, you have the chance to improve on your last studio, making the layout and systems better based on experience you gained and lessons you learned in your last studio. As Sir Francis Drake proclaimed, “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”
On the other hand, when you start a new album or other work, it might be the time to change and head in a new direction. Moving to a different city can allow you to virtually reinvent who you are, since you are likely to have different work, new friends, and maybe even live in another culture. (Edith Lovejoy Pierce wrote “We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.”)
On and on the quotes go, expressing endless facets of beginnings with opposing viewpoints and dissimilar priorities. There is not even consensus on whether it is a good thing to make a beginning (Cesare Pavese said, “The only joy in the world is to begin”) or a bad thing (Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “It is a tremendous act of violence to begin anything. I am not able to begin. I simply skip what should be the beginning”). The points of view I found on beginnings were even more diverse than those I found on sex!
The only agreement then, is on the premise with which I began: beginnings are meaningful and significant. Not exactly a neat tie-up, but, as John Galsworthy said: “The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy.”