Imagine you’re holding a laser pointer.
You can point it at anything you want: a potted cactus, the Diophantine Equation scrawled across a whiteboard, the steaming cross section of a fresh baked croissant, a malfunctioning karaoke machine, a whorled knob of lichen encrusted bark, a lopsided smile, the green flash of a Pacific sunset, a signed first edition copy of Dune, a rusty scalpel.
But this is a special laser pointer. You can point it through time as well as space: your first kiss, the pre-fame Beatles playing covers in dingy Hamburg nightclubs, knives piercing Caesar’s body at the Curia of Pompey, the sky raining fire in the way of Chicxulub’s impact, the formation of the first black hole.
You needn’t stop at what has happened, you can point at what might or might never happen: human civilization spreading out across the galaxy, a lone figure leaping off the roof of a skyscraper, performing slam poetry at the DMV, a world that has conquered death, no more push notifications, slaughtering a unicorn for its precious horn, the Golden State Warriors winning ten consecutive NBA championships.
In addition to the external world, you can aim your laser pointer at the internal world: the emotional hangover of a half-remembered nightmare, the loss of a loved one, the blank ecstasy of orgasm, the comfortable kinship of old friends, dreams of who you might become, the smell of home, a newfound sense of freedom, your longtime crush on that cute coworker, shame at never having been able to shake your childhood fear of spiders, burgeoning hope, the fading memory of your grandmother’s face, the shock of a well-laid plan shattering on first contact with reality, an irrational but unshakeable faith in humanity.
This is what writers do: They point laser pointers.
This is what writing is: Calling attention to something at the expense of everything else. Then calling attention to the next thing, and the next, and the next, and the next—a bead of light zipping across space and time and thought and feeling to draw a line called story.