Outline, I tell my writing students, and you will see where your paper wants to go, where you can take your argument. I just finished an outline for a novel. For a PhD exam list. My shopping list is a little outline of the path I will take through the grocery store. My schedule book is an outline of how I will navigate my week. We outline relationships too. Earlier this week I discovered an old friend had died, someone I hadn’t spoken to in a long time. We shared the outline of a friendship. I found out about his death on Facebook. This led me to email another old friend. He filled in some of his own details for me–he has a wife now, a baby, a house, an art career–he’s surrounded by beauty; hearing this is like being fed. And what about the other friend, the friend who died? I can’t help but think I was sustained for too long by his outline, by the promise of something more substantial in the future, when I have a second, a minute, an hour: an email. Which is better, which is worse: an outline or nothing at all? Sometimes I suspect the absence of an outline isn’t nothing at all, but something immediate, full and messy–something like an old-fashioned friendship. Maybe, probably, it’s time to relearn this.

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