Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Last Ultimate Final Word

To hear something spoken of as the last word is to hear a prompt for filling in the implication that the subject under consideration is the latest most received wisdom on the matter. The last word, in that context, is a synonym for latest, recent, perhaps even newest. If, however, we were to apply just a tad more heat to the last word trope, we'd find ourselves in the midst of a squabble, one at first worth dropping some eaves upon.

The squabble could be a lover's quarrel, the righteous indignation between a married couple, and, moving further up the organizational chain, such elements as a faculty meeting, a community town hall meeting, a board of director's meeting, and by no means to forget legislative houses in this country and abroad. Therein, having the last word is an invitation to exchanges that often typify the intent and nature of dramatic dialogue:

Consider either of these:
You always have to get in the last word.
Do you always have to have the last word?

Either approach is a trap because regardless of the answer, the circle is not completed.
Yourself, you prefer the answer of "no." as perfection on the grounds of it likely being more provocative to the accuser than "yes," which in its way is acknowledgement and more or less pushes the burden back on the accuser to say or do something that will end the exchange. In either case, this moment of the accused having the last word is a splendid place to end a scene, chapter, or story because it transfers the dramatic potential into the reader's crucible of awareness and it becomes possible to see the story going on off the page with a life and consequences of their own. You like stories that end with one-word acknowledgments, a yes or no. Perhaps you'll allow a maybe.

Final words make for tantalizing opportunities; a character may be motivated by their consequences into infinity, having frequent occasion to revisit the final words with an expertly chosen I shoulda said. Given our obsessive-compulsive nature as writers, we easily appreciate and identify with a character's shoulda said moment, the fabled spirit-of-the-stairway moment in which the character not only has the final word, it is a memorable zinger ala Sam Spade's valedictory "The stuff dreams are made of." from The Maltese Falcon.

Life--as we know it and do not know it--pays little heed to final words, cranking out new events, new people, new situations, overcoming final words however impudent or elegant. An occasional moment of morbidity or self-pity can cause some of us to consider what our own hope for final words would be. Some of us who are seriously enough into the writing craft would like nothing better than to be remembered in addition to our written work as some martini-dry final words, an observation about the human condition and our final observation as we are on the very point of leaving it. Thank you for allowing us to see your life. Unfortunately, it does not fit our plans and we wish you the best of fortune in placing it elsewhere.

In any case, we mull over final words, wanting to reprise the opportunity for our observation because we were quite possibly poor losers originally or because we have finally come up with a way to get our own back (which implies a strong sense of having lost it back there in the parking lot or board room or bedroom or somewhere). I was thinking about that conversation we had the other day and it occurred to me that I might not have made my point clearly enough.

Er, what conversation was that?

Why, the one about having the last word.

Sorry, I don't recall any such conversation.

Oh, come on!

No, really. Are you sure it was me you were having the conversation with?

You want to ask, What kind of world are you living in that you would not remember? But if you are any sort of person at all, it will come to you that your individual is living in his or her own world, a world to which you are sometimes granted a visa that must be stamped on entry.

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