Thursday, February 4, 2016

Happy Endings Don't Necessarily Fit

This has happened to you any number of times,often with novels and essays but more often with the short story:  You'll find yourself close to what seems like the ending, where a character has undergone the stress and pressures sufficient to produce an aha moment or, if the work is an essay, where some understanding of the situation feels about to make itself known to you.


Such moments, in their way, are as exciting as the momentum that gets you off and running on a project, almost drunk on the awareness of how you'll be living with this exciting arrangement of ideas and conflicts and personality for weeks, perhaps even months, as you hurriedly erect some kind of platform on which you can stand, of course to see beyond your ordinary horizon, but to that place where the universe seems about to whisper a secret in your ear.  

This secret has nothing whatsoever to do with material wealth or even some brilliant vision of shapes and outcomes no one has seen before. Instead, the secret promises you a sense of a vision of the universe as being a part of some greater order. 

The vision will not last long, but being able to see it long enough to fit it into sentences and dramatic action seems about as much as a person can hope to discover in one lifetime.  Perhaps this is better expressed with the vision lifting you, as your father did on memorable occasions, in order to see over the crowd of adults, watching some event.

You're most entranced by the times you've written what you thought were final arguments or ending scenes, only to discover that they left something undone and unsaid. You recall moving out into the world to engage some simple thing, say shopping for groceries, or getting your car detailed, or even getting your hair cut, activities undertaken with the near superstitious belief of outcome where your return to the project will present the vision you seek and, of course, the ending.

More wads of paper as notes, once thought to contain the keys to understanding, lose their luster before your eyes. After a time of this intensity, you resort to your least favorite tactic, stepping away from the project.  Perhaps you read or begin something else or go fishing or take a series of aimless-but-intense walks, assuring and reassuring yourself how this behavior will bring you to the point where you and the resolution become one, which is to say you have a complete vision of the project. This vision is always linked to irony because, more often than not, the work is finished, except that you're the last one to realize it.

No wonder things wouldn't fit.  No wonder your search for a place from which to extend that observation platform from which you have a clear vision of the entire project has been so frustrating. Major parts of you knew the project was finished, but in deference to the minor parts, many of which have brought you valuable insight, you continue to fret, try to tack on endings or conclusions that won't fit.

From a practical nature, this is assurance that you know how to write beginnings and middles. If you approach endings with the curious admixture of humility and confidence, you should be able to approach the ending as though it were a carefully arranged display of game birds, fruit, dishes, and vases often seen in the more memorable still lives so common among representational painters.

Endings don't always elude you with such irony, but when they do come with seeming ease, you can't help wondering, when everything else requires so much attention, the ending simply presents itself. Here I am, thank you.  When acceptable endings do come with such apparent ease, you can be sure that there are termites or loose flooring in the opening section, which may be more rhetorical than properly dramatic. Easy endings can be advance warming of flabby middles.

The best thing to do for those circumstances is to remove the offending segment, then start from scratch, hopeful of linking with the original impulse for the work. In most of the math of which you are aware, the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. You spend much of your time wandering about in worlds where this vision is essentially true.

The great likelihood is that the arrival of the vision that prompts the story has nothing at all to do with the sum equaling the totality of its parts. This is story we're talking about here, not an even, perfect world. This is the world of quirky phenomena, pesky, impatient individuals, wildly impractical agendas, and the possibility of desperation in the eagerness of the characters to encounter them.

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