Thursday, February 21, 2013

And in the end . . . I still can't write a decent ending

I've been thinking a lot about endings after this whole Downton Abbey boondoggle.  (Let it go, Amy.  Shhhh, baby.  It'll be okay.)  Yes, the ending of Matthew and the third season set off mean, angry firecrackers in my brain, but surprise, that wasn't the first time I reacted passionately to an ending.

  • 1984 (the novel, not the film) - Finished it on the yellow shag carpeting of my high school bedroom and threw the book across the room, hitting the picture of Bob Geldolf on my closet door.  My husband looked incredulous when I told him this.  'What?  You thought it was going to be a happy ending?'  No.  Maybe.  Shut up.  My first realization that I was an idealist and snark is just a front for a very sensitive heart.
  • The Piano - Okay, the ending is left up to viewer interpretation.  Did she die or didn't she?  Two endings.  Which is real?  No matter, I wept like a baby for two hours afterwards, freaking out my then-boyfriend until he finally ignored me and went to sleep.  Fun side note: this movie affected me so profoundly I tried to write my first Master's thesis on it (and a slew of other films/novels), but it became too personal, so I dropped out of the program for 5 years.  Did I mention how sensitive I am?
  • Short Cuts - I love Robert Altman movies, especially with big ensemble casts, especially Edwardian dramas like Gosford Park (and it all comes back to Downton Abbey), but Short Cuts was so cynical I thought I was going to charge the screen back in 1993.  Okay, I get it, it's an homage to Raymond Chandler, as well as an adaptation of his stories.  Yep, Chandler was a twisted old fart.  I like twisted, I do.  I take my kids to the Zombie Walk every year and my husband and I like to quote the David Sedaris essay about the unflushable turd on a regular basis; however, I resist hopelessness and this film, dear readers, was hopeless.  There wasn't one redeemable character, not one.  Well, maybe Ann Archer, but this film obviously didn't do anything for her career.  The ending was so bleak, so mean-spirited and hostile, I really needed a group hug afterwards.
  • Six Feet Under - Here's a case where I actually loved the sad ending.  If you haven't watched the series, I don't want to spoil it for you, but I'm going to if you keep reading.  That said, it's still worth watching up to the end.  I appreciate shows that end tongue-in-cheek, a la Newhart (one of the best endings EVER!) and not so much St. Elsewhere, and more recently 30 RockSix Feet Under wasn't so much tongue-in-cheek as it was complete.  The show was about death so no big surprise that the main character dies in the last episode.  Alan Ball could've left it there and really, we all expected it so it would've been fine.  What Ball did was take it 20 steps further and show every character's demise.  Every.  Single.  Character.  Whether it was violent or sudden or slow and of natural causes, we saw every death.  And some were even funny (Brenda's in particular, dying of boredom listening to her insane brother Billy ramble on).  All set against this Sia song that quite frankly stole my breath away.  As soon as the scene ended and the credits rolled, along with the tears rolling down my cheek, I believe I said something like this: "AGAIN!"  And I watched it all over again.  It was truly poetic and satisfying.

photo credit:
I've also been thinking about endings because it is the one thing I struggle with the most in my own writing.  Maybe you've noticed in my posts even.  I tend to end with a short jab or snarky remark.  It's a cop-out for a thoughtful ending and you, dear readers, deserve better than that!  My mentor commented on an essay I recently wrote and said, basically, it's ready to send out after you look at the ending.  I questioned her on this:  "What does the ending need?"  She couldn't tell me, but just said it was missing something.  And it is.  There is a lot of humor and gravitas in the essay, but then I slide into the final words with a question mark that denotes COP OUT.  I may as well be Julian Fellowes because I can't seem to conclude with a thoughtful, well-planned paragraph, something that isn't cloying or redundant, but provocative and satisfying.  Like the ending of Six Feet Under.  Something poetic.  Something like what The Beatles did at the end of Abbey Road.  "And in the end . . . the love you take is equal to the love you make."  Or something like that.  Apparently, McCartney was going for a Shakespearean couplet.  The meter is off, but I appreciate the concept.

When I teach my first year college students, I am honest with them as they complain about their concluding statements:  I hate writing them too, it's truly the hardest part of the paper.