I just read an amazing article at SFGate.com by Steven Winn, the Chronicle Arts and Culture Critic: Endings are a catharsis. They give meaning to what comes before, and change us from the way we were. The article is about endings ~ in movies, in books, in plays . . .and in your life. We all have our favorite endings, or the endings that had a lasting impact on our lives, our perception, the art of our living ~ some of mine include Lily's demise in The House of Mirth; the look on Kevin Spacey's face at the end of The Usual Suspects; the traditionally hokey but still teary-eyed endings of It's a Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz, or even San Francisco's own show, Beach Blanket Babylon; the final words in Ulysses, uttered by Molly Bloom: "and yes I said yes I will Yes."; the untimely death of the wonderful actor Massimo Troisi, who died the day after completing Il Postino; and the surprise plot-twist in one of the most amazing plays I have ever seen, The Countess. Ooh, ooh, and we can't forget the universal ending of weddings, proms, bat mitzvahs, and gay discos everywhere: Donna Summer's 1978 hit, Last Dance. ~ :) ~ But I digress...I have also had amazing and cathartic endings in my personal life ~ leaving Houston when I was 19, to come out to the Bay Area, even though I had never been here and didn't even know anyone out here; the wonderful semester with J. who knew it would have to end when the semester ended; the scandalous ending with F. which showed how me quickly people can sell you up the river; the morning of my last final exam in my third year of law school; and the "reflection" groups I led at the end of every semester I volunteered with middle-school students. All memorable, some bitterwseet, a few traumatic.
In Winn's article, he writes that "A great artistic ending, by contrast, is both startling and inevitable, mysteriously certain. It clarifies even as it complicates, crystallizes and expands." I think great endings in our own lives should be this as well, impossible as that seems. Last night, New Year's Eve, I sat around a table with old friends and new, discussing 2004 and our resolutions for 2005. I generally avoid resolutions because they tend to put more pressure on me, more fear of the failure of not accomplishing things such as "clean out bedroom closet" and "end world hunger." But one person at the table read off his list of resolutions he had made for 2004, a courageous act given the drinking involved, and openly discussed which resolutions he had accomplished and which he had not. The list was long and diverse and touching and bold, and the sentiment captured well in this sentence from Winn's article:
The last day of the year comes whether we're ready to make sense of it or not. We bully ourselves into musing retrospection and halfhearted resolutions, inventing a story to fit the end.
This year has made little sense to me and last night, as I met new people, I found myself making half-hearted attempts at inventing a story that would fit where I was that night, and why, and how. Nothing came to mind and maybe I came across as aloof, or mysterious, or just plain crazy. It didn't matter though because I brought all the food and was busy steaming tamales and heating Mexican rice for everyone anyway, and trying to make sure the non-Latinos didn't eat the corn husk. It was a nice time.
But I left that night with still no story to fill up the empty shell that comprises my 2004. Melodramatic, but true ~~ if you only knew. And, maybe my not making resolutions last year was part of the problem. Maybe keeping goals "in my head" where no one knows about them in case I fail, well, maybe that's not such a good plan of attack. So I went for a drive today to the North Bay ~ and reminded myself how lucky I am to live in the Bay Area . . . and reminded myself that it's probably time to leave, to move on, to put an ending to the Bay Area before it puts an ending on me. I drove around and realized it was like I wanted another look, just to make sure I knew what I was thinking...it was like dumping that gorgeous J. Crew model boyfriend you know is not good for you ~~ you take one last look into that beautiful face and realize how empty it all is.
And so I called my sister and checked the job market down in Southern California and submitted applications for a couple of jobs and conferred with friends and made sure I can do this ~ move . . . physically, emotionally, carefully. As difficult as the Bay Area is, there is a certain "comfort zone" which keeps me anchored here ~ and those kinds of comfort zones are like quicksand. And so I want to dig myself out of this hole I have dug...hopefully move south ~ or at least move within myself to reinvent my life in the Bay Area, I suppose. But really, that was the least cathartic realization of the day.
I have been reading a novel for the past few weeks, some fiction to serve as escapism from the dry nonfiction of my everyday life. This book, Kissing in Manhattan, I have been trying to figure out if I love it or hate it ~~ much like we do in our relationships in real life. I would read one chapter and become infatuated with the characters or pseudo-plot or writing, then in the next chapter, decide that the new, misogynistic, character was a deal breaker and so want to dump the book entirely....until I reached the ending of that chapter which helped me understand the utter neurosis of the character, and I was in love again. Each chapter is like a mini-novel, focusing on a character or set of characters, which somehow all make sense in the end. The beauty of the book, as in life, is that JUST as I reached a point where I loved the chapter and wanted more from that character, poof, it ended and the writer moved on to the next chapter, a new character! Ai, like in life. I got frustrated, upset. I put the book down and tried to "cheat on it" by trying to read another....but the book called me back and I finished it sometime yesterday . . . and today the ending hit me like that cliché, the ton of bricks. The final words in the book (and don't worry this will not ruin the story for you) are "I do." It's not even remotely what you think it is. The plot gets so complex at one point, that I was surprised we reached an ending at all. But today I realized that, given the "theme" of the book (a chaotic mess of love-hungry urbanites chasing love, lust, and life through Manhattan), the final words were brilliant, especially because they don't come up at all like you would imagine. Now you have to read it, right? The chapter entitled, "The Smoker" is one of my favorites ~ some of the characters are brilliant. Some chapters are hilarious, others jarringly sad and lonely, yet others wickedly confusing ~ but all are intriguing, and each ending seduces you into moving forward to the next chapter. One part of you ends, but the rest wants to keep moving forward.
Shouldn't life be like that? Is it? There is a line I love in the book: "He sat, and breathed, and felt the way his limbs and muscles came together to make him who he was." And when you read who sat where and why, well, that line becomes poignant . . . personal. What makes you who you are? What history coarses through your veins, what loss and hope and remorse fill your lungs, what memories make your muscles ache?
Sprinkled throughout the story, healthy helpings of chaos helped me make sense of the characters ~ again, isn't life like that? I want a healthy helping of helplessness to make me stronger, to clarify and solidify the image forming in front of me, inside of me. And the book makes so much sense to me now ~ but it might be April 2005 before 2004 makes sense to me . . . and so I wait ~ and leave you with another highlight from Winn's article:
Endings define and disappoint, gratify and frustrate. They confer meaning and confirm the structure of what's come before -- in a movie, a sonata, a work of fiction. But they also kill off pleasure, snap us out of the dream and clamp down order on experience that we, as citizens of the modern world, believe to be open-ended, ambiguous and unresolved. It's a delicious paradox.