Something’s been going for a while in my life, the past two years or more, which has intensified since my cancer took a turn for the much worse this past January. The emotional stresses of cancer have inflected my experience of story.
When I’m watching a movie, reading a book or a piece of short fiction, or even when I am writing a story, I have a lot of trouble with endings. Doesn’t matter what the internal context of the ending is: happy, sad, bleak, uplifting, whatever. That moment of satori that comes even at the end of mediocre fiction has become an emotional trigger for me. I tear up at the end of everything. Even songs. Often I start to cry.
It’s the fact of the ending.
Prior to the cancer, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times in my life a book or movie had made me cry. The first time I read The Left Hand of Darkness is the only one I can recall off the top of my head. But now? Endings. It’s all about the endings. Even silly ones.
I suppose this is because I’m so attuned to story. My writer brain processes and parses endings very carefully. We as writers talk a lot about how endings work. The ending should be implicit in the beginning. The ending should provide both resolution and validation. The ending should offer closure. Endings, endings, endings. Without them, we don’t have books or stories, we only have narrative fragments.
Cancer has transformed my life from an ongoing narrative fragment to something with a clear-cut and impending ending. In my case, one that is not implicit in the beginning, though I am working hard to provide both resolution and validation, not to mention closure. I have more purpose now that I am on the verge of dying than ever had when I was simply living as if I might go on forever and death was something that happened to other people.
And that influences my experience of story. Truth be told, I’m not terribly happy about this.