Having grown up in a very loud and direct Russian family, there’s something about this straightforward type of behavior that I’m very drawn to. Because, to me, politeness seems to be more a defense mechanism than anything else. My fiancé (an Israeli, coincidentally enough) and I are always lamenting that Americans, unless you’ve known them for years, are not very forthcoming; it is often hard for us to talk to them about things heavier than TV shows we have in common, work, or the latest regional gossip. Sometimes it feels like Americans are so afraid of being disagreed with or disliked that topics of conversation have no choice but to stay trivial. And it’s not even the topics of conversation, really, but more the level of conversation. It’s like filling up on appetizers and never getting to the main course–a lot of speaking gets done, but by the time you get to something real (if you ever do), everyone is picking up the checks.
In April, the Atlantic Monthly published an article that was so ill-advised I hesitate to post a link to the article for fear of increasing its page count and further sensationalizing the author’s bogus argument. The article was about creative writing programs. An impassioned, somewhat jilted, author, Jon Reiner, makes a case for why instead of going to MFA schools, wanna-be published authors should go out and live—similar to arguments for why writers need to have “real-life jobs” before writing. Considering the sheer number of Creative Writing MFA programs in the U.S, there is a high likelihood that young, well-educated, straight-out-of-college aspiring writers are going to slip their way into those cherished programs, but of the many faults, Jon Reiner made, the gravest perhaps is how he grossly misjudges the lives of those “young” students. His stance that younger students have not lived comes from a ridiculously, narrow and American perspective; for he assumes MFA students grew up in American suburbs and were pampered by their middle to upper class families. But, believe me, I don’t want to write a post about his article article, especially so belatedly. In fact, I’ve only mentioned it to say how it got me thinking about my lack of long-term job experience and how as a young girl growing up in a developing country jobs, first jobs especially, didn’t always seem like a job in the quintessential sense.
Louis Malle and Andre Gregory’s brilliant adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Vanya on 42nd Street, begins on the street. A group of actors converge early in the morning, sip coffee from styrofoam cups, and make their way to rehearsal in a dim theater. Once inside, a groggy Wallace Shawn reclines on a bench and closes his eyes for a nap. Around him, Shawn’s fellow actors chatter nonchalantly, their backstage voices easing into Chekhov’s words.
Crafting good endings, like good openings, is among the most difficult feats to attain in a short story. So much pressure lies in its mastery – where a solid or tepid opening could mean the difference between having a work read or not read beyond the first page, a satisfying or lackluster ending often decides whether the piece gets published or not. The final paragraph of a story is usually what readers take away from the entire experience, as it is the last thing they get to process, and thus, the last thing they’re likely to remember.
Apart from the exhortations that a story needs to tie up all loose ends and bring closure to the readers, discussing what constitutes a good ending frequently devolves into the famous pronouncement in the concurring opinion of Jacobellis v. Ohio: “I know it when I see it.” As is the case with establishing aesthetic rules in writing, generalizations usually don’t work. In fact, what may sound like an effective closing to one reader might just be totally underwhelming to another. With those caveats in mind, the next best thing is to present case studies of endings that I think work (at least for me) within the context of those particular stories.
It’s that time of year again: SUMMER. For students, or recently graduates like myself, summer brings with it a freedom that seems limitless. Faced with so much time to do what I like, I always make a list of what I’d love to read. For those employed year-round, summer doesn’t necessarily evoke anymore those long stretches of free, unscheduled time, but I put forth this reading list in the hopes that whether you’re lounging on a beach, stuck in an office from 9-5 or doing some combination of both, you’ll give yourself time to read a w0rk that is truly lovely and inspiring. Nathan Go already started off his summer reading list with suggested works by Filipino and Filipino-American authors. Similar to my summer reading list last year, I’m going to keep my list eclectic and globally diverse. There are some some books I’ve read, some books I look forward to reading and some that have been adapted into films–for those, like myself, who love reading books and watching films and noticing, sometimes irritatingly, the differences between two versions of the same story.