The Middle

But answers are always disappointing for me. I love reading noir mysteries. And I hate getting to the ends of them, because there are no surprises—no twist is good enough. It’s money, sex, blackmail, greed: all the usual suspects. Even Chandler and Hammett books are wrapped up in the most preposterous ways, because no one cares about solving the mystery. If they did, they’d read the first chapter and then skip to the last page.

People care about the 200 pages of mystery, in between. I like the idea that the suspended chord of those middle chapters can be the entire work. My favorite Hitchcock film is The Birds, because it starts in the middle and ends in the middle.

That's Miles Klee, pointing out the importance of the middle in fiction during an interview. I share Klee's disdain for clear-cut answers, for gift-wrapped endings in fiction. I can't count how many times I've gone to the movies, sat through two hours of drama or suspense, only to come to an ambiguous ending. And when I see the credits roll, cascading down the screen in the space where the answers should or would be, I smile. It's like a secret shared with the writer, a secret between just the two of us: I see what you did there, you sly dog.

And while I'm smiling, those around me are usually outraged, condemning the writer for leaving them in a state of limbo. That ending sucked. How can you just end it there?

At its most fundamental level, this is just another case of fiction as a way to navigate reality, as opposed to escaping it (an approach I've previously condemned, but of which I've come to recognize the relevance). Life is messy, and fiction, at its best, mirrors that chaos.

It also speaks to the capabilities of the reader or viewer, though.

Yes, there are spectators of fiction that are better at spectating than others. In fact, I'm convinced that that talent goes hand-in-hand with the quality of a writer: the better the reader, the better the writer. (I base that theory purely on the fact that those who are better writers than I are also better readers than I, without exception.) Everyone will see Pulp Fiction or read Infinite Jest differently, and some will take away things of much higher import than others. The only exception to my rule, as far as I can tell, is critics.

That is not to say that those who aren't good spectators should stop viewing or reading, of course; merely that, like anything else, they would be rewarded by working to become better viewers. If you’re watching (or reading) with the expectation of a big payoff in the final minutes or pages, you’ll be disappointed with any ending that doesn’t match the one you’ve been forming as the story unfolds (and trust me, your brain is forming the ending: that’s what it does, what it’s there for: to fill in the gaps when you’re presented with incomplete information, which, until you get to the ending, is precisely what a story is: incomplete). Eliminate your expectations by focusing on the story’s middle, and the ending will start to lose its importance. Eventually, you’ll even learn to embrace ambiguity.

The entire beginning/ middle/ end premise, also presents yet another way that fiction—good fiction, anyway— mirrors reality. No one sits through a bad movie with a good beginning and ending, and no one would want to endure a life that begins and ends well, but is filled with misery in-between. And what is life, after all, but a (seemingly) endless middle?

Right now, you're in the middle. You'll be in the middle tomorrow, too, but tomorrow, as they say, is the only day that never comes, so tomorrow is little more than a mirage. It's been said over and over, by people much smarter and more eloquent than I, that happiness is not the end game, but the process. It's the basis of the entire mindfulness movement, a movement that's seen a resurrection of late, but has as its roots some of the greatest philosophy in the history of our young world. It's important to note, though, that the movement has persisted for a reason. Mindfulness is not lying in a grassy meadow and staring at the clouds while you sip on a flowery green tea and ruminate on the preciousness of the stream that runs behind your house. Mindfulness is recognizing that your child wants to spend time with you right now and dancing across the living room to their favorite song. It's recognizing that the woman who just cut in front of you in the grocery store has a man at home who threatens to beat her if she doesn't get dinner made in time, and feeling compassion. It's taking pride in your work, whether you compose symphonies or serve fries. It's being self-aware enough to realize that you need to take a walk every once in awhile, when it feels like the swirling vortex of thoughts in your mind is beginning to take over.

Life is not fiction, but it can take a few cues from it. Like a good story, life is mostly middle. The beginning and end are merely bookends in your story, which, as it happens, is always going on right now- in the middle.

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