Drafting Broken Endings

The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

King Lear has been my favorite artistic work for some time. These lines on their own, without Edgar or Albany, without the dead march, without the rest of the play, maybe even without their meaning but just their sounds and rhythm alone in a vacuum carry such resonance.

Maybe that’s an absurd exaggeration or something outside my expertise. I’ve never read this or anything in a vacuum of meaning.

Whatever. The play is powerful and the ending feels right. Even if I don’t feel confident in criticism, the man knows how to structure action and craft a line.

Young Jean Lee was interviewed on her LearWhich is maybe not an adaptation. I haven’t read or seen it and can’t really speak to it. I do always love to read interviews with or have actual conversations with folks who are really digging into the work. (Also I secretly plan to write an adaptation of Lear, which I’ve mapped out.) The interview talks process, and mentions some of the drastic turns and shifts her project took, which is a good reminder to me that this draft might become something far different, as it already has.

Largely thanks to some of the insights from some of my friends at the reading, I’m splitting one of my characters into two and introducing a Hermes/Mercury character to be an agent of Zeus. This was something I’d considered over a year ago in the prefirstdraftdays. I think I avoided it because it’d force me to include the consequences to my main character when she ultimately breaks the rules–chooses to stop eating Prometheus’s liver and is thus defying Zeus. I didn’t know what the consequences could be, and I felt like I was getting nowhere trying to figure it out. I was getting stuck on this and it was keeping me from writing the rest of the draft.

What I ended up writing minimized the presence of any Olympian anything going on or any existence of Zeus, and showed no direct consequences from choosing not to eat the liver. The only consequences were from all sorts of other things the main character did, particularly eating the liver.

At this stage though, with the framework of a full draft underneath me I think this problem could be a solution of sorts. I’ve got an unsatisfying and incomplete ending at this point that I’ve been attempting to dislodge. Thinking about the gravity of Zeusian consequences, which may or may not be what I end up going with, might be good for shaking me out of this current rut of an ending.

Or it might be something I won’t recognize yet. I might end up, Like Lee maybe did, trashing the entire first draft, starting over, and building something more robust in the end. A part of me would just love for this process to be over. But this is it, this is the work. I could have out if I wanted, but if I’m planning on making stories with substance to them, I have to stay with these problems and train my concentration on them.

I read the interview with Lee while wrestling with all this. The interview isn’t groundbreaking, but there were important reminders in there for me.

The L: Another thing that interested me about your show is that the first half of the show then flips into quite something different in the second half. Which also seems to be something you enjoy doing in your work—setting up an expectation and then defying it. Where do you think that tendency comes from?

YJL: My enemy is complacency. I hate it in myself and I hate it in general. I think it leads to really bad things happening, where everything in your world just validates your beliefs, so you’re constantly being stroked and told that you’re right and you never have to question any of your beliefs or ideas. I think that’s so dangerous. I feel like if you go to see a work of theater and it just reinforces all of your pre-existing beliefs and you get exactly what you’re expecting—I don’t think that’s good for people. I’ve never stated it in such a moralistic way, but I guess I do feel moralistic about it because, on principle, I think it’s good to ask questions, to have things split apart and become fragmented and contradictory.

Again, this isn’t something new to any of us, but something I needed to hear right now.

I don’t want a tidy ending, I want something fragmented, honest, powerful, volatile. Something that can be big enough to cause this story to collapse under its own weight.

What does that mean in a practical sense? How do these metaphors and descriptors actually help me? They’ll motivate me and maybe guide me, I guess, but I’m not really sure. I’m into them, though.

This messy verse was about this, where I am with it.

such signals sent from under palms
distressed ball-gowns as beggars’ alms
from prayers of homeless searching smoke
we’re choking down on what we wrote

you’re a set of stuck in isolation
you’re a time of things dis-integrated
a bolder sense of what you expect to do:
what do you think? abandon rules.

your metric this unmeasured sense
unfounded fell from feathered pens
a tell of broken brainless drones:
now build yourself a burning home.

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