Norwegian Wood (from movie)Yesterday morning, I finished reading Murakami’s Norwegian Wood.

It was raining, unusually cold for an August morning, and almost coal black. I couldn’t imagine a better morning to finish this particular book. I sat in silence for a good hour after closing the cover, thinking to myself. (Who else would I think to?) Beethoven was playing in the background. It colored all my thoughts for the rest of the day.

While reading, I suggested it to several people, and one of them asked me if I could explain the ending to her. She was looking for a sort of resolution that Murakami seems typically reticent to provide.

As a result, I’ve been thinking about resolutions. Well, I’ve been thinking about many things, but one of the threads is resolution. I’ll share my notes, and hope that you aren’t offended by “spoilers,” because personally, I could give a damn—any story worth reading is worth reading. It isn’t about the ending.

The idea of “spoilers” themselves gives us a starting point. There are certain expectations that most readers put on endings. It’s an unrealistic expectation, given the nature of life—often the endings that count the most seem to come unexpectedly, out of nowhere. You’re crossing the road thinking about the complications posed by the two women you love, and wham! a truck hits you. These endings resolve nothing.

My point is, endings and resolutions are not the same, and an ending doesn’t need to resolve anything. Something can end, people can drop out of our lives as if they had instead dropped off the face of a steep cliff. But there is no resolution. Similarly something can resolve, and in the process transform into something else, which is a way whereby an end can be turned into a beginning. The Death card in the Tarot is said to be a resolution, for instance. It isn’t necessarily an ending.

Now that we’ve got that straight, I’d like to return to Murakami’s ending for Norwegian Wood, and its lack of resolution.

I phoned Midori.

“I have to talk to you,” I said. “I have a million things to talk to you  about. A million things we have to talk about. All I want in this world is you. I want to see you and talk. I want the two of us to begin everything from the beginning.”

Midori responded with a long, long silence – the silence of all the  misty rain in the world falling on all the new-mown lawns of the world. Forehead pressed against the glass, I shut my eyes and waited.

At last, Midori’s quiet voice broke the silence: “Where are you now?”

Where was I now? Gripping the receiver, I raised my head and turned to see what lay beyond the phone box. Where was I now? I had no idea. No idea at  all. Where was this place? All that flashed into my eyes were the countless shapes of people walking by to nowhere. Again and again I  called out for Midori from the dead centre of this place that was no place.

Here the protagonist is calling Midori—the girl he has decided he wants to be with—and she is distant, but she does take his call, which reaches her as if over this great expanse. When I read it, it seemed as if the camera was pulling away at the end of a movie, and he’s just this little piece of jetsam floating in the ocean. The protagonist fades into a sea of people, no longer central, no longer even notable. Just a face, a dot, nothing at all. More notable, you never find out what Midori’s reply is. There is no resolution.

This seems to be a common element in Murakami’s stories, for instance in many short stories in The Elephant Vanishes, and it is a tendency that I personally find refreshing, given how much pressure I’ve been handed as an author to always resolve everything. When you don’t, some people accuse you of bad or sloppy plot-work, as if you simply forgot to resolve that which you intentionally left unresolved.

Another misconception that arises from this approach is that it is at all new. It has been one way of ending a piece of classical music since Beethoven, radical that he was, played games with the form. At the end of some Beethoven pieces, he ends on an unresolved chord.

Murakami is employing the same kind of ending. In fact, I could almost hear that repeated, lingering chord at the end of the Moonlight Sonata as I read those closing lines to Norwegian Wood.

This was one of the many things which in his time was considered incredibly controversial and original. We can’t hear Beethoven now, I mean, we can’t hear how revolutionary he was. We’re too used to it because he was so successful in changing Western music. Success can come along with its own form of curse, so that while he may be immortalized, the reasons that he’s been immortalized are in some ways obscured by the enormity of his success.

My point is this: we shouldn’t feel pressure to resolve our stories in any particular way. Our job is to find what a story wants to be and help nurture it. Some pieces may call for a classic resolution, or even an ironic twist on the classic resolution, like at the end of the 7th symphony 2nd movement, where the ending seems to be almost an ironic telegraph—“here is the ending you were expecting.”

But if the resolution to a story would require a new book, then give your reader a wall of mist, rather than that. You aren’t law-bound to provide a resolution. Midori’s answer, given across that immense expanse, is the beginning of a new story, not the ending of that one.

Not all calls are answered. Not all chords are resolved.

 

(By the way, a little bit of self-patronage: my novel Fallen Nation: Party At The World’s End was just published. I’m going to go buy myself a bottle of wine and think about beginnings, now.)

 

Resolutions are too hard to keep, so this year, instead of making resolutions, I’ve decided to make money. I’ve started a business called Resolutions, Inc. What we do at Resolutions, Inc., is help people keep their resolutions.

How does it work, you ask? Simple. Just send us your resolutions, and a representative will call you every day to make sure you’re still keeping them. The incentive? For every resolution you break, another representative will visit you (at your home or office—your choice), and break one of your fingers.

On New Year’s Eve, a friend asked if we were doing resolutions.  “Well,” I answered, “I think mine is the same as it always is — to not be so easily annoyed with people.”  She responded that hers was to be nicer to people.  “But I guess that’s kind of the same as yours, isn’t it?”

“Oh, no no no,” I answered.  I’ve read all those articles about how you should make your resolutions things that are actually possible, so as not to set yourself up for failure.  Therefore, as I told her, “I don’t actually have to be any nicer to people.  I’m just going to try not to get so irritated by them.”  If I’m really successful at keeping my resolution this year, no one will ever even notice.

On New Year’s Day, I went to my local Y to go swimming.  (I’m a big fan of forms of exercise that don’t make you sweat.)  Since I’ve had a week and a half off work, I’ve been visiting the pool quite frequently — I would go every day, but I feel the need to take a day off in between to allow the skin on my legs some time to grow back after being chemically singed by the high dosage of chlorine.  Anyway, I figured this was the perfect time to test out my resolution, since a great many behaviors irritate me at the gym.

Test 1: Locker room nudists.

Entering the locker room, I was greeted by a pair of shirtless middle-aged ladies chatting about their holidays.  One was blow-drying her hair.  I understand the need to take off one’s clothes in order to put on different clothes.  I can even get, sort of, why one would prefer to stalk naked from the showers back to one’s locker — though the locker room, especially on such a frigid day, is never all that warm, so I don’t really understand why one would shun even the meager warmth of a thin gym towel, but whatever.  But once you’re at the hair-drying stage, why not at least don a bra?

But I soldiered on, suppressing my bafflement and irritation, even when one of the shirtless ladies asked, as I was tugging on my bathing suit, how far along I was.  I swallowed the temptation to say, “Why whatever do you mean?” and told her that I’m due in March, making an effort to make eye contact and not stare at the drooping display of my post-breast-feeding future.  I even reminded myself that this was friendly of her to ask, and smiled at her as I headed to the pool.

Test 2: Splashers.

I am a vision of loveliness by the time I reach the pool, with my pregnant belly stretching my non-maternity bathing suit to its limits, my bright orange bathing cap revealing my head’s slightly conical tendencies, and my mirrored goggles lending me the look of a curious insect.  It makes no difference to me, as I can barely see a thing without my glasses.  I mean, I can’t see how many swimmers are in my lane until they are two feet in front of me, and that is no exaggeration.  I can’t see the clock on the wall, though I can sort of remember where it is.  So I walk cautiously, mindful of the twin hazards of near-legal-blindess and slick tile, and lower myself into the slow lane.

There are many ways in which my faceless fellow swimmers can annoy me.  People who swim too fast in the slow lane are particularly loathsome — a few weeks ago a lanky teenage boy practically grabbed my ankle as he menaced me down the lane.  One memorable irritation was a big, sloppy swimmer who reared out of the water once to ask the lifeguard how many laps were in a mile.  “Oh,” he said loudly, “so I’ve already done a half-mile.  Not bad!”  As if everyone in the pool might start Hoosier-clapping to his success.  He then proceeded to breaststroke down the center of the lane, so that the other three of us had to dodge him on every lap.  All of this is made worse by the fact that I can’t even see anyone — but today I remind myself that they don’t really know this, and it’s not exactly fair to be annoyed about that.

My most enduring irritation are the splashers.  I don’t know much about swimming, and I’m not a particularly skilled one, but at least I keep my splashing to a minimum.  Is there some reason for excessive splashing that I don’t know about?  Possibly.  This is what I tried to imagine on New Year’s Day, every time I came up for air and instead inhaled a mouthful of water released into the air by the exuberant kicking in the next lane over.  Nothing to be annoyed about, I told myself.  You are in a pool, after all.

I was feeling pretty good by the time I’d showered and was ready to leave.  I had talked myself down from two great ledges of annoyance.  I was on the path towards New Year’s Nice Persondom.

Until, that is, I stopped by the grocery store on the way home.  Guess how many items the person in front of me in the “12 items or less” line had?!  Just guess!!

Well.  There’s always next year.

Dating’s a bitch.

And this is the time of year when it’s easier to plop in front of the TV with a bottle of Veuve and watch a House marathon rather than suffer through, as the only single person* in the room, the forced jollity of holiday events.  You start to miss the days when your mother pestered you about your dating life. Anymore, she just slaps on her Colorform smile, tells hyper-enthusiastic tales of others – who got married even older than you – and passes the twice-baked potatoes with a heavy sigh; resigned to the fact that the children born to your siblings are going to be the only grands she’s going to get.

(*For the record, no, my widowed grandmother does NOT count, thank you very much and besides, evenshe has a boyfriend, so suck it!)

But it hasn’t been easy. I’ve been “out there”.  I’ve tried.  Honest I have.  I’ve just gotten the fuzzy end of the lollipop more times than I care to count.

For example:

An Evangelical jazz drummer proposed marriage twice, only to break off the engagement. Twice. Both times as dictated by God who audibly spoke to him on the bank of a lake in Texas. A scientist told me the morning after our first night spent together, that, while I looked ‘just fine’, my BMI still indicated that I was technically obese. There was a chef who would only have outercourse, even though the relationship had progressed to the apartment-shopping phase. And let’s not forget the lawyer whose break-up speech proclaimed that I was comfortable to be around, and made every event an adventure, but I just wasn’t ‘thunderbolts and lightening’.

Ahem.

Despite all of that, I persist. I am a hopeful romantic. I cling desperately to the knowledge that, in the words of Fivel Mousekewitz, “Somewhere, out there … someone’s thinking of me and loving me tonight”.

Bolstered by this ridiculous ongoing fantasy, I recently joined an internet dating website.

(I know… Please don’t judge me.)

Truth be told, however, that lawyer was wrong. am ‘thunderbolts and lightening’. I’m no gentle summer shower – I’m a torrential downpour.  I’m outspoken. Bossy. Tact isn’t always my forté. I’m a career gal. A broad. I’m definitely more Yentl and less Hadass.  Fanny Brice. K-k-k-k-k-katie. (Pick a Streisand character… any Streisand character…)

But knowing that Barbra, for all her chutzpah, is a certifiable bitch, I got to thinking maybe this time around, I should soften things a little.  Resolve to e-volve and use the internet for its Powers of Good: To help me finally find my Avigdor.

In order to do so though, I would need to get back to some basics. Take a refresher course and revisit some fundamental Junior League principles.  Try and be a lady

… for once.

So I turned to one of the classics:

Let’s see what advice Betty has that can help me in 2009…

1. Shut up and dance. Got it.  Moving on…

2. Note to self:  Wait 24 hours (or until sober) to e-mail, text or tweet.

3. The girl should make the move??? What??? Clearly Betty’s never read The Rules.

4. Good plan. Don’t let the guys know that you’re seeing more than one at a time. That’ll be our little secret…

5. If I don’t speak to men I’ve never met, how the hell is this internet dating thing going to work???  I think Betty needs to rethink things for the next edition.

6. Call me a cynic, but I think I’m going to be hard-pressed to find a Yankee who will perform his ‘manly chore’ for this nice Southern transplant…

7. So I suppose I shouldn’t keep ruling out those guys from Staten Island, eh?  You never know. Underneath those velour tracksuits, they might be swell.

8. Listen, Betty. If the guy doesn’t like me for who I am, then he can go fuc— (Deep breath…) Manners… manners…

9. Then how is he going to know I like him???

10. See #9.

Thank you for reading. I had a lovely time. So glad you came. I do hope you’ll call again soon!

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Images (used without permission) from Your Manners Are Showing © 1946