Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bittersweet Endings

By Cari Z (Guest Blogger)

When it comes to my own writing, I personally am a fan of the “Happily” convention. Happily Ever After or Happily For Now, or even just whoever I’m writing about being satisfied and, well, happy. I don’t like to leave uncomfortable hooks, and even if I don’t resolve every line of tension in a story, I try to leave things more positive than conflicted. Sometimes it takes a while to get there, though. Stories can hit the back burner as life intervenes, and life is about to intervene in a really big way.

After more than two years, my Peace Corps service is coming to a close. In a little over a month my husband and I will be packed up, all our worldly possessions stuffed back into the duffel bags we brought to Africa with us originally, our dog crated and ready to fly, and that will be it. We’ll be out of here. Back to America. I haven’t stepped foot in America for two years, and I’ve only spent a few weeks of that time span outside of Africa. It’s an ending, and it’s one that I’m feeling kind of conflicted about.

Living in rural West Africa has been incredibly tense, boring as hell, beautiful, frightening and eye-opening. I’ve learned more living here in two years than I ever thought I would, and I’ve done a lot of my best writing to date because, in part, of all the damn learning I’ve had to do. You can’t do this kind of work and not experience the full range of emotions, from deliriously happy to so enraged that you want to scream and break things. Everything is magnified here because life is fairly austere. You can’t take solace in American comfort food or television or your vast library of books, so most times you have to just feel whatever you’re feeling and try not to let it carry you too far off. It’s been more emotion and drama and excitement than I’ve ever sought in my life, and in a lot of ways I’m looking forward to the end.

It’s also scary. We’re going back to America and while that’s incredible, and I can’t wait to see family and friends and go out to my favorite places, it’s also hard. We’re leaving a place where we’re established, where we’re respected, and where our work makes a difference. We don’t have a house to go back to, a car to drive, and I don’t have a job waiting for me. Is it time for me to think more seriously about writing? Time to go back to school? Time to scramble for anything to pay for all the things we’ve been helped with here? (Health insurance and rent, yeah, I’m looking at you.)

Sometimes endings aren’t unequivocally happy. Sometimes they feel like a death or a separation, and this is a level of realism that a lot of writers incorporate in their work. You have to take the pain with the sweetness and pleasure, and sometimes things just don’t work out the way you’d like best. I wish we were leaving our community with more tangible results from our work here. I wish we could have done more. I wish fewer people had tried to take advantage of us and more of them had wanted to learn. I wish we had tried harder, even though at the time it felt like we were trying as much as we could. We’ve made a lot of friends and made a difference for some people, though, and that has to be enough now, because there’s no more middle. It’s the end.

A story of mine was recently published in the anthology Wild Passions by Storm Moon Press. It’s called "Opening Worlds", and it touches on the difficulty an ending can pose, both for characters and for their authors. Originally I thought to end this story with the main characters going their separate ways, with no intention of them coming together again. It just seemed like a logical place for the plot to stop, but the siren call of Happily overtook me, and I rewrote. The reviews I’ve read of my contribution to the anthology have been mostly positive, but they’ve also called me out on the “too perfect” ending for my conflicted lovers. On the other hand, one reviewer said if it hadn’t ended that way that she would have cried, which sounds like a decided conundrum to me. You can find read an excerpt of my story here and find out more about the book (even buy it!) here. If you like variety and creativity in your m/m romance, this is a good book for you!

Lisabet, you are entirely a gem, rare, precious and enduring. Thanks for hosting me yet again. You make visits to the internet café far less onerous. I will be a better e-neighbor soon.

Bio: Cari Z is originally from Colorado, but she and her husband have been living and working in West Africa for the past two years. That’s all coming to an end soon, though, and she’ll be off to America once more. It’s been a craaazy ride. Cari has been writing for many years, publishing for a few years and trying to get the hang of blogging and the like for less than a year, but it’s slowly coming together. She loves visitors, but she doesn’t expect you to fly to Africa to see her. Come and visit her blog instead:


Lisabet Sarai said...

Welcome back to Beyond Romance, Cari! I definitely understand your feelings. I spent two years overseas a few decades ago, and moving back to the U.S. was quite traumatic. (So traumatic that now I live abroad permanently, or at least that is the plan!)

Best of luck with this release, and many more!

Lily Harlem said...

Oh, wow. Great post. I can't begin to imagine what it has been like for you writing in rural West Africa or what it must feel like to be going back to the USA after two years away.

I like your comment about having to live with feelings because there's not the distractions you would have back home, and 'hope they don't carry you too far.'

Good luck with the move.

Lily x

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lily and Lisabet! I'm sure the move will work out. I'll have plenty to distract me, certainly at first. Things will fall into place. Or I'll drag my long-suffering baby off to some other corner of the world and have another adventure. Just a thought:)


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