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The Third Act

The Third Act

 

I’ve always struggled with endings. I can write a beginning and a middle, and even a climactic confrontation, but actual endings, of stories, poems, songs, and especially novels, have been hard for me. I can write myself into a corner, like all of the experts tell you to do, with the stakes at their highest, and no hope to speak of, but I can’t write my way back out again.

We rely on stories to give our lives a more satisfying shape. We can tolerate the stress and conflict necessary in storytelling, because we believe we know that there will be relief and success in the end. But that’s never been my life experience. The tension never really abates. It just ratchets up and up until I get used to the higher level of anxiety. I may look back, a year later, and realize that I’ve solved a problem or learned a lesson, but I don’t feel the relief while it’s happening.

I’m always looking ahead. I can’t help it. Even when I read a book or watch a movie, and the happy ending comes along, I start imagining how badly the next part of the story will go instead of reveling in the joy. I must have accomplished things, or finished things, in my life, but it never feels that way. When I graduated from high school or college or graduate school, I was focused on the abyss ahead of me, rather than any sense of accomplishment at finishing something important. I never felt like I was really closing a book, or even a chapter, unless it was a chapter with a cliff hanger.

I am most comfortable with middles – where it’s just about doing the work in front of me, and not thinking about where I have to go next. But I’m not supposed to just stick to middles. I have to graduate, and start new things, and struggle all over again to figure out what to do, or why to do it.

The plan for my own third act (or fifth? Or ninth?), has been social work school, leading to a career, at least part time, as a social worker. But my third act is turning into a whole drama of its own, with a thousand catastrophes to overcome, and I’m barely a third of the way through the program.

One of the possible endings for a story, instead of a happy ending, or a tragic (everybody dies) ending, is simply getting up the next day to try again; the whisper of a hope of a happy continuation. This is what I’ve tried to tell myself, almost daily, of late: that it’s enough if I can get up the next day and try again. But I don’t really believe that. I want the relief of a happy ending. I want the denouement, the unknotting of tension, that I’ve been promised.

The dogs are so much better at shaping their stories. It’s the naps. Their days are made up of a series of short stories, conveniently separated by restful and rejuvenating naps. Cricket wakes up because she has to pee (inciting incident). She jumps on her Mommy, and cries and scratches, until Mommy agrees to take her outside (Cricket is the heroine of her own story). Outside, she sniffs, and barks, and chases squirrels and random humans, until she is ready to go back inside. Once inside, she stares at her Mommy and the treat bag, until the treat is given (the final climax). Then she eats her treat (denouement), and takes a nap (resolution). This neat structure happens over and over again every day, to Cricket’s great satisfaction.

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“Wake up, Mommy!”

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“Watch me, Mommy!”

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“Where are my treats, Mommy?”

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Sleepy time!

Butterfly hitches a ride on Cricket’s daily structure, but sometimes she gets to be the heroine of her own story: barking me awake, running free through the yard to finally relieve herself of her burdens. But she doesn’t mind being Cricket’s sidekick the rest of the time. There’s something satisfying in being part of someone else’s story, instead of always having to be the heroine of your own. But then again, it’s not like we have much of a choice. This is Cricket’s story and the rest of us are just her supporting characters.          Just ask her.

 

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Butterfly, the trusty sidekick.

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Butterfly, the star of her own show!

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And it’s sleepy time again.

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Until,…

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

88 responses »

  1. Cricket really has her life figured out pretty sweetly, if you ask me, we can both take a page out of her book. I’m going to start taking up napping.

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    • Cricket has about three PH.d.’s in napping at this point. She thinks I am a terrible student, but it’s just that she teaches by role modeling and I learn best from books. When she writes a book on the subject, I’m sure I’ll start to figure it out.

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  2. It is hard. But you’re 1/3 of the way through. Before you know it, that will be half way. Just keep plugging and you’ll be all the way through before you know it.

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  3. Rachel–this was a great ending! And I really loved it because it started the story all over again, and it was a great story.
    Note to self: ask for more treats.

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  4. hairytoegardener

    Your dogs are awesome. I love the photo of Cricket sleeping and the one of Butterfly running. Dogs give me such joy when all else is poop-y.

    I understand life drama. I really do. I have this cool OLD print of a man sitting in front of a huge cooked elephant lying on a serving tray. The caption below it reads, “You can eat an elephant if you do it one bite at a time.” This has gotten me through so much: Keeping my job while my husband was dying. Death of hubby. Horrendous working conditions when I couldn’t quit. Trying to fix up & sell a house after having knee surgery. Having a painter not show when new carpet was to be installed the next day. (I put on my big girl pants, bought a special ladder to paint the ceiling above the stairs and did it myself.) Take it one bite at a time. Anne Lamott says the same thing in her book, “Bird by Bird.” And yes, getting up each day to try again is worth A LOT because some people simply can’t do it.

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    • There have been so many times when I couldn’t do it, even for one day, or one hour. So I guess I should be glad, and proud of myself, for getting to the point where one day at a time is actually possible. I just wish it didn’t suck quite so much.

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  5. “getting up the next day to try again; the whisper of a hope of a happy continuation”
    You have to stay focused on the beauty in that phrase. I think we can all learn some big things from the life of dogs. We humans tend to struggle against ourselves all the time. When some times it’s as simple as, you’re tired, take a nap. The struggles though are very real and when you can’t see the forest through the trees you have to some times be still and just enjoy what beauty you can find within the forest. Even if that is simply survival. Love to you!

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  6. They’ve learned the secret of life in the moment. No anxieties, no regrets.

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  7. Beautifully expressed, Rachel! And Butterfly running is the perfect example of just enjoying life! Of course I’m right with Cricket on treats and naps! You can finish whatever you desire. One step at a time until the journey is through.

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  8. I love your happy doggy faces, I am sure they are trying their best to help you find a good ending. Benji.

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  9. There is a balance to everything in life. We need to appreciate where we are and what we have accomplished, but we should also look ahead in preparation. The key is finding the right balance. It sounds like Cricket and Butterfly can provide good examples of both. I love the pic of Butterfly running freely through the grass and leaves! It’s a reminder to pursue what you love and live fully! 🙂

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  10. Charanjit Kaur Chodda

    I never looked at this aspect, but as i read, i realised i like beginnings and yes the middles .. but surely not the endings unless it has a next part to it. Perfect perspective

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  11. Lovely pictures, Rachel; yes, for us there is only the trying, the est is not our business, as someone famous once said! Pip

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  12. I think you tied this post up nicely, so take a deep breath and enjoy the accomplishment. The dogs are lovely, and I’m sure they think you do everything perfectly in their perfect dog world. 🙂

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  13. Oh I love the doggy faces. They are so adorable. About writing endings, some writing classes have prompts to help with that? And creative editing feedback can also help give direction. I know what you mean though about that happy ending. I’ve certainly been conditioned/programmed that way through movies I grew up with. Nowadays endings are all over the map. Happy Sunday to you and your sweeties. ❤

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  14. Oh Rachel, how blessed you are to still have your furry little friends to teach you the simpler things of life. You are also very blessed also to have so many wonderful followers who have such great advice. Those are the treats that they hold out for you. I encourage you to read back over them and jot down how many treats you’ve been offered.
    One important treat I hand out to you takes some gnawing on. That you chew on the treasure of treat’s that can only be found within you. Because in the end all the treats others give you are like swallowing empty calories until you begin to internalize the substance they have to offer you.
    I don’t mean to sound like I’m belittling you struggles in life they are very real we can all relate to them, but at some point we have to begin to see what they are there to teach us. You can only learn that by going within for the answers. Maybe that’s why our furry friends take so many naps. It’s gives them time to relax and take it all in. They wake up refreshed and ready to start a new. As my Ollie would remind me, “Connie…you need to stop and smell the hydrants once in a while.”

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  15. Ending is easy if you know how. Simply write “THE END” and be done with it.

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  16. In writing fiction, the ends are easier for me than the middles. But in my life, I definitely prefer to stay in the middle! Yet I’m also always looking ahead, wondering what is coming next. Great post!

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  17. What wonderful “heaven” for your puppies to “be” in…..a loving home of understanding and compassion. Love and Light to you today!

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  18. Such adorable photos of the pups enjoying autumn! 🙂

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  19. Your struggle with writing endings made me think about a stage play/ musical called the last five years. Maybe you’ve heard of it. The songs tell the love story and breakup of a young couple. Besides very good music the interesting thing about this story and the songs is that it is told in two directions. The female character’s songs tell the story from the end to the beginning and male character’s songs tell the story from the beginning to end. Somewhere in the middle the story lines cross and the characters are briefly at the same place of the story at the same time.

    Although I’m guessing that the songwriter didn’t write the story from end to beginning it suggests an interesting approach to writing where all the pieces don’t have to be linear during the creation process.

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  20. Thank you for expressing so beautifully how many of us feel. The best of luck to you as you continue. Yes, naps, treats, taking life a day (or sometimes an hour) at a time.

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  21. Wow, that is a great action shot of Butterfly running, practically in midair, through the leaves. Nice 🙂

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  22. You are a great story-teller, that skill always shines through your blogs. I hope the third act winds up exactly as you’d like it to.

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  23. Am I imagining, or did someone get a haircut? One-third may seem like a little part of the journey, but it’s not. The hardest part is getting started. Soon, as a social worker, you will become a very real part of so many stories, you will lose track. Keep truckin’!

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  24. Like you, I’m always looking past the happy ending to what dreadful thing might happen next. With regard to the writing, what about writing the end of the story first and then working back from there? 🐸

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  25. I love the idea of looking at a dog’s day as a series of short stories separated by naps. You nailed that! Have a great week.

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  26. those little guys get more adorable each time – I think they’ve been perfecting their posing

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  27. Well, I took two naps today. I think I am coming down from the election stress, no matter the ending. I like dogs’ ideas of time. Or lack of idea of time. Our dog is just as excited to see us after 10 minutes as after 4 hours. Keep loving on those dogs and staying sane. Peace.

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  28. Even if sometimes you feel trapped by circumstances and bad experiences, now might be just the right time to turn over a new leaf. Once you cast away your burdens, all the useless anxiety and traumas and walk on with Confidence, Courage and Pride in Being Yourself, you’ll feel the difference. If your little Furry Treasures could speak, I bet they’d be telling you this. 🙂

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  29. My dogs love routine. Mommy might have stayed up and watched the election returns, but dogs went to bed.

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  30. I can relate to this, Rachel. Especially feeling like nothing ever gets accomplished and by the time you’re done with one thing, it’s time to move on to something else. It’s a good thing your dogs know what life is really all about!

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  31. I don’t know what I’d do without you and the kids, are you sure you are your Mum’s daughter? Maybe you’re my Mum’s daughter, or maybe I’m your Mum’s daughter, or maybe Cricket is your Daughter, or maybe butterfly is my Daughter, or…..

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  32. Where I get the best inspiration about how to enter that third stage of life, is from my gorgeous dog. Two tumours removed in two years, and every time he bounces back again like a very heavy, very white bearded and grumbly pup. He goes day by day and m,y greatest hope is for him to live long enough for me to take him out of England, back to Italy where he was born, and have him lie on the warm patio outside our home, and drift peacefully from mellowing out in the sunshine to scampering in the clouds. After years of anxiety and underlying fear, I think I am finally learning to go very small goal by very small goal, day by day, just like Zoom the dog. Hope you find your thread 🙂

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  33. I loved this one – particularly the pictures of the pups are really fabulous!
    You are way too young for a third act – be happy in your middles…

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  34. Pure joy is what pets exude.

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  35. Wonderful, I came here after you liked my story, Macadamia trees – our childhood daycare centre. This was my 7th blog so it is exciting to see an accomplished blogger and author, as I was not sure anyone would enjoy them, but it brings me great joy to see that you responded this way thank you. I have now enjoyed a couple of your blogs too and will be happy to pop over to read them into the future.

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  36. For a minute there, as I read your blog, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I thought that I was talking to myself, hearing those words which I dare not to utter out loud: ‘Why don’t I feel like I am moving forward? How long will it take?’ Then I make a mental list of all my woes. But then I stop myself and remember the blessings and goodness that surround me. Sometimes it is easier for outsiders to see our progress because we don’t always give ourselves credit for the baby steps that we have taken. What is your dream? If you could do anything, what would that be?

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  37. I do agree though sometimes a dog’s life is a cat’s meow!

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  38. We all aspire to be a Cricket, but maybe Butterfly has it all figured out.

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