When I teach students the structure and content of that ever-dreaded five-paragraph essay, I find that it’s the conclusion that gives them the most difficulty. So how do I help them? I like to refer to the conclusion as the “b.s.” paragraph to alleviate some of the stress of writing it.
By the way, don’t panic. I never say the actual words, just the “b” and “s,” because students already know what it means–no need to clarify. And anyway, it’s true. What does the conclusion do? Restate the thesis, sum up everything you’ve already said, blah blah blah. Yeah, I point out it’s a nice way to tie a little bow on the package of the essay, but why is it really necessary?
And then a few weeks ago, I managed to get to the end of my own book—a two-hundred-and-some pages, many-paragraphed, gigantic essay—and I couldn’t just b.s. the conclusion (hereafter referred to as the epilogue). It wouldn’t work. And my own stress grew. And grew.
It was the epilogue, for goodness sakes. The ending. I’d already done the hard part, so why couldn’t I get anywhere with it? I tried everything. I knew the update I wanted to give, but I just couldn’t come up with any neat little catchy ways to finish off the epilogue.
First I tried an ending similar to this:
“Thanks to The Trifecta of Shit, I’m on my third life.
That’s how I figure it, anyway.
My own trilogy. A triple. Another trifecta.
My first life ended with a broken heart.
But I survived, rehabilitating myself enough to push through into my second life and the trials that would forever mark me: leaving home, moving away from my children into not one, but three other places, and the legal dissolution of my marriage.
My second life ended with a broken body.
But I survived that, too, resuscitated with new life—one whose permanent marks required nursing and care and healing. Number three.
The magic number. The magic marker. The third time really is the charm.
This life, one of sublime happiness. This life, one I didn’t know that I needed until it was mine.
I still remember Jackson’s first text message to me one Saturday in July, after I had sent him my cell number on Facebook.
“You waitin’ on this?” it asked, full of an irony I wouldn’t understand until years later.
Uh, yeah. I guess you could say that, Jackson.
For a couple of lifetimes, at least.”
I mean, it’s cute, right? It ties things up neatly, and Jackson and his adorableness get to be the last thing people read. Plus, that really happened, his first text to me. And it makes so much sense now, right?
But it just didn’t fit. So then I went a different direction with the book’s last words:
“Almost seven years have passed since the accident—almost five since plastic surgery—and I no longer see any doctors for related problems. But it has been seven and a half years since my heart attack, and I still see my cardiologist once, maybe twice, a year.
The heart may be the strongest muscle in our body, but this tells me that it must also be watched over and protected carefully: the heart is the seat of our soul. The heart is where love resides.
And I know the answer to my question—finally. I know why I’m still alive.
Because of love.
The answer is always love.”
But it’s too cliché. And as my editor pointed out, it’s the trending bumper sticker phrase right now. Totally not what I’m going for.
So I fell back on—what else—what I knew better than anything—being a teacher. And it worked. I guess you really don’t have to go looking any further than your own back yard. Stick to what you know, right? Treasure is always where your heart is, too.
I’d like to share the ending with you, but I just can’t, because it’s the very end of the book…and I don’t like to ruin endings. But it has to do with storytelling and why we do it. And I think you’ll all like it.
But more importantly, THE BOOK is done. PHEW. And…hooray!!!
Now what am I going to do with my time?!