The Closure Cliché Question

We're perceptually predisposed to see or infer closure; it's just in our neurology. You see in reading; half the fun is anticipating the ending: anticipating closure. We like to recognize patterns--- patterns of behavior, patterns of motifs, patterns of goal- seeking---and then to imagine how they continue and complete; that's why we will find the path through the maze, see the image in the stars, or even discover a logical conclusion as we're writing the end of a story. We actually get a pleasurable jet of neurotransmitters bathing our brains when we experience
closure. It could be in a crossword puzzle, in stories, movies, symphonies, after a meal, even after a productive day at work. On a larger scale, recognizing closure helps us assess our lives at year's end, with birthdays, or with memorial ceremonies.


Anticipating, seeing, and feeling closure is a natural response, but there are degrees of sensitivity to closure. And that's where the cliché problem comes in. While we may like a genre story that has a formula in its closure, it doesn't take much sensitivity or imagination to predict; there's something more moving if a story's closure surprises us in a non-formulaic way. In thinking of the story, we have imagined it in a complicated and personal way, not in the forms of convention. In the same way that reading less formulaic stories requires us to pay attention in a more personal way, this is a skill we can apply to life. We can learn to be more observant---more mindful, if you will---of endings. By attending to endings, we can tune into the experience of closure with our senses and intellect and so create more intense and personal experiences of closure to counter the glut of pro-forma closures that surround us.


At the end of the day, you have two choices looking at the sunset: you can pause and empty your mind as you watch a orange-to-purpling sky for several minutes, enjoying the uniqueness of that day's transition to dark...
or, you can point out the car window and yell, "Yo, check out the colors!" as you hustle to Burger King ready to supersize your meal.
This is why in olden times, the folk would say prayers at the end of day, before bed. If the close of every day is a miracle, you can get grateful.


But there's also reason why a character might complain that "closure is a cliché."


Contemporary American culture is sunk in a gooey quicksand of rapid fire of fantasies of easy closure: facile political solutions, mandatory sentencing, status-signifying materialism, and of course, our addiction to happy endings to any and all narratives--- those omnipresent narratives that go from TV commercials (framed as little stories) to pop songs about being prettier than anybody else, to religions that promise a deathless afterlife in eternal comfort as a "reward," to blockbuster movies which avoid any ending tragedy, to televised sports, to the Olympic Games, and to the national military story that is always armed with the word "heroes." It's all so easy and so obvious.
 
Yep, cliché. So, maybe there's a case to be made for closing off the easy endings, the obvious treacle. It's rotted our ability to sink realistic teeth into complications... or to taste miracles.


Again, just look at our culture: when it comes time for difficult closure---for thinking seriously about end of life, criminal penalties, divorce, family tragedies, the possible ramifications of
addictions, poverty, foreign wars, education, infrastructure, we Americans, as a population, get sulky and resentful. Complicated thinking about those pattern completions? Ow! We actually resist the creativity which is in our ability to emphasize and forecast, to be realistic about pattern completions. Empathy and realistic forecasting have gotten lost in that sweet goo of hummable tunes, morning TV bromides, and mega- church salvation. When it comes to grappling with possible unhappy endings, with the realistic closures of relationships, lives, and sundry other challenging complications that we must eventually confront, having covered over tragic possibilities with relentless happy talk and happy scripts, we wind up feckless and stupid when we should be mindful and responsible.


So if there's closure cliché, I'm afraid it's that, oftentimes, lack of imagination closes so many of us off from a deep and profound experience of real closure. Then we're befuddled and angry when banks fail, when terrorists attack, when there's cancer, diabetes and family strife. We didn't see it coming.


But a mindful position makes every closure, like every sunset, both inevitable and unique. We can live in a state of happy anticipation of possibly grim consequences, just as we can read a story like Anna Karenina with delight.


It also may be, that empowered by mindful and realistic observations of closure in life, we can invigorate our writing with surprising, perhaps astonishing, story-closures that satisfy both writers and readers.