Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Happy (Alternate) Ending

In the story that I'm working on right now, there is a love triangle. When I was writing the first draft, I wrote several different alternate endings to see which one worked best: one ending where the girl ends up with "the right guy", one ending in which the girl chooses "the wrong guy", one where she ends up alone, and one where she decides, "To hell with men," and goes off to become a crime-fighting superhero, seeking out the guys who say insincerely, "I'll call you," as her first targets.

When it comes to writing, I've always been a pantser. (I have to say, though, "pantser" makes me think of those people who pull other people's pants down as a joke. But I don't actually do that. I've wanted to do that, though, particularly to the people who cut in front of me in line.) I like the idea of not knowing how the story's going to end, because then I get to be surprised.

It's made me think about what it would be like if we could write (or rewrite) our ending in our own lives, so to speak. What if we could actually go back in time and change unhappy/dissatisfying/annoying/weird endings to certain experiences? Would our lives be different as a result? Would we be different?

I know they say that you have to learn from your mistakes, so sometimes it's worth it to not get the happy ending that you were hoping for. For example, I've learned that some people don't love boy bands as much as I used to, so they probably wouldn't want to hear about how I can name that boy band in three notes or how I jumped up and down and screamed like a banshee along with all the other teenage girls when I saw the Backstreet Boys perform live.

But there are some endings in my life that I wish I could rewrite. Here are a few examples:

In my happy ending, none of my students would bring their papers to my office and expect me to tell them exactly what to "fix" and what to write so that they'll get A's (FYI: that's exactly how they phrase it). They would come up with their own ideas and learn that writing is not about filling in the blanks.

The undergrads would actually want to spend more time reading novels by authors like Jhumpa Lahiri and Ernest Hemingway instead of Facebook postings by their friends and Tweets by reality show stars who are famous for spending their parents' money or throwing tantrums in public.

My students would never blame me when they get bad grades. They'd never say it was because I wasn't a good teacher or because I graded them too harshly. They'd  say stuff like, "Hey! I guess I really should go to class every day!" or "Wow, I never thought that sleeping in class would make me miss out on important information. I guess I shouldn't do that anymore!" or "I'm sorry that I told you that I know more about literature than you do. I was wrong. To make up for it, I'll clean out your office and do your grocery shopping for you!" or "Cell phones are the devil's toys! I will never use my cell phone ever again!"

All the guys who said they would call but never did finally would call. They'd say stuff like, "I'm sorry I thought I was hot enough to get a model. It turns out that I'm not. None of those Victoria's Secret girls ever called me back! Now I know how you felt when I didn't call you! Will you give me another chance?"

Then I would say, "NO! Kiss this, losers!" And then I'd hang up on them. And if this was a really happy ending, they'd go on dates with beautiful women who spend the whole time flirting with waiters and reciting long monologues about their lives without letting them get a word in, so that the guys really would know exactly how I felt when I dated them.

The guys I've met on online dating sites who pull disappearing acts would be effectively "punished" by being forced to read through all the creepy e-mails that guys have sent me, such as the guy who wrote, "I'll show you my naked pictures if you show me yours" (guess how quickly I blocked him). Then maybe they would stop acting like jerks and realize that they shouldn't get women's hopes up by pretending to be nice guys who are actually interested in them.

In my happy ending, I'd know just what to say to all the people who act condescendingly towards me because I don't make as much money as they do or haven't accomplished as much as they have. I'd say, "So what if you think you're better than me? You're the only person in the world who does!"  Then I'd rip open my shirt, revealing my crime-fighting superhero costume, and I'd leave them in the dust as I flew away.

My department would make sure that all the graduate students have enough money to live on, so that I don't have to work a zillion low-paying, part-time jobs and have a lot less time to study than the students who are supported by loans or spouses with full-time jobs. Then when I go to stores, I wouldn't automatically start reshelving books or folding clothes before I think to myself, "Wait! I don't actually work here."

 When I have to work yet another retail job, my employers would say, "You know what? The customer is not always right!" Then when (not if) customers are rude to me, I'd get to make them do my job for a week, so that by the end of the week they'll have pulled all of their hair out and I'll find them lying on the floor of the store, curled up in the fetal position.

In my happy ending, no one would nag or criticize me for being the way that I am, because they would think that being an obsessive, neurotic workaholic is cool.

What about you? If you could rewrite the ending to something that happened to you, would you? What does your happy ending look like?


  1. I often wish I could go back in time so life would be easier now. But I think of the consequences. What if it was BEFORE I had kids? Would I still get those kids? Would life play a cruel joke and make me get hit by a truck?

    All I can do is live the life I've got.

    That's why writing books is so satisfying - it gives us time to get just the right quip to come out of our mouths at the right time.

    Too bad your students will never know they were one of those people.

    I fly by the seat of my pants when I write too. I can't imagine outlining.

    And I won't share which bands I screeched at memorized the lyrics to.

  2. I'm not sure If I would re-write a happy ending onto my past experiences. I'm kind of the thought that a happy ending is a one time thing, something you work towards, drive for. It's nice knowing that it's coming or could be around the corner at any point in my life. Without all the crap I don't think I'd appreciate the "happy" to.

    Plus, any past ending that leads to a happy ending must be a necessary ending, right?

  3. No regrets.

    Haha, just kidding. I would have tried harder with the men I played hard to get with. The men who played hard to get would get over themselves too and we would recognize that we're great together and we would have had some awesome, really fun dates. I would have initiated the awesome, really fun dates with the guys that I actually wanted to do them with. I would have become politically active and somehow, magically changed the system so that I could get the job I wanted. I would have been professional about voicing my concerns rather than passive aggressively inactive to protest stupidity. Everyone else would have been proactive too and we would have constantly been working towards a beautiful ending that is super perfect and awesome. And we'd all just be enjoying the good times and facing all the problems with level heads and logic and awesome problem solving skills. I would convince the world that education should be a super high priority always.

    I can still do it though. It took all the pitfalls of the past to even get to realizing those as issues to fix, so I suppose, in the end, really... no regrets.

  4. I love your version of the world! Especially the retail one. There's nothing worse than rude customers and not being able to say anything back to them.

    I've taken a lot of turns and curves in my life, but quite honestly, I wouldn't take any of them back again... they've all given me material to write about now, even the bad experiences. I know that sounds like a cop-out, but it's true!

  5. Hi Theresa,
    I'm willing to bet that my students would deny everything.
    I know what you mean about writing. Sometimes I put the witty retorts that I never got to say in real life in my writing. I tried outlining, but it was too hard, especially because new ideas and characters kept popping up. Then I felt like I had to go and redo the outline all over again.

    Hi Tom,
    I can see what you're saying. I just hope that a happy ending will happen for me, because there's no guarantee that it will. I know that sounds pessimistic, but I will say that I was a lot more optimistic before I started going on a series of bad dates.

    Hi mmarinaa,
    I like all of your ideas for a happy ending, especially the part about convincing the world that education should be a high priority. That's the thing; I read somewhere that a lot of college students view themselves as "consumers" because they pay tuition, so they get upset if their teachers don't provide good "customer service". I'm not saying that all students are like that, but it does explain a lot.

    Hi Talli,
    I wish I could have said what I was really thinking to customers in retail, because then maybe they'd have treated the next salesperson with respect. You're right in that our experiences have given us a lot to write about. And at least in fiction, we can write the happy endings that we always wanted.

  6. I agree that I would have rewritten some of my life differently, but I'm also grateful for where I am today. I'm stronger because of my trials, just as my characters are stronger after I put them through hell. Isn't that true of life? Plus, there's always next time. I'm a big believer of redemption and second changes.
    As always, I enjoyed reading this post!

  7. Hi, E.R. King,
    Thanks! I suppose I'm stronger too because of some of the experiences that I've had. For example, when I first started teaching, I was very nervous and unsure of myself; I let a few too many students walk all over me. I shouldn't have done that, and I would never put up with that today.

  8. I don't think I'd be game to write my own happy ending. I've learned a lot from unhappy endings. More than I would have if I'd rewritten.

  9. I like the one about graduate students having enough money. We could use that at our house!

  10. Hi Lynda,
    I have learned a lot from my unhappy endings too; I just wish that more things would end the way I wanted them to.

    Hi Deniz,
    I wish I didn't have to work so much, then I could focus on the primary reason that I am in graduate school, which is to study and learn. I often spend more time on my other part-time jobs than on my studies, and then my studies suffer as a result.

  11. You have a nice assortment of happy endings. Read more literature & less FB and twitter is a great start.

    I sincerely hope you don't have to work another retail job & you work as a professor.

    I also hope that you meet Mr. Right real soon!

  12. Hi notesfromnadir,
    I definitely don't want to work another retail job. I am going to try and look for something else this summer, because my retail job last summer definitely ruined the time off from school.
    I hope I do meet Mr. Right someday soon.