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Final Flourish

By July 25, 2012Blog, Uncategorized

Many years ago, I worked in an arthouse cinema as a popcorn girl and one of the perks of the job were the free movies I was allowed to watch. One film I remember watching again and again was a beautiful biography of James Baldwin called The Price of the Ticket. According to the film, Baldwin was known to write late into the night, and often in the midst of boozy socializing. One evening, Baldwin’s lover sauntered into his study just as Baldwin was typing “THE END” (to Another Country). Just imagine: six letters to cap off HUNDREDS of pages and YEARS of work. Was there fanfare? Did Baldwin run victory laps around the room? Apparently not. Baldwin simply added the final page to his pile and when he was satisfied, he stood up and rejoined the party. When I heard this story, I thought: I’d like to be like that. I’d like my work to unfold without fuss, to exist amid the flow of the world. I would like to be a relaxed but firm finisher.

I was recently reminded of Baldwin when I saw this video.

Just watch how Glenn Gould finishes a performance. Watch his final hand movement, the way he snatches his fingers back from the keyboard as he reaches the end. If you watch other Gould performances, you will see the same shocking confidence and definitive stop. In some cases, his hand gesture is so dramatic and reflexive it is as if he has just experienced an electric shock, or been burned by the accumulated heat of his performance. For a queasy finisher such as myself, Gould’s certainty inspires awe and envy and gives me something to aspire to. One day I will end something firmly, with a bold flourish and maybe even some happy off-key humming! Until then, here’s to joyful and wonky beginnings…

For more thoughts on endings, see here and here.