I'm now quite a few months into what I'm calling Act III of my life, that final act where all the plot questions posed in the first two acts are answered, the themes illuminated, the ending delivered to the audience in some deeply satisfying way.
So far, Act III hasn't looked all that different, I must say, from Act II. I'm back teaching at DePauw in Indiana, an opportunity I initially rejected because I thought it would look like too much like an awkward, repetitive scene recycled from earlier in the play. I'm still wrestling with a lot of Act II's same professional, financial, and familial challenges. While it isn't surprising that there would be considerable continuity from one act to another, I was hoping for more dramatic progress in the production. I was hoping for a hint that some of these challenges would eventually be resolved, preferably before the final curtain.
Now I'm thinking that what Act III needs is some big Oh-My-God moment, where the audience gives an audible gasp: "We totally did NOT see that coming!" But if it's going to be a good play, the audience (and of course I realize that I'm the only real audience here) can't think they've somehow wandered back into the wrong theater after the last intermission, that they've stumbled into a completely different play. The OMG moments have to be surprising, but recognizably part of the same story. They have to catch the audience unawares, but then occasion the reflection that, in the end, the story turned out the way it had to, despite some plot twists.
I just spent the weekend with my friend Robin, who visited me from Maryland, where she works as a music specialist/librarian in the Music Division at the Library of Congress. She's heading toward Act III herself, so much of our conversation turned on how we're going to live out the final third of our lives. Both of us are taken with this idea of provoking an audible gasp. We want to live now in a way to surprise ourselves and others.
We decided, though, that we can't just announce to the universe that we're ready for a surprise, though that is a start. I do think the universe pays attention to such declarations of intent. But we also need to provide the optimal conditions in which surprise can take place. Robin thinks this means finding some way to step out of our comfort zones: say, by signing up to do something completely new and different, preferably a little bit scary. At the very least it involves saying yes if a new, different, and scary option presents itself.
What kinds of new, different, and scary things might I decide to do?
A few ideas from my list:
Live alone in a foreign country that isn't Canada or western Europe or a haven for expatriates
Take voice lessons (singing is the talent I don't have that I most wish I did)
Write a completely different kind of book: creative nonfiction, a memoir, a collection of poems (okay, that's not SO different from what I've already done, but it's what gives me the biggest tingle of anticipation)
Run a marathon (step one: run around the block)
Climb one of Colorado's fifty fourteeners, and then maybe climb all of them
Change the hairdo I've had since high school (ooh! that might be too scary even to contemplate!)
What kinds of new, different, and scary things might you decide to do?