In story we are accustomed to the circular movement of beginning, middle and end. The beginning typically involves a protagonist experiencing an internal or/and external conflict. S/he is generally in a state of lack and needing to obtain, confront, overcome or learn something in order to reach the desired outcome and move forward. The middle classically comprises of obstacles being faced. Depending on what the antagonistic forces or figures within the story are, this can involve the challenge of learning lessons; working towards physical and material goals or managing difficult encounters and relationships with secondary characters. The end typically offers a resolution of sorts whether it be towards the positive or negative. The point being something has happened and the protagonist’s world, state of being and affairs is no longer what it was in the beginning. Something significant has taken place to initiate change and ideally establish balance to the protagonist’s circumstances.
This change, or happening is central to story and what makes the distinction between beginning and ending possible. Writer’s refer to the most important change in story as character arc or growth. It involves the protagonist experiencing some kind of irreversible change resulting from the story’s climax. For example in a coming of age story the protagonist might begin as immature, idealistic and impulsive and by the end have reached a state of maturity, insight and calm. The story has come full circle to conclude with the protagonist no longer essentially the same as s/he was at the story’s beginning. Life too can be experienced as full of turning points and climatic moments in which we are irreversibly changed. They take place through an ongoing series of beginnings, middles and endings throughout our stages of human development. Childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age and old age each have a beginning, middle and end as they open up to and inform the next stage of life. Each stage is comprised of different preoccupations, goals and desires motivating us. Where we live and frequent; various communities and clubs we join; jobs; friendships, family and romantic relationships too have their subset of beginnings, middles and endings. However in life, as in some alternative storytelling, it’s possible for there to be no arc or turning point. An example of this is effectively depicted in Adam Salky’s recent film, ‘I Smile Back’ (2015).
Laney Brooks, an upper-middle class mother and wife, addict and often self-sabotaging woman, struggles with the traumatic affects of her father’s abandonment when she was nine at the film’s opening. This pain and dysfunction she’s introduced with does not end or undergo any sort of relief or acceptance by the film’s close. What has ended is Laney’s marriage and living with her children and she is at the beginning of a life alone and at the full mercy of her addiction and compulsion to self-destruct. There is no sign that she has the will or capacity to fight and overcome this in order find a way back to being able to effectively mother and love her children. In this story the turning point towards the positive could be argued to take place in Laney’s husband, Josh Brooks, who no longer accepts his wife lying to him or exposing their children to the potential danger and inappropriate exposure that comes with Laney’s addiction and behavior. His putting an end to the domestic dysfunction adversely affecting the family initiates Laney’s life without her husband and children and her children’s life with an absent mother. This repeats her own experience of parental abandonment and echoes the reality of prolific intergenerational trauma..
Lives are filled with threads that begin, end and repeat themselves regardless of whether they lead to growth, stagnation, regression or repetition. Nonetheless, with every ending comes a new beginning and with every beginning comes a new middle and end. Typically I find beginnings anxiety provoking. At the start I always find there’s too much unknown and I feel overwhelmed which makes it hard to identify where to begin. For example, for years I’d been accustomed to working on a PhD, novel and living alone in Chelsea where ‘Warrior’ is set. With the completion of these projects all these aspects of my life abruptly ended. And with these endings came new beginnings I’m still adjusting to. I’ve gone from living in the outer suburbs to inner city; reaching a PhD level in one discipline to being a beginner in another by enrolling into a Graduate Diploma of Psychology; mastering how to write a novel length story to not knowing how to set up a website and blog which brings me full circle to how I felt at the beginning of my PhD.
Back then, I had no idea what I was doing or if I had what it took to complete such a project. Furthermore, I was coming undone from the inside and fast. Everything I’d been running from and was petrified of dealing with, was caving in on me because my mechanisms for avoiding my past refused to keep working. It was at this time that I met a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, Peter through Glen Nevis Clinic. I was in the midst of explaining to him that I’d decided not to start our work together because there was just too much ‘stuff’ to get through, not enough time and he seemed too nice to be exposed to the kind of things I’d end up saying. He smiled at me and said,
“What’s there to lose in trying me? Besides, whether it’s now or in ten, twenty years time, you’re always going to have to start somewhere. I’m willing to start and proceed with you, if you wish.”
“You’re always going to have to start somewhere.” Most would immediately recognise this phrase as derivative of the cliche, “You have to start somewhere” but I didn’t and it had the most profound effect on me. It had never occurred to me that I could simply start somewhere, with one detail because everything was happening all at once in my head and so it felt as though I must do, say and accomplish everything all at once. Hearing Peter say to “start somewhere” was all I could do and his being willing start with me proved a turning point for me. And my choosing to start with his assistance became a positive experience that irreversibly changed me and my life.
During the two and a half years I worked with Peter, two sessions each week, through the low cost program Glen Nevis offers, I unpacked and analysed my childhood and adolescence in relation to who I’d become. This helped me identify how and why certain experiences in my past continued to negatively affect me and by understanding the automatic mechanisms at play I could change them. We discussed my PhD project and I brought my collection of short stories to check all the characters rang psychologically true, especially when it came to those I didn’t fully understand. We also did this with an earlier draft of ‘Warrior.’ I did this for a long time before I was able to begin discussing the dramas I was repeating in my present life while I moved seven times throughout North Melbourne until finally settling in Carlton before moving to Chelsea where I could write authentically in the place that inspired the novel. My return to Chelsea came at the end of working with Peter even though my ‘stuff’ was far from being worked through. The end of that relationship came with the beginning of one with a counselor, Tatianna who would complete the rest of my journey through the effects of my complex childhood trauma. The path I began to walk with Peter is now at an end where very little of the person he met six years ago remains.
My first blog post is the point in which I choose to “start somewhere” in this new phase of my life as I transition from the person helped and receiving to the one being able to help and give through sharing my experience, research, insights and observations.
Thank you for beginning with me by reading.
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