Thursday, January 3, 2013

Endings and Beginnings (Why We Hate Them, But Why They're Necessary)

"Everything's got to end sometime, otherwise nothing would ever get started." -- Doctor Who

Let’s be honest here – very few people actually enjoy endings.

Oh, sure, we love the idea of finales. We built up the anticipation of the Friends finale so much in our heads, and it still didn’t disappoint us. We mourn the ending of the Harry Potter movie franchise, but celebrate it until (and long after) we walk out of the theatre. Sometimes, we rejoice in endings of things. We wish the Twilight series had ended after the first movie. And then we just wonder why there had to be eleven different sequels to The Land Before Time.

Endings are sad and painful. But ironically enough, both the above GIF and quote below it were spoken by the same Time Lord, the eleventh incarnation of The Doctor. Because the truth is that even though we hate endings, even though we would rather stretch the things we love out forever, keep the casts of our favorite television shows united… things end. People move on. In “The Angels Take Manhattan,” the Doctor rips out the final page of the novel he is reading because he hates when books end. Have you ever read a book so good that you were actually dreading the ending? Have you ever cried not because a film was sad but because it was over?

The most recent example of this for me was the final film in the Harry Potter franchise – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. It wasn’t the Epilogue, though, that caused my tears to flow. It was the moment the camera panned over Harry, Ron, and Hermione all holding hands. It was the last time they would be together, before their lives would change. It was their last moment of peace, just the three of them. It was the end of the trio. And that’s when the realization hit me – it was actually OVER. Harry Potter was a part of my childhood and therefore an extension of myself. And in a scene that couldn’t have lasted more than thirty seconds… it was all over.

I love the quote from the Doctor Who special “A Christmas Carol” that I noted above. Beginnings are exhilarating, but so are endings, when you think about it. If nothing ever ended, nothing could begin. Think about it – what are some of your favorite television shows? What were some of your favorite shows five years ago? Ten? Twenty (if you can remember that far back)? Unless you’re a fan of soap operas, chances are most of the shows you held dear from years past have ended. Scrubs, Friends, 7th Heaven, Providence, Reba, and Full House were all shows that I once watched and adored for various reasons. But they’ve all ended, and now my life and television schedule is full of programs like Community, Doctor Who, Suits, and New Girl. If those shows wouldn’t have ended, new shows simply couldn’t have begun.

I don’t mean, of course, to diminish the pain felt by losing something you’re attached to. I still bawl uncontrollably whenever I watch the finale of Friends, a sitcom that ran for eleven years and was beloved by millions. It’s difficult and heartbreaking to watch the actors and actresses place the keys to their apartments atop the counter. It signals the end of an era – the nail in something that feels too final, too over, too sad. Are endings usually exciting? No. Even comedies cause viewers to cry because we are human. We develop emotional attachments to the characters we see on television. We feel connected to the actors that play them, and we adore the people who create the world these characters live in.

But it’s more than that. The reason, I think, we feel so devastated when a series, movie, book, etc. ends is because of our deep desire to preserve what is good. Let’s bring back Harry Potter as an example, shall we? The reason that I felt so sad watching Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint’s final scene was, boiled down to its core, because I knew this was the last time the three actors would be together. I knew how sad it was for THEM, and that in turn made ME sad. When Scrubs ended, it was sad to part with the wonderful relationship J.D. and Turk had. It made me cognizant of the fact that those two characters would never be presented to me again.

So when Megan Ganz announced recently that she had taken a job writing for Modern Family, our little Community bubble burst. A lot of fans felt conflicted – were they supposed to be happy for her? Sad in regards to Community? How were we supposed to feel? How should we react? How do we react to news that Andy Bobrow’s pilot was picked up?

How do we handle endings?

There’s no secret formula. I’m not an expert and may, in fact, be a terrible person to talk to regarding change. I hate change. I don’t like deviating from a routine. I take the same route to work every morning and have the same schedule for most days of the week. Change isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse. I’m not good at it and it makes me uncomfortable. I think that this makes me human. Actually, I KNOW that this makes me human.

We aren’t ever going to completely and utterly love change. It’s not a part of our human nature to enjoy feeling unsettled. Because that’s what change does to us – it unsettles. It causes unease and unrest and lots of other things with the prefix un- in them. But in all that awkwardness and confusion and sometimes just downright chaos, we tend to find ourselves spiraling into worry. We become consumed with ourselves, our needs, our wants, OUR fears. And we lose sight of something – change does not just happen to us and us alone. Change is a universal condition. Change happens to everyone. And we are not alone.

I won’t paraphrase Megan Ganz’s note to fans, because I wouldn’t do it justice. This is her farewell, of sorts (because it’s not really a farewell) in its entirety:

“Does anyone know how long it takes paper mache to dry?” 
That was the first line I ever wrote for Community. I'd gotten other small jokes and similar word fragments into earlier episodes, but #208 was my first episode, and this was the first line, and I remember it went all the way from my writer's draft to set basically unchanged. Through rewrites I watched it bob along, past Harmon's mighty hammer, right on through to the table read and into the sides that were given to the actors on the first day of filming. It was like when you and your friends would race leaves down the river--if you grew up in Michigan and did that sort of thing. 
We filmed the bottle episode in chronological order so this was the first line that we shot and I remember sitting at the monitors at 7am on the first day thinking, "If they call action and no one runs in here screaming 'stop the TV-equivalent of presses,' then I will have written a line that will appear on a television show. I'll be a television writer." And the director did call action--as they do--and so I was. Just like that. 
For the last three years, the sum total of my contribution to this planet (in terms of effort, passion, and things I let myself go soft and pimply for) could be described as follows: Community. Recently, I was offered a job writing for Modern Family, and although it's unclear what will happen with Community for the fifth season (or the sixth season, or the movie), I've decided to take this new position. Tomorrow is my first day and I'm excited and scared to start this new... well, everything. I'm sure the coffee will probably be the same. 
This isn't the end of me and Greendale. Community was my world for four seasons and my job for three, and has hold of my whole heart like a bad-news high school boyfriend. I'll never really get away. The chemistry is too perfect and the writing room couches aren't really that uncomfortable to sleep on and I just can't stop writing for Britta. Plus I still have to do my editing pass on the finale. I think I left a box in my office, too. Bobrow probably misses me. Better stop by on my way home. 
I guess what I'm saying is, it took me a really long time to write this to you guys, and it's not even that good. Pretty sappy, no punchlines, kind of vague about my future with the show, too little excitement about the new gig, etc. Okay, so not my best work. Maybe I'll take it down and not say goodbye just yet. I just need a little more time. 
About three hours longer than it took Duncan to think up this assignment.

It’s hard to dwell on positives when it feels like your world is shifting into the unknown. And as fans of Community, we’ve had a lot of that in the recent months. We’re almost to a point where we’re unfazed by change, simply numb to the prospect of any sort of happiness regarding the show we love. So when Ganz announced her new venture, a lot of people numbly accepted this as a sign that Community wouldn’t be receiving a fifth season. And while the note above states (and Bobrow has stated, too) that this is not the case, a lot of us are pessimists by nature, and some are optimists-turned-pessimists, thanks to NBC’s treatment of the television series.

As for me, I feel like I am one of the few who can genuinely and with great confidence say that I am thrilled for Megan Ganz. I’m not just excited for her – I’m elated. Most of you are narrowing your eyes at your screens, folding your arms over your chest and huffing: “Well aren’t you all high and mighty? I’M happy for her, too, you know. Just because I’m upset with how things are changing doesn’t mean I can’t be happy that she’s found a new job.”

Happiness doesn’t come with caveats, though. We shouldn’t (and I’m not accusing anyone of this, just in general we – fans of the show) be spamming Ganz with “WAHHHHHHHH WE’RE GOING TO MISS YOU SO MUCH” or even worse: “I’m happy for you, but I’m also sad.” Megan Ganz, I can assure you, knows how you all are feeling. She feels the exact same way. She’s leaving a job she’s had for three years and venturing into the unknown. Do you think she’s terrified? If she’s human, I would bet that she is. Do you think she’s sad? Again – if she’s human, I would venture to bet that she is. She doesn’t need us telling her that WE are sad, too. I know that you all are. I know that a lot of you are mourning her departure because you love her as a writer for the show. We all herald her as one of the greats, because she IS. Megan Ganz is extremely, insanely, and brilliantly talented at what she does.

It just so happens that when you’re extremely, insanely, and brilliantly talented at what you do, other people take notice.

We don’t like endings. We want to rip the last page of the story out, hold onto the final script, forgo the wrap parties and goodbyes and curl up in our blankets. We don’t want things to end, myself included. Make no mistake, especially if you feel like I’m chastising you, I WILL cry very hard when Community ends. Greendale has been my home and it will always be where I belong. 

But as the Eleventh Doctor said, if nothing ends, nothing can ever begin.

So what good can possibly come from Megan Ganz leaving Community for another job? What silver lining can you cling to? Well, take, for starters, what I stated a few paragraphs above this one. People (specifically at Modern Family) have taken notice of how talented Megan Ganz is. THAT is something to celebrate.

As a writer (as someone who does more technical writing and boring online course development for a living, but who writes creatively as something she loves), there is nothing I would love more than to have someone take notice of my craft. I love you guys earnestly and sincerely. And I cherish every single one of your comments and compliments. They make me smile and impact me more than you realize. And you all are (mostly) complete strangers.

Imagine, for a moment, that you were a writer. Imagine that you blogged in your spare time and that the blog began to accrue hits and the page count increased steadily. Picture yourself receiving positive comments from anonymous readers. I bet you would be happy about this.  You may even be downright giddy. Now picture yourself blogging in a local Starbucks, when in walks JK Rowling or John Green or Jane Austen or F. Scott Fitzgerald (play along with me because the latter require suspension of disbelief). They scan the coffee shop and their eyes fall on you, typing away at your laptop. 

Within moments, they are seated across from you, wide smile stretched across their face. They tell you that they have discovered your blog from a friend of a friend and recognized your face. They shake your hand and tell you how much they adore your writing. They compliment you. How would you feel?

I could tell you how I would feel – validated. Acknowledged. Appreciated. Recognized.

Now, that analogy is not meant undercut the praise and significant impact that Ganz has had on Community. It’s not as if critics or fans or her bosses or fellow writers dismiss her achievements with the show itself. Those who watch and work for Community praise and lavish Ganz for her writing, with good reason. Harmon appreciated and respected her, and I'm sure that the new showrunners did as well. The cast loved her, and I'm pretty sure that the other writers weren't begging to kick her to the curb. 

But, as we all know, Community struggles in the ratings department. We lose weekly to those pesky Nielsen unicorns as they romp around CBS. The possibilities for Megan Ganz to become even more renown than she is within our little bubble, our sphere of appreciation… well, they’re endless if she writes for Modern Family. I would love nothing more, in fact, than to witness more people fall in love with Ganz as a writer, just like I have. It would give me joy if people fell in love with a Modern Family episode she wrote, just like it gives me joy when people fall in love with her Community episodes. Because the bottom line is this: they are falling in love with the writer and his or her work, regardless of the show they are writing FOR.

Returning to my analogy just briefly, if that author you admire paused before leaving and handed you their business card, you would be insane not to contact them at some point. Many factors may play into the decision to take a job with that person or company, but when someone else recognizes your talents and gifts and expresses their interest in you, well… you’d be crazy not to at least indulge them.

Like the show or not, Modern Family is an awards success. The academies cannot get enough of this show. So, when Ganz announced that she would be taking a job, my first thought was: “This could open so many doors for her.” How would you feel if you sat through an Emmys ceremony and watched Ganz win something for Modern Family? Conflicted, perhaps, wishing that she had been more acknowledged for Community? Ecstatic because her talent is being recognized? Proud to call her a fellow Human Being?

The truth is that endings aren’t fun, nor are they easy. No one deals with them in the same way and there IS no right or wrong way to respond to something like a beloved writer leaving your favorite sitcom for another show. In the midst of the sadness and confusion and just plain weirdness, though, I’d encourage two things: 1) congratulate Megan Ganz and encourage her. No two people deal with endings the same way, but that doesn’t mean we need to wallow in their very existence. Wallowing has never solved anything, nor has it helped anyone. Vent to your friends and family, but to Ganz? Show her some encouragement. Being a new employee anywhere, regardless of if it’s Hollywood or McDonald’s, isn’t easy or fun. And we should be there for her, happy for her, and readily remind her that she will always be a Human Being to us. Greendale’s doors are never truly closed. 2) Try to find the good in the goodbye. It’s not always easy, but something positive is always around the corner, whether we see it or not. Be thankful for “Cooperative Calligraphy” and “Basic Lupine Urology.” For “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” and “Documentary Filmmaking Redux.” And for those episodes we have not even seen yet. Rejoice in the fact that this show, this beautiful and wonderful show, has brought people into your life – people you would never have been able to meet had it not been for Community.

I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe we were all brought together for a reason and for a purpose. Whether that purpose is to help out someone you just met online by encouraging them, making them laugh, or being their shoulder to cry on, or whether your role is much bigger and deeper than that, we all have purpose.

Everything’s got to end sometime, remember, for anything to ever begin. Because new adventures are waiting around every corner. And they’re waiting just for US.


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