I just finished John Irving’s most recent book, In One Person, which was not at all about Michigan, but (unsurprisingly) got me thinking about Michigan all the same. One line in particular did, anyway:
“Perhaps you need to have your world change, your entire world, to understand why anyone would write an epilogue.
This line spoke to me, perhaps because I’ve recently finished writing a book. It has an epilogue, and the reason why is because the major change in the life of the narrator happens after the end of the story. The whole world changes, and the reader needs to know. I hadn’t realized that this was why the epilogue needed to be there, I just felt that it did. The story itself is compelling (I hope!), but its only real power is in the change it inspired — a whole world of change.
Again, what does that have to do with Michigan? Hang on. I’m getting there. Last spring I wrote about a TV show I watched with my family, Smithsonian Channel’s Aerial America that I felt depicted Michigan in a totally awful way. It flew briefly over the state’s natural wonders, totally bypassed the gorgeous city of Grand Rapids and its 774,000 residents, took a peek at The Big House in Ann Arbor and then spent the rest of the time on aerial footage of burned out automotive plants.
Thanks, Smithsonian. It frustrated me for a bunch of super legitimate reasons, but chief among them is the fact that the story of the automotive industry’s decline just isn’t our story right now. And it’s not just that silly cable show that keeps telling it. It seems every high-level depiction of Detroit and our state is overwhelmed by the same story. It was our story. It impacts our present, and it informs everything about our future story, but it is not what is happening right now. While we’re not quite ready to pen the epilogue yet, we are so done with that part of the narrative.
One of the reasons one might write an epilogue instead of simply continuing on with the original story is that there simply isn’t the time to include it all without disrupting the flow of the narrative. When an “entire world” changes, there’s a lot going on. Like here in Michigan, where so much is changing in our economy, our governments, our schools, technology, building practices, food systems, ecological system, transportation, our media — everything is changing here, and not just a little bit. It’s overwhelming. As a journalist, it’s tough to grasp the themes and feel out the pace of the overarching narrative, even when I’m writing about it one story at a time.
So I guess I can empathize with the Smithsonian Channel a tiny bit. It’s hard to tell someone’s story while it’s happening; while they are in the gap between the story and the epilogue. The story of Detroit’s decline is certainly very compelling. But it’s real power will prove to be the change we’re making right now. Epiloge pending.