Almost and In-Between

Reading is a brave thing to do.  We must sally forth into the unknown imaginative world.  We must suspend our disbelief.  We must agree to follow the rules of the text. 

We often end up living in a space of almost understanding.

I want to take a moment to honor the almost.  We tend to race past this; it’s not always comfortable to entertain uncertainty.

But before the analysis phase is the inarticulated-response phase, where we’ve had an experience but haven’t tried to put language to it yet.

A good comparison might be the point when you walk out of a movie and someone asks, “What did you think?”  Maybe you hesitate to reply because you are still sorting through the aftereffects of image and sound, the meanderings of plot, the power of elicited emotions, etc.

There’s something lovely about being immersed in the ambiguities of the artistic experience, about not having to categorize everything.  Yet the opportunity to remain there, pondering, is often elusive.  We humans tend to reach for order and closure.

Sometimes the piece of art itself encourages this sense of in-between-ness. Take, for example, “This is a Photograph of Me” by the amazing Margaret Atwood.  At first, it simply seems to describe a blurry photograph of a lake scene. But then we are informed that the picture “was taken / the day after I drowned,” and we are invited to look more closely for the speaker beneath the surface of the lake. Suddenly what seems to be a flat photograph takes on complex depth and raises multiple questions. It’s a fascinating and haunting poem: we are never given all the answers, but we do know the voice has something to tell us about seeing differently. It makes us actively engage.

And now for the connection to our topic of choice around here: that same sense of almost understanding is the desired mode when we read mysteries.  We want to sustain that place of suspension.

Yes, we expect a solution to be offered eventually, of course, but upfront?  No thanks. We want to know something has been done, but not why or by whom. Throughout the rest of the text, we want the chance to piece things together, entertain various scenarios, puzzle things out…almost seeing the solution but not quite. We choose to “dwell in possibility” (hat tip, Emily Dickinson for that phrase).

This often holds true from the writing side too–drafting a book can definitely evoke that sense of uncertainty, which may feel especially appropriate to anyone diving into NaNoWriMo this month!

Do you enjoy or resist “the almost”? What activities tend to evoke it the most?

22 thoughts on “Almost and In-Between

  1. Interesting post! I would say I am a fan of “the almost,” although I never really thought about it before. There’s just something that pulls you in when you don’t quite have everything figured out.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. So true, Cynthia! My ms. is “almost” done—and has been for awhile, lol. So that’s a good thing, right? (And probably why I will be a pantser forever, despite my best efforts otherwise.) I’m also a reader/viewer who needs time to process afterward, to let things “gel.” Somtimes books or shows will unexpectedly stick with me for a very long time. I love the “But wait, what if…?”

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  3. What a lovely, thoughtful post, Cyn. I love reading fiction because–unlike with movies or TV–it’s the one thing that allows me to completely lose myself in the story. And it’s that “almost” that keeps me breathlessly turning the pages till the very end. But then when you do finally finish, there’s a kind of sadness.

    I never thought about it before, but it’s a bit like Schrödinger’s cat, no?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Definitely like this post. I adore meditating on the arts. Do it all the time. But no one I know gets the arts like me. So I am definitely a loner, and ponder by myself all the time.
      But now you got me thinking about the unknown and closure all all that.
      Don’t have time for this! Lol!

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Cynthia, this is such a beautiful, poetic post! I’d never really thought about it until you placed it like a feast before me. But I LOVE the almost. When my husband and I watch a movie together I am happy to let the story unfold in its own time because I trust writers, I guess. But hubs gets so impatient. If there’s a long, slow pan to the grandfather clock I get all excited … “Oooh, that’s gonna be important!” and I try to figure out how. But he gets all twitchy … “What’s the deal with the clock, anyway??”

    And while I’m thinking about it, you should really be an English professor. [winky face]

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Cynthia, this is a fabulous post, one that has both my brain and my senses careening in all sorts of interesting ways. However, exisiting in the current almost-election state has robbed me of any sensible reply. This is a situation that cries out for a resolution.


  6. What a lovely, lovely post, Cynthia.

    I absolutely love the almost. There is so much power in that possibility. It reminds me of the French phrase, “presque vu,” which means almost seen. It’s the feeling of being on the break of a discovery or that something is on the tip of your brain. When I’m reading a mystery and getting caught up in the almost, I swear I can hear my neurons firing as they try to make the connections!


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