1. an event, conclusion, statement, etc., that is far less important, powerful, or striking than expected.2. a descent in power, quality, dignity, etc.; a disappointing, weak, or inglorious conclusion: After serving as President, he may find life in retirement an anticlimax.
3. a noticeable or ludicrous descent from lofty ideas or expressions to banalities or commonplace remarks: We were amused by the anticlimax of the company’s motto: “For God, for country, and for AcmeGasworks.”
The most crushing feeling in the world is not necessarily a massive confrontation but the sense of anti-climax when something comes to an end, not with a bang but with a whimper, in the words of TS Eliot.
Here I’m talking about our everyday lives, not writing, tempting though that is. You know the feeling – not hatred or anger, just emptiness and disappointment. In the end my lifestyle is set up to let me down in this way at regular intervals. Any client assignment goes through a regular cycle of building up towards a crescendo, only to disappear into nothingness with barely a puff of smoke, as if all that striving was ultimately in vain and that your legacy will be forgotten before it starts. All that is left is the transactional value you delivered while you were there, and the money the client paid for your services. The rest is memory.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the same is true of every am dram production I’m involved with. While you’re rehearsing the excitement builds towards showtime. Then you’re out on stage and the adrenalin is pumping. If things go well, the audience will laugh and cry and applaud in equal measure, you soak up the thrills and the spills, take your bows and return to the green room. Then the audience goes home, the stage is stripped of its furniture and props, the chairs put away, the set dismantled and every vestige of the show consigned to history. In the time I was with the Hoddesdon Players, the stage was fully cleared an hour from the final bows, when as an actor you were ready to do a summer season. All that keeps you going is the auditions for the next production, and the cycle starts again.
Anti-climaxes can come anywhere at any time but they are far worse when you’ve built yourself up for a big moment. Remember the date when you were a teenager with the girl you really fancied, where you dolled yourself up and stood outside the cinema bursting with anticipation, only for her to stand you up? Every woman’s fear, conversely, might be that of being jilted at the altar.
Then there’s that hope when you’re wishing desperately for your team to go out and achieve a moment of glory in whatever match it happens to be. You cheer loud and long, but the tide turns against you, slowly at first and then gradually it becomes a rout. Your hope evaporates and you’re left with the crushing disappointment, you can’t wait for the match to end and to go home.
At least being a Manchester United fan has its benefits, since in the Fergie era my club has developed a resilience rarely known before, with comebacks from the dead in injury time almost de rigueur. However, football fans in general have been known to leave as early as half an hour into a game when things aren’t going their way, but by taking that course (in spite of the vast cost of tickets) just occasionally that means they miss a miracle. So the message has to be not to give in too soon and to play until the final whistle – though once your hope of victory has gone and you are enveloped in a cloud of anticlimactic gloom, nothing will shake the inevitability of your worst fears. It’s not the shame of defeat, though taunting by rival fans in the pub won’t help, but the vacuum created when the bubble of optimism pops. The higher the expectation, the bigger the fall.
With my positivist hat on I would say there is always a positive flipside to every defeat, though those fans will find it difficult to see when their team is losing heavily. From their perspective, their faith is never dented for long and they will be back on the terraces (or in the seats, strictly speaking) cheering on the team next time. There’s always another game or another season – or the hope that your 10, 20, 30-year drought of silverware will end one day!
You cling on to these tiny crumbs of comfort because it’s inherent in your nature – anti-climax is but short-lived because we find new emotions to fill the void. It’s not depression whereby the negative feeling spirals out of control and drags everything else down with it. Our ability to recover our faculties and see the bright side will shine through in the end, no matter how uncomfortable that crestfallen feeling – disillusionment is temporary.
The word to describe this phenomenon, if it were to exist, might be “bouncebackability.” We don’t give up because if we did we would have nothing left to live for, and belief in your team or your partner or your employer or your family or whoever it might be can never wane in the long run.
Just that from time to time we will be forcibly deposed from the lofty heights of our expectations and ambitions. Maybe it’s just a way of telling us not to get too cocky?