I don’t write about love. Well, that’s a lie. I write about loving my parents, I write about loving my friends, but I don’t like writing about romantic love because I’m a coward. In my post today, due to the complete awesomeness of gay marriage being legalized throughout the United States, I want to talk about Jeanette Winterson’s books “Gut Symmetries” and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. The former is a love affair told in three, and the latter, the latter is a story of a life that seems miraculously unreal but is about love as much as anything else.
In “Gut Symmetries”, Winterson writes,
“The human heart is my territory. I write about love because it’s the most important thing in the world. I write about sex because often it feels like the most important thing in the world.”
My problem is that my fear overrules my love. I value my privacy such that I want the details of my vulnerability to be silenced because I like to believe I’m a person who is strong in a way that others are not. I can discuss love in a detached, forthright manner but to name names, to draw on specific hurtful details of past relationships, that’s where my cowardliness comes in. I have this sinking feeling that once I write something down, it becomes irrevocably true; I’ve written long text messages and emails to people whom I loved, and they went unreplied but in some twisted way I won because I said what they never could. But, the contents of those messages are private and I would never dare share them on a public medium. But as Winterson also says, “I am much better at saying it when I no longer feel it.” I loved you instead of I love you, you hurt me rather than you are hurting me, it’s a form of diluted bravado I’m learning to embrace.
On the other hand, Winterson’s memoir was a force to be reckoned with. It was almost precocious when she wrote in the voice of her teenage self, and it bespoke a loss of innocence in a way that few adult authors can convey. She writes “To tell someone not to be emotional is to tell them to be dead,” and she carries out that claim. In her life, Winterson refuses to forgo any of the magnitudes of emotionality granted to fictional characters as she makes her way through relationships and the ups and downs of human existence. She doesn’t loathe herself for her responses to tragedy and triumph but she accepts herself for them in a way that I’m still learning how to do.
Winterson’s peak is that her version of love is what she wrote about in “Gut Symmetries” and she doesn’t hold back at all.
“Love is vivid. I never wanted the pale version. Love is full strength. I never wanted the diluted version. I never shied away from love’s hugeness but I had no idea that love could be as reliable as the sun. The daily rising of love.”
It’s so big and wild and frightening that it is a love beyond love, and I think I’ve felt it before and I never want to feel it again. How can we come to terms with these emotions so great and so vast? Winterson’s answer and mine is to write about them. We keep all these records to prove the love was real and when it’s over, we pore over these records to prove that if we overcame such sorrow once, we can overcome it again. And if it’s the first time we’ve been so seemingly irrevocably broken, we look again and again for a sign or signs of ruin and we dwell until we realize the futility of it and we close the books.
I had leftover Chipotle for dinner tonight and on the bag was a quote by Amy Tan that said that in her writing, she carries the intuition of all deep emotion she’s ever felt, and Winterson and I both agree. It’s as if writing is a form of salvation for people like us, who feel more than is safe to in real time. Perhaps that’s the thesis of Winterson’s work, literature is the only mean of deliverance for sinners large, and sinners small, and sinners not at all. I write a lot about what I read because like Winterson, books were there for me at a time where nothing else was. I could lose myself in the worlds of Narnia and New York City and Middle Earth and I could forget my own outside even existed.
But as Winterson said, literature isn’t a hiding place, it’s a finding place, where we find our true selves nestled in the mysteries and the secrets and the hiding places of everybody else. It’s not cowardly at all because to quote Winterson “A tough life needs a tough language—and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is.” And, maturity is being able to see the world as it truly is and face it head on, to not run away like a scared little child but to come to terms with all that was and will ever be. Do not let your suffering become your skin so that you cannot remove it, let it become your armor so it protects you from worse. And, allow yourself to be scared and to be brave and to be everything in between and everything else will fall into place.