The Ropes Have Been Unbound

Month: June, 2015

My Gift to the World is my Capacity to Love

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.

I am Not Always Rational, or Always Nice, But I Am

I don’t know whether I liked “Nobody Is Ever Missing.” I loved certain phrases so much they’re engraved into the bedrock of my skull but at the same time, the book made me uncomfortable. I want this phrase to be written on my forehead so people are warned when they meet me- “I don’t have a smoother version of me tucked into other people’s memories.” The ebbs and flows of my youth and adolescence have convalesced into an amalgamation of ideas that seem borderline grotesque when considered individually but fit righteously into this construction of myself that I have cultivated. I have come to accept that people are held together by blood and bone and sinew but also by less concrete concepts, love and hate and fear and despair, and that was difficult for me to come to terms with when every bone in my body was screaming for reason. I want the world to make sense, I want it to correspond to my passions and set opinions about what it ought to be like, and adulthood for me was letting go more than I ever imagined that I could.

It was a well constructed existential novel but more than anything, “Nobody Is Ever Missing” resonated with the parts of me that I shut down because I’m not supposed to be that way as a young woman and even as a person. I want to pack up all my stuff and run away sometimes, live with my dying grandmother in India and somehow pay her back for what she did for me as a child when my mother was too young and I was too precocious for my own good, or just leave every semblance of academia that I’ve ever known. Elly is similar to me, well educated and seemingly has done everything right but she isn’t right in some ways. She dwells, she has a form of melancholy normally reserved for elderly white men with salt and pepper beards telling young people how they ought to think, and she’s sorry to her husband for hurting him but not sorry for the actions that she took because she knows in her heart that it was the right thing to do.

The New York Times called it the “novel of the post-wounded woman” and I don’t know if I agree. I loathe putting something in a box as if it can’t be enjoyed by anybody who doesn’t fit into that precise box. I personally can be labeled as post-wounded but at the same time, I am not interested in being defined by my pain and what I have done to overcome it because honestly, there are far more interesting things about me. But the part of Elly that I most resonated with is that she is a wound dweller in the same way that I am, which isn’t a characteristic of post-wounded women but of people, both wounded and not beause it’s just a major part of our humanity.

“I am or we were (or still are) the kind of people who can never quite get away from our losses, the kind of people who don’t know that magic trick that other people seem to know—how to dissolve a sense of loss, how to unbraid it from a brain.”

She plans out what to say to her husband, she thinks about him almost obsessively and she does what I do, she plans out what she’d say to him even though she’s never going to say those things. The issue is that it’s seen as inherently “crazy” when women are this way, even if we don’t act on these sentiments. We are supposed to get over things, to let things go, not for our own comfort and well being but for that of others because it makes people uneasy when women dare to want so much what that they supposedly do not deserve. She asks her husband rhetorical questions, which I characterize as Love, because that’s what love is to me, caring so much that we worry about what the person is doing even when they’re ostensibly memories of the past. It’s not so much about permanent echoing affiance of infinite second chances but a simpler relationship, being a part of each other’s origin stories and accepting that status and keeping the other person’s secrets no matter what.

Are you sleeping these nights?

Is your life livable?

Do you eat—do you eat anything at all?

Do you believe anyone cares if you are alive at the end of the day?

And where did our want go?

And who set fire to our wanting?

And who invented want and why?”

I don’t know whether I’d recommend this book to anybody because the level of unease and simultaneous profound affection I feel with the novel makes me feel almost protective of this book; I almost think that it would give too much away of my own personality if I allowed others in my life to read it. But it’s important, a young woman on an existential journey of the sort that women have never been allowed to take in literature or in real life, up until now. And that deserves to be documented.

Thematic Aphorisms on Recent Literary Endeavors

Of late I’ve been reading a lot of romance novels, in the young adult realm but also the sort of book traditionally targeted to underwhelmed housewives who’ve never had an orgasm with another person in their lives. I believe in honoring what women want and find appealing but at the same time, I think it’s hugely important to objectively evaluate the nature of what women are socially conditioned to want and find sexually appealing. I’ve been snapchatting the pictures to my friends because the content of the novels is appalling and maybe I’m far too feministTM to enjoy them, but I’m utterly disturbed by what young women are being told to find attractive. Perhaps it’s my abject lack of social conditioning but I don’t like romance novels and how they treat their subjects, and I especially don’t like young adult romance novels that talk down to their readers and even when attempting to be progressive, end up alienating portions of their audience in ways that are so easily avoidable.

Another trend I’ve been seeing in YA literature that makes me extremely uncomfortable, for lack of better terminology, is the treatment girls who are wanted. That phrase doesn’t truly capture the biting annoyingness of the sentiment behind it but there’s this whole trope of novel, ranging from Judy Blume’s “Summer Sisters” written in the 1970s to “Ugly Girls” by Lindsay Hunter and “All our Pretty Songs” by Sarah McCarry which are modern day adaptations of the age old story. They’re indubitably told from the POV of the “normal” self-insert who is best friends (or sisters) with this beautiful, vibrant shell of a girl because nobody can write her POV since she supposedly doesn’t exist. It’s not that the trope itself is inherently terrible and I don’t believe this was the intent of the narrative initially, but the crux of the impression I took from the novels is that the “beautiful, vibrant, wild” best friend doesn’t deserve to live because she’s beautiful and wild and most of all, wanted. The best friend always dies, or ends up raped and destroyed, a shell of what she once was because she attained that prime attribute associated with femininity, approval from the male gaze, and she wrecked it by being a bitch and not being properly thankful of it. Men eat her alive, not as a statement for what men do to women but what women do to themselves by wanting to be loved and desired as both a sexual being and as a human being, and being brave enough to seek it. And it makes me angry.

“Relatability” is a deathtrap because by forcing relatability, you alienate people. Write for yourself, write for people like you, and demand empathy of your readers because the beautiful thing about human beings is that they are capable of real empathy. Reading literature is an active exercise in seeing the perspective of those who aren’t us, and it’s downright embarrassing that so much of young adult literature and other literature targeted to women is focused on forcing women down into some arbitrary distinction of what is normal and ends up cutting out the nuance and beauty of all that we can be. We don’t have to be scared of anything outside the norm because the norm isn’t predestined; human beings create it and enforce it. Beautiful women and ugly women, contemplative women and impulsive women, brave women and frightened women, we’re all women and we all deserve to be heard and not fetishized or metaphorically pointed and laughed at.

“Icy-Manic Hyper-Repressive Benzodiazepine-Heroine” was somebody’s description of Betty Draper from Mad Men and it really resonated with me because at this point I do not know who I am apart from who I’ve created myself to be, similar to Betty Draper, to Blair Waldorf, Cersei Lannister. The vulnerable bitch who is on enough drugs (wine counts) to be a drug mule even if she’s far too classy to descend to that level, who is a full and complete person worthy of your attention and respect despite supposed unlikability. I am everything I was told to be and at the same time, everything we’ve been taught to condemn in women and women of color.

Recently, I said to a girl who hates me: “I can be you. Can you be me?” I am not your girl next door- I’m the girl you die for, and that in itself is not sin enough to be condemned to death. It reeks of jealousy, of bitter entrenched resentment that a girl who is wanted dares to crave more than base desire, and moreover, it isn’t fair, it’s just simply not fair. The girl who is written about isn’t supposed to write her own story; she’s not supposed to exist beyond the scope of other’s imaginations because she supposedly doesn’t exist. But I’m that girl. I was either supposed to die a violent death at 17 or be saturated so much by the world and by other people’s perceptions of what women ought to be, but I wasn’t supposed to end up the person I am today. Not fully together or the ideal of existence, but for the most part, alive and still interesting in that disgusting way that makes men want me, and still pretty and small and vivacious, and desirable. But I am alive, and I’m going to stay alive, if only to make other people irrationally angry and viscerally uncomfortable. Is that unlikable? Well that’s too bad.