What Winterson Said

There’s a wonderful interview with Jeanette Winterson in Lambda Literary: “It is the Imagination that Counts.” I want to quote from it a bit here so you get a sense of the article. And some of what she said is important to me personally.

“Life . . . we understand it differently at different stages. It’s what is interesting about getting older, you realize your relationship with the past is always negotiable. There is a lot of freedom in that, because you realize you can go back to what you did such a long time ago. You can talk with the dead, talk with your lost self, your disappeared self, and you can visit those places again, and understand it differently. That makes a huge difference.”

Perhaps that’s the importance of memoir: it allows you to go back and, in a sense, rewrite the past. Or perhaps just write the past, because the past exists to the extent that we remember it. So perhaps it exists to the extent that it is written, and the act of writing it allows us to revise, to reinterpret what happened. The act of revision and reinterpretation changes it, just as observation changes quantum phenomena.

“There is a bit where I talk about ‘keeping the heart awake to love and beauty.’ That’s very difficult in our world, even when things are going well. It’s not a world with much room for love and beauty. The daily news is [filled with] everything that goes wrong in our world, and everything horrible and unpleasant. I think that saturates your mind with negativity. I really think we need something to counteract that. I don’t think it’s Pollyanna or sentimental to focus on the ways we support one another on the micro level.”

Just this one part makes me want to read her memoir. I believe strongly that we need to keep the heart open to love and beauty, so it can recognize them and take them in. It’s easy to become cynical, to believe they don’t exist. But they do, and they’re important – as important as what we see on the nightly news, I think. And they do counteract that flow of negativity. We need love and beauty just to survive. And I know so many people who don’t have them, who are missing those basic things . . .

(My blog post was interrupted here by the need to play a recorder duet. I played the harmony. It’s been so long since I’ve played that I can’t remember the difference between the Baroque and German fingering.)

“Everyone’s talking about the death and disappearance of the book as a format and an object. I don’t think that will happen. I think whatever happens, we have to figure out a way to protect our imaginations. Stories and poetry do that. You need a language in this world. People want words, they want to hear their situation in language, and find a way to talk about it. It allows you to find a language to talk about your own pain.”

There are writers who are clever, and writers who are wise. I think Winterson is one of the wise ones. I don’t think the book will ever disappear either. The codex is too perfect a format.

“If you want to seek happiness, or a person, or vision, or commitment, does that mean you will always be at odds with the larger society? If you’re in the larger society, does that mean personal neuroses and depression? Those are the things we see when gay and transgender people try to conform. They are trying to part of society because we all want to be loved, but the price to the self is so high. We feel we are so tolerant, but we pay it lip service. So many kids find the world isn’t so tolerant when they try to be themselves.”

We do all want to be loved, and the price can be very high when we don’t fit into social norms. Sometimes too high – when the price is the self, you can’t pay it. That’s too high a price, no matter what you get in return.

“My whole life is trying to get this balance right. There is this bigger world and I want to contribute to it, but I must limit my exposure to it so I don’t go mad. This is a personal quest for a sense of worth and a sense of self. It is a lifetime effort, and it’s not going to be accomplished by guru speak or self help books. It’s a conversation that happens with the self every day. Of all the things I need to stress, it is that we cannot be passive in our own lives. We can’t coast along. We can’t be unreflective. It’s that everyday focus that’s important. This really is your day; what are you going to do with?”

This is the quotation I wanted to end with, because I think it’s the most important one. It’s about what you’re going to do, how you’re going to save yourself. That final question: it’s the one I ask myself every day.  This my day, what am I going to do with it?  And then I try to do something meaningful

Here is a review of Winterson’s memoir, and the book itself: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

I know I definitely want to read it!

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