Sunday, October 14, 2007


From the Archives (June 2005)

How is it that one day life is orderly and you are content, a little cynical perhaps but on the whole just so, and then without warning you find the solid floor is a trapdoor and you are now in another place whose geography is uncertain and whose customs are strange?

Travellers at least have a choice. Those who set sail know that things will not be the same as at home. Explorers are prepared. But for us, who travel along the blood vessels, who come to the cities of the interior by chance, there is no preparation. We who were fluent find life is a foreign language. Somewhere between the swamp and the mountains.

Somewhere between fear and sex. Somewhere between God and the Devil passion is and the way there is sudden and the way back is worse.

I’m surprised at myself talking in this way. I’m young, the world is before me, there will be others. I feel my first streak of defiance since I met her. My first upsurge of self. I won’t see her again. I can go home, throw aside these clothes and move on. I can move out if I like. I’m sure the meat man can be persuaded to take me to Paris for a favour or two.

Passion, I spit on it.

That’s from The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, one of the most original and poetic writers publishing today. She may be my favorite living novelist in fact (although I also really like Carole Maso and JM Coetzee’s Waiting on the Barbarians and Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible and Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale).

Interview calls The Passion a meditation on pleasure and its limits, and it is—like all of Winterson’s work—almost breathtakingly beautiful. Raw. Also full of, well, passion. And insight. And longing. And lines of poetry set in paragraph form.

Winterson incorporates magical touches into her works brilliantly—better than García Márquez and way better than any living author that I can think of—places her readers in interiors that make us ache and yearn and remember and resolve to live life closer to the bone despite being so exposed there.

Once in New York City I sat behind Jeanette Winterson at a dyke film festival. I admired her hair and buff body, but failed to recognize her until she jumped up as the lights came on and ran out the door.

Meanwhile, I went to a pal’s gig last tonight and really enjoyed it, Was hanging out after the performance and overheard an audience member saying "your music just spoke to me. X happened to me in 1981 and Y happened to me in 1987 and it was so hard, so devastating..," and then she proceeded to share her most intimate stories with my friend.

People confess to me at my readings too.

There are so how many people out there who need to tell their stories and express their pain ... and, sometimes, art provides a way for them to do that.

I used to get reader calls at home too—at least before I made my number unlisted.

Won’t you explain to me the pain of your life?

That’s a disappear fear line ... and something we seem to need as humans. So many of us are walking around stunned and we just need someone to listen, to help us heal, or at least process, our pain.

So tell me about pain, yours. And I will tell you about mine. Meanwhile the earth keeps spinning.


Who wrote that? I want to say Oriah Mountaindreamer inThe Invitation, but will have to do a little research on that later.

Elizabeth Bishop captured her pain in a beautiful villanelle that took her over fifteen years to write. It’s entitled "One Art" and she repeats a line that I repeated to myself for months after my marriage fell apart:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I've told myself that truth several times when I really needed to believe it ... and it wound up being true, but lawd knows it didn't feel that way at the time.

by Kenneth Fields (from Classic Rough News)

It's nineteen years today since he last held
A drink in his hand or held his breath while smoke
Filled as much of him as he could stand
Till, letting it out, he sought oblivion
Of the trace of memory or anticipation,
And his life fell into a death spiral. Since then
He's been around folks like him. When he's been asked,
And sometimes, eager, when he hasn't been,
He talks to the ones who are not even sure
They want to learn how to stop killing themselves.
That feeling still seems close to him some days.
Right now he's okay, and that's enough, right now.

Finally, another favorite line from The Passion: “You may set off from the same place to the same place every day and never go by the same route.”

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(Well, yeah, as a matter of fact they are. They're multicolored too.)

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