I've found myself revisiting this book several times since I first read it a few years ago. It's probably the most quotable book I know, and if not the most inspirational, it's very close to the top of my list. It was recommended to me by a friend when I took my first stab at writing a memoir. Like she claims in the book my earlier attempts at writing (which remain unpublished where she succeeded) were semi-autobiographical, or rather attempts to tell my own stories through a combination of experience and imagination. Writing about what I know firsthand and what I can conjure through experience with other people.
I'll write more on this later, but the thing with THIS book, as a memoir, is that it is almost an instruction manual on writing...
The Nutty Professor once said that the key to a good memoir is that it must lead to some sort of redemptive end. There must be solution I don't know that I agree with that entirely. Some stories just don't have happy endings. They're not about overcoming so much as enduring and I can't accept that a good memoir has to be about rising up from ashes of hardship. Some people can't achieve that but the importance of their stories isn't in any way lessened. Everyone has a right to their story, and for their story to be told.
I'm not sure yet if my story has a happy ending. It could actually have several in rapid succession, but the final outcome remains a mystery. I'm still telling it, really.
Anyhoo... more later.
"What you are pursuing is meaning- a meaningful life. There's the hap- the fate, the draw that is yours, and it isn't fixed, but changing the course of the stream, or dealing new cards, whatever metaphor you want to use- that's going to take a lot of energy. There are times when it will go so wrong that you will barely be alive, and times when you realize that being barely alive, on your own terms, is better than living a bloated half-life on someone else's terms.”
“Truth for anyone is a very complex thing. For a writer, what you leave out says as much as those things you include. What lies beyond the margin of the text? The photographer frames the shot; writers frame their world. Mrs Winterson objected to what I had put in, but it seemed to me that what I had left out was the story’s silent twin. There are so many things that we can’t say, because they are too painful. We hope that the things we can say will soothe the rest, or appease it in some way. Stories are compensatory. The world is unfair, unjust, unknowable, out of control. When we tell a story we exercise control, but in such a way as to leave a gap, an opening. It is a version, but never the final one. And perhaps we hope that the silences will be heard by someone else, and the story can continue, can be retold. When we write we offer the silence as much as the story. Words are the part of silence that can be spoken. Mrs Winterson would have preferred it if I had been silent.
Do you remember the story of Philomel who is raped and then has her tongue ripped out by the rapist so that she can never tell? I believe in fiction and the power of stories because that way we speak in tongues. We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer; there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words. I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself.”
“Happy endings are only a pause. There are three kinds of big endings: Revenge. Tragedy. Forgiveness. Revenge and Tragedy often happen together. Forgiveness redeems the past. Forgiveness unblocks the future.”