My favourite quotes from Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
…But earlier meanings build in the hap, in Middle English, that is ‘happ’, in Old English, ‘gehapp’ – the chance of fortune, good or bad, that falls to you. Hap is your lot in life, the hand you are given to play. How you meet your ‘hap’ will determine whether or not you can be ‘happy.
What the Americans, in their constitution, call ‘the right to the pursuit of happiness’ (please note, not the ‘right to happiness’), is the right to swim upstream, salmon-wise.
Pursuing happiness, and I did, and I still do, is not at all the same as being happy – which I think is fleeting, depending on circumstances, and a bit bovine…Happy times are great, but happy times pass – they have to – because time passes. The pursuit of happiness is more elusive; it is lifelong, and it is not goal-centred. What you are pursuing is meaning – a meaningful life.
There are times when it will go so wrong that you will barely be alive, and times when you realise that being barely alive, on your own terms, is better than living a bloated half-life on someone else’s terms.
In fact, there are more than two chances – many more. I know now, after fifty years, that the finding/losing, forgetting/remembering, leaving/returning, never stops. The whole of life is about another chance, and while we are alive, till the very end, there is always another chance.
Life is layers, fluid, unfixed, fragments. I never could write a story with a beginning, a middle and an end in the usual way because it felt untrue to me.
But then I understood something. I understood twice born was not just about being alive, but about choosing life. Choosing to be alive and consciously committing to life, in all its exuberant chaos – and its pain.
She smiles. She doesn’t judge herself and she doesn’t judge others. Life is as it is.
If I can’t stay where I am, and I can’t, then I will put all that I can into the going.
Gertrude drives on. She says, “Right or wrong, this is the road and we are on it.”
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. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.
Books don’t make a home – they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and a different kind of space.
The more I read, the more I felt connected across time to other lives and deeper sympathies. I felt less isolated. I wasn’t floating on my little raft in the present; there were bridges that led over to solid ground. Yes, the past is another country, but one that we can visit, and once there we can bring back the things we need.
…there are so many kids who never get looked after, and so they can’t grow up. They can get older, but they can’t grow up. That takes love. If you are lucky the love will come later. If you are lucky you won’t hit love in the face.
The love-work that I have to do now is to believe that life will be all right for me. I don’t have to be alone. I don’t have to fight for everything. I don’t have to fight everything. I don’t have to run away. I can stay because this is love that is offered, a sane steady stable love.
I did not realise that when money becomes the core value, then education drives towards utility or that the life of the mind will not be counted as a good unless it produces measurable results. That public services will no longer be important. That an alternative life to getting and spending will become very difficult as cheap housing disappears. That when communities are destroyed only misery and intolerance are left.
Time is only truly locked when we live in a mechanised world. Then we turn into clock-watchers and time-servers. Like the rest of life, time becomes uniform and standardised.
Nobody can feel too much, though many of us work hard at feeling too little. Feeling is frightening.
When we say ‘I think’ we don’t leave our emotions outside the door. To tell someone not to be emotional is to tell them to be dead.
I panic when my feelings are not clear. It is like staring into a muddy pond, and rather than wait until an ecosystem develops to clear the water, I prefer to drain the pond.
Probably we are less tolerant of madness now than at any period in history. There is no place for it. Crucially, there is no time for it. Going mad takes time. Getting sane takes time.
Creativity is on the side of health – it isn’t the thing that drives you mad; it is the capacity in us that tries to save us from madness.