Or is that too much pressure?
‘At this point in the story, I feel obliged to interrupt and give you one last warning. As I said at the very beginning, the book you are holding in your hands does not have a happy ending. It may appear now that Count Olaf will go to jail and that the three Baudelaire youngsters will live happily ever after with Justice Strauss, but it is not so. If you like, you may shut the book this instant and not read the unhappy ending that is to follow. You may spend the rest of your life believing that the Baudelaires triumphed over Count Olaf and lived the rest of their lives in the house and library of Justice Strauss, but that is not how the story goes.’ – Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning.
Perhaps I’m being miserly. Perhaps I truly am a pessimist. But does it really ever end that way?
The last time I went through a hideous break-up was the first time I read Jane Eyre. And it was the first time, since said break-up, that I cried at something that wasn’t to do with me. And, of all that happens in Jane Eyre, it was Jane and Mr Rochester getting together that made me cry. After all that time. All that longing. They did it. I’m the same now, always, with Elinor and Edward in Sense and Sensibility. ‘The same’ here meaning seething with envy and worry and indignation. Because I am genuinely concerned about what happens when I am not swept off my feet.
Of course, if books end unhappily, I get really upset about that as well. I finished Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor months ago, but I’m terrified to read the final part of the trilogy, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, because I’m terrified that something awful will happen to one of the characters and I just can’t bear it. I don’t think I want to know.
It’s always pain, in life, always. It sounds dreadful, but it’s true. Somebody dies, and it hurts, and you have to find a way to carry it all with you forever. You get ill, and it hurts, and you have to find a way to push through. And then you fall in love, and you think: I can bring something positive along for a change. But it still hurts, despite that. Even when you get what you want, there’s still pain. That’s humanity. That’s life. You just have to keep going, in search of the good bits. The bits of love that make all the other bits worth it.
And since when did love become so sappy, so silly? Since when did I become embarrassed to talk about it? Since when did I feel like I was doing something wrong, something shameful, to inflict another person with myself, whether they requited me or no? Because, of course, it is usually the no, and then you feel even more in the wrong. Life is not a story. You see someone, and something sparks in the back of your mind, but it won’t come to a crescendo in a few pages time. It picks and picks on at you, day after day until you look back and realise they stretch into years, and so much has happened and so many other loves since then, yet still it aches at the bottom of your heart, down among the cobwebs and the things you thought you’d lost. How do you carry that with you? How do you carry all of them?
Even when it goes well, life is not a story. You see someone, though you’re not really looking properly, and you’re not all that impressed by them, but you think: I’ve got more to say to you. And then you forget all about it. Or do you? Because months later, you see them again, and you remember, but suddenly you don’t feel perturbed by them any more, and you wonder if perhaps you only felt perturbed in the first place because they scraped at a muscle you didn’t know you had.
Maybe it’s just been too long since I last read Emma. But I always look at Mr Knightley and think: how did he know? How did he know, to ask her? How did he know she’d feel the same? How could he have been sure? (And of course, the answer is that he probably wasn’t sure.) I get this a lot. I watch adaptations of books in which I know exactly where and when the feelings start to stir. But I look and I look and I just can’t see it. The people don’t look any different to me. There isn’t some grand physical change. You don’t become suddenly beautiful, and it isn’t written across your forehead, and you don’t have a little flag hovering above you. And this is where the stories break down too. Because they become too real. Because I can’t tell.
I know what happens when I don’t get swept off my feet. When a hint and a glance isn’t enough for a miraculous revelation that I don’t have to initiate myself. In all honesty, I’d much prefer to do my own sweeping. More than once I’ve found that in the highly unlikely event that the girl gets the guy, it isn’t serendipity. It’s because she fought, mostly with herself, until she’d yanked all her nails off and blistered all her skin. It isn’t romantic in the conventional sense of the word. In fact, it’s so bloody scary it leaves you still stunned and shaking days later.
And even then, it’s not happily ever after. You don’t get your life handed to you on a plate. Perhaps the guy will leave the girl a little while later. And perhaps she’ll be ok about it. Perhaps she’ll be fine. But it’s equally likely that she will never stop longing, never stop wishing, never put those feelings down, because it’s entirely possible and entirely ok if she can’t. Perhaps the rest of her life will pass in a cherishing of those few glorious days. Treasure this. Treasure this, B, always. Live in every moment. Time has slowed right down, so live it in slow-motion. Good things do not come to those who wait. Good things come to the very fortunate, and the very fortunate would do well to make the most of them while they can.
Because some things are like in books. It takes entire novels to describe these feelings. And they cannot be dismissed, they cannot be treated as fiction. For these very very fortunate I’ve described, life begins to feel like you’re living in a story. Not because it’s perfect, or it follows a set of rules. But because it’s an adventure. Because it truly is living the greatest sense of the word. And because it is so utterly, utterly beautiful it makes your heart ache. Because it is so good it hurts.
When I was a child, and I first started listening to Steps and All Saints and watching Top of the Pops, I always used to ask: ‘why are all the songs about love’? Thank goodness I was wrong. Thank goodness the songs are not all about love. There’s too many about love, sure, but the serenity comes from writing about other things. I looked back through this blog today, and I was most struck by the picture of my feet in Shepperton. Those feet that had no idea what was in store. That life completely free of all that’s occurred since then. Was my patterned dress a blank canvas? Or am I the blank canvas now? What if all my life, up until this point, has now been erased? That’s the thought that worries me most.
I don’t want to be an Austen or a Brontë. I don’t even want to be I Capture the Castle. I want to be Abarat, or The Gracekeepers, or The House of the Spirits. Or even A Series of Unfortunate Events. Violet Baudelaire and Quigley Quagmire. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want there not to be Quigley Quagmire. I just want all of the rest of the adventure as well. And if it doesn’t end happily, I don’t mind. The most important thing is that it happened interestingly.