>> And still thinking about Cristina Nehring’s book. I’ve realized that this book deserves a long response. I just found it so rich — it has many things I agree with, some things I vehemently disagree with, and some things were just really cool to know about. Phenomena, attitudes, literary trivia. So, yes, I’ve been navel-gazing for a couple of days now. [See my first post on the things I wish Nehring had included in her book.]
Love stories have a bad reputation. I have discovered — firsthand and otherwise — that there’s not much respect for them, and this is palpable in the academe, and many writerly circles. Ah, the respect is reserved for this dignified loving, the glory and the angst — found mostly in classic literature. Nowadays though — and Nehring points this out — we’ve grown feeble in our exultations of lurve. Let me generalize, haha:
Writing about love, it’s difficult to pull off, and when it’s awesome, it just is: see My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro — but even here, as the anthology’s editor points out, “Love stories give love a bad name.” Not a lot of people even dare these days. And isn’t that telling? The love story/poem as dare, a challenge. Write at your own risk. This “You should’ve known better” attitude. And I remember the heckling that comes in poetry readings: “Hey, that’s a love poem!” As if it were a bad thing.
Let’s face it, you’re bound to fail. Love is a difficult emotion to capture. You run the risk of being overtly schmaltzy. Or being accused of being narrow-minded when it comes to love. Of focusing too much on happiness.
I’m not attacking the sadness that I feel — personally, really, and craft-wide — that is intrinsic in love. But, sometimes, we’re too focused on the sadness, on this misguided need to dignify love, that we’ve lost sight on love itself. On romance.
When a writing student puts forward his most earnest love story, flaws and all, it’s regarded off the bat as immature — the form alone, the very fact that it is about love is immature. Something only kids dwell on, because they don’t know better, and can’t write about other, “real” things. Grrr.
When I was seventeen, I was part of a writing workshop. And, yeah, I wrote love stories — but I didn’t call them that. I tried to restrain myself, not knowing much about love, but fascinated by it. I talked of love, and romance, and sex — and made sure that I didn’t go overboard with the happiness-aspect of it. My gut told me that it needed to be sad. Hell, out of three stories, one worked — that is, a majority liked this. And that one story was goddamned sad. Comments a workshop panelist made about my work, and it has stuck to me until now — “The writer is a girl captivated with the idea of love,” and the winner, “She’s just this girl enamored by sex.”
I took that badly for a couple of months. And then I called Bullshit. Hell yeah I am. I like people. I like how people fuck up in their relationships. I like how people deal with those fuck-ups. Mostly, basically, bottom-line: I like love. I like that it exists. I like its many intricacies, and its many darknesses. I like the happy parts most of all — but I’m not supposed to write about that, see, nope.
The love story, relegated to juvenilia: Last year, a poet, fictionist, and mentor to many Filipino writers today, declared that he had burned all his love poems. That made me sad. That also pissed me off — I read as a holier-than-thou nose-thumbing, especially from a writer who has declared, many a time, that love poems are Eww (I paraphrase, but you get the gist), and that no writer worth his salt writes about being in love after a certain point. [But ya know me, I had to think it sad that a poet in his twilight years burning all the love poems he’d written — three notebooks, if I remember correctly. Me and my sadnesses.]
You’re not supposed to write love stories. You’re supposed to be past that. You’re not supposed to dwell on all things heartache and heartbreak. Then again, you’re never to dwell on happy and sparkly. Damned if you do, damned if you do it in a reckless way, damned if you don’t. Dammit.
And if you’re intent on being damned, make sure there’s a distinction: This here’s literary writing. That there, not so much. Guess which is which, kids.
I’m trying to remember if I found the words, “I love you,” said earnestly and heartfelt, and just truthfully, by a character in a novel or a story that was written in the past decade — in “literary” literature. I’ve drawn a blank — but man, I just read Anne Stuart, and that was so welcome.
In “the real world,” something akin to shame comes with declaring that you read love stories. Oh, there’s a dignity, I suppose, in reading the old greats, the wretched and the lovelorn — love is glorious, love is wonderful, romance can get ye killed, but that’s awesomez! Yeah, I’ve grown certain that to celebrate love in literature, a balance is of the utmost importance: You want romance? Here’s some angst. And I actually like that. My problem is, I guess, is the now. The contemporary writers. I’m sick of love as satire, people. Seriously.
Reading something that actually celebrates love now? That’s supposed to be brain candy. The all-too-common reactions to romance novel, the writing and the reading of it. It’s frustrating, really. I go to romance because I want distraught. I want a guaranteed happy ending, and I want happy-sparkly on the way there.
It has to be sad. It’s not supposed to be about romance. Because, apparently, romance is bad writing. The more glorious side of love, the actual happy part of it — it’s not literary. Romance is bad sensibilities. Romance means you haven’t matured as a writer. Dwelling on being in love means you can’t put your craft above your all-too-personal emotions.
I call Bullshit, people.
- One of these days, I’m going to write a love story that will bring the world to its knees — and damn it to hellfire if it’s not a story that celebrates romance. And I’m not even going to wait until I’m old and gray and full of sleep.
- In a later post, I’ll try to make a list of love stories and love poetry — distraught, romantic, well-written, lovely! — that kick ass. And kick ass wonderfully. Then again, the problem I’m anticipating is finding a story that focuses on a celebratory kind of loving — then again, I know that love, no matter how glorious it can be, needs a nice helping of angst. [I’m looking at you, Roland Barthes. You too, Miss Bronte.] Which, again, does not mean that we all have to kill ourselves in the end. Bah, I’ve blabbed on too much.