Sane and steady

I finished it. The book.

I stole the first chapter in my lunch break yesterday; it wormed straight into my limbic system. It prompted an emergency mid-afternoon double-post. Arriving home, my son had already gone to bed so I had the evening alone. I curled in front of the fire and read every last drop until it was done. Sometimes that is necessary with a book, you need to soak it in with a single uninterrupted sweep to properly understand its entirety.

I was right to suspect that the book would imprint on me.

It is hard to know quite where to begin. It does not rightly have a beginning nor an end. It asks more questions than provides answers. And the queries are of the eternal kind. Perhaps an alternative title for it would have been “Learning to Love”. That is the overarching theme. Jeanette’s partner is the writer Susie Orbach, who wrote Fat is a Feminist Issue and Impossibility of Sex (I admit I have read neither) but she mused that perhaps she could/should write a response to the latter entitled Possibility of Love.

I once had a single date with a very talented ceramic artist who had made a series of works called The Impossibility of Love. I find that to be a slightly negative attitude, but it was on the same lines.

I liked the politics (humans are more than useful objects, indeed usefulness itself is overvalued), the humour, and the searing self-knowledge and emotional honesty. Above all I liked that it was story about Home, Belonging, Identity, Loss and Reconciliation – and Love.

“I have written love narratives and loss narratives – stories of longing and belonging”

The text is littered with the recurring phrase “sane and steady love”. It is clear she feels that this is what she found, eventually. She mostly avoids stating explicitly that this implies that there is an opposite, presumably an “insane and volatile” love, although she skirts with tangential descriptions of it. Tellingly she skips 25 years of her life from the book altogether. I can imagine what it was like.

Jeanette was adopted, and her memoir traces how that has powerfully underpinned everything. I am not. However, the therapist that helped me with my recurrent depression did observe that I have the psychological profile of one whose parents died when still a young child, despite them being alive and kicking. There are broad similarities and they hit home like a hammer.

Jeanette spent a lot of her youth, when not at church, in Accrington Public Library, reading English Literature. She stated at “A” and worked from there.

“There is always a wild card. And what I had were books. What I had, most of all, was the language that books allowed. A way to talk about complexity. A way to ‘keep the heart awake to love and beauty’ “

I am 8 years old. I have spent the entire summer in Bentley Public Library. The draw was the planned construction of a dragon. There were two of us interested, just me and an older girl. Occasionally parents would come in and dispatch their unruly offspring to “help”, while they went searching for books. Maybe dabbing some glue of the papier maché balloons (this dragon ended up with about ten heads, of course), but really it was just our project and we turfed up at opening time, staying until the doors were locked shut. It was big, bright green and scaly. Somewhat ferocious. When he was finished we did not and could not stop. We used every remaining scrap of material to make an army of robots.

The library was a friendly, familiar place to me. When we needed a break from making the monster, we read, as I often did anyway. It was my habit to sit on the floor there and read (I still like sitting on the floor to read rather than in a chair), and I was invisible to the staff behind the shelving. One day, I finished my book and rose to leave to find the place deserted. The librarians had locked up and gone home, not realising I was still there. I panicked because I was locked in, on my own, and I shouldn’t have been. I spent a long time knocking on the big plate glass windows to draw attention of a passer-by (tricky, as the building was set back a long way from the road). Eventually the police were summoned, and a sheepish librarian cajoled into returning with a key.

The reality was not as bad as I had feared. They had only closed for lunch and were due back 30 minutes later anyway, to re-open. So I sat on the step outside and patiently waited so I could go back in at the official time. To read another book.

 

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