The BROAD STREET interview with Jeanette Winterson: “It’s Always Some Battle …”

interviewed by Chad Luibl

“The great thing about creative work is that it goes on teaching you as a person.”

— — — —

Jeanette Winterson is a dashing, daring, constantly evolving writer who has never met a genre she couldn’t take on and trump. She landed on the literary map with her first book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a semiautobiographical novel that won the Whitebread Prize in 1985. Since then, she has produced more than twenty books and countless shorter pieces: novels, stories, children’s books, screenplays, journalism, and essays. Among the most acclaimed of these are Written on the Body, The Powerbook, Art Objects, Lighthousekeeping, The Stone Gods, and Sexing the Cherry. Her other honors include a BAFTA Award for her adaptation of Oranges; the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for her novel The Passion; two Lambda Literary Awards; and an Order of the British Empire (OBE). Celebrated for testing the borders of language, gender, form, and sexuality, she now teaches at the University of Manchester.

Winterson’s recent memoir, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?, asks a very important question as it describes growing up with strict fundamentalist adoptive parents (“Mr. and Mrs. Winterson”) and discovering the forbidden pleasures of story, as well as some clues about her biological mother. It’s a smash hit, and we just had to talk to her about it.

When editor Chad Luibl met Winterson at the Boston 2013 conference for AWP (Associated Writers and Writing Programs), he stepped into heady territory. She’d been the center of a major event the night before and had been entertaining interviewers all morning; we were her last. But she was in fine fettle, laughing one moment and impassioned the next, game to answer questions about the subjects that occupy Why Be Happy? She explained how she pried her creative spirit free from the Wintersons’ control and harnessed it to an ethic of hands-on work, like cooking and chopping wood. She discussed the evolution of her career and her aesthetic. She talked politics. She talked love. She talked about her cat and about being driven to find a perfect form (something cats seem to have mastered).

A leitmotif snakes through The Passion: “The cities of the interior are vast and do not lie on any map.” The creative interior is indeed a mysterious, often dangerous place; here Winterson provides the cartographer with more than a few coordinates.

BROAD STREET: You wrote Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? twenty-six years af­ter your first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Why did you decide to write the memoir, and why was this the time to write it?

JEANETTE WINTERSON: I didn’t intend to write a memoir. I was on a personal search for my biological mother, which I didn’t intend to do either. You know what it’s like: The big things in life you never plan. You microman­age everything and then the big things come along and you never saw them, and you never expected them. That’s how it is.

So I found the paperwork, as illustrated in the book, and I thought, I’ll go on this journey. But for somebody who is actually quite organized and has a good memory, what I discovered was that starting to search for my mother made me forget everything, and I started losing things. There was obviously some of what A. M. Homes calls “cellular trauma.” She says that stuff is so deep that the moment you start stirring it up everything that you know begins to disap­pear — who you are begins to disappear. And so I thought, Right, you must write everything down that’s happening to you because you’re going to forget, you’re going to confuse the timeline. Just keep it for yourself and privately, which is what I began to do. So that was the sort of detective-story part, which really makes up the second half of Why Be Happy. But while I was doing that it made me think again about Winter­son-world and that whole experience and period in time, so I started writing what is in fact the beginning of the book for myself, and, within two weeks I got fifteen thousand words, which is a lot. And completely coherent. I thought, Right, there is an enormous pressure here to write this, for whatever reason, or purpose, publication or not — I have to just have faith with this and do it. Which is what happened.

I always said to my agent, “Look, maybe I’ll write a long magazine piece about adoption and the whole process in the U.K., something quite specific, more nonfictiony, documentary style.” And then this — this stuff started. I’d never writ­ten anything in my life sequentially, none of my fiction, [almost] nothing — the only thing I write sequentially is journalism, ’cause you have to. And so Why Be Happy was written nonsequen­tially in the two parts, and they came together because, you know, parallel lines can always meet in space. And so the two things came together and made a book, which was not my intention.

— — —

There is only one task, isn’t there? Which is to live your life.

— — —

Was your memoir more difficult for you to write than your fiction? It seems like it came quite easily for you since you wrote so much immediately.

I don’t think it’s that. I think every so often you get a free book. If you’ve been working this long, you know everything. You know how to do it in a way which is very satisfactory. You don’t have to think about it, you know, it’s like anything else — playing piano, driving a car — once you put yourself into the position to work, the thing will happen anyway. But there is occasion­ally this huge force that — and it’s happened to me before, not at this sort of length, but with a story or something — that just appeared.

Those are the gifts, and you can’t coax them, and you never know when they’ll come. I don’t think they come that often in a writer’s life, but they do come. This was one of them. And yes, it was written very rapidly, and it surprised me in the force of it. The only thing that changed was in the proof stage, really late; I pulled it back and I added the final chapter. Because some­thing was bothering me.

In the coda.

Yeah. I made them do it. They were ready to push the button and print, and I said, “I’m sorry, you have to give it back.” And I also knew that was exactly the right thing to do.

So it’s been a book that was, you know, that came from some huge deep rush from inside, but also had to be trusted completely. I couldn’t overlay it in common sense or any sort of ratio­nal idea about the right thing to do. So when it was time to do the coda, it had to go in.

That last line, “I have no idea — ” and then “ — what happens next.”

How do you feel about that now? A line you went back and added into the book?

It seemed like the right ending because that whole part is really about discussing something I’m certain of, that there really aren’t any end­ings. There are pauses, changes of direction, even with something final, like death or when a relationship is over. You know, of course, it’s an end and that’s how we categorize it, but it’s not as though it stops happening in memory. And with death, you never see the person again but you think about it. Even with a terrible re­lationship, it’s still part of you — whatever is part of you goes on existing.

So the idea of “The End,” I think, is quite false for us. I wanted to talk about how, Look, there isn’t going to be a happy ending to this book, and about the idea that there are only three big end­ings — revenge, and tragedy, forgiveness — in any story, at any time. And that revenge and tragedy usually go together. Forgiveness is the only thing that genuinely moves it forward, past the place where it’s caught and stuck for everybody.

I wanted to offer that as a kind of message of hope, but not one that was false, with some sort of closure in a Hollywood way. It very rarely is like that, you know, for people who do find par­ents, adopted or not, who have been estranged for years and years — it’s scratchy, it’s difficult, it’s not nice. So I just didn’t want to sugar this over. I wanted it to be as it was.

Was the writing process different with a semi­autobiographical novel, such as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, as opposed to an entirely autobio­graphical memoir?

No. I’ve never separated out the me that I am in the books that I write. I almost always write in the first person. It pleases me to do that. Ev­erything that we write passes through us — there’s nowhere else for it to pass. So it doesn’t mat­ter whether you are writing about yourself in the eighteenth century, as I did in The Passion, or whether you’re setting yourself on another planet far in the future, as I did in The Stone Gods, or whether you’re writing something so absolutely close to your own life.

You know, there is a fatuous comment that is always peddled in creative writing courses about “writing what you know,” but what you know is whatever is connected to you in some way, and that might not make any objective sense. You know, if you have a connection with your ma­terial, whatever it is, then you are writing what you know. And it’s passing through you. That’s why I don’t make those distinctions. I’m inter­ested that now, as the novel is beginning to falter as a form, all we’re seeing really is this wish for people to accept that they’re at the heart of their own narratives. However you disguise [narra­tive] it is always a series of confirmations or dis­guises — but it’s you. I mean, you are the writer.

That makes me think of a passage from your chapter “At Home” in your memoir, where you distinguish two kinds of writing — the one you write and the one that writes you. You say that the one that writes you is “dangerous.” So how do you dis­tinguish between the two?

If you’re a good writer, you should be able to write anything. I think of this as a workshop: If you come along to me and say you want a chair, or a table or a cabinet, I should be able to do that. It’s all a different shape, but I’m working from the same material. And so what I mean to say is there is a certain level of professionalism and skill whereby, you know, if The New York Times rings me up today and says they want a piece by five o’clock they can have it and it will be at the right level. So that’s the bit that you write. As a skill, expertise, all those things. But when you’re doing creative work in that deep-dived way, then you’re doing something that is access­ing all the other parts of the self, which are not generally needed, say for even high-level jour­nalism or quite a lot of nonfiction. You need to use your brain and your experience your ideas, but you’re not going to into those other strange places where you don’t know what’s there any more than anybody else does. And that’s where the dangers start, because you’re always going to uncover things that will challenge you so that they can then challenge other people.

— — —

I didn’t write anything down. It was too dan­gerous.

— — —

There is a moment when you describe how your adoptive mother, Mrs. Winterson, burned your books and you decided that you would be a writer. Did you begin right away?

No. I didn’t write anything down. It was too dan­gerous. Everything lived in my head. Of course I went to the library and discovered books, but I also discovered that keeping books was very risky.

My tradition anyway was an oral history be­cause of my father not reading at all, and my mother reading the Bible out loud. The church, of course, is an oral tradition — it’s about testi­mony, it’s about witness, it’s about preaching. Where I come from, in the north of England, telling stories is what people do. Even now, when I write, I write and read out loud at the same time. It’s not a silent process for me. And when I finish my work at the end of the day, I stand up and read it back properly — I don’t just read it silently. You can’t cheat the ear in the way you can cheat the eye.

No, once I decided I would be writing, I cer­tainly wasn’t going to be leaving it around. Noth­ing happened until I was safe and away from home, when I knew she wouldn’t be able to de­stroy everything.

— — — —

If you’re a good writer, you should be able to write anything.

— — — —

You started writing at Oxford?

Yes, but nothing serious. I mean, I knew that the moment would happen. I’ve always trusted that I would know what to do when I needed to do it. And so when it was time to write Oranges, it was time to write Oranges.

We’re very anxious about time. We’re always interfering with the process [of writing]. You know, it’s like planting something in the gar­den then ripping it up to see if it’s growing — it’s mad. You know, you just have to believe that something has happened, though you’ve made some sort of decision about yourself, and then wait … to see what happens next. And there will be some prompting. It’s not about laziness or running away from it, it’s about recognizing that something has shifted in yourself — you know what you’re going to do, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to do it immediately.

So … I don’t think there’s very much trust anymore in the creative process, and I think that is one of the baleful results of all this cre­ative writing stuff. You know it’s all about the process, and formula, and exercises and ques­tions, and everybody is panicking about when they’re going to publish, and what their career is. It’s very bad.

— — — —

I don’t think of books as objects, I think of them as energy in tangible form.

— — — —

What sort of advice do you give your own stu­dents about writing?

I say, “Make sure it’s the best that you can write, and the rest is about the marketplace, and it’s not the same thing.” I don’t really do very much of this — I’ve been doing it for two years now at Manchester, almost as an exper­iment for myself, just to see what’s going on in there. And, I think the process, the neces­sary processes of these things — ours is the MA, I suppose yours is the MFA — get in the way of what writing actually is. I mean, why should they turn in something with five thousand words if all they’ve got to say is going to fit into two thousand? I get very angry about that, but I can’t fight it, ’cause you know I go to the course and say, “This is complete bollocks! Nobody works like this!” But what can I do? Because that’s the way the thing’s structured.

But at the same time, I’m very rigorous when I say to them, “You must learn how to do effec­tive journalism. You must know what five hun­dred words is, seven-fifty, a thousand, two thou­sand, three.” You know, ’cause I’ve got a dial in my head — if you give me a subject, I can turn in any of those lengths. And that’s just practice and also knowing how to do it. So I want them to know how to do that kind of thing, ’cause that’s marketplace work. And you should have a high level of skill. I’ve got great respect for top-end journalism, you know, it’s fantastic. But you can’t then turn that dial when it comes to creative work and say, “Oh well, now I will write my five-thousand-word short story.”

It just doesn’t work that way.

I don’t think so. But you know, forms are changing. I mean, I say to my students, “Why on earth do you want to write a novel? You know, the form’s on its way out. You know, it’s lying on the table on artificial respiration and blood transfusions. Forget it — make new forms.” And this makes them rather panicky.

Yeah.

(Laughter).

— — — —

I think it’s very good for children to have an­imals because they learn to love that way, and they learn to look after something that’s not them.

— — — —

Loss is a theme in much of your writing. When your cat Minnie died, you wrote on your blog: “There are people, plenty of them, who think an animal is just a child substitute, or just a thing on four legs that is nice for the kids. But a cat or a dog is not a substitute for anything. It is itself, and can be a place of both comfort and continuity.” I fully agree; I have two cats myself. Perhaps you can comment fur­ther on the essentialness of the beloved being or object, whether it’s a cat, or person, or book.

It’s important to have things that you love. Whatever they are, whether they’re animals, people — not too many objects, I mean, we don’t want to get in a world where all we want is stuff.

Books are different. I don’t think of books as objects, I think of them as energy in tangible form. So, you know, it’s sort of the mass/energy thing, that everything is energy but we seem to manage to reduce it to mass, which is rather depressing. So it’s about trying to get back to the energy of any situation.

Animals are great energy, you know, they really connect with you. And they’re comfort­able with their own bodies, which I love, in this world where everyone is uncomfortable with their bodies. It’s such a relief to be with an an­imal that’s not going around saying, “Does my bum look big in this?”

Yes. I would be pretty annoyed if my cat said that all the time.

But you know, they don’t mind wearing the same thing every day, and they always know that they look great.

My girlfriend, who is Jewish, isn’t really into animals. And you know, it’s hard for her to re­alize that I do have this deep connection with them, but I do. And with the natural world, you know that’s who I am. And I think having things to love does matter because love is very difficult.

I think it’s very good for children to have an­imals because they learn to love that way, and they learn to look after something that’s not them. And they also learn some species objec­tivity, so that not everything is about Homo sapi­ens — they realize that there are other life forms on this planet, and that it doesn’t always revolve around their needs. So that’s great for kids, you know, both to become adults, but it’s also good in the state we’re in now. I think it teaches them real ecological awareness. I think it’s really im­portant for kids to know there are differences out there.

Portrait by Shawn Yu for BROAD STREET

Your memoir also addresses the struggle of living with love and loss — duality, opposites, and in some cases, contradictions. But you also write about second chances. You write, “I know now af­ter fifty years that the finding/losing, forgetting/ remembering, leaving/returning, never stops.” I believe that is at the core of your memoir.

Yes, it is. There is only one task, isn’t there? Which is to live your life. But that’s so difficult to do. Probably because now there’re so many contradictory and conflicting and competing im­pulses and demands. There’s so much noise in people’s heads; it’s very hard for them to clean that out. They think, Well, who am I in this world? You know? — What can I contribute and what do I want?

I think people are very frustrated about not having creativity in their lives. We’ve de-skilled the working population so much, nobody knows how to make anything anymore. They come home, the food is in the fridge. I think that’s re­ally frustrating for us because human beings are ingenious, we’re clever, we know how to make things, we like that. And then to suddenly be de-skilled in our lives and have nothing to do but live in this passive way — I think it’s very bad for our mental health. I think that’s partly what all this rush toward the writing programs, the cre­ativity, is about. People say, “No, I am creative.” It’s no wonder everybody wants fame, this Amer­ican Idol, X-Factor kind of thing, ’cause it feels like the only way out.

I sometimes say to kids, “Of course do your work, but also, respect who you are in the world. Learn to cook, learn to make something, learn to grow something. Have a connection both outside of the whole business of your wage, your status, your salary, even outside of your creative work.”

What makes me balanced is that I live the way I do: I grow my own food, I’m a good cook, I chop the wood and put it on the fire. So there’s a whole life for me which is absorbed in the real life, I think, of being human, and enjoying the time it takes to shop and to cook and to grow the food. It’s not a waste of time! This is my time, it’s my life. I don’t want to go and buy some boil-in-the-bag cod and stick it in the microwave. I want to have my friends around for supper and enjoy that conversation. The simple things like that will so hugely enrich your life and also take you on to the big questions. The small spaces are always connected to the big spaces. I have some of my best ideas when I’m staring at a sauce.

— — — —

I think people are very frustrated about not having creativity in their lives. We’ve de-skilled the working population so much, nobody knows how to make anything anymore.

— — — —

You let it sit for a minute while you run over to the computer.

Yeah, you do! Exactly. You know, there’s a bit when you think, Oh, that has to go in the fridge for a half an hour. So then you can think either, I can do my emails — which I don’t — I usually think, Right, I got half an hour, I’ll read a couple poems or a story. I feel so alive in that process of making something beautiful and then I get to read some­thing. And it really doesn’t take up much time — it’s taking up the time of watching some crappy sitcom on the TV, you know, or just feeling like shite and doing nothing. So it’s really about a sort of wake-up call to think, Okay, maybe my life is not perfect, but what can I put into it will make me feel better? Which is, you know, your creativity — in every sense, I think.

That’s where I’m going, that’s my message at the moment in my evangelistic way: for people to reclaim that creativity in every aspect of their lives and not just give themselves over to these fast-food giants and other lunatics out there that want you to be utterly passive and become consumers.

To own your own life.

Yeah, exactly. That’s what I mean when I talk about the “half life.” We’d start to have a quiet revolution if everybody just took back their own life and said, “No, I won’t serve these bigger in­terests of the corporations.” You know — “I’ll claim back my own life, I’ll serve my family, my community, things that I think are important.” It would change everything.

In a previous work of nonfiction, Art Objects, you wrote that you had all but abandoned content in favor of form. You said, “I realize what I had known dimly, that plot was meaningless to me. I had to accept that my love affair was with lan­guage, and only incidentally with narrative.” That book appeared in 1995. How do you feel about narrative now?

Different. I think that what you do as a writer is you have to throw yourself at the problem and see what happens, and either the problem gives way or you do. But it’s always some battle, because you learn over the whole time. And I felt that it was to do with the novel, and what seemed to me to be the pointlessness of the novel, even back then — I wanted to just get away from the idea of reading for meaning, and to be going to what was deeper than meaning, under­neath it, the layers of possibility. And I wanted to, for myself, reclaim language from what was becoming a kind of degraded TV vocabulary. That there was less and less going on at the level of language, and we were using it simply as a token of exchange, just to convey information. That was not of any interest to me.

So I rushed in the other direction and thought, No, I will concentrate, as poets do, on the language and see if I can bring that into the larger space of the story, and I won’t give the story control. So there was that. And I don’t re­gret anything that I’ve done at all.

Then after The Powerbook, I thought, All right, let’s write something with more of a story, which Lighthousekeeping does have. Then I wrote some books for children because my godchildren were getting older and they wanted stories. And you have to have a good “and then, and then, and then” for kids, which is great — they love turning the pages.

One of two novels for middle-grade readers.

I suppose what’s happened is that I’ve come back full circle. I’m now confident in my own skills and capacities with language, but I also feel we are in such a fragmented world, we need stories. And it depends what you think the business of art is at any time, and it changes. And we need it to do different things for us at different times. Sometimes we need it to chal­lenge us, break us down. Sometimes we need it to heal us up, provide continuity, community. Right now there is huge hunger for stories, and for storytelling. People need a narrative of their lives because they don’t feel like they’ve got one. It seems to me, if that’s what’s needed out there, let’s give it, let’s be part of that.

A writer’s process ought to change a lot over time. So you can always recognize the voice — you always know who it is, whether it’s when they started or much later — but their preoccu­pations will change and also their understand­ing of language will change, and attitude. That’s what’s happened to me. With Written on the Body, the first line being “Why is the measure of love loss?” — I don’t believe that anymore. It’s taken twenty years to understand [love] differ­ently. But it was very necessary to believe the line when I did believe it, fully, and to move through that, away from it, from it, to think that love could be as reliable as the sun. You could have the daily rising of love. I didn’t know that was possible. But I do now.

The great thing about creative work is that it goes on teaching you as a person. That’s the most humbling experience. I’m not talk­ing about it in an objective way. It’s as though you’ve got some very patient and wise friend who doesn’t care about all the mistakes that you make; he just waits for you to get there. And whenever I do that, when I’m in my study working and the thing sort of speaks back to me and you understand things that you didn’t understand before, you find the language for it — I don’t think there is a better gift than that. It’s as though that development of the self is infinitely possible. It makes death even more perplexing because you think the point to where you get somewhere is the point where you actually exit--what’s that about?

There’s always that second chance.

Always the second chance, yeah. That never goes away. I think it’s only we in our failures and fears who cut off the possibilities of other chances, because we retreat from them. You know, one of the saddest things for Mrs. Winter­son is that what she wanted was standing right next to her — it was me. I could have got her out of that life and changed everything. She hated her life. And there was no way out except through me. I was her second chance, but she never knew that.

It’s always been a really interesting lesson to me. I think, What do I overlook? What do I miss because it doesn’t feel right or it is incon­venient or it’s not what I wanted in the way that I wanted? And yet, life is always saying, “How about this?”

— — — —

We’re very anxious about time. We’re always interfering with the process [of writing]. You know, it’s like planting something in the gar­den then ripping it up to see if it’s growing — it’s mad.

— — — —

What decisions did you make, consciously or unconsciously, about the language in which you needed to tell your life story? Did you come up with a language you feel is different from your style in fiction?

No, I think it’s obviously me. I tend to write quite short sentences, unless I don’t want to — I mean, there’s always a reason if it’s longer. I’m not very interested in subclauses. But I like to use a wide vocabulary, as wide as possible. And just to make sure particularly that the verbs are doing the right work. Verbs are really important. People tend to forget them, or use the wrong one, or they reach for an easy one.

I’m a verb monster with my students. There was one bit about somebody being plastered on somebody’s back like a koala, and I said, “Have you ever looked at how a koala sits on the back of its mother? It does not plaster itself.” And they’re going, “Oh, God, oh, God!” But the trouble to me is that it really matters, you know? (Laughs.) And they had something about the sea swishing, and I said, “Seas don’t swish! Why don’t you just go on to the seaside and look? No swish.”

It’s always about avoiding — it’s so easy with prose, and it’s not with poetry, because if you get it wrong it screams out to you straight away, you know it’s the wrong word. The slackness of the word will then pull down the whole piece. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the same with prose. I don’t want that slackness.

— — — —

I’m a verb monster with my students.

— — — —

I’m looking for something that most people are not going to notice, or they’re just going to skim over because they are reading too fast. I know that. But I have to feel, or believe, or be sure, that I’ve got the right word and that another one won’t do, and if another one were in the sen­tence it would change the weight of it — perhaps not the meaning, but the weight of it. That does matter. Sometimes I do an exercise where I take a piece of prose by a very good writer, but I know that the students won’t know this piece — I choose something quite obscure — and then I just blank out some of the words, and I say, “Okay, what word do you think fits here?” They always get it wrong. And they always choose something that weakens the whole thing. And then I whisk the cloth off and I say, “Now look. This is why these words matter, and this is why they are not inter­changeable with other ones.” And that’s always really shocking for them.

So many people admire you as a writer, as an activist, as a woman. What writers do you admire?

Oh God, so many. I mean, we all live in each other’s pockets, that’s the thing, dead and alive. You come out of everything that you’ve read. Within that, of course, as a woman you also have to find your private ancestors because there are so few of them. So naturally, you know you look for — Virginia Woolf’s important to me, T. S. Eliot, and Joseph Conrad. What I’m after all the time are places I can go when I’m stuck. I’m a big fan of Hemingway. I teach him in my courses. People are always very surprised to find him, but he’s such a good writer. The same with D. H. Lawrence. When I get stuck, if I want something, I’ll go to my bookshelves and say, “This is not working. Who shall I read?” and I’ll just trust myself to pull out the right guy — it usually is a guy because there are more of them — and find the place.

I’ll ask one last question. The theme of our debut issue is “Dangerous Territory,” and you’ve men­tioned the dangers of writing. I’m just curious what you think is the most dangerous territory.

I think the world is darkening, and that trou­bles me. It’s getting more difficult to know who’s in charge, and how to change things, which is why we have so much apathy about politics — what can we do? I have a lot of faith in young people because I know that the world doesn’t end. I’m not interested in these Arma­geddon-like apocalyptic scenarios. As people get older, they tend to think, Well, so what if it all blows up. I’ll just look after myself. It is a hor­rible attitude. As I’ve seen with my godchildren, with young people, I think, No, they will take hold of this world, they will change it.

— — — —

I think it is dangerous, that you have to take on the society that we live in rather than just accept it.

— — —

And it is dangerous. There’s all this rhetoric about how terrorism is this shadowy evil and we don’t know who the enemy is, but the cor­porate culture is the shadowy evil. That’s why the whole world has changed. We don’t know who’s in charge. It’s not that there’s a bunch of guys, you know, going around in turbans somewhere. It’s to do with the whole way our society is structured, so there’s nobody who is accountable. You never bring anybody down for it or bring anybody to justice for it. That’s tricky, and I don’t know what we’re going to do about that. You have to be actively political and be out there in the world, trying to make it better at all levels, and risk yourself, risk your own comfort.

That’s why I think it is dangerous, that you have to take on the society that we live in rather than just accept it. Even if it is working for you, it’s not working for most of us. And that’s some­thing that needs to be addressed. You know, by making it just comfortable enough and also making the people feel they can’t do anything, there are enormous crimes being committed out there.

It’s recognizing that political activism is necessary, but also going back to this sense — where’s the poetry in your private life? How will you make yourself someone who’s capable of loving? Somebody who wants to give, you know, who can bring up a family, who can look after people? How can you be a good person?

It’s so unfashionable to talk about that. But it does matter. As you know, I believe that creativ­ity is at the center of it, because it’s a lie detec­tor. And it detects the lie in yourself first of all. You think, I don’t want to be this lousy creep! I want to live up to myself. I’d like to be the hero of my own life. I think that’s a challenge worth taking on. But it is dangerous. It’s much easier just to travel with the time and think, I’ll get by.

I think, strangely, the more energy you give out, the more energy you have. I don’t know why that should be, but it’s certain that that’s — you know, I can only speak for my own experi­ence — but that’s been it for me. The people who start giving up get tireder and tireder, and it be­comes some self-fulfilling prophecy.

And the people who keep going just keep going.

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