In one of my favourite podcasts, World Book Club, Jeanette Winterson talks about her book Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.
I haven’t read it yet (interviews with authors about books you haven’t read are still fascinating!), but understand it’s based on her pretty horrendous childhood with a psychotic mother who banned books, locked her in the coal hole, and read the bible to her every day at breakfast. She comments that by all rights she should be dead after a childhood as appalling as hers.
What saved her were the books she managed to read clandestinely – at one point she amassed a collection of over 70, hidden under her mattress, until her mother found them and burned them in front of her in the back yard.
She read fairy tales about how it was always the stupid third son of the woodcutter who ended up the hero and got the gold, and thought, “that can be me”. While locked in the coal hole she made up stories of her own. And slowly she realised, as she says in the interview, “I can change the ending – if it’s your story you can, you’re not stuck, you can change it.”
And instead of ending up dead too young, she is life-enhancingly vibrant. She wrote and got published and found success and freedom. She changed the ending.
But she went through hell first. I think that sometimes we do go through periods of hell, of deep suffering, but we don’t have to stay there. Where is the line between life and fiction? If we are writing our own stories, why shouldn’t we, like Jeanette Winterson, realise that there is another option: get on with things, break out of the stuckness, and change not only the ending, but the entire script.
Or better still, abandon the script altogether – the script that might say ‘I am doomed to suffer/be depressed’, or ‘I am stuck’, or even, ‘I must work hard to be successful’ – who needs a script anyway?
Perhaps the ending only changes when we recognise the script for what it is – a script dictating our story – and decide we don’t need one. We can throw it out of the window, and say, “OK life, time for a change, I’m going to take a different direction now, let’s see where we end up!” And, like Jeanette Winterson, keep stepping forwards, smiling, eyes wide open in excitement all along the way.