A couple of NaNoWriMo winners (2012).
A couple of NaNoWriMo winners (2012).

Recently, my reading shelf has almost entirely included books that comment upon the duality of love and pain. The morning after my boyfriend left from visiting me in New York to return to Portland, I read this passage from Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet on my morning commute at the very moment my train crested the East River:

“To catch beauty would be to understand how that impertinent stability in vertigo is possible. To be running breathlessly, but not yet arrived, is itself delightful, a suspended moment of living hope.”

How liberating, I thought to myself. Whatever pop psychology tells us, I firmly believe that every form of love or infatuation has got something to do with our own intelligent impulse to better our own situation.

I also thought about what Tabitha wrote last week in response to Tim Kreider’s editorial, which had chastised undiscovered writers for “giving it away for free.” In her response, Tabitha said: “The revolutions in our hearts do not run with the whims of capitalism; we create when we can, share where we can, and hope the hard work meets a stroke of luck strong enough to propel us into the light.” This commentary seemed like a repeat of Carson’s theories; the soul reaches for an ideal beyond the actual and Eros is discovered through this interaction. Eros is irresistible, seductive, and ceaselessly enticing to the mind. We delight in the suspense of not knowing whether or not we will consummate this understanding of ourselves. The act of not knowing whether or not we will catch beauty is what brings so much enjoyment to the act of falling in love.

Anne Carson’s point is that we love the sweetbitter satisfaction of this act (she translates a line from Sappho which refers to love as a sweetbitter). The work that goes along with writing is a bittersweet of its own because, while we lust for light, we have no idea what the future will bring. Since beginning this website for women writers over a year ago, I have had more fun as a writer than ever before. The platform of the PDXX Collective, while small, is a thrilling one to be a part of. We know that people read our writing and mostly support it and that not all of them are related to someone in the Collective. While we encounter a healthy array of rivaling views, I feel encouraged by the safety net of this community to try new approaches to my own writing.

The whole purpose of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is to light a fire under the bums of undiscovered, unagented, unpublished or published writers to write that damn novel already. You have the month of November to do it, “it” being at least 50,000 words. I completed my first NaNoWriMo in 2010 and my second in 2012.

The novel I’m writing for NaNo13 happens to be a sad love story, though only partially in a romantic way. A coworker from a job I had at a chiropractor’s office in Virginia told me that I would write—imagine this in a Southern drawl, if you please—“a great, romantic novel.” She implied that a good deal of sadness would play into my great romantic novel, as well. This woman, a victim of both Lyme disease and domestic violence, knew what it meant to love and suffer: Her husband ran a truck into her. Upon hitting her head on their cyclone fence, the dear woman suffered brain damage. She would startle very easily when I walked back into the office after my lunch break and spin around in her deskchair to look at me in alarm before relaxing into her usual laid-back welcome. How woefully Eros concludes another’s expression when you’ve been blown apart. Even the Lyme disease was a sweetbitter. She loved to go for long walks and had been preyed upon by some ticks in the tall grasses of Southern Virginia.

In writing this year’s novel, I feel like a kid trying to spin a story in a spiral-bound notebook. In the little things I wrote in middle school, I tried to make the title of each chapter as big as possible on the page, as if that title would sustain a story’s lack of plot. I grappled with what exactly or what at all I was trying to convey and felt much remorse in my strong feelings and poorer articulation. I thought the title would get me halfway there.

When Eros is over, we think we will never love again. And when we fall in love, we think we’ve never felt that way before. I would encourage each writer this month, whether in NaNoWriMo or in his or her own creative pursuits, to lose themselves to the ache of chasing after Eros, forever the sweetbitter.

If you are a woman writer and are interested in joining a community of women writers, contact us and step into the light.

Upon which I finish my first NaNoWriMo (2010) with a grin.
Upon which I finish my first NaNoWriMo (2010) with a grin.

6 thoughts on “sweetbitter

  1. I think this is how I want to live my life, which is why the stress of school is so frustrating. I was hoping to go through school with eros. Instead I’m floundering. Once, just once, I’d like to do something with full on passion. Thank you for this opportunity to get a little bit of that eros out.


  2. We were studying a bit of that eros book in my poetry seminar. Started with Sappho, of course to remind ourselves how fragile, impermanent, and fragmented our love and legacy is. Might as well write. xoxoxo. Great piece!


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