Edward Albee observed that there are only two things to write about: life and death. He was right, of course, but in life the only thing that really matters is love.
Video transcript follows below:
Whatever you write about, write about love and death. The English painter B.R. Haydon observed that “Love and death are the two great hinges on which all human sympathies turn.” There are other things, of course, but mostly what matters is love and death.
Take death, for instance. The only certainty of the human condition is that we will die, and it’s our capacity to conceive of our own mortality that makes our lives dramatic and meaningful. So while it’s also true – certainly if one believes Jacques Lacan – that we can never satisfy our desire, what makes this condition a tragic one is the ticking clock: the certainty that we are always running out of time.
But then there is love, the great consolation. There are other consolations – you can take consolation in art and beauty and pleasure and the sublime. But most of us, in our final days, will evaluate our lives based on the extent to which we have loved and been loved. For Michel Houellebecq, at the end of Atomised, this is the final evaluation of our species: “Tortured, contradictory, individualistic, quarrelsome, [the human race] was capable of extraordinary violence, but nonetheless never quite abandoned a belief in love.”
Imagine a story about a child who goes to buy an interactive Tracy Island toy. Boring! But, if the kid is out on his own because his mum doesn’t love him, and if his kindly grandfather has just died and he has just come to terms with his own mortality, then this is a story that could break your heart.
Imagine a story about a woman who watches a soap opera every night. Boring! But if she’s 94 and a widow and she watches the programme because the male protagonist reminds her of her late-husband at the time they married, then this is a story that could break your heart.
Love and death needn’t always be present so clearly, but most stories require at least their shadow. After all, in the final analysis, what else really matters?
Thanks for watching, and good luck with your writing.
The thumbnail for this video uses an image by Jacob Haas. It is covered by a Creative Commons license and you can find more of his work here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/untitled13/