You Are Not A Stranger Here

by Sara Gran
Never Love a Stranger

Image via Wikipedia

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the places people fall when they aren’t able to fall into love–because they’re not capable of love, because they already love someone else, because the person they have feelings for isn’t lovable, because they can’t let themselves love who they do. There should be a name for this place, where people who in another life could love each other instead set their demons loose to wage war. This dark universe is where a lot of the second Claire DeWitt book, which I’m writing now, takes place. It’s a place we’ve all visited, and some of us have taken up permanent residence–and if that’s you, I urge you to reconsider and remember there are better neighborhoods and yes, they will let you in.  No one has to live there, although many seem to have forgotten where the door out is.

Maybe no short story captures this place better than Adam Haslett’s The Beginnings of Grief, from his collection You Are Not a Stranger Here. And you are not a stranger here; everyone knows this place, this netherworld of not-love. I’ve had hours of discussion about the story with my friend filmmaker Mark Levine. We’re fascinated by a lot of the same themes–how people love/hate each other, how nothing is ever simple, how life is rarely what it seems and almost never what people tell you it should be. Now Mark is making a feature film based on The Beginnings of Grief. He’s got a kickstart going on to help get production started, and I hope you’ll check it out and, if you’re able, give him a hand to get it off the ground. And for the true Sara Gran fans, there’s some cool bonuses from me for donors, too.

6 Comments to “You Are Not A Stranger Here”

  1. Wow, wow–so much to say.
    Something in here reminds me of that Scott Fitzgerald quote, “The true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time.” And to have no choice but to hold them there. II wonder if there’s some relief in life that moment, if you get it, when you realize love and hate are not opposites at all, and desire can feel like a curse. Relief, or something like it. Or if instead it just feels like all the structures have fallen (which can feel good–freeing–and terrifying).
    How did Mark pick this story?

  2. I will go support Mark!

    Happy to say I do not live in that place, but like everybody else I’ve visited and it sucks. But I imagine it’s better than that lower level of Hell where there just isn’t anything at all, the place you go when you’ve given up or you’re too frightened to try and love. Because if you can’t love somebody or they won’t love you back or whatever, why not go to war with them? Why not destroy them? At least you’re being active, instead of just withering, fading out

  3. Thank you Sara!

    @Megan, I read the story and immediately knew I wanted to make it. It fits kind of perfectly into the work I had been making, reflections on intimacy, masculinity, sexuality, betrayal. When I met with Adam (the author) I asked him if it was a true story, and he said that it wasn’t but when he was that age, this is what he “felt” like. I immediately knew what he meant, this idea that at 17, as a gay teenager in the suburbs, I felt like an orphan and sex felt violent. The story makes concrete what is for so many people just a powerful feeling.
    @Nathan, Agreed. And I think that’s what the story is about, doing something, anything, just to make sure you still feel, that you are still alive.

    • Mark, I really want you to write something for us about mascultinity/maleness/menfolk–the kind of stuff we were talking about in the hotel all night that time!

      You really hit something on the head–“the story makes concrete what is for so many people just a powerful feeling.” Isn’t that what all good stories do?

  4. You know, I thought about what I wrote and I think it was too judgmental. That place isn’t ideal, but maybe it can be a good step on the way someplace else, as it is in the Haslett story. Or maybe we don’t need to judge these experiences–maybe that’s part of how we get stuck in them. I don’t know.

    Megan, wow, see, you and Nathan have made me wonder if there is some kind of revelation or even enlightemment experience possible in there? Ie. “All the structures have fallen?” I am slooooowly realizing that the less I pass judgement on my experiences the less I seem doomed to repeat them…

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