By: Erin Kayata
While flying from Boston to San Antonio, Texas, I embarked on my spring break reading: Travelling to Infinity, the memoir by Jane Hawking which the recent movie The Theory of Everything is based upon. When I was watching the Oscars a few weeks prior, I became intrigued by the story. Having not yet seen the movie, I decided to start off by reading the book. After all, the book is always better than the movie and being compelled to write about personal romances myself, I was interested to see how Mrs. Hawking devoted an entire memoir to her marriage.
The book, while a good read, did not impress me. This was due in part to the immense focus on Stephen Hawking. Jane Hawking seems fascinating to me. A doctor in Romance languages, I was more interested in her work than Stephen’s (admittedly, I am much more literary minded) and was sad to see a woman who does such fascinating work devote her writing to a failed marriage.
In spite of this, I was deeply invested in the story. I was so interested in the experience of being married to and raising a family with a person with a mobile impairment. I felt for Hawking as she struggled with these duties. I also related to her experience of having a relationship with someone intelligent to the point of being eccentric with such a vastly different area of expertise from her own.
I realized that my discomfort with Hawking’s focus in the book was a bit hypocritical. In fact, a month earlier, my friend posed me the same question while I was telling her my idea of writing a memoir based off my dating experiences.
“But Erin,” she said, “You’re so much more interesting than that.”
In some sense, this may be true. I’ve travelled to places like Luxembourg and Athens. I write everything from fiction to poetry. I read excessively when I can, hitting upwards of 20 books a year. However, I too, find myself drawn to writing about my love life. Why?
This question can, in part, be answered with a quote from one of my favorite songs from the band, Bastille. “I have written you down now,” they sing in their song “Poet”. “You will live forever/all the world will read you/and you will live forever/on eyes not yet created/on tongues that are not born.” To me, the ultimate romance in writing about my former flames comes from the permanence of words.
“This is the only immortality you and I may share,” reads the last line of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and it is so true. I feel the need to honor the ones I’ve loved or shared a romantic connection with in the past. There’s something so touching to me about capturing them, in the details and in the story, and having that remain as a legacy. Perhaps the subjects do not feel the same (especially those portrayed in an unflattering light), but to me, I like the idea of my stories, whether they be about true love or a fleeting fling, remaining in the world for posterity, or at very least, for my future dates to read so they’ll know that I’ll probably write about them. But there’s no greater gift than love and I think it’s so important that if we can, we capture it on the page and share it with the world.
The second part to this question can be answered with the tug of familiarity I felt when reading Jane Hawking’s description of Stephen’s intelligence: how she often had to make excuses for his disinterest in small talk, how he got so deeply involved in thoughts of physics that she referred to it as his “mistress”. I spent a good majority of my late teenage years involved with a boy who posed Hawking-esque intelligence in that his genius often veered into the realm of eccentricity.
This moment of recognition comes only from me: a 21-year-old whose relationship experience is mainly limited to that. But I imagine the book struck a cord with anyone else who’s loved a great intellect or with anyone who’s cared for a disabled spouse. Many with loved ones with ALS undoubtedly also related, as did anyone who’s loved someone with an illness with a terrible prognosis. The list, I’m sure, can go on. Why do we write at all, really? To create these small moments of comfort for others, to see their experiences reflected in ink and to know they’re not alone. This especially applies when it comes to the beauty and sometimes horror of romantic relationships.
My copy of Travelling to Infinity begins with a quote from French writer, Gustave Flaubert: “Human expression is a cracked kettle on which we beat out music for bears to dance to, when really, we long to move the stars to pity.” An appropriate foreword, seeing as Jane Hawking titled her first memoir about Stephen, Music to Move the Stars. While I will no doubt continue to write about a wide range of other subjects throughout my lifetime, I will probably also spend the better part of my eternity searching for the music to move the stars.
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