Grazie for changing my story

An open letter to Jeanette Winterson

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Taken in London 2010 and missed by a few days. Photo: MM

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The only selfish life is a timid one. To hold back, to withdraw, to keep the best in reserve, both overvalues the self, and undervalues what the self is.

(This and all further quotes in italics on this page are from Jeanette Winterson: The PowerBook.)

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It was less than two years ago. I was in Piran, Slovenia, perched on a rock above the licking waves, afternoon sun still scorching, and I was reading. As it sometimes happens, I was reading a book which proved too good to finish. I had started it once before but let it simmer on the shelf.

Chapters with titles such as

OPEN HARD DRIVE / NEW DOCUMENT / SEARCH / VIEW AS ICON / EMPTY TRASH / HELP / QUIT / REALLY QUIT? / RESTART / SAVE

meant intent and screamed to me Take your time! The inside front cover displayed a computer screen saying Freedom for just one night, and the inside back cover invited You can change the story. You are the story.

I mean, who wouldn’t.

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As I was on the train travelling 777 km to meet him about a month later, I was reading the same book again. Underlying and marking passages that made me do it. Move. Act. Change it. And he was waiting for me with his copies (one in English and another in Italian, so that I’ll learn his language from you). And then we made the exchange. My copy for him carried a light lipstick kiss with two inscriptions. The first was something he had written to me during our three years of chats and I saved it for just this occasion:

“A wish is a dream we can make true.”

Stuck in a relationship with too many clocks and not enough time, I’d been doing what I felt was necessary to turn your Nowhere into Somewhere. This included going online to see what I’d been missing. (The body can endure compromise and the mind can be seduced by it. Only the heart protests.)

If one is open and honest, correct things happen. Just like that time all those years ago when something put Sexing the Cherry into my hands in the university library. I mean, WHO WOULDN’T?

(Seductive as it is, I still haven’t figured out what to make of this title. If I knew how to translate it, I might have translated the rest of the book as well by now. Seeing that it is my favourite book, not by you but by anybody.)

And over time, words and trust and passion have brought me to the rock with the book.

Love is worth death. Love is worth life. My search for you, your search for me, goes beyond life and death into one long call in the wilderness. I do not know if what I hear is an answer or an echo. Perhaps I will hear nothing. It doesn’t matter. The journey must be made.

I could feel little tingles on the inside. It was as if you’d just bought me a ticket.

I can’t take my body through space and time, but I can send my mind, and use the stories, written and unwritten, to tumble me out in a place not yet existing – my future.

You make future sound like a place to be. And you make it sound urgent.

If I could follow the map further and if I could refuse the false endings (the false starts don’t matter), I could find the place where time stops. Where death stops. Where love is.

Beyond time, beyond death, love is. Time and death cannot wear it away.

False starts don’t matter! Love is! It almost propelled me off my rock. As I ran into the sea and submerged to swim underwater, I felt I was ready.

We were universes dripping with worlds. All we had to do was choose.

Something was about to begin. I have chosen.

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There are no guarantees. I just have to risk it. This was going through my mind on that train, even before reading you say it.

I’m looking for something, it’s true. Looking for you, looking for me, believing that the treasure is really there. I knew from the moment I saw you (as the saying goes) how it was going to begin.

I don’t know how this will end.

One of the first things I saw in Roma was a poster saying “Io non ho paura”. I didn’t know, yet I was not afraid. And after a successful download (The trouble is that in imagination anything can be perfect. Downloaded into real life, it was messy.), plenty of arguing in English and making love in French as well as cooking in Italian:

Anyway, life is not a formula and love is not a recipe. The same ingredients cook up differently every time.

Take two people. Slice lengthways. Boil with the lid on. Add a marriage, a past, another woman. Sugar to taste. Pass through a chance meeting. Lubricate sparingly. Serve on a bed of – or is it in a bed of – ? Use fresh and top with raw emotions.

this has crystallized:

I want to be able to call you. I want to be able to knock on your door. I want to be able to keep your key and to give you mine. I want to be seen with you in public. I want there to be no gossip. I want to make supper with you. I want to go shopping with you. I want to know that nothing can come between us except each other.

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This is the other inscription your PowerBook was carrying to Roma:

“Grazie for changing my story.”

I know I should thank myself. But still I couldn’t do it without him, and, quite possibly, without you either.

And we’re making you proud. The third time I travelled there was for good. Our pack includes a little “bestia” now (and a dear friend gave me your 24 Hour Dog to read upon welcoming him – it’s frightening me too but I’m keeping him – so you see… you continue).

As does this:

I am a message. You change the meaning.
I am a map that you redraw.

Grazie, for writing important books.

≈ Manja Maksimovič ≈

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6 comments

  1. This is beautiful! Thank you for sharing – I hope Ms. Winterson sees it! I distinctly remember reading “Oranges are not the Only Fruit” and being blown away. I need to read more by her. So many great books…so little time (but a good problem to have).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ok so now I added those two books on my (way too long) to-read list. This post is beautiful and so is your story. Hope the author finds it one day. But what about you and Amore, did you both read this book before you decided to take the leap? How amazing that a book can be so inspirational! 🙂 Things happen like they should, sometimes a little push is all you need 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Curious now, SSW, one is the PowerBook but which is the second book you have in mind? Oh, do you mean Sexing the Cherry? Good choice. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words. No, amore didn’t know anything about this book before he met me, I suggested that he buys it, and he did, one copy in Italian, one in English, and then we exchanged the English versions when I visited him for the first time. And now in April it will be three years since I’m here. Little pushes are everything, we are just not as aware of them all of the time. Thank you!

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  4. Oh, so nice! So much happens to me that says “story”. How stories change our lives, and how we create our stories. And how we need to tend to the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. I find your story so lovely, and it seems it was worth jumping. So great how the right book speaks to us in the right time – in these moments they are really the best friends!

    Liked by 1 person

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