Jeanette Winterson

WPC: Sexing the Cherry, no half light about it

What follows are three out of twelve dancing princesses telling their stories about what happened after they married three of 12 princes, from the book “Sexing the Cherry” by Jeanette Winterson. They are one of the reasons why this book is my favourite.

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We all slept in the same room, my sisters and I, and that room was narrower than a new river and longer than the beard of the prophet.

So you see exactly the kind of quarters we had.

We slept in white beds with white sheets and the moon shone through the window and made white shadows on the floor.

From this room, every night, we flew to a silver city where no one ate or drank. The occupation of the people was to dance. We wore out our dresses and slippers dancing, but because we were always sound asleep when our father came to wake us in the morning it was impossible to fathom where we had been or how.

You know that eventually a clever prince caught us flying through the window. We had given him a sleeping draught but he only pretended to drink it. He had eleven brothers and we were all given in marriage, one to each brother, and as it says lived happily ever after. We did, but not with our husbands.

I have always enjoyed swimming, and it was in deep waters one day that I came to a coral cave and saw a mermaid combing her hair. I fell in love with her at once, and after a few months of illicit meetings, my husband complaining all the time that I stank of fish, I ran away and began housekeeping with her in perfect salty bliss.

For some years I did not hear from my sisters, and then, by a strange eventuality, I discovered that we had all, in one way or another, parted from the glorious princes and were living scattered, according to our tastes.

We bought this house and we share it. You will find my sisters as you walk about. As you can see, I live in the well.

“We bought this house and we share it. You will find my sisters as you walk about.” Roma.

***

You may have heard of Rapunzel.

Against the wishes of her family, who can best be described by their passion for collecting miniature dolls, she went to live in a tower with an older woman.

Her family were so incensed by her refusal to marry the prince next door that they vilified the couple, calling one a witch and the other a little girl. Not content with names, they ceaselessly tried to break into the tower, so much so that the happy pair had to seal up any entrance that was not on a level with the sky. The lover got in by climbing up Rapunzel’s hair, and Rapunzel got in by nailing a wig to the floor and shinning up the tresses flung out of the window. Both of them could have used a ladder, but they were in love.

One day the prince, who had always liked to borrow his mother’s frocks, dressed up as Rapunzel’s lover and dragged himself into the tower. Once inside he tied her up and waited for the wicked witch to arrive. The moment she leaped through the window, bringing their dinner for the evening, the prince hit her over the head and threw her out again. Then he carried Rapunzel down the rope he had brought with him and forced her to watch while he blinded her broken lover in a field of thorns.

After that they lived happily every after, of course.

As for me, my body healed, though my eyes never did, and eventually I was found by my sisters, who had come in their various ways to live on this estate.

My own husband?

Oh well, the first time I kissed him he turned into a frog.

There he is, just by your foot. His name’s Anton.

“Oh well, the first time I kissed him he turned into a frog.” Il giardino dei tarocchi, Niki de Saint Phalle.

***

When my husband had an affair with someone else I watched his eyes glaze over when we ate dinner together and I heard him singing to himself without me, and when he tended the garden it was not for me.

He was courteous and polite; he enjoyed being at home, but in the fantasy of his home I was not the one who sat opposite him and laughed at his jokes. He didn’t want to change anything; he liked his life. The only thing he wanted to change was me.

It would have been better if he had hated me, or if he had abused me, or if he had packed his new suitcases and left.

As it was he continued to put his arm round me and talk about building a new wall to replace the rotten fence that divided our garden from his vegetable patch. I knew he would never leave our house. He had worked for it.

Day by day I felt myself disappearing. For my husband I was no longer a reality, I was one of the things around him. I was the fence which needed to be replaced. I watched myself in the mirror and saw that I was no longer vivid and exciting. I was worn and grey like an old sweater you can’t throw out but won’t put on.

He admitted he was in love with her, but he said he loved me.

Translated, that means, I want everything. Translated, that means, I don’t want to hurt you yet. Translated, that means, I don’t know what to do, give me time.

Why, why should I give you time? What time are you giving me? I am in a cell waiting to be called for execution.

I loved him and I was in love with him. I didn’t use language to make a war-zone of my heart.

‘You’re so simple and good,’ he said, brushing the hair from my face.

He meant, Your emotions are not complex like mine. My dilemma is poetic.

But there was no dilemma. He no longer wanted me, but he wanted our life

Eventually, when he had been away with her for a few days and returned restless and conciliatory, I decided not to wait in my cell any longer. I went to where he was sleeping in another room and I asked him to leave. Very patiently he asked me to remember that the house was his home, that he couldn’t be expected to make himself homeless because he was in love.

‘Medea did,’ I said, ‘and Romeo and Juliet and Cressida, and Ruth in the Bible.’

He asked me to shut up. He wasn’t a hero.

‘Then why should I be a heroine?’

He didn’t answer, he plucked at the blanket.

I considered my choices.

I could stay and be unhappy and humiliated.

I could leave and be unhappy and dignified.

I could beg him to touch me again.

I could live in hope and die of bitterness.

I took some things and left. It wasn’t easy, it was my home too.

I hear he’s replaced the back fence.

“I was the fence which needed to be replaced.”

***

Photo: a © signature mmm production

Related: My open letter to Jeanette Winterson

I have never thought to add my photographs to a literary work. I’m glad I did it now for Jeanette and:

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: Half-Light

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At wood

A word after a word after a word is power.
Margaret Atwood

It is not exactly new news but I’ve heard about it only now, via The Sarcastic Muse. There will be books in 100 years.

The article describes a meeting with the writer Margaret Atwood. It is lovely in itself and it made me comment that I might feel something similar if confronted with Jeanette Winterson to whom I wrote my open letter (and tried sending it to her via various channels but I’ve never got any proof that she has received it). She has had an influence.

But the astonishing news I found in the article concerns the project Future Library. From its website:

“A thousand trees have been planted in Nordmarka, a forest just outside Oslo, which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in one hundred years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until 2114. Tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the 100-year duration of the artwork finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.”

And this is the most optimistic thing I have heard in a while, since this is such an optimistic week. Not only will there be people who know how to read in one hundred years, but they count on the trees to continue giving us books. I don’t know which is more precious.

The project began in 2014. The first writer to deliver a book was Margaret Atwood – her piece has a title “Scribbler Moon” – and the second will be David Mitchell.

Every year one writer will deliver a text.

If you think about it like this, I’m still so young. If I start now, I might get offered to write a text for my 100th birthday.

From Slovenian coast, facing Italy. “Nono” is Grandpa, from Italian, not a no-no. This will not last one hundred years. Better hopes for the future of books.

Photo: MM

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Anything man-made

Since I’m closing in on the photo upload limit, I thought to go through my media gallery in order to select a few photos of some of my favourite man-made things from my earlier posts (i.e. from when I barely had an unrelated follower). It makes me happy to look at them again – and this is basically why I do what I do.

If you wish to know more about these photographs, you will have to look back (hihi).

I can see a few patterns: shooting things up on the trees (why?), food (well…), puurty colours, intricate shapes.

Man-made and mad-woman-shot-and-picked.

Photo: MM

For Cee’s new Anything Man-made challenge:

Poem from the board

There once was a board on my wall:

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It included many things, memories, places, each item deserving a special entry. Look, there is Trpanj and a little English town in the middle of nowhere, and postcards from A. and R. and one of a huge rock made of shells in Karpathos, which we first bought and then located the rock in nature and it was nowhere as huge as it appears, and the Kiss, and the little pin calling for 40 days without alcohol, which N. gave me for my 40th birthday and I didn’t see the zero and said: “Oh, four days, I can do that!”, and Jeanette, and Slavoj’s hand, and Mickey, and my tarok cards, and a very old cartoon from Mladina magazine saying “Sad ću ja turbo da uključim” (I’ll switch to turbo now), and poems: e.e., Kosovel, a short one on tango, and this one by Austrian poet, here in the original:

Ernst Jandl 

zweierlei handzeichen

ich bekreuzige mich

vor jeder kirche

ich bezwetschkige mich

vor jedem obstgarten

 

wie ich ersteres

tue weiss jeder katholik

wie ich letzteres tue

ich allein

I just found this poem translated into English by Peter Lach – Newinsky in his Word and image lab:

Two Kinds of Hand Signals

 

Before every church

I cross myself.

Before every orchard

I plum myself.

 

How I do the first:

every catholic knows.

How I do the second:

I alone.

But sometimes it happens that a poem really comes to life in a completely obscure little language, such as ours (close-up from the board, the postcard with the poem used to be distributed freely in a Ljubljana bookshop).

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The Source

We can all agree that every book is a source. There is nothing more precious one can give to the child as love of books and reading. I was lucky with that. But now I’ve also got the Source. She is awesome, she is in San Diego and she recently single-handedly restored my faith in humanity.

When I asked my friends and family for the titles of their favourite books as my birthday present, upon which I’ve compiled this INSANELY informative, quality and priceless booklist, she responded that she’d give me something even better. And she did – namely access to her online library. More than a thousand books. And as the list grew she did something even cuter, she told me she would search for the books from my list just because she had time. I replied that if this was meant by stalking, I’m all for it.

And so the next time I looked into her library, it had all three Jeds, for example, a Judy, a couple of Joans and whole lot of Jeanettes – only her Lighthousekeeping, which comes recommended by dear friend GG, was missing – and that’s just some of the J’s. There are authors of which I’ve never heard before writing looooong series of which I’ve never heard before. There are quirky and peculiar people’s favourites that have shaped them into what they have become, but what completely floored me was seeing that the Source had even provided all seven parts of The Witch of Grič (Grička vještica), which I didn’t even know was a series, in Croatian, no less.

As I was exploring a bit more, I opened an unassuming folder and found the missing Jeanette too. I knew this would be the first book of all that I would read, I just had the device wrong.

After the first friends gave me their favourites, before the Source, I visited what appears to be the only bookshop with used English books in Roma. I was a bit disappointed with not finding a single recommended title (I did find four others that I just HAD to buy, of course).

When I did some online research I realised that even should I wish to buy them new, the majority of titles were only available as e-books. Then my love reminded me how I wanted to have an e-reader even before we got together. This is true but as with all technical novelties I was very apprehensive (which reminds me how I recorded my mp3 cassette as soon as I first got internet access, yes, right out of the speakers to the tape, I didn’t trust the machine).

But now, considering all of the above, we agreed that it was time, and this is the result:

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My new book-KO-BOok with the first book I’m reading on it, Lighthousekeeping. Photo: MM

It even has a light to read in the dark.

For me it’s an incredible feeling: even before I actually started to read one, saving the books on the reader was like being a kid and playing with my books all over again, arranging them by alphabet, by colour, by size, except now I do it all by clicking. The first book I’m reading might be Jeanette (only proper since I wrote to her and all), but the first book I saved on it was by my dear friend Kara. She is my role-model in many ways, not only regarding her writing, also for her optimism, kindness and pure force. Now I have your fairy-tales to enjoy and compare them with my own tale.

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Times sure are a-changing: my old scrapbook with poems, quotes and stuff underneath the Kobo. Photo: MM

Thank you, the Source. You have allowed me to enjoy my reader immediately and fully. Thank you, parents, for giving me the environment in which it was natural for me to come out of the bathroom and announce that there would be snow on the mount Triglav after having read it in the newspaper when I was almost too little to speak (well, truth be told, there was a picture too). Thank you, amore, for guessing my wishes, every time. Thank you, GG, for the love in your thoughts, and thank you, Kara, for the love in your words (well, and thoughts). And thank you, everybody who have given me your favourite book. I just might read it next.

Remember – reading is a job never done. It is still done with the eyes first and the mind later, only the ink might have gone electronic.

≈ Manja Maksimovič ≈

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.)

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

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 ≈