I don’t remember whose idea it was to jump in. Everything started with a challenge. It was icy cold in April and we were 15 years old. Jean dove into the sea like an otter and didn’t come out for a long time. I stood at the end of the pier with an old The Cure T-shirt on me, shivering. Finally, I gave in and let myself sink into the dark still water at the tips of my toes. It was so cold that I was swearing when I got out. We sat on the pier with salty fingers, eating chocolate cakes from our bags, our hair dripping with water. Pulp’s “Like a Friend” was playing on the headphones we shared. My feet didn’t touch the ground when I went home that day. I had never felt so free before. That pier was the center of my freedom. Since that day, I’ve always looked at the world from the end of that pier. Whatever I wrote, I always imagined myself writing it there.
When I think of them – women writers, to be more precise – I always imagine a scene like this. A place where they sit in their heads and write. I imagine that they write their books in the imaginary world as much as in the real world. Even if this place is a study or a garden in the real world, it must be a completely different place in their imaginary world. A moment when creativity stands behind them and feeds them. At some point, they must have held their breath and plunged into ice-cold water. Maybe some of them had put the kettle on the stove. Maybe they had emptied the ashtrays, or arranged flowers in a vase. Some had opened the door and taken a little walk, while others had lost their way in the dark corridors. I say that the characteristic of being a female writer is that their creativity comes from a place beyond a defined limit in their heads, from where they look at the world and write their books. It is a scene that she has collected, decorated, and occasionally dusted off when the time comes. Like Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’, but more like a personal imaginary room, a house, a garden, a pier. It is the essence of all her books. It is ‘that thing’ that creates her work.
A personal imagination
Women write novels like architectural works. When you read their books, you can imagine climbing the stairs of an apartment building, walking in the corridors of a mansion. But what really gives them meaning are the objects we break as we walk inside them; priceless vases, door handles, mirrors, hearts… When I hear Virginia Woolf, I imagine a sitting room overlooking the front garden on a spring evening. There are silver teapots and rose-patterned cups on the table. Jam jars, cake plates… The light from the gas lamp falls on the peacock feathers. The daffodils in the front garden are bright yellow. But there is a wildness outside on that spring evening. That’s where I find Virginia Woolf. Who can say that a storm won’t break out in a moment and make the curtains flutter? The wind comes like a strong thought… A force emanates from Woolf’s books that shows how tranquility can be disrupted at any moment. It opens up avenues for her to write whatever she wants, free from restraint. Similarly, while Charlotte Bronte was in an attic writing Jane Eyre in the mid-18th century, Emily Bronte, the author of Wuthering Heights, was sitting in the cold kitchen of an abandoned, large stone mansion, with the sound of the storm coming through the frozen windows. An elderly servant woman wearing sweaters and a shawl sits at the wooden table peeling potatoes. Then there’s Marguerite Duras. She writes under the terrace of a bungalow in the Mekong Delta on horrific swamp nights where tigers roam. The sound of car horns mixes with the music coming from the pickup truck. The view flows towards the Pacific. As in her book, The Lover, the Mekong River carries everything away. Nothing is as strong as the river. Nothing is permanent. Reality, like the endless accumulation of garbage that rivers carry, emerges with reeds, fences, boxes, bottles, old clothes, dead sheep, and sometimes corpses, reaching up to the surface and extending a hand. But it’s impossible to say that we won’t find this thing unsettling, even undesirable. Margaret Atwood is a bridge, just like the bridge in “Cat’s Eye.” She hangs over the frozen river, that forbidden and desolate place. The ice below cracks and swallows the little girl who went down to get her blue hat. Sevgi Soysal is writing while living in a house in Ankara with curtains billowing in the current. Meanwhile, Tezer Özlü is sitting in a cemetery writing. The Selviler trees above her head are waving. The tombstones are covered in moss, and the air is cold. Ursula K. Le Guin is a wise woman who lives in a courtyard where the sun shines and the rain falls, surrounded by other worlds and races, with her cat and old dog curled up together. As all those worlds revolve around the tiny courtyard, the woman calmly sits in a wicker chair and writes about her dragons. It’s from her that I first learned that dragons are fragile things. And that they find people funny. It’s hard to describe Nobel Prize-winning South African author Doris Lessing. Walls are built and walls are torn down in her presence. When they disappear, the molds vanish. There’s no longer a need for a safe place to hide. Even if there’s still a trace of a wall here and there, Doris Lessing belongs in the open air. That’s why she has a character that’s free, easily misunderstood, combative, and able to make herself accepted.
The dizzying smells of books
Just like some books rise before my eyes like a house, some books smell like little perfume bottles I can spritz myself with. I can describe them as a scent. The queen of crime novels Agatha Christie smells of the rich and dark scent of the ivy flowers that cover the walls of an old mansion. This scent has small folds and shadows where any type of crime could be hidden. Sylvia Plath’s poems smell like a garden before the rain or the sea that suddenly hits you when you turn a corner. It hits you suddenly and lingers for a long time. Tezer Özlü has a smoky atmosphere, resembling the smell of incense made of the combination of library, cigarette, and a cup of tea. Toni Morrison has a sweet and human scent that blends with fresh water, cool and humid, touching the soul of a person. It is a scent that is half-angel and half-human. Emily Dickinson has a complex scent made from a blend of hundreds of different little flower oils. It takes a keen nose to discern the individual components of this scent. Flannery O’Connor evokes a frightening scent of swamps that makes your insides shudder. The characters in this scent live amphibious lives, and it is one of the best examples of Southern Gothic style. And then there’s Isabel Allende. It smells like a kitchen where the roots of women’s wisdom lie. Various herbs are cooking over the fire. The smells of earth, sea, mountains, and rivers spread from the pots. “Souls,” says my imaginary Allende about them. In that kitchen, she distills the spirits of the world.
The spirits of the world
Perhaps there is a cost to distilling the spirits of the world, just as writing is a cursed thing done with fire, steam, and spices like cooking. It requires a bit of oddity to deal with the spirits distilled in that kitchen, maybe living in a cabinet like Emily Dickinson. Or it becomes inevitable to do something like Virginia Woolf, filling her pockets with stones and throwing herself into the river, or Sylvia Plath sticking her head in the oven. Some die during childbirth like Charlotte Bronte, while some age at eighteen like Marguerite Duras. Some become heroin addicts like Anna Kavan or alcoholics like Dorothy Parker. Yet, there are those like Mary Shelley who gifted Frankenstein’s monster to the literary world with her first novel. Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s novel “Wuthering Heights” is also as cursed as a monster.
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