It ain’t pizza: Verses Nature

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I once had a fight after school with a girl called Lorna. No idea, now, why it started. Word had spread and a crowd was ready and waiting. We did our best to rip each other apart. One of the male teachers split it up and gave us detention.
– Nice girls don’t fight,
he said,
– Nice girls don’t need to fight.

 

(Years later, at my therapist’s)

 

– I see,
she said,
– how did it feel, to rip… Lorna?… apart?
– It felt… great!

– It felt nice to be angry?
– Yes!
–To let yourself go?
–Yes!!!
– When was the last time you felt that good?

(from Verses Nature (The Memoir Of A Lonely Hotwife) vol.2: Your Joy Is Your Own. Image: Ralph Evans)

 

 

from the author:
What is a novel? What is a genre? What does it mean to read? How do I read? How am I a reader? What do I expect from myself and from the author?


For each of these questions, there is no straightforward answer. Not for me. It’s time we recovered from our assumptions. The open-ended structure of Verses Nature refuses to play to such assumptions, soliciting instead various levels of surprise.

Whooah… what the…?

Readers find themselves having to reposition, to redefine and thus relocate themselves in new narrative/interpretive spaces. The intention is to agonize the reader so that she accepts that the novel is out of my hands and becomes her responsibility:


– If the reader fails to see my female protagonist, Carmina, in all her complexity, seeking instead to reduce her to a woman whose racial profile is more pronounced so that she fits ready-made (and white-ordained) notions of blackness, this reader must accept the responsibility for her expectation and hopefully interrogate why this expectation exists in the first place. Someone asked me – very kindly, of course – to make Carmina’s racial profile more identifiable. In other words: blacker. Hell, no! She’s not a pizza where you get to choose the toppings. If she’s black enough for me, why isn’t she black enough for you? Why do you need her to be so other? This person asked for more racial profile and I wrote the above scene. It has nothing to do with race. Will this person dare to insist on a blacker Carmina or will they, finally, get the point?

– If the reader is not always  given a clear point of entry into a text, but must decide for herself where she must place her eyes on the page and where to go from there, this reader must accept responsibility for how she makes meaning from the text.
– If the reader finds herself constantly rethinking, renaming the place this work occupies (is it a novel? Is it erotica? Is it feminist literature?), then because I have not alleviated her of the responsibility to decide for herself what she wants to see. This reader must acknowledge, by virtue of her doubts, that such classification is not quiet, but always on the move. Not silent, but noisy.


By deliberately writing a work with numerous dynamic interfaces and by testing out the various levels and limits of their co-existence in my mind and in that of the reader, the Verses Nature trilogy hopes not only to give you a damn good read (it’s very high in the amazon charts, so thank you!), but equally to make a valuable contribution to ongoing discussions about the properties of the novel and representations of the self.

Look till you break

Apart from editing and a final revision, I finished the translation of Joan Barbara Simon’s Verses Nature: In the Beginning Was The Heat. Initially I revolted against the male protagonist, Tatar, as it was very conflicting to put myself in his skin, his mindset and especially his words. I wrestled with him for a long time, but as he is an undeniable reality that can be seen in many lights (and should) I put in every effort to genuinely do him justice in German and reflect who he is or might be for that matter.

 

To bond with the female counterpart, Carmina, was essentially ‘easier’, as her struggle is a well-known and yet potentially kept silent reality of too many women, too many female narratives that remain hidden in the bedroom drawers of pain, shame and agony. She is made of flesh and blood, of bad and good, of pain and pleasure and she is done with apologising, with justifying herself and selling herself short. She rewrites her own story and as hurtful as it is, she changes the predestined conclusion of her life.

 

Even though Verses Nature contains raw sexual matter (so what?), it does not deserve the common, depreciative and cheap stigmata associated with erotic fiction. It is indeed literary if one dares to take the time to dig deeper, read beyond every word and sense and dive into each page without preconceptions and judgements. Each page takes and needs its space in meaning, the process is akin to the musing of a painting, a portrait, as intimate as it gets, to swim through the features and textures of a face, a personality that is deeply flawed, human, hurt and lusting after life. Every time that I thought that I had figured them both out, I was wrong and rediscovered a new aspect that could be closer to the truth. When approaching Verses Nature, one has to do so with an open mind, it takes time and a lot of unburdening, but I managed to sincerely appreciate it, it challenged me and I do not say this because I consider Joan to be a dear friend of mine or because she chose me to be the translator, but because these narratives matter and need to be told and dissected. Even if Tatar might come across as an incredible asshole, a misogynist, a nonsensical skirt chaser or Carmina as threatening, vulgar and uncomfortable, they stand utterly exposed and therefore vulnerable and that’s the point, not to be judged, but to be understood, analysed. Together, they are representative of the social, political, religious, familial and emotional issues that still have a long way to go in today’s society. They cannot be reduced to black and white shades, they are in no way extremes or stereotypical binary oppositions. They might be you and me, then and now, they are intertwined and consist of common dysfunctional and functional features that we all possess and control more or less. Verses Nature is holding up the mirror to your face and challenges you to keep looking. Maybe if you figured out how to gaze, it will break.

(Laura Gentile)

 

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Thank you, Laura, for the excellent translation into German and for this spot-on evaluation of my book! I’m continually tweaking the book’s categories. After adding the subtitle: Memoir Of A Lonely Hotwife, it shot to #1 on amazon yesterday. True, the rankings are updated hourly, so fame is short-lived but the pleasure is nonetheless sweet. I like the word memoir as it shifts the book to a place where fiction and non-fiction may co-reside. Just as Verses Nature can be seen as erotica and more, the social, political reality it depicts also makes its fictional characteristics move beyond fiction to become that ‘more’ which invites us to keep questioning. So readers, if you feel like a challenge, here it is, ready and waiting.

How To Stay Alive (from a survivor)

The doctor said it was too late. Soft medicine would be of no use to me now. I cried into my pillow as the visions of what I still wanted to achieve in my life flashed before me then ran off into the bushes.

Don’t move. If you do, you could bleed to death in less than three minutes.

I practised being dead, resisting every urge to cough or twitch, but first I called the children to hear their voice in case…

And as I practised being dead – getting better and better at it – a familiar face ventured almost apologetically into the room.  So grateful was I to see him one more time that I cried in earnest. It wouldn’t matter if I bled to death now.

That was nearly two years ago. Two years, over 600 pills a month and the will to prove everyone wrong. Whenever anyone says ‘no’ to me, I make it my mission to prove them wrong. The doctors had been telling me for years that  I would be on medication for life.

‘Are you sure that I won’t be able to get off these pills one day?’
‘No. Let’s be honest’.

That was their No. Not mine. On my miraculous journey back to health from a chronic kidney disease, I encountered a wonderful soul with a simple message: we can eat our way back to health and the way to do so is to practise intermittent fasting. It sounded like just another fad to me and I challenged the author to give me good reasons why I should take him seriously. He won me over. I read his book and you know what: I feel GREAT! I’m not going to twist your arm or try to talk you into anything because I’m not motivated by self-interest. There is a growing body of research on the benefits of intermittent fasting. I only know it is helping me to regenerate both my body and my mind. If you would like to know more, click on the image below to receive your copy of this short yet life-changing book.

 

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Staying with the topic of health, I’d like to share with you an amazing piece of fiction by  Mari Reiza. My first encounter with Mari was via her book  Physical: The Catastrophe of Desire. This is a first-class piece of feminist humour which I would have loved to read all over again, but I decided to try another title to see if Mari could enthrall me yet again. Oh yes she can! I’ve just finished reading Room 11: A Man Sits Singing Where A Woman Lies Dreaming. This is an impressive book that should have its place on the reading list for Contemporary Fiction or Women’s Fiction around the world (says I, as a  Creative Writing lecturer). Reiza’s short book nonetheless takes on epic dimensions of mind, inhabiting liminal spaces that churn around love, desire, belonging, acknowledgement, You would need to be an erudite reader to take in all the references in this story which frequently returns to Greek mythology and escapes (or so I find) into surrealist-like fantasies that call to mind Kafka. In many ways I see the work as a tragedy of love. It’s a breathtaking work that left me exhausted and thoroughly elated. Just read it!

 

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Like Loui Lam, Mari was amazingly open to my questions and comments about her book. I love that dialogue between authors and readers!

If we want to stay alive, physically and mentally, then we shouldn’t play dead. We should be open for new encounters that have the potential to refresh our souls. I remember reading a blogpost about a woman who one day realized that her reading was in fact limited to English and American authors, so she determined to correct this blind spot by aiming to read a book from every country in the world over the course of a year. That’s some goal! There’s so much out there for us to discover and that is why I would now like to make a request:

Tell me about your favourite fiction titles and/or any life-changing books you’ve read and why you think everyone should read them. Depending on how much time you have or want to spend, you can tell me about a single title or many. I’d love to share this list over the course of forthcoming posts so we can all stay alive.

More good news: I competed my second PhD in February, despite all odds. I’m very proud to be able to call myself Dr Dr Joan Barbara Simon (or Joan Barbara Simon, PhD, PhD). Achieving the unthinkable is also one reason why I have been away from this blog for so long. Well, now I’m back, full of love and life and love for life and I want to share as much of what I’m reading, doing and thinking with you so don’t be surprised if my posts bounce from theme to theme: it’s just how I am, not trying to concoct some marketable brand but giving you the real deal on who and how I am.

 

A final piece of good news: my historical novel, Long Time Walk On Water, is now ranked #1 in 3 amazon categories! It’s a pity that there are so few reviews to let readers know what to expect. If you have read and enjoyed the book and would like to take a few minutes to share your views, please click on the link below.

Review Long Time Walk On Water Vol.1

Thank you for that and hear from you soon with your personal Best Books!

 

The Queen’s speech for 2017

In the words of my favourite friend and queen, Yode Olubajo:

 

Dear friends,

This year, I’m struggling to write you because it truly has been an anus horribilis on a world wide scale… Where does one start? We continue to witness evil on an unprecedented scale, with the loss of so many innocent lives… One cannot begin to imagine the sorrow and pain of the families and loved ones of the victims… And for the victims who survived these atrocities, many now living very different lives than what they had imagined for themselves..

Many of you will be asking, if there is a God, why is  this happening?.. Well, you see, heaven helps those who help themselves. We must take responsibility for our actions. Those who use religion as an excuse to commit heinous crimes, have nothing to do with God or religion..The world we have been given, is a beautiful place… And mankind is destroying it.

Nevertheless, I decided that I will see the glass half full, and not half empty. There are many many positive aspects of our lives we take for granted, that we ought to be grateful for.. Just waking up daily and breathing the fresh air, the food on our table, roof over our heads, the wonderful friends and families we share..to state a few obvious blessings..Many of us are at that age where we are losing loved ones, some prematurely, and some, because it is simply time… Challenging and painful though it is, we are still here and must continue to live life to the full.

On a personal note, I feel very blessed… I can not complain about my life. I have my ups and downs like everyone, but, I’m constantly learning to put things in perspective and not dwell on negativity, because it only destroys us in the end.

I reached my 5th decade recently, with many of you celebrating with me. I felt so fortunate and incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so much love… What a week that was…! I am thoroughly blessed.

I’m hoping to be able to give you some news early next year on a project I’m working on.. I’m very excited! And I’m bloody terrified too…! LOL!

As always, I was not able to physically see all of you this year, and it has flown by again..! Each year seems to get shorter, or are we just getting busier?! But, you are often in my thoughts and I continue to pray for your well being and fulfilment..

Wherever you find yourself this festive season, I hope you have a wonderful, relaxing time with your families and loved ones… I am in Toulouse enjoying quality time with friends..As we enter the new year, I pray for a calmer, safer and healthier world for all of us.. Remember to make the most of every day… Life is now! It ain’t no dress rehearsal!

 

God bless you!

 

Love always,

 

Yodé xoxoxoxo

why you should never fake an orgasm (and why I did)

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If you fake it, then because you think you owe your partner this trophy as a reflection of their expertise?

Why? Why not: no work, no pay?

Who owns your orgasm? One of my favourite lines in Verses Nature is when Carmina, after a disagreement with her lover, Tatar, writes in her diary: I refused to let him make me come. Think about that for a while: I refused to let him make me come.

Carmina owns her body, its pleasure, no matter if Tatar is convinced otherwize. Her orgasm: a gift she may choose not to give?

So, when and why did I fake it? Not for them. I did it for us. I did it for Simone. Simone Leigh and I met each other online. She writes coffee break erotica for women. We’re kind of in the same line of business. I write ‘high-brow rumpy dumpy’. Officially, I call it erotic literary fiction. Men are welcome. At some point I mentioned to Simone that I am a performance artist. At a later point I had a copy of her The Virgin’s Christmas in my hands. Two plus two makes…

Sure. Why not?

One of the problems I have with most of what goes by the name of romance is the role women play. When I think that most porn is made my men for men and most romance is written for women by women, then why do romance authors perpetuate the happy end myth of woman becomes wife? Is that all there is to it? To us? Find a man then settle down? I thought Austen was dead (in that respect).

Leigh’s The Virgin’s Christmas, upon first reading, appears to fall into the category of romance (and erotica), where the female is but a life-size toy men may operate, battery-free.

Take a second look. I did. As I rehearsed this piece, it became clear to me that the protagonist, Charlotte, is everything but a mere pawn. When the Christmas gift of a threesome with her ‘Master’ and Michael is jeopardized by a snowstorm, it is Charlotte who takes the initiative. Okay, they are stranded in the middle of nowhere, far from their desired destination, but must that mean all is lost? They have food, they have blankets. They have everything they need. And Charlotte can think of a good way to stay warm and kill time…

With two men serving her from both sides, Charlotte gets the pleasure she had set out for. Her orgasm is but a couple of words in the text, words which could (easily?) be lost in the overall narrative. Charlotte is, after all, outnumbered.

This is where I step in. I transform Charlotte’s climax into the climax of the story, thereby relegating the men’s orgasms to mere narrative side effects. I read the word Master, seeing in my mind ‘Master’, the citation marks meaning ‘so-called’ and thus dethroning him who, throughout the story, remains nameless (thus exchangeable?). The thrust behind the M as I pronounce it – Master… Michael… – could easily override the softer pronunciation of Ch in Charlotte – Ch/sh, like: be quiet… shut up… it’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone… (???)

My Charlotte stays in control. Her climax, not theirs, steals the show, as ‘Master’ becomes servant, one with no other option than to accept Charlotte’s decision regarding when they will meet again.

The Virgin’s Christmas is part of a series and in this particular episode (episode 7), there are no wedding bells, near or far. Maybe the three will meet again in the New Year? Charlotte will decide. In the meantime, she gets on with her life. With her studies. She’s a bright one, Charlotte. Neither her ‘Master’ nor the love-stricken Michael are calling the shots. I loved being her. Even though Simone Leigh doesn’t accord Charlotte’s orgasm the same weight that I, as a performer, may, it’s there in the text. I didn’t write it. It’s there, waiting for me. Is my more feminist-oriented reading of The Virgin’s Christmas to be reduced to simply faking it?

Make your own mind up.