Mainly writing on the issue of being a woman, as an author Meltem Arıkan traces the unique path of her career from its beginning to now. Her novel, Stop Hurting My Flesh, which addresses ‘incest’, was banned in early 2004. After litigation, it was released and won her “The Freedom of Thought and Expression Award” in the same year. She always has a large fan base, but she also has her critics, who bluster against her because they are disturbed by her struggle against honor crimes and sexual abuse.
First Published: 06.09.2009 | Hürriyet Sunday, Faruk Bildirici
My first question: Do pigeons bring bad luck?
My homeland was not my childhood but my journey to womanhood. The memories of my early years are full of grief. When I was five, we went for a short weekend trip with my parent’s friends. Just before we started to return home, my mother told me that having pigeons in the car would bring bad luck. Still, on the way home the children of another family wanted to buy some pigeons and did so. Shortly thereafter we had a terrible car accident. Since there weren’t any ambulances available, they took us to the hospital in the back of a truck. I could never forget Mummy’s groans and Daddy’s words: “Everything will be okay.” On the way to the hospital I struggled with many questions in my head like, “Did we have an accident because of the pigeons?”, “Is God punishing us now?”, “Why does God give punishments?” “If God punishes us then why should I love him?” “Will my Mummy and Daddy die?” My parents stayed in the hospital for a very long time and then I lost my mother. When she passed away, inquiry and insurrection had already been intertwined into my thoughts.
The spirit of 68: Born at the age of rebellion
I am a real member of 68-generation. Perhaps just because I was born at an age of rebellion, my childhood and teenage years were filled with rebellion. They kept telling me that my first game was to pretend that I was a hippie. I would sit on the pavement, holding my chin in my hands and wait till I heard the whistle of my father, which made me scream and run, pretending it was the whistle of the policemen.
The birth of my son: The turning point of my life
The biggest turning point of my life was the first 24 hours after my son Ege was born, when he was at risk of dying, and for a few months after that. It wasn’t because I had become a mother or was going through a postnatal depression. What I went through and witnessed in those days became the originating point of my many decisions in life.
My next book: This time “Snakes”
In my previous book, The Tempest of Yearning, dolphins assume a special significance. While I was writing the book, I swam with the dolphins in order to get more familiar with them. I’ve decided that my next book will cover snakes. The context of my next book was formed just after I put a cobra around my neck and spent some time with it. Nowadays, I am making plans to spend more time with snakes and get to know them better. For me, getting to know another living creature is not achieved by reading books or watching documentaries, but by being able to be with them and with all my five senses, in the same environment.
My definition of life: Life is like Thai cuisine.
For me, life is like Thai cuisine. It offers you various kinds of tastes and gives pleasure even if the taste you feel is hot. It is a kind of cuisine that combines things you wouldn’t imagine were possible to combine. In this life you can choose to cook or to eat; or you can live just by drinking water.
My obsessions: I do not use perfume or deodorant
One obsession of mine is having lots of candles in my home. I must have spare candles in order to light them anytime. If I like an outfit a lot, I buy two of them, just in case something happens to one. I smoke. I do not use perfume or deodorants for I believe that the best aphrodisiac is the natural scent of the skin.
My mission as an author: My focus is on women’s issues.
What I try to do as an author is express myself through my own experience of being a woman. Is it one thing to think about being human and another thing to be a woman? Those who focus on human issues broadly overlook that there is no way for men to exist as men, without women existing as women. And thus, they are condemned to be cramped in the ideologies of the previous century as long as the situation is as such. I am not concerned with “human existence” but particularly with women’s and therefore men’s existences separately. My priority is naturally being a woman because I am a woman. Those men who focus on human existence, should be courageous enough to look at their own manhood first.
My role model: I used to want a piece from everyone.
There was not one single person that I chose as a role model. When I was a kid I would dream of being as beautiful as one of our relatives, Mücella; of being an artist like my uncle-in-law, Tunç Tanışık; of being a folk dancer, who visits Europe frequently, like my aunt, Figen; and of being a good lecturer and polemicist like my father. I wished to be educated in drama, but instead attended Hacettepe University, Department of Office Management, based on my father’s choice.
Writing: Destroyed all my journals
I started reading books during the period when both my parents were in two different hospitals after the accident. I started to write a journal because the questions I kept asking were not making any sense to my peers. Then I wrote long letters to my father during my teenage years. It wasn’t easy to speak with my father because all our conversations would end as he wished. For a long period of time I communicated with my father through exchanging letters in the same house. I continued to keep a journal until I gave birth to my son. I started to keep a notebook for Ege when I got pregnant. What motivated me to write was to be able to understand and express what I felt inside without being subject to any censorship. I never let anyone read my journals and have destroyed them all, a few years ago. Those journals were my account books; and when those accounts were closed I made them invisible.
Body Language: Nobody knows his/her own body.
I am giving training courses, seminars and do research on effective communication and body language. People, both women and men, do not know their own bodies. Women think that their bodies and sexual organs are separate from each other. And men think that they have only sexual organs. Both genders believe that they can do everything using readymade formulas. Everybody likes complaining about and blaming others. It’s a pity that nobody can look at themselves when completely naked. Instead of taking the responsibility for their lives, they blame it on others’ simply because it suits them.
My personality: Stubborn and Sensitive
I have a stubborn, joyful and sensitive personality. I have the memory of an elephant. I rarely get angry, but when I do, I can become furious. I am shrewish because I cannot live my life as a woman according to the norms of society. I am even less tolerant now, since I am writing a new book.
Meltem Arıkan is a Turkish novelist and playwright. Her fourth novel Yeter Tenimi Acıtmayın (Stop Hurting My Flesh) was banned in early 2004 by the Committee to Protect the Minors from Obscene Publications, with the accusation of "Writing about the non-existing incest fact in Turkey, attempting to disturb the Turkish family order with a feminist approach.” The ban was lifted after two months and Arıkan has been awarded with “Freedom of Idea and Statement Prize 2004” by the Turkish Publishers’ Association. She published her 9th novel in 2009. Stop Hurting My Flesh was recently republished in Turkish and will be published in English in 2012.