Friday, December 30, 2016

Sparks and Darkness



My friend Jillian laughed at the sight of my grand jeté, which was slightly less than grand. In case you didn’t know, wearing ballet flats doesn’t grant you the ability to leap gracefully over puddles like a ballerina. I landed smack dab in the middle of a puddle, but in my defense, it was more of a lake. We had just come from seeing the movie, Lala Land, at our neighborhood cinema, but after two power outages, all moviegoers were promised a refund. Jillian and I made our way through the sea of frustrated people crowding the dark lobby, deciding not to bother the theater employees who looked ready to tear their hair out.

The choreography had colored my imagination so it appeared that all the other people attempting to leap over puddles were part of a real-life musical. Even the bus that drove past and splashed Jillian and me with a torrent of sleet was just following the routine. My ballet flats have had their final performance. (That’s the second pair I’ve ruined in the past two months.) But that’s okay. All the great dancers have worn their shoes to shreds: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Isadora Duncan, Meriwether Falk.

Electricity has been unpredictable, but I have candles and a kindle, so that’s all I need to survive. The weather has been challenging, and I partly regret not accepting my friend Kelley’s offer to celebrate New Year’s in Athens with her, but with a trip to Macedonia in January and Bavaria in April, I have whittled away my travel fund for the time being and I should try to be responsible.

I thought of Kelley yesterday, not just because she is having fun in Athens without me, but because a storm blew open my back door, which had been firmly closed. I remembered that the gutter on Kelley’s balcony is being held up by a bungee cord. That was the best the maintenance guys who look after our apartments could do after the gutter fell three weeks ago and flooded Kelley’s apartment. I had answered Kelley’s plea for help and swiftly came over, hauling an Ikea bag full of towels. It seems every teacher who has lived in my apartment before me has bought new towels, so I have a closet full of them. Not wanting Kelley to come home to another flood of biblical proportions and not wanting to spend hours cleaning up all the water again, I texted one of our maintenance guys that he should check on her apartment to make sure it doesn’t flood again. “The problem is fixed,” he insisted, but I insisted he check. I would do it myself but Kelley came by the other night to get her spare keys after locking herself out. It seems that these disruptions, scaling from mishaps to mayhem, have become so ingrained in our lives that we start to expect them.

When the power went off during the movie, which was meant to be our happy escape from the miserable weather, I told Jillian I thought it was 2016 giving us one last middle finger. Our jazz-enthused, singing, dancing, playing-among-the-stars lovers seemed destined for a happy ending when all the lights in the theater came on, breaking my reverie and awkwardly reminding everyone that we were just common people sitting in a movie theater. Then all the lights and the screen went dark. Jillian took that opportunity to breathe heavily and produce villainous laughter, just to creep everyone out. Thankfully, people laughed. We all waited. Some inventive people behind us used the flashlight on their phone to make dog shadow puppets on the screen. When some people got impatient and walked down the stairs to leave the theater, Jillian yelled after them, “Don’t leave! All is forgiven!” Jillian and I waited in the dark because we really wanted to see the characters live happily ever after. The movie came back briefly, and even though all the lights came on too, we watched in the well-lit theater until everything went dark again and it appeared less likely that our characters were going to have the kind of ending we hoped for them. Seeing as how the movie was cut short, I don’t really know how it ended and I can remain blissfully unaware, hopeful that artists really can have it all: the love of their art and each other. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Truth and Beauty



The friendship between Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy, as laid out in Patchet’s memoir, Truth &Beauty, presents a code that can be deciphered only if someone has been through the same kind of trying friendship, one in which the give and take seem so lopsided that the friendship is like a flower constantly vacillating between decay and full bloom. Both writers, Ann and Lucy met at Syracuse University and went on to become roommates and writing buddies at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Their determination to climb up the rank of published, successful authors is inspiring, especially since they both did it. They helped each other by believing in the other’s talent and also by stoking their own cordial competitiveness. Lucy in the early days exhibited great neediness. She always wanted positive affirmation from Ann, asking, “Do you love me?” and even becoming possessive and acting as a self-appointed traffic controller, holding up a “Slow” sign whenever Ann’s other friends posed a threat of crashing into the special bond that she and Ann possessed. Lucy was a battered warrior, having overcome a rare cancer that resulted in the removal of her jaw bone. Surgery became the norm as she tried all her life to reconstruct her face. The abnormality of her appearance was the foundation of her loneliness, the reason why she believed she failed at love, and was fated for a lifetime of romantic rebuff.  She had lots of friends and she always wanted to be the center of attention, the center of everything, but Ann saw her at her most raw and vulnerable. Poignant scenes in the memoir included a time Ann visited Lucy while she was living in Scotland, and wildly attacked a group of drunken fools on the street who ridiculed Lucy’s appearance. Then there was another scene in which Ann and Lucy went to see a fortune teller. The prediction for Ann’s future was bright, and Lucy’s was bleak. I enjoyed this book because I could sweetly recall friendship with someone, who like Lucy, was very needy, and also like Lucy, died too soon. As the person who gave and gave and gave, I felt a kinship with Ann Patchett. No matter how trying the friendship may be, when you lose someone so magnificent, there’s a feeling that you would do it all again, just to have that person back in your life. 


Sunday, December 18, 2016

New Year's Resolutions

I was so inspired by Benjamin Franklin's list of New Year's Resolutions, I decided to make my own, under the same categories. Here I have followed his virtuous resolutions with my own.


1.) Temperance
Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Practice self-control by habitually standing outside a kebab restaurant, staring at the revolving hunk of lamb, and repeating under your breath, “I’m a vegetarian, I’m a vegetarian, I’m a vegetarian.”

2.) Silence
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.


Convince yourself that you’re a dog without any command of speech. Therefore, “extra sour cream” and “extra guacamole” would be better left unsaid, because all that would come out of your mouth is, “Woof! Woof! Woof!”

3.) Order
Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

The fancy rowing machine you are considering adding to your living room furniture would be great for throwing your clothes on after you remove them from the dryer, but maybe try folding your clothes and putting them in the closet. Just a thought.

4.) Resolution
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

Resolve to rescue as many stray cats off the street as possible. Then you can be a crazy cat lady.

5.) Frugality
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself, i.e., waste nothing.

Do you really need a Batman flask? Really? How about a Batman garter to hide the Batman flask under your Batman dress? Earth to Meriwether. You don’t even like Batman.


6.) Industry
Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

Strive to finish your work before you go to bed so you don’t sleepwalk around your apartment and wake up sitting at your desk, wondering how you got there.

7.) Sincerity
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

Tell all your friends exactly what you’re thinking, even if it leaves you with no friends.

8.) Justice
Wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

Steal from the rich, and if poor, keep it all.


9.) Moderation
Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Do you really need a chocolate fountain?

10.) Cleanliness
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

Don’t announce to your co-workers how many days it’s been since you last showered, as if it’s some kind of badge of honor. Just keep that information to yourself.

11.) Tranquility
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Do not be bothered by mansplainers.

12.) Chastity
Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

Just be yourself.


13.) Humility
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Imitate Jesus until someone tells you that you have a “Jesus complex,” which is the opposite of humility. Your imitation of your racist uncle is much funnier anyway.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Where am I?

Sundays are always the same, despite the fact that 38 people were killed in explosions, audible from my apartment, the night before. [An obscure group called the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons has taken credit for the carnage.] This morning, I woke up at 7:30, made a pot of coffee, turned on Camera Obscura (for this moment in my life, Camera Obscura offers the right dreamy allure to get my creative momentum in full swing and help me focus on my work),  and then I drew all morning until my friend Kelley invited me to lunch. She told me that when she heard the explosions, she thought they were thunder. Maybe because I am from Oregon, where it rains all the time, I knew it couldn’t have been thunder. Thunder makes a cracking noise, and these explosions left a resounding rumble. After the eruptions, one right after the other, my neighborhood quieted down, as if everyone outside had looked up at the sky, hoping to see lightning, hoping to feel just one rain drop that might convince them the noise was just thunder, but deep down knowing exactly what it was.

Later that afternoon I filmed a protest from my window. Crowds of people marched down the street and chanted, decrying the attacks on police, I assume. People in Turkey are pitted against each other, and in my experience, some will cast a suspicious eye if they think my views do not align 100% with theirs. Recently, the chief adviser to President Erdogan claimed foreign chefs on Turkish cooking shows were spies. I figure it’s just a matter of time before foreign teachers face the same accusations. People are so quick to point fingers these days, it wouldn’t surprise me. Last week I ate lunch with some Turkish friends and another American who stated that Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-leader of the HDP Kurdish party, was being tortured in jail. The response from our Turkish friends was basically, “Let him be tortured. He’s a traitor.”

It makes me sad to hear anybody condone torture, which is partly why my night on Friday wasn’t as festive as the traditional Turkish dancing, Middle Eastern music, and tambourine playing may have suggested. The only communal synchronized dance I wish to join is the one from the movie “Living Out Loud,” starring Holly Hunter. Oh, and I’d like to have the same backless dress she wore and have the same lithe back with jutting shoulder blades. (Just in case Santa is reading this.) I worry that with such a polarizing leader soon to take office in the US, Americans will be quick to label each other as traitors and approve of any discrimination and harassment they suffer just because our president-elect insults them on Twitter. Oh wait, that’s already happening.

America and Turkey are becoming more and more alike, merging together like Sunday mornings. Sometimes I can’t tell where I am.


Work in Progress




Monday, December 5, 2016

The Cult of Trump Scarily Similar to Scientology

I came across a documentary on YouTube the other day called Going Clear and felt compelled to watch it when I saw that it was about Scientology and that it was based on a book by Lawrence Wright, an author who hits me over the head with reality. Wright reports on all kinds of terrible news with such a calm demeanor. Just imagine you have the most blissful bed in the world with a lovely down comforter and plush pillows, and then when you start reading Lawrence Wright, or watching him in some documentary, he manages to rip the covers off the bed. Then he flips your mattress to reveal that your so-called “safe haven” is actually infested with bed bugs. And those bed bugs are going to eat you alive.

So while I was watching this documentary and having my security blanket ripped from my bed, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between our President-elect, Donald Trump, and the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard.

Maybe it was the orange comb over, or the smug expression that initially made me think of Donald Trump. But I soon realized there was much more to this resemblance than physical characteristics.

The most startling and disturbing similarity I noticed was the callous greed that consumed both these characters. L. Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer who experienced his first shot of fame and fortune with the release of his book, Dianetics, in 1950. When the hype surrounding his book faded, he created a religion called Scientology, which exalted him as a saviour. His claim that Dianetics was a holy book increased sales and kept the money pouring in. These two men, despite what they have claimed, were never motivated by the desire to help people, only to make themselves richer and more powerful.

In 1993, Scientology earned a tax-exempt status in the United States, which means they can accumulate mass amounts of money and never give anything in return. Similarly, Donald Trump has managed to evade paying taxes, and although he has not released his tax returns, we can deduce from his old tax records that he hasn’t paid a dime of federal income taxes since 1995. Both men have been responsible for swindling gullible people and manipulating them into being their loyal followers.

L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986, and in the last years of his life avoided paying taxes by taking to the sea. He and a group of followers cast away on a boat, and L. Ron Hubbard was the captain of this crew, which he called the Sea Org. These people were made to feel like they were part of an elite group. Likewise, the students at Trump’s fake university were made to feel as if they were special and destined for greatness, when in reality, they were just being taken advantage of.


The leaders of Scientology have invested in real estate all over the world, much like Donald Trump has. And when foreign governments, such as Germany, became critical of their presence, Scientologists referenced the Holocaust, saying Germans were treating Scientologists the same way Germans had treated the Jews, a ridiculous and offensive claim, but a tactic that has been used in the Trump playbook. During the election campaign, Eric Trump, Donald Trump’s son, compared the media’s treatment of his dad to their treatment of Clinton and said the media were warming up the gas chamber for his father. For most people who can detect foul play, invoking the holocaust is a clear manipulation tactic, but it serves the purpose of making people, who in reality are comparatively privileged, feel as if they are a persecuted minority. We heard this several times in Trump’s speeches and on conservative news outlets. This nonsense talk plays into lower-class white people’s insecurities and fears that there is a war on Christmas or that actual persecuted minorities, such as Muslims and Hispanics, are coming to America to cause problems.

Another similarity I found impossible to ignore was both these men’s treatment of women, which is appalling. L. Ron Hubbard physically, emotionally and financially abused his wife, Sarah. The documentary tells of a time Hubbard punched her in the face because she was smiling in her sleep and, so he thought, dreaming about another man. And of course Trump’s record for abusing women--seeing them as either objects of pleasure or ridicule, and bragging about sexually assaulting women--is horrifying and disgraceful.

Trump has been called out for underpaying, not paying, or sending bogus bills to residents of Scotland for a wall built around his golf course. (There must be some weird rush of power this man feels when he tries to make people pay for walls. I can imagine little Donald Trump in kindergarten building a wall out of blocks and telling his kindergarten classmates, “You’re going to pay for this wall.”) Scientology leaders also get away with paying their employees far below the minimum wage, meanwhile collecting vast sums of money from suckers on their spiritual path to become “clear,” which is Scientology’s version of Nirvana. But as opposed to meditating or praying to reach that highest level of enlightenment, Scientologists are emptying their bank accounts and making huge, unreasonable sacrifices.

If history teaches us anything, it’s that we need to beware of leaders trying to fill us with hate and fear in order to serve their evil agenda. People who create phony religions or who use pre-existing religions to try to manipulate and scare people should be fiercely rejected. And it is possible to stand up to bullies. Scientologists are notorious for harassing critics and activists who have stood up to them. In the same vein, Donald Trump has gone on the Twitter war path against people who disagree with him and he has incited violence at his rallies.

Such phenomena have left me feeling overwhelmed and distraught, but we mustn’t despair. As I say to my students who are disappointed when things don’t go their way, “This is a learning opportunity.” But we cannot despair and we can’t just sit back and reflect on what we are learning from this mess. We need to take action. Both these men, Donald Trump and L. Ron Hubbard, have ruined people’s lives. We can’t allow the normalization of what is happening: the increase of hate crimes, ignorance, and hatred. We need to stand up for what’s right and if we do that together, these two bullies will eventually be revealed to the world as sniveling con men and cowards.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Lisbon, My Love


My friend Kelley and I just savored Thanksgiving lamb chops and potatoes at a restaurant where a curly-haired waiter instructed us that whenever our glasses needed replenishment we should yell at him, “More wine, you incompetent Portuguese dwarf!” Per Kelley’s advice, I softened it to, “More wine, you competent Portuguese giant!” Before ordering, Kelley had asked if the potatoes were good and our funny waiter replied that they were the worst potatoes in the world. The process of preparing them, he said, consisted of mixing powder and water. He was joking, of course, and the food was amazing, but the crowning glory of Thanksgiving was the green wine. This, I learned tonight, is a Portuguese specialty. It’s made from grapes before ripeness sets in and the result is a fresh, crisp, and satisfying wine. Perfect for Thanksgiving dinner in Lisbon!

Lisbon has quickly earned a place in my heart as one of my favorite cities. I felt giddy and nervous upon arrival because I’ve wanted to visit for years. Finally making it here was like going on a highly anticipated first date. Now I have mellowed out, thanks to the Fado music and great wine, and I can easily imagine myself living here.

Kelley and I visited Jerónimos Monastery and saw where Vasco da Gama, the first European explorer to reach India, is entombed. We also roamed the beautiful courtyard in the monastery and visited the archaeological museum. For someone like Kelley who is passionate about history, Lisbon is a treasure trove. I’m also interested in history and all the stories this city contains. After going to the Lisboa Story Centre Museum and going on a fun interactive tour made up of audio, aromatic, visual, and tactile exhibitions, my knowledge of Portugal’s history is richer, especially the history of the Praça do Comércio, the humongous town square where the museum is located. So much has happened in that vast yard, I’m sure that statue of King José sitting atop his horse could tell some crazy stories.

The negatives have been very few and just require brief mention. Yesterday, Kelley and I rode up the Santa Justa elevator, a contraption whose only purpose is letting tourists go up high to take photos. Kelley doesn’t like heights and I’m claustrophobic enough to dislike elevators, so both of these vulnerabilities made the elevator a bad idea. But then to make it worse, the elevator operator lost his temper at some French women and screamed relentlessly at them in French for the entire ride down. I told him to chill out, but he was psychotic and psychotic people are incapable of chilling out. Then tonight we had a rude cab driver who made us get out before our destination and walk in the pouring rain up to our hotel. Earlier, I had learned a Spanish curse word from Kelley, and I used this word, which is the same in Portuguese. Kelley was a little embarrassed that I used this word but I thought the situation called for it.

More stories and photos to come! I am having a fabulous time. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Weekend in Budapest

Next to St. Stephen’s Basilica is a wine bar called DiVino. After attending a Bach concert at the Basilica, I went to the bar to try some Hungarian wine. People who couldn’t find seats went outside and sat on the ledge of a fountain. If it hadn’t been so cold, the fountain would have been the ideal place to hang out and drink wine with friends. They were all laughing and having fun, so although the women in beautiful dresses were exposing their legs to the cold temperature, I remembered that at least for me, lively conversation is a good distraction from the bitter cold. I just stood in the middle of the room and drank my wine before heading out to walk along the Danube. I don’t usually get cold, but I found Budapest to be very very cold.

I went to Budapest alone this weekend, but I wasn’t completely alone. I did happen to meet some very nice Russian women on a boat tour. We kept in touch and I practiced what little Russian I could remember from the classes I took in high school and college.

The night after the boat tour, I met some Germans at the opera and had a beer with them afterward. The opera was mediocre, so I went out, hoping my evening would improve. When my new acquaintances started complaining about how “rude” Hungarians were, I told them that considering all that suffering that Germany had inflicted on Hungarian people during WWII, I didn’t think it was appropriate for Germans to come to Hungary and complain about Hungarian people’s perceived “rudeness.” They also complained that Americans never say what they really mean. That might hold some truth. Indirectness is a trait I believe we inherited from the British, and although it doesn’t really apply to me, I think I sent the message that, if need be, Americans are capable of being direct.

I only visited one museum: The House of Terror. This museum is a memorial to victims of the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Hungary. I went after the concierge at my hotel told me it was “touching.” Now I think we may have a different definition of touching. I find Steve Hartman videos on CBS Evening News touching. Seeing elderly people at the zoo with their grandchildren is touching. The House of Terror? Not so touching. It’s a worthwhile museum, but the exhibits left me emotionally exhausted. The slow uncomfortable elevator ride to the underground prison was made more uncomfortable by a video on a large obtrusive screen, in which former guards explained how they would torture and kill people. After seeing the torture rooms, prison cells, and gallows, I needed to return to my hotel for a long nap.

If I could spend more time in Budapest, I might try to visit more uplifting museums. I would also spend more time in the Alexandria Book Café, the fanciest bookstore/café I’ve ever seen. I would also visit more wine bars and sit at a restaurant with outdoor seating along the Danube. I would enjoy more traditional Hungarian food and live jazz at a restaurant called Ladó Café. This restaurant is an absolute must if you ever come to Budapest.

I hope to return to this beautiful city someday and stay longer than a couple days.
 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Heartbroken

Living abroad with a xenophobic sexual predator as our president-elect poses two immediate challenges. As an American I have to deal with disgust from people who have even more reason now to retch at the thought of our country, The United States of White Male Privilege. Secondly, I have to tend to my own heartbreak and grieving process.

I responded to an e-mail from a Canadian acquaintance last night who felt the need to lecture Americans about our reaction to the election and tell us we were no better than children. This is the same astute guy who corrected my usage of feminist as an adjective, telling me the correct word is “feministic.” [Ah, I see. And all this time I’ve been incorrectly referring to the feminist movement and feminist literature. Silly me.]

Hate speech and harassment of minorities are on the rise because people with unenlightened minds are feeling emboldened by this creep who sets an ugly tone for our country. I don’t even want to say his name. People who write racial homophobic slurs on their receipts or who vandalize public restrooms may be emboldened, but they’re still cowards, and despite what anyone may think these days, there’s no pride in being mean. There’s no glory in having an obnoxious bigot as your white knight.

On Wednesday I was disconsolate. I wept openly in front of my students and they kept telling me I’m beautiful. I found out later this is a Turkish response to someone crying. I’m still heartbroken, but I’m not giving up. I know I need to get more involved the next time there is a critical election. In the meantime, I need to be positive and work on being an ally to some of my fellow Americans who are more vulnerable and heavily impacted by this catastrophe than I am.

If life were a musical, this moment in time would be “Little Shop of Horrors.” In that movie, we have a self-obsessed, malicious dentist with a passion for cruelty and abusing women. There’s just one masochist, played by Bill Murray, who enjoys going to this dentist. In real life, Bill Murray’s character represents nearly half of the population of America. But at least there is a satisfying ending, thanks to a giant, man-eating plant.

There has to be some kind of karmic upside to all this. Hatred, cruelty, and fear are not winning qualities. I’m holding out hope for my own version of a knight in shining armor. If it turns out to be a giant, man-eating plant, so be it. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

I'm brave

Remember that thrilling moment from Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark music video when he struts and shakes over to the edge of the stage in his tight jeans and then invites Courteney Cox up onstage to dance? Of course you remember. I mean, who could forget a scene like that? If you’re anything like me, you watched that video as a tween girl, and imagined the budding courtship between the boss and Courteney to be on par romantically with Prince Eric taking Ariel on a boat ride in a dreamy lagoon and being serenaded by a Jamaican lobster. (The Little Mermaid.) The only time I’ve ever been pulled up on stage was at a Gallagher show when I was a kid. Somewhere in my mom’s collection of family photos is one of eight-year-old me, wide-eyed and visibly shaken, covered in watermelon goo, with a glob of peanut butter stuck on my face like a leech.

The reason I bring up Bruce Springsteen is because today I met a man, a Washingtonian with a Maine accent, who looks like Bruce Springsteen. He was at my school, doing some work arranging for our students to take part in overseas community service field trips and so I talked to him on the bus ride home. He told me he needed to get to Galata Tower and I agreed to take him. Istanbul is chaotic and confusing and I needed an excuse to venture out of my mouse hole.

By accompanying Bruce Springsteen’s doppelganger on the ferry over to Eminonu and then to Karakoy, I realized I was breaking my own safety precautions. I had told myself to hide out in my apartment until either a.) I leave Turkey, or b.) Turkey suddenly stabilizes. These touristy places are more likely to get bombed, but at the same time, there is comfort in seeing more liberal people, at least judging by the way they dress. It’s comfort at the price of comfort, which is kind of messed up.

The boss and I had a good conversation about travel (he highly recommends Jordan), social progress and the craziness of the world.

When we parted ways, I walked up to Istiklal for old time’s sake, to enjoy a glass of wine and some people-watching. I needed ink for my drawings, so I stopped in a lovely calligraphy store and bought a fancy dip pen and some inkwells. The economy has been hit hard by the collapse of the tourism industry, so I felt good about supporting a lovely small business.


Before descending into the metro (another safety precaution I broke today), I browsed some used books for sale and stumbled upon a bilingual book of Eminem song lyrics. With Turkish on one side and English on the other, I can now sing, “Lose Yourself,” in Turkish. Video coming soon! Check my youtube channel! J

Actually, the book is a gift for my friend Kelley, who is in love with Eminem and wants to marry him. I honestly don’t know what she sees in him. Doesn’t Kelley know Bruce Springsteen is the better choice?   

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sleepwalking

I sleepwalk through insecure times. That’s not a metaphor. I really do sleepwalk.

One night, a deep mysterious voice told me, “Take dictation. This is important. Go get some paper and a pen.” I first checked my bedside table, but there was nothing. I went to my art table, which more conventional people would keep as a dining room table. It’s a mess, but I always have a pile of printer paper next to my framed photo of Flannery O’Connor. She was a devout Catholic and I think she would have respected my dream as something spiritual. I took a sheet of paper and a pen and announced, “I’m ready.” 

Unfortunately, I woke myself up. I couldn’t believe that I had scared the voice away with my own voice, so I repeated, “I’m ready.” Nothing. The realization that this voice was just a fleeting whimsy was so disappointing. I’m the kind of person for whom opening a packet of Yogi Tea and reading the message on the teabag is an exciting event. I’m always seeking new wisdom. And having a voice speak to me in a dream would be like finding out Athena is my guardian angel. Anyway, just my luck to have a male Athena. Just like a man. “I’ll call you.” Then, nothing. “Take dictation.” And still, nothing. Next time, summon a GODDESS of wisdom, will you?!

My message accompanying my Yogi Hazelnut tea at the moment is, “Uplift everybody and uplift yourself.” That’s a pretty big request. I wonder how I’m supposed to do that. I’ve been very depressed, thinking about how Turkey is no longer a safe place to live. American families of Embassy workers have been evacuated. I called the embassy and the consulate to try and get more information and apparently there was no more information to give, other than the frequent security warnings I’ve been receiving. There have been attempted kidnappings of Americans. We’re supposed to avoid crowds. (In Istanbul, that’s just flat out impossible.) I no longer take the Marmaray, the metro that goes underneath the Bosporus. I no longer go out to Taksim, or Kadikoy, or Beyoglu.  I try to avoid going out all together. This is no way to live.

One security warning counseled Americans to avoid events attracting large crowds, because even if the gatherings are intended to be peaceful, they can turn confrontational. That’s how I feel about living in Turkey. I feel as if I came to a peaceful demonstration in August, 2015. Then . . . well, the mood isn’t exactly peaceful these days.

It’s time to spin the globe again and search for wisdom that can’t be attained from drinking Yogi tea and reading books in my lonely apartment, not that there aren’t benefits to that lifestyle. I recently read a letter from Mahatmi Gandhi to Adolph Hitler, in which Gandhi addressed Hitler as “Friend.” Throughout Gandhi’s life, the only time his philosophy of nonviolent resistance was shaken was when it came to defeating the Nazis. Sometimes the world forces us to break from our normal lives, cancel our plans, and question our beliefs. I’m nowhere near as evolved as I would like to be. I couldn’t call Hitler a friend, but Turkey is still a friend. Sometimes when our friends change, it’s hard to adapt to them.

Athena is willing me to go to the gym. Maybe if I exercise before bed, I won’t feel the need to sleepwalk tonight. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Retail Therapy

The brand name of the black dress I bought is “Missguided.” To wear this dress in public anywhere in Turkey would be exactly that: misguided. I attract enough stares already for being foreign. I don’t want to attract any more stares for being foreign and showing too much flesh. But the dress makes me feel good. It’s a knee-length number with a scoop neck and a slit going up the left thigh. The dress itself is impractical but it’s not impractical to want to feel good. The slit is what moves the dress into scandalous territory, but in the dressing room, I reached the verdict that I could wear this dress secretly under a raincoat when I go to a friend’s apartment and then strut my sartorial stuff when I’m safely behind closed doors. The other dress, a pink and black floral ensemble, announced itself as the winner of what I would wear to the opera in Budapest next month. I bought them both.

Meanwhile, my friend Kelley shopped for athletic equipment on the other side of the mall. When we met up again, she asked me if I wanted to look for stud earrings. My left ear had become infected from my sensitivity to strange metals, so I thought after dabbing my irritated lobe with tea tree oil, I would return to the smallest of studs, the kind of earrings tween girls wear when they first get their ears pierced and are waiting for their ear piercings to heal. Kelley and I asked to see the gold and diamond earrings, although diamonds are way beyond my budget. I purchased what Patrick from Auntie Mame calls a pair of “almost diamonds.” I still have a lot of big dangly earrings, which like my new black dress, I will have to hold off on wearing for a while.

On the metro, going back to the Asian side, a man glowered at us for a few minutes, for no reason, except that we must be horrible, disgusting Americans in his eyes. Just imagine how much more hateful his stare would have been if I’d had on my new black dress.

Kelley used the speech-to-text feature on her phone to ask our friends waiting for us at a restaurant to order us menemen with cheese. The text read, “We’re almost there. Can you order us many men with cheese?”

On the final stretch up the hill to the restaurant in Uskudar, the dolmush driver asked where we were from. I answered, “America,” which sent him on an anti-American rant. The woman sitting behind me was kind enough to translate his anti-American tirade. Everyone on the dolmush, about ten of us in all were listening to the opinionated driver. “He doesn’t like your country,” the woman behind me offered. “He doesn’t like your government. He doesn’t like your politics. He doesn’t like your war in Iraq. He doesn’t like Donald Trump.”

“Neither do we,” I said.

“Trump hayır!” Kelley said, meaning, “NO Trump!”

The driver loosened up a little when I said, “Istanbul çok güzel,” (Istanbul is very nice) and Kelley said, “İstanbulu seviyorum.” (I love Istanbul.) When the man continued his inhospitable remarks, I said, “Çok ayıp. Amerika güzel,” (Shame on you! America is nice!) at which my fellow passengers all laughed. What can I say? I’m a comedian! Or maybe there’s just too much tension between our countries and people are happy to break the tension with laughter, even if it’s at me using my Tarzan Turkish to shame a dolmush driver for badmouthing Americans. I think we all need to try harder to break the tension.

As Auntie Mame would say, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Peculiar Children, Stranger Things, Disgusting Perverts

Unwinding in my cozy recliner, I sometimes think about the character Eleven in “Stranger Things,” whose friend Mike showed her his family’s recliner, saying, “This is where my dad sleeps.” Eleven falling back as Mike pulled the lever was a type of trust building activity. She'd been through so much that just dipping back in that chair gave her a fright.

I love Eleven. I really wish I had her powers. That would make my life so much easier.


I'm so uptight right now that I don’t think I would let anyone pull the lever on my recliner. That’s what walking home at 11 PM in Uskudar, carrying a rock for protection, will do to you. All I want to do is relax and put my feet up. I don’t actually want to bludgeon anybody with a rock. But if someone sexually harasses me and follows me home, I will protect myself by any means necessary.

It would be so much easier if, like Eleven, I could just break bad guys' arms with the powers of my mind.

This evening my friend Jillian and I took the metrobus to Zorlu Mall on the European side to have dinner at Eatily and see the film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Dinner and Chianti were satisfying. The movie was creepy and demented and spectacular. My favorite character was the fashion forward Horace, who projected his dreams like movies for the other peculiar children to watch. That’s another power I wish I had. Leaving the mall, we were in good spirits. We saw a little girl going in circles inside a revolving door and surmised that she must have been one of Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children.

On the metrobus going back, my friend was groped. This is not uncommon in Istanbul. I shouted “Ayıp! Ayıp!” which is Turkish for “shame.” No one intervened. The groper pulled an innocent face and showed us that he was just taking a thumb tack out of his pocket. Right. Alongside posters condemning terrorism that are plastered all over public transportation, commuters can also stare at videos of adorable puppies and kittens. I believe the puppies and kittens are meant to discourage violence, but really, what is being done to discourage all the perverts from being perverts? Nothing.



When we got off the metrobus and started walking home, a man followed us. We screamed at him in Turkish and English. We crossed the road and when we came to some construction blocking our way and realized we’d have to cross again, that’s when my friend picked up rocks and handed me one of them. We finally made it home, shaken by the experience. Our texts letting each other know we’d arrived home safely were much more than just a courtesy. 

Now I can't sleep. Why is it still acceptable in some cultures for men to view women as property or prey? I’ll be watching the second presidential debate in the wake of Donald Trump’s latest lewd comments about women. He’s dismissed his own comments as “locker-room banter.” Americans who are just as deplorable as he is will accept this obscene bragging as water under the bridge. They’ll try to ignore the fact that this man sees women as either sex toys or objects of ridicule.

I’ll be comfortable physically in my own space while I watch the debate, but uncomfortable emotionally as I’m reminded again and again how abuse of women is such a big problem. All I can do is pretend that I’m living in a science fiction TV series and that my powers make me invincible. Oh, and vote. That's one super power I do have. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Glimmer of Soleil


I was slow to perk up this morning, listening to Tom Waits’ somber ballads and soothing my headache with alternating cups of water and coffee. Earlier this week, I had an extraordinary encounter with a woman. Our conversation and the coincidence of our paths crossing left a lasting impression on me. I’d call our meeting magical, since this is the word I use to describe any transformative experience in my life. That day I had gone up the road to buy bananas and other ingredients to make myself a booster smoothie. She was also buying produce and I heard her speaking Turkish to the grocery store worker in an American accent. I first asked her if she was a teacher at the nearby high school and she answered no. I asked her a couple more questions before finally asking her if she was a tourist. I imbued this last question with a surprised tone, because I couldn’t imagine why at a time like this an American tourist would be in Istanbul, let alone Uskudar. She said she was a writer and asked if I would have a cup of coffee with her. I warned her that I was sick, but she wasn’t worried about catching anything from me. I realize now that I was far more susceptible to the opinions she shared with me over coffee than she was to my sickness.

Both writers, both Oregonians, both confused about the world, we sat in a modern semi-outdoor Turkish coffee shop, complete with shawls draped over each chair for ladies who feel chilly. Not wanting to make myself any sicker, I made a shawl cocoon for myself and ordered a latte. The café, after getting caught in the chaos of the summer’s failed coup, had long been boarded up and closed for repairs. It has just recently reopened and shows no battle scars, not even a scratch.

My fellow Oregonian told me she's been coming to Istanbul for her writing getaways for the past 20 years and has seen plenty of changes over time. She wanted to know all about my impressions of Istanbul. I said I’ll always remember the love I felt for Istanbul when I first visited in 2007, the excitement that ran through my veins, the joy of getting lost while wandering narrow, enchanting streets. But lately, there’s been a lull in my excitement. I don’t want to get lost anymore. The stares directed at me are more drawn out and are tinged with suspicion. Tensions are higher. More men are fighting in the street. Just last weekend in Karakoy, I saw a gang of hooligans roughing up a man riding a bicycle, for no apparent reason. Just for laughs, I guess. Tourism has dwindled because of terrorist attacks. Istiklal Caddessi, which once felt like the whole world’s meeting place, no longer feels international. My new friend gently urged me to leave Turkey. The fact that she’s a writer, and a scholar, who also happens to be from the sensible, politically and environmentally progressive state of Oregon, added some weight to her words.

Living in Istanbul is a bit like logrolling. I’m currently doing my lumberjack balancing act, waiting to see if I’ll fall off or if I make it successfully down the river. It’s been hard.

Today, I needed to get out of my rut of listening to Tom Waits sing on repeat “A Little Rain.” A little rain is nice, but I needed some sunshine. I went to my first Cirque du Soleil show with friends. The show was breathtaking. I love it when a sight is so mesmerizing that I can’t help but utter, “Wow,” or gasp at something truly impressive that I never knew was possible. I still feel that way when I walk along the Bosporus or the Sea of Marmara and remember that I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The Cirque du Soleil was magical, just like meeting that woman earlier this week. I wish there was some way to make the magic endure, so I don’t experience another dip in enthusiasm. I really want to love living in Istanbul and I’m trying my best.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover

This morning as I lay in bed zoning out to music on my iPod, I felt a tremor that lasted about a minute. Later, I looked up “Earthquakes in Istanbul” on my phone, only to discover there was no earthquake. Now I’m wondering if what I felt was some type of inner earthquake, something that occurs when unpleasant emotions piggyback on each other all week until it becomes too much. Then the negative energy purges itself, not in crying and condemning people who’ve done me wrong, but in a peaceful ceremony, one that feels like an emotionally-healing yoga pose: my own private earthquake.

A friend told me yesterday that living in Istanbul is like being in an abusive relationship. “He beats you up. You swear you’re going to leave him. He comes back all sweet and apologetic. You remember how much you love him and you agree to stay. The cycle repeats itself.” Trying on this analogy, I admitted that I’ve just suffered a week full of abuse. If all weeks were as bad as this past one, I wouldn’t and couldn’t stay in this city. I would go home to the land of banjos and used books, challah bread and movie theaters with beer on tap.

Luckily, I have my own disaster response team. Its members are red wine, sketchbook and drawing pencils. I also have lovely friends. While talking on the phone today, a friend insisted we go on a long walk and get some fresh air. We walked to Kuzguncuk and stared out at the water and breathed in the Bosphorus air. Then we walked to an outdoor café with a lovely view. I drank apple tea and she had green tea. We felt relaxed but then a man in a navy blue suit who was presumably the manager of the café slapped a waiter, who appeared to have a mental handicap. The waiter walked away, rubbing his sore cheek. My friend glared at the manager, but to no effect. We left and I pondered how this act of aggression fits into the culture and how it relates to my crappy week.

Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that someone lied to me. This was the sort of lie that could be forgiven by Turks because its purpose was to spare my feelings. The end result was much worse than hurt feelings. It was humiliation. When I sought the truth, the lie was never addressed. I can’t call it a lie. It’s a “misunderstanding,” and thus the damage it caused doesn’t need to be addressed either. I suppose it’s tantamount to Turks giving bad directions because they don’t want to admit they don’t know the way. This isn’t a lie either. This is just saving face and making the person asking for directions more lost.

The final blow came when someone I often describe as “the nicest guy in the world” told me he was going to kill me. He said this with a smile on his face, but that made no difference to me. I wondered if I had sung his praises too early. I live in a city where a young woman riding a bus was recently beaten up by a man, who yelled, “You’re the devil!” and “You should die!” Why? Because she was wearing shorts. I don’t take a man saying he’s going to kill me lightly. I don’t take any aggression lightly.

At least I can say that this kind of aggression and disrespect is so uncharacteristic of my day-to-day life that when it does come along and ruin a whole week, I have the self-respect to reject it. Some people, like the waiter at the café my friend and I visited, are probably used to getting slapped. They just rub their sore faces and get back to work. And the cycle repeats itself.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Very Cool Romanian Art

During World War 1, when Bucharest was occupied by Germany, a lot of Romanian art was sent away to Russia for safekeeping and never returned. Nonetheless, the museums in Bucharest are still worth checking out. I visited the Zambaccian Museum, which was by far my favorite. There's something so intimate about private collections. I feel a connection not only with the art but with the collector. The Theodor Pallady Museum was also nice, located in the Armenian neighborhood of Bucharest and named after one of Romania's most famous artists. His paintings can be found in both the Theodor Pallady Museum and the Zambaccian. The National Museum of Art is worth checking out, but the more interesting contemporary art is located on the top floors. I've seen enough religious art and people with gold halos to last me for the rest of my life, so I sailed quickly through that section. Romanian museums have funny rules about taking photos. It's either not allowed or you can pay extra to take pictures. I chose to just search for these images on Google. 

Refugee by Cornel Medrea
Strada Pe Ploaie by Emilian Lazarescu
The Lovers by Leon Alex
Leon Biju
Carnival La Nice by Magdalena Rădulescu
Magdalena Rădulescu
Magdalena Rădulescu
Margareta Sterian
Margareta Sterian
Sava Henţia
Toujours du Baudelaire by Theodor Pallady

Femeie pe ganduri by Theodor Pallady
Theodor Pallady
Catrina by Nicolae Tonitza
Nicolae Tonitza
Nicolae Tonitza
Woman in Green by Kimon Loghi