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.