The Karagöz puppets are çapuling from bed rest!

Image by Liz Cameron

Image by Liz Cameron

Arkadaşlar – Friends,

I’m trying hard to make a slowly by slowly come back… I’m feeling very sick and awaiting surgery without a set date due to insurance problems. As I lie here in bed in pain I am entertaining myself by watching the goings on in Turkey – which feel quite revolutionary. Most of you will know what I am talking about – but in case you don’t Hacivad Bey & I will sum it up for you here:

(Karagöz is impatient – just protest – forget blogging – time only for çapuling!)

Only roughly 2% of Istanbul’s geographical area is green space. One tiny park in the center of Istanbul, Gezi Parkı, became at risk of being razed at the order of Prime Minister Erdoğan.

A small number of protesters began a sit-in, occupy movement-style. They were gassed early-morning a week ago – leading to larger and larger protests w/ thousands upon thousands of people streaming towards the city center from the European and Asian sides of the city. The sheer numbers of people walking across the bridges from the Asian side to the European side of Istanbul over the Bosporus strait were staggering.

Image by Liz Cameron

Image by Liz Cameron

This small environmental protest became the straw that broke the camel’s back (so to speak) for many in Turkey around issues of government repression vis a vis veiling, sales of alcohol, media repression and more. As the famous Turkish writer and poet Nazim Hikmet said years ago,
“one tree fell, one nation rose!” And indeed, it appears this has happened, albeit perhaps for slightly more than 50% of the population. Turkey is split fairly evenly as I understand it between secularists & more conservative practitioners of Islam.

Responses to these peaceful protests have been stunningly brutal on the part of the police who have used tear gas and pepper gas and water cannons with abandon. Our friends have been gassed and at times the gas has so saturated the air across the city that our friends have had to flee their apartments because they could not breathe.

We have watched a video of police brutality on M.’s Home street – where we can see the family building which he grew up in and which is still part of the family. Can you imagine watching a revolution take place on your home street? There were pools of blood on the street – it was very disturbing.

There are many light moments though, that I have watched on my iPad – videos highlighting the amazing creativity and humor of Turks in the face of such a difficult situation. One of my favorite graffiti lines said “please send more pepper gas – it’s good for the complexion.” Of course, after Prime Minister Erdoğan Referred to the protesters as çapulcular – Which can be translated as bombs, looters, rioters, troublemakers, etc. – The people have taken back the word and made it into their own. Slogans such as “I am çapuling every day” or “I çapul, Therefore I am” are commonly seen in graffiti around the city now.

So far, it appears that the AKP governing party has not budged very much in response to this major popular movement – a popular movement that is burgeoning way beyond Istanbul in many cities all over Turkey including for example Bursa, Eskişehir, Antakya,
Tunceli, Diyarbakır, Rize, İzmir & Ankara Among many more. We hear that almost all of the 81 provinces in Turkey are experiencing protest – not mostly nonviolent protest. It saddens us that the United States television media especially seems to focus only on Istanbul – although it’s a bit better today.

In any case, Karagöz And the whole theater puppet crew resident here in the bed with me have one message for you:

“Viva çapuling & power to all the çapulcular worldwide – may good sense, compromise, reason and peace abound as we move forward in these difficult days.”


Keşmekeş: The Karagöz puppets wreak (helpful) havoc


The red-hot torture light the puppets are making me sit under until I get this post finished after several weeks of silence. You can see the exit sign in the background, but the chorus of dancing ladies will not let me through there while the wise men and women puppets sit staring at me from across the booth in this cafe. The pressure is ON. (Image by Liz Cameron)

The Karagöz puppets are urging me to send out this “I’m still alive” message to the few and dear readers of this kooky blog. So, a few words on what is going on these days.

In all fairness, I must describe the fact that they have immobilized me under a torture light – you can see it pictured here. Until I write a post, they are going to shine this light in my eyes.

So, here I am, outside of the house, which is unusual as of late, as I still cannot drive yet, and as it has been too cold to do more than walks all bundled up and to be honest as it is just hard to talk to people these days. I’ve been burrowing away.

So, today, upon the “suggestion” (think twisted arms) of Karagöz (the impish puppet inhabiting my mind along with his entire troupe as we galavant about on the cross-cultural marital road trip I am one half of), I asked a friend to drop me in a local shopping area so I could do some errands and then sit and write for a while in this cafe. I am still supposed to take it easy on the left arm/hand, but I am allowing my fingers to type up a gentle storm because they have been so stuck as of late. So let me address the stuck-ness, which I am sure many of you can relate to.

When I became stuck: So in addition to dealing with my injury and depression, the stuckness came from another set of places as well.  I last posted on Christmas eve – just over three weeks in to the BlogHer December NaBloPoMo challenge on addressing topics of work. This was a very important stretch of time for me, as I did a lot of good thinking about my relationship with work – and how everything that I thought I knew how to do well may in fact be bad for me in the end if I stay with my current career. Sorry, BlogHer, I failed, and don’t worry, there has been lots of flagellation as a result. In any case, on Christmas day, I became totally immersed in stuck-ness and could not find my writing voice anymore. Maybe I was just DONE with writing about work or maybe it was my Mother’s suggestion that I was promoting simplistic stereotypes about East and West (in some cases, she is right, as I wasn’t clear enough about what I was writing about) or the comment from a lurker-reader who has, on several occasions accused me of denying what he refers to as the Muslim genocide in several world arenas, and of perpetuating Western Orientalist stereotypes (in part including the Armenian Genocide).

Now, as an academic, I am used to people criticizing my work in often brutal ways – that’s what we do.  But somehow, this comment, one negative comment in a sea of so many positive ones as my dear friend the Archer of Okçular pointed out, should not stop me.  But it did.  My whole goal with this blog was to name the unnamed when it comes to stereotypes and biases that M. and/or I experience or witness with respect to Islam, the Middle East, Turkey.  The thought that I might be missing something hurt me a lot.

After several weeks of the puppets’ window washing as consideration of this critique has bounced about my mind like an itchy tag in a new shirt, I realized two things.  In part, I think this commenter may be correct – although he has not likely read my “about” page where I talk about naming even the difficult to name things/beliefs or feelings I may have had at various points in my life that might be described as Western Orientalist biases or stereotypes.

I have always tried to engage with this person in a respectful tone – with honesty.  M. tells me to ignore him, that he is an outlier – a crazy person just wanting to fight.  I disagreed and hoped for dialogue, but it is clearly impossible with this guy.  However, when he responded to something M. wrote to him in Turkish by un-necessarily ridiculing my husband’s language – I am more inclined to agree with M.  Now, several weeks later, I think it is clear that the lesson here is to be as explicit as possible about what I am trying to do in this vein in each chunk of writing – as people may or may not read this blog asynchronously.  You can get a sense of this commentor, Gercek, by looking at the comments on this post.

What I did instead of writing while stuck – in my mind: Now, although my mind was stuck, the Karagöz puppets took over and began a major spring cleaning of my mind, this involved a lot of window washing. Now of course, this process was led (I would say “spear-headed”) by Kenne, the Queen of Manners, Etiquette and the Maintenance of Ladylike Behavior. Although she usually tortures me about how much I am not ladylike or could remember my etiquette more and the like, I do have her to thank for the clear windows. In the morass of my mind, lots is becoming clear – and new areas of un-clearness are emerging as well, to be worked out like tangled yarn in need of becoming a warm sweater. Glowing orbs of things on the way to becoming in focus include my current job, making peace with aspects of my childhood and adolescence and finding a healthy way forward.

What I did instead of writing while stuck – in my feet-on-the-ground-life: Now, despite the window cleaning activities inside, a lot was going on where my feet hit the floor – and that has mostly been in the kitchen. The Karagöz puppets, you see, decided that I needed a good challenge, and Mercan Bey, the Arabian Spice Trader Puppet had just the idea – all the puppets agreed in unison the minute he said it during their brainstorming session about how M’lady was to feel better. Here’s how it went down:

Lifting his hand to the sun (his gallant homespun mustard-colored robe slipping back as he did so) Mercan Bey decreed the following: “It is time for M’lady to get back to cooking, which she loves. And as we are doing this massive internal spring cleaning, let’s make the external part in parallel so perhaps they can work together, what say you, my puppet brothers and sisters?”Huzzahs were heard all about the troupe, and it was decided.

Turning to me, Mercan Bey gave me explicit instructions, “You, M’lady, you need to clean out this massive pantry of yours.  You need to cook this stuff – starting with everything that is about to be outdated, if it is not already so.  And given that your upstairs neighbors have some sort of worm infestation in THEIR pantry, better safe than sorry – you don’t want to deal with THAT nastiness, do you, M’lady?”

My eyebrows perked up as I said “what an interesting proposition!  Do you think I should write a blog about it – you know what I made each day from the leftover condiments in the fridge and all the stuff in the pantry? Could be catchy, sort of like the book called Life From Scratch where she writes about blogging about cooking?I started to feel excited, until I saw the puppets projected into tall shadows encircling me “NO MORE BLOGS!” They exclaimed with stern voices and wagging fingers, “just COOK. Hop to it now!”  I was afraid to do anything else – so I began to look in my pantry in order to decide where to begin.

Now some context is helpful here. I have always hoarded a lot of extra food in my pantry, just in case of a nuclear war or Hurricane or something that would require being prepared with food. Maybe it comes from growing up with Depression era parents who, for example, bought several trash bins full of preserved “soy food product” in the height of the end of the cold war. Those bins stayed in the basement for a long time, and I saw them every time I lugged laundry to the washing machine. So, yes, I am an anxious person in this regard, always needing to plan ahead about food – and, well, everything (other than my elopement with M., which was an anomaly)! Indeed, last night, my mom reminded me that my dissertation adviser had referred to me as “the most ‘planful‘ person she had ever met,” and this is true. It comes with the manic worrying and anxiety of unknowns that torture me. And of course, I probably have Zenne the Nervous Nellie Puppet Like a Bowl of Quivering, Shivering Quince Jelly to thank for that, or maybe vice versa.

So, drawing down can upon can of tomato puree, black beans, posole, olives and pulling out bottles of soy sauce, sweet rice vinegar, pomegranate molasses and the like – I began to cook.  Here are some highlights:

1) Thanks to all five large jars of peanut butter, two bottles of sesame oil and one container of tahini, I produced a massive vat of sauce for spicy sesame noodles (enough for 10 dinners – now frozen).

2) Thanks to seven jars of unfinished sour cherry and raspberry jam I made a number of batches of M.’s favorite jam bars – an old fashioned Yankee cookie bar.  He finally begged me to stop as he was gaining so much weight.

3) Thanks to eight cans of pureed tomato, two bags of yellow onions and a bottle of sherry, I slow-cooked several vats of tomato-sherry sauce for pasta, and fish dishes.  All the leftovers are frozen now.

You get the picture.

So here I am, ready to return, and happy to be back even if I do so as I am in the process of making my way through the significant mental and physical keşmekeş (great disorder, in Turkish) in my life.  At least my pantry is clean even if the mental window washing is not yet complete.

Aç ayı oynamaz: A hungry bear won’t dance (on working, relaxing and patience)

I don’t know if these bears are hungry while they dance – but I take a different spin on the proverb in order to continue making sense of things in my work life (Painting of dancing bears by William Holbrook Beard)

The world of Turkish proverbs is a full one, and barely a day goes by when M. doesn’t let one rip with vim and vigor – much to the delight of the Karagöz puppets, who so enjoy his excitement at speaking these perfect nuggets of truth in just the right moment.

And I can relate to this, as my mother, too, loved aphorisms and proverbs, which she was wont to share on a daily basis as well. So much so, that they have apparently seeped into me and on into my classroom, where my students give me the side-eye on a regular basis, as they have not one iota of a clue about what it is, exactly, that I am saying.

But back to M. and his Turkish proverbs – and how his eyes light up as his pointer finger juts about in mid-air – buoyant at his ability to share – even if he does have to repeat it to me several times in order for me to get the words. I have noticed that M. speaks more rapidly, but in a tone softer in Turkish with me as compared to the boisterous Skype calls to his best friend that I am often awakened by in the early morning.

And this early morning, while there was no Turkish Skype discussion unfolding at a great clip in the next room, it was one of his proverbs that I thought of when I saw Blogher‘s prompt for today’s NaBloPoMo challenge – Are you happier when you are working or relaxing?

As I read the prompt, my mind wandered about the mint-walled-room and onto the towering bookshelf (itself bursting with knowledge that might hold an answer, I postulated) and it was at that particular moment that I remembered that he had once told me something about a hungry bear, and how such a creature will not dance without a good meal in his belly. He also told me of the horrible treatment of dancing bears, and how it made him cry. Now, animal rights and circus bears aside, there is a lot of truth to this. My take on this proverb is that it implies that one needs sustenance to do work, and indeed, on the face of it, this is true.

There it was again, another tough question from those torture-experts over at Blogher’s NaBloPoMo who seem to be asking me all of the penetrating answers I need to sit with – and begin to answer. Unlike yesterday, I didn’t cower under the sheets, but I did think about that dancing bear All day long. And I heard the growl of my tummy, but in my brain.

And yes of course I made myself busy, So busy with this and that all day, that all of a sudden here we are again, at the magic hour of 8:30 p.m., as I begin to face this question in my daily writing practice…and here is what it is that I must admit:

Truth be told, I am both ashamed, relieved and anxious to share My answer – that until recently, I would have said I was a hungry dancing bear of sorts – against the wisdom of the proverb – as I would have said “work is relaxing for me,” and meant it. Really meant it. You know, comments like “oh, a relaxing night for me would be hunkering down for some major data analysis, perhaps grading a stack of papers within an inch of their life while putting the red ink police out of business, or over-preparing my lecture for the next six weeks, And being very attentive to all those late night emails from my colleagues to which I would respond within minutes.” Sick, right?

Yehuda Rebbe, the Globalized, Jewish wise man puppet and Hacivad Bey, the Sufi elder puppet, well, they are both eyeing me suspiciously from across the room, where they are ensconced on the piano window, watching me type. “Please M’lady, show yourself some compassion,” they said as they began to prod me with their verbal cue sticks, “what else?”

“Well,” I said, shuffling my muffled feet here and there under the chair, “I guess it means that I need to break from the circus full of bear dancers, and dance to the tune of a different drummer.”

Nodding in approval, I knew they wanted more, their cue sticks circling faster and faster at me, as if to hypnotize me into finding the right way on this one.

“I need to work – and I need to relax. And I worry that academia is a place that I have trained myself to only work work work to the bone – and not have a healthy balance. Some of this is the institution of academia as a whole, some of this is the particular institution I have worked at – and some of this is my own gerbil wheel of personal erosion, which has me running, endlessly, against expectations real and unreal, internal and external – and fictitious. And most of all, I don’t want to discourage my new e-friend L. over at Turklish, who is at the beginning of her academic career, still in graduate school, working on a balance of her own. This problem of mine – it is my doing – and I need to re-negociate it all.”

Karagoz interjected at this point, “M’lady,” he said, in between somersaults that made M.’s prized collection of Chinese ceramic bowls gyrate on the shelf, “if I had a lira for all the times in the past few weeks you have said ‘need to re-negociate your relationship with work’ – I mean enough already! Just get on with the work!”

Tears began to stream down my face, and I thought, “that crazy puppet is right, and I just don’t know how, but I do believe this is just part of the process. And will I cry at these big realizations all week? Will there be any respite?” My heart began to squeeze, a sign of physical anxiety. But before I reached for the prescription Ativan to quench the feeling, Perihan Hanim appeared again – you may remember her from yesterday, she is my fairy godmother puppet.

Mount Zen II

Mount Zen II (Photo credit: adesigna)

“What you need, dear, is to learn about having some patience for yourself, for the way to become clear. And that is why, dear heart, your other human fairy godmother encouraged you to sign up for the retreat you are attending this weekend, which, of all things, is entitled “Patience: Emptying the Ocean with a Teacup. Ignore your beloved trickster puppet, forget worrying about whether that is an American tea cup or a Turkish çay glass, put out of your mind that you have no idea what all the Buddhist rhetoric in the program announcement is all about and just pack your bags, you are ready to go to this meditation retreat, and with that, you will begin to find that the way, indeed, will become clear.”

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