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.

Migration as a cross-cultural marital metaphor? On structuring a Turkish-American memoir (Part 2)

Today, I am going to continue my musing about that elusive “red thread” I wrote about yesterday.  In case you missed it, this relates to the writing of my Turkish-American marital memoir.

And in case you don’t know what in the heck a red thread is, a dear friend of mine who is a great writer and editor refers to the “necessary red thread” in any writing one does.  As I said yesterday, and I quite like the metaphor, it is the theme that pulls it together, the point that acts like a magnet for all of the words included in any given bit of writing.  And it is this red thread that is elusive at the moment while revising of the first draft of my now 300 page work.

Yesterday, I explained that I had started writing this memoir by using the metaphor of driving – as I think of the marriage as a road trip.  However, now that I think about it, although I identified that as a red thread yesterday, it actually may be more of a structure, such as the one my friend Sinan spoke of. So, whether it is a red thread or a structure or whatever it may be – let tell you how I got to this place (“as if there were a choice!,” Karagöz, the sarcastic trickster puppet points out.)
So, a couple of years ago, I read Travelling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Journey to the Sacred Places of Greece, Turkey and France, which is a double memoir written by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor.  Structured into three sections inspired by the Demeter/Persephone myth: LOSS, SEARCH and RETURN, the memoir’s red thread emanates vibrantly – it is about growing up and growing old – and the relationships between mothers and daughters.  Clear as a bell, it had structure, and a glowing red thread, it was glowing so much, it was really almost neon, if you ask me.
Upon reading the book for a second time this summer, I sat up in my chair and thought “I need a structure like that – forget the whole driving thing – that’s too confusing – and surely a simple structure will create an infrastructure for my red thread.”  And then my mind went blank, totally blank, for months that felt like sandpaper.  And then, this fall, while re-reading an academic paper I had written that related to immigration, it hit me – there it was – a conceptual model for migration often used in social work practice with immigrants in the United States – and in many ways – our marriage is in constant migration.
Reflecting further, I thought, we do travel between worlds both while in Turkey and while in the United States.  M. always says he feels more American in Turkey now.  I am often thinking about Turkey while engaging in normative American behaviors – or Turkish-American behaviors.  We often talk about Turkey.  We eat Turkish food every day.  We drink Turkish tea all the time – and on and on.  And given that idea, that we travel between worlds on a constant basis at both the micro and a macro levels, what does a conceptual framework for migration do for structuring this memoir – or for finding my red thread?
So the conceptual model of migration I found goes like this:  When working with immigrants to a new country, there are three phases they may be in.  And, as a social worker, one should assess for which phase that person is in so that you can put yourself in their shoes some.  Those three phases are: Pre-migration; Transition and Re-settlement.  Now, as a student of the impact of globalization and transnational migration patterns, I know full well that this conceptual model is flawed – as many people only migrate on a temporary basis, with the intention of returning “home” someday.  With globalization we are exposed to cultures and subcultures constantly, able to rotate between places and homes and cultures very easily, if the penny permits, we are not isolated – and we are dealing with it all, all at once. So, this started to make sense vis-a-vis how I experience my cross-cultural marriage.  There was something there I felt I could work with.
So, I began to think about migration. Now, I have not migrated anywhere permanently, except perhaps in my own mind.  And I am hardly an expatriate at this point, although that is the group of folks I feel most akin to.  And that is why the workshops conducted by those super-smart and interesting ladies over at Global Niche are calling me like a siren song – as they can relate to the confusion of place, culture and identity in the cross-hairs of in-between. M. is with me in those cross-hairs, and I think that somehow our time both in the United States and in our extended stays in Turkey has caused me to migrate my mind and perhaps my thinking and some day-to-day practices of life. As for M., he migrated from Turkey to the United States in part as a way out of tradition and customs that did not feel right to him, akin to rubbing a dog’s hair the wrong way, constantly.  And perhaps that is why life in another culture comes easily to him, I don’t know.
Migration is also a comfortable concept to me – my Grandmother and Grandfather emigrated to New York City from Spain and Scotland, respectively, and never quite found themselves here or there.  My other Grandmother emigrated from Quebec province as a baby, and the spectre of other-ness haunted her for a time.  My stepmother and stepsiblings grew up in Kenya and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and migrated an international fiber into the fabric of our blende family. My good friend Trisha Thomas is a cross-cultural mother – an American living in Italy for many years now – and she thinks on these issues all the time over at her blog, Mozzarella Mamma
So, yes, I grew up with a well-steeped and stewed sense of other-ness, and mixed-ness vis-a-vis my family’s cultural elements and the migration patterns that led to that.  And as a result of all that, here is the structure I have today – option #2 – and who knows where it will go from here… 
Section 1: Pre-migration: This section of the book will be a series of chapters about my early exposure to Islam, Muslims and countries in the Middle East.  It would also address my youthful obsession with being different – and exploring different cultures.  It will end with a chapter on meeting M. and the beginnings of my foray into a cross-cultural relationship.

Section II: Transition: This section of the book will address what started to happen as M. and I began to get serious and move towards marriage.  In these chapters, I will address the challenges we faced as families in both countries were met – and as cross-cultural booby traps began to explode.

Section III: Resettlement: This section of the book is where the true learning and comfort-creation began to emerge.  I began see beyond the mystery and glam of being married to a foreigner and we began to make our own way with which traditions we did and did not want to keep in our married life.

And now, as I come back to read this before posting it today, I remember my friend Deonna’s wise and thoughtful words to me in response to yesterday’s post.  Deonna is also writing a memoir – and she said “I will tell you something simple, but even I can’t follow it: don’t over think it.”  I’m in your club, Deonna, and now I am even more confused!  However, I am very certain that the way will become clear! 

Searching for the red thread: On structuring a Turkish-American marital memoir (Part 1)

In search of my elusive red thread – the thing that will pull my memoir together…note that as in this photo, in which the spool is somewhat blurry, so too is my own conceptualization of the red thread that pulls this body of writing all together…

Today, I am going to talk about my elusive “red thread” as it relates to the writing of my Turkish-American marital memoir. My dear friend and soul sister K., also a professor type who edits students’ papers a lot, refers to the “necessary red thread” in any writing one does.  It is the theme that pulls it together, the point that acts like a magnet for all of the words included in any given bit of writing.

And it is this red thread that is elusive to me as I try to consider the revising of the first draft of my now 300 page memoir on my own Turkish-American marriage “road trip” as I like to call it.  Having completed the manuscript over a year ago, I can now see how crappy it really is – as it has a faulty red thread.  Now my M. read it and loved it, but, of course, he is a biased audience. I cringe when I look at it.  I especially cringe when I look at my first draft as I am so good at finding and elucidating red threads in my academic writing, but I really suck at it here.

I am sure my wonderful brother, would make some very fine bits of advice after a day full of cringeworthy reading.  I am too embarrassed to show it to him as he is an MFA who writes masterpieces full of thick red threads.  The thought of showing this work to him makes me even more stressed out and inspired to keep going, possibly with the help of the #38write movement developed by Kristin Bair O’Keefe over at Writerhead.  Sometimes, you just have to take the “butt in seat” approach, and write – and maybe that red thread will find you there.

Now, red threads also seem to have to do with what my friend, the Turkish-American playwrightSInan Ünel, has to say about the importance structure in writing (as well as in writing practice), and although he doesn’t know it, he has impacted me as I have listened to the few words he has said to me on the topic.  And that reminds me of what my e-friend Jack Scott once said about how he got his first book done (Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey), namely by remembering as a novice writer that “every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end.” Well, when it comes to marital road trips, I suppose learning to drive and driving – that could fit with either red threads - and beginnings, middles and ends, – but I am not so sure…

But I digress, because it is easier to talk about others than to talk about my own struggles.  Let me get back to my faulty red thread.  So, in the first draft of the memoir, I center my writing around the idea of our marriage as a“road trip” with “backseat-driving Karagöz puppets.” When I started this project, three years ago, I thought about relationships and marriages as being akin the process of learning to drive- and driving.  There are all sorts of parts of this process:
  • Taking a driver’s education course,
  • Getting a learner’s permit
  • Practicing driving with an overly-anxious parent
  • Finally obtaining the damned driver’s license
  • Getting into an accident
  • Experiencing road rage
  • Missing an exit on the highway
  • Switching lanes
  • Cars breaking down
  • Buying new cars
  • Trading in cars
  • Bargaining for cars
  • Perfecting the art of paralell parking
  • Learning new traffic rules in other countries (such as Turkey, where there are no rules)
  • Getting a traffic ticket…and the like

…And on the face of it, it seems to me, marriage (however you define marriage, legal or not, partnership or otherwise), is really quite akin to learning how to drive a two-handled moving machine of some sort, is it not?  But I was not convinced….here is the current chapter structure

Chapter 1: Being driven: Navigating cultures (This chapter talks about how I came to accept the idea of dating non-American guys, and the various things I encountered along the way – including the beginnings of maneuvering a Turkish-American relationship)

Chapter 2:  Driver’s education:  Serving tea, Episode I (This short chapter addresses the cross-cultural aspects of tea drinking in my British-influenced American household, and M.’s Turkish-American household)

Chapter 3:  Choosing an insurance policy: On veiling and the perfect nightgown (This chapter addresses my preparation for my first trip to Turkey, in which all of my personal stereotypes about what I would find there, along with my families, are laid out in the open)

Chapter 4: Stuck in traffic:  Hair color, wine tastings in a mosque and the call to prayer. (This chapter highlights the utter confusion I often felt in the first few years of my relationship with M. when faced with Turkish realities that did and did not fit the stereotypes I didn’t know I had about Turkey, men and Islam in general)

Chapter 5: Defensive driving:  Turkish love rats, wind farms and environmentalism, Turk-style. (This chapter documents my easing into the realities of what Turkey is and is not as our relationship progressed)

Chapter 6: Three point turn:  Serving Tea, Episode 2 (This short chapter addresses my first botched attempt to acculturate in the form of serving M. tea when his friend visited, and my husband’s dual comfot and discomfort with this action)

Chapter 7: Managing road rage:  On Turkish bureaucracy and the demise of beyaz peynir  (This chapter addresses our families’ views on our elopement, our attempts to be recognized as married in Turkey -and how we drove closer to defining our own Turkish-American cultural space within our relationship) 

Chapter 8: Learning to use the GPS:  Co-navigating the road to Canakkale with Melia (This chapter documents our continued path to understanding how we are percieved as a married couple in the U.S. and in Turkey – and the joys and challenges therein)

Chapter 9: Parallel parking:  Serving Tea, Episode 3 (This short chapter describes a perfect tea service, alla Turca, performed in my United States’ living room – and everything that it meant to me)

So, this is contender #1 for my memoir’s red thread – and although I am not sure it works, it might work. However, tomorrow, I will tell you about my other potential red thread, using a theory of migration often used in social work practice with immigrants in the United States. TO BE CONTINUED

Papers to grade, tea to drink…life in a Turkish-American household revolves around the consumption of these tiny glasses of tea although we have shifted from the traditional sugar lumps to Agave nectar…(Image by Liz Cameron, it has been used before, as the papers I am grading today are electronic, and not those shown here – but the stack is equally large). The tea glass, however, remains the same!

Note: Hello dear readers, this is the first post that comes to you directly from my mouth to the computer screen, no hands involved.  Here’s to Dragon Naturally Speaking Software – it has its bugs, but it works pretty darn well! You can learn more about Dragon Naturally Speaking by clicking on this link.  This is a software program that you train to your voice, and use to speak into the computer’s microphone in order to have your words made into text on the computer screen.  They key, I find, is to speak slowly and pause after each word.  You have to add paragraph breaks on your own – and often it mis-hears names, so you may need to do a bit of editing, but I would say it is 90-95% accurate.  When M. tried it, however, the computer did not recognize many of his words due to his Turkish accent.  So far, we can’t figure out how to train it in Turkish, but luckily, he’s not the one with the shoulder injury! Unfortunately, Dragon doesn’t provide any red thread guidance, either, thank god that artificial intelligence has not yet gone too far.

Today’s post comes as I am failing trying to finish up my grading work before my medical leave begins in earnest.  So, I hope that my momentary procrastination has been interesting to you -perhaps if you too are struggling with your red thread, or how to structure some of your writing.