Puppet laryngitis: On stories, (Turkish) soldiers and writing: Part II

An image of an Ottoman-era military band – many of the male Karagoz puppets served in a military band of this nature before retiring to work as puppets in the Sultan


In honor of Veteran’s Day in the U.S., and in honor of my sore rotator cuff, today’s post is a reprise of a previous one, about one of the former soldiers in my present day life. Seni seviyorum canım!


Yesterday, the puppets were going a bit stir-crazy as it was cold out and as they had laryngitis this week (to varying degrees). Therefore, they cannot talk much – but they can make themselves known nonetheless – mostly by jumping on the keyboard and taking my Internet browser to all sorts of places OTHER than where I need to be – namely in the realm of preparing my classes for the Spring 2012 semester of teaching.

After they basically strong-armed me into posting about the role of childhood fairy-tales in the onset of the presence of the puppets in my life, the moved on to getting me to write about soldiers and stories – and yesterday – this resulted in a post about the generations before me in my family, and specifically about the stories of the soldiers in those generations. Today, however, I have decided to write about the role of my own beloved M.’s time in the Turkish military vis-a-vis storytelling. As I mentioned yesterday, M. escaped his experience alive despite all odds at one point, with many hysterical and some chilling stories to tell about his life as an art student turned lieutenant during his required service.

Soldiers, as I mentioned yesterday always seem to be the best storytellers. They have seen a lot about human nature even when it does not involve combat, I would argue. I know now, after reflecting upon it, that I learned a lot from the older soldiers in my lineage – both things that were spoken and unspoken. I even learned a lot the one time my Pop and I were flying to Kenya, in front of a set of mercenaries heading for the Central African Republic to do God-knows-what. Amidst their alcohol-driven hilarity and baravado in ribald storytelling of their own, my Pop attempted to maintain my honor, explaining that “soldiers behave like this sometimes, Liz, when they have seen a lot of terrible things go on.”At the time, I was a too-cool-for-school social worker in the Bronx, without much worry for the cursing and scandalous talk that sounded all-too like the talk in the arraignments courtroom in the Criminal Court. I scoffed at his caring a little bit inside (e.g. “I’m tough, I can handle it”) but secretly wondered what Pop had seen himself that might have been difficult, or whether he was just a student of human nature during his military years.

However, the current “was-a-soldier” in my life has also taught me a lot about the power of stories and the joy of stories in living and reflecting upon life as we go about it. My M., though, he is a raconteur originale when it comes to stories about the Turkish army. Of course, despite my feminist roots and leanings, I would be remiss if I did not admit that the romance (in the true sense of the word) of some of his stories did play a wee role in the wooing of me early on. I loved hearing about the impossible assignments he was given (account for all 30,000 maps in the map room), the staggeringly funny mis-placement of a free-thinking art student as a batallion leader told to go search for Kurdish rebels in mountains (I’ll leave him to tell that one) or the time his batallion was woken up at night and deposited in the wilderness with the order to “come home” – but couldn’t figure out where they were or what to do – so were picked up in the same spot 24 hours later (I’ll leave him to tell you about how moss grows on all sides of the tree – not just the north side). There were also quieter stories about the uniquely peaceful time he spent on leave looking for sea treasures near Hatay (Antakya) at the officer’s vacation spot – or even the horribly, gut-wrenchingly sad reality of not being allowed a visit home during his mother’s last weeks of life (Perihan Hanım, my fairy godmother for this relationship, is sighing, as she tried her mightiest to beat the powers of the Turkish military on this, but was not successful, which tells me she was around with M. way before me, hmmmm). These stories, and many more, slide off of his tongue as he gesticulates wildly to illustrate the goings on – his voice rising and rising louder and louder to emphasize a point or softer and softer in difficult moments. Stories make the world go round, indeed.

So, from M., I have learned the power of sharing military stories with whomever (male person) he meets as we range around Turkey. Never an elongated tea-drinking session goes by without discussions of where each man did their military service and the funny -and not so funny- things seen there. From watching these, and other interactions between men (as an outside who does not comprehend much Turkish yet), I can see the importance of extended conversation – and the stories woven in -can often have in any interaction. It is some sort of community-building exercise, I sometimes think, as well as a way to establish personage in a country where until 1923 or so, last names were not used. Perhaps this sort of sharing is a marker of sorts, a way of placing people in space and time – well, males, that is.

It is also from M. that I have learned the art of using my body and voice in storytelling – whereas in the past it was just my arms and hands putting down what my mind created. I still can’t tell a story without closing my eyes as I envision the words on the page. In any case, I raise my glass tonight in honor of the soldier sitting in the other room, and to the fact that he is alive here, safe and sound, in our home, sharing the making of stories with me, on this cross-cultural road trip called our marriage – in and out of the blogosphere! The puppets are raising their glasses of sugary lemon-tea as well….“Şerefe!” they are crying out “to your honor, M. Bey!”

(Stay tuned for On stories, soldiers and writing: Part III, tomorrow – where I will talk about my students who are or were soldiers, and how I have learned from their storytelling…)

Breaking out of the glass box: The Karagöz puppets rejoice

Glass Mystery 4

Glass Mystery 4 – an image akin to my glass prison (Photo credit: cobalt123)

Lately, I’ve been immobilized inside a midnight-blue and burnt sienna glass box, with walls so thick that the voices of the puppets have been obscured.  

Those Karagöz puppets, They finally plastered a sign onto that imprisoning glass with rose of Damascus oil, such as that explained by the famous Archers of Okçular,  their glue of choice, and while I couldn’t smell that unctuous lovely stuff, I could read the sign and I knew what they were doing.  And as I peered into the dim dark of thr deep blue glass around me, akin to Mexican blown glass cups, I saw that it said:

“Dear Liz, We miss you, and furthermore, you are unintentionally allowing your work and personal situations result in blog death! Yavaş yavaş you must return! Love, Karagöz and company.”

Esma, the kind and gentle hippie puppet also posted a tiny sign written in her delicate hand, recommending rose petal tea – and a trip to the shrink.  Suffice it to say, it’s been a tough month or so.

But this morning, I awoke to the red light of a beating heart – and to a distant sound, a familiar sound that I could not place in my jet lagged, sleepy state.  I had already heard the call to prayer at circa 4:30 a.m.,  but this was a “tink, tink, tink” sound that did not fit in with the wavering voice of the Imam.  I recognized it as the sound of a glass cutter – a small instrument with a sharp wheel that I used to use in my stained glass course in the 7th grade.  It must be one massive glass cutter, I thought, for them to attempt to break through these glass walls.

Soon, the “tink, tink and tink” sound became more like a “tonk, crick, crack, crunch, crash” set of sounds and I began to hear bits and snitches of the voices I had been yearning to hear – Karagöz, Hacivad, Esma, Mercan Bey and even Kenne, The Queen of Manners and Ladylike Behavior.  As the fresh, rose-scened air filled the box in which I was imprisoned, my pen and papers began to float and swirl away from me in the vacuum-breaking air confusion that the glass breakers were creating…and all of those work worries slipped away.

Sensing my dehydration, the little chorus of dancing ladies propped up tiny glasses of sweet Rize cayı to my lips as Hacivad Bey and Mercan Bey worked on freeing my arms from the metallic shackles residing there.  I felt a hey and stiff.As my arms were released, Karagöz jumped and twisted in joy, shaking my hands back to life as he did so, jabbering and jibbering the whole way about all the troupe had done whilst I was immobilized. Some of the puppets gave up for a bit, as it turns out, opting for a vacation to their home territory of Bursa, where they inhabited the good archers of Okçular for a time, but Esma and the dancing ladies kept vigil at the glass box.

“Don’t lose your words, m’lady,” Esma whispered, “so much is going on in this great world that you need to comment on – even you can make the long journey back from the blog death puppet’s door!”

And journey back I shall, but not first without apologies to the loyal readers who have supported me so!  Keep it locked for the colors of Istanbul as experienced by the puppets, yesterday.  Gurusuruz!

Çay emergency: The puppets riot, the car dies

çay yok

When I realized we were out of tea (çay), I should have known it was a harbinger of things to come that day...

When I last left you, I was musing on the White Ribbon Campaign which addresses violence against women – and was quite happy to see the dialogue that ensued (thank you, my e-friends).  Our campaign was a success and the puppets’ artfully-crafted ribbons were a big hit with my students.

After a long, 12-hour teaching day last Thursday, full of White Ribbon Campaign events, I wearily made myself a cup of çay in my office with my new hot pot to perk myself up for the long commute home.  After slumping into the seat of my car, puppets splayed everywhere around me with a lot of snoring, I heard it,  the unmistakeable sounds of a car problem.

After calling M., I decided to try to get home, and made it.  We resolved to check it out that weekend unless something more emergent happened.  I got home with a funny engine sound, but no incident. On Friday, we consulted with the resident parental car expert, and decided something or other was loose…and kept on driving the great green lady who has served me so well for the past 12 years.

Saturday morning I awoke early to a great cacophony emanating from the kitchen.  I should have known it was the harbinger of challenges to come that day, but at that moment, I had forgotten all about the green car and all of her odd sounds.  Instead, I was focused on great squeals of horror and cabinet doors slamming and drawers bashing in and out of their spaces, and it left me confused. What in the heck are those puppets up to now?

Still asleep, as of course he can’t hear the puppets and their goings on, M. was sleeping heavily, his face mashed into the pillow in a manner sure to leave creases that might rectify themselves in a hot shower followed by a brisk frigid walk to work.  Sneaking out of bed so as not to disturb M., I tip-toed into the kitchen to see what was what. My dog’s radar ears followed me before he deigned to leave the warmth of his spot at the foot of the bed in favor of loyalty.

I walked in to shattered glass glitter all over the floor – and a çay tabağı (tea saucer) cracked in half. It was then that I noticed that the Write-a-matrix was back (you can read about her here, but to make a long story short, she is the academic writing whip-cracker in my mind). And there she was, in my kitchen, cracking the whip.  “I thought you would never get up, you slovenly, slothful professor wannabee!” she said in the deepest, most disappointed tone ever.  “Liz, you really are a loser.  You have at least 3 manuscripts you are totally ignoring – and 2 “revise and re-submits” that are languishing, untouched, get your sh@@ together!”  She was on one side of the room and Haciyatmaz was on the other side of the room, rocking on as he always does.  As you may recall, he is the guardian of my work-life balance efforts on the writing front, a big fan of me keeping this blog.  Clearly, their battle was being played out in the early morning kitchen (it was only 4:45 a.m.) and the çay tabağı were the casualties thus far…

After cleaning up the mess, I set to brewing tea for the morning – hoping to achieve the just-right “rabbit’s blood” consistency that M. likes so.  You may recall the post on moving from vegetarianism to rabbit’s blood tea, if not, click here.  Of course, as soon as I opened the tea tin, all I was met with were a few strands of forlorn Assam and a few tiny nuggets of Rize çayi.  No dice, no other loose tea in the house.  I settled for a peppermint teabag instead.  While we made it through the morning without caffeine, it wasn’t until mid-morning, when M. took the car to go to his art studio, that I realized we had a much bigger problem on our hands.

As I picked up the phone to speak with M., all I heard was “it’s going to be $923.00.”  To make a long story short, it’s time for a new car.  Hanging up the phone, I decided I needed caffeine desperately, and walked down to the local, expensive market to get my fix – much to the chagrin of BOTH the Write-a-matrix and Haciyatmaz, who have been YELLING IN MY EAR for days now to get writing on something or the other.  Many glasses of çay and car discussions later, we’ve settled on a plan to purchase a new car. We have done the preliminary negotiation – with M. breaking out the major Turkish hard-as-nails negotiation and intimidation tactics, much to the chagrin of a salesperson who finally yelled “uncle,” saying “I’d never play poker with you!” and “my boss will call me a yellow-bellied flatfish and a 220 pound weakling” (whatever that means).

Now that we are back in business on the transportation front, it’s time to brew some çay and get back to writing.