Earlier this month, I wrote about Elif Şafak, the Turkish author who in her brilliant talk on the politics of fiction also addressed the importance of sharing and feeling stories in ways that allow for the crossing of cultures and true connection. And it is in this spirit that I feel Jack Scott has written his new book, Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey. By sharing his experiences, Jack treats us to a window into an unexpected world – warts and wonders alike.
As a fellow chronicler of the navigation of relationships in Turkish and other settings, I was particularly interested in understanding how Jack and Liam worked as a couple to both adjust to and enjoy their new surround…and the book did not disappoint. Let it be known that by “surround,” I am referring to the fact that Jack and Liam are English men who have moved to Turkey – in the face of potential homophobia even in artistic Bodrum, the “Bohemian oasis” in Turkey.
But let me start at the beginning, as I was starting to meander around what Jack calls Pansyland and what Elif Şafak might refer to as another circle for exploration and wall-breaking. When I first stumbled upon Perking the pansies, the uproarious and ribald blog kept by Jack about his life with husband Liam in Bodrum, Turkey, I knew I had found a gem. Enthralled by his rat-a-tat-tat speed of witticism and truly lovely snark, I became one of his many devoted readers.
As a new blogger focused on writing about my Turkish-American cross-cultural marriage, I always found myself inspired by Jack’s observations – not to mention his dogged blogging. Although he does not know it, Jack has in many ways inspired me to keep going on my own project…and to be brave about saying what I see, speaking about how I feel and thinking on what it may and may not mean in life. When I first read Jack’s sample chapters and realized a book was on the way – I knew something wonderful this way was coming…and was thrilled at the prospect of adding something more interesting to my bedside table than the stack of dry, academic tomes I read for work on a daily basis.
As I read Jack’s book late into the first night I got my hands on the book, the puppets reading avidly along on my shoulders, I found streaks of my own experiences in Bodrum and other parts of Turkey – but with a wonderful new lens. Having spent time in Bodrum with a range of Turkish characters that I wish I had Jack’s skill to categorize so hysterically, I have also had the opportunity to observe the various expats Jack so perfectly categorizes with his wicked wit. In the book, Jack brings to life the VOMITs (Victims of Men in Turkey), the Bodrum Belles, the Semigreys, the Emiköys (expats living in ‘real’ Turkish villages) and the like. Through these archetypes, I could relate to Jack’s story in my own way – and in many ways this brought me some measure of peace by seeing that my interpretations of life in Bodrum were not out there on the gangplank, alone and wrong at their worst. I found that they were also sparkling at their best due to Jack’s portrayals. What is perhaps best about the characters in the book is what Jack models – that we all need to make fun of ourselves at times – and of the ridiculous around us – and while Jack does this brilliantly – this is not his only feat.
Having now read through the book twice, each time read non-stop, cover to cover, alternately laughing and crying, I am still struck by the engaging verve and jauntiness with which Jack writes. As a professor of statistics, I have yet to calculate the odds of (as Jack puts it) “two openly gay, recently ‘married’ middle aged, middle class men escaping the liberal sanctuary of anonymous London to relocate to a Muslim country” but for once, I am happy (no, thrilled) to put down my academic mantle and just enjoy Jack’s infectious verve, as my Granny would say! Speaking of infectious verve, this book is filled with fabulous Britishisms. Jack’s book has kept me busy explaining Cockney rhyming slang and the like to M. – not to mention the puppets that inhabit my head, especially that wicked trickster Karagöz who cannot stop adding “innit” (isn’t it) to the end of his sentences now, as in “Lor’ luv a duck! this book is right funny, innit?” or “Awright geeezzaa! you are an’ all uptight trouble and strife, Kenne, run up those apples and pears and leave me ter read dis book in peace, innit?”
But beyond the hilarity of the language which hurtles the story along at breakneck pace, there is a lot here. Let’s take the pure fact that this book documents the everyday realities of two gay men on a true adventure unlike one we hear about everyday in this globalized, adventure-is-constant-seeming world. Having watched friends and colleagues endlessly worry about, strategize around and bravely address the often merciless ravages of homophobia in American society (and particularly in American academe where one might perhaps least expect it), I loved reading about the forthright living of life out loud that Jack and Liam are doing in a most unexpected place. I am reminded of the poignant party scene where Jack and Liam show their wedding video – and melt all of the hearts in the room. Despite the challenges of living in a cold and drippy wintry expat village from, at times, hell, this was an illuminating and of course, heartwarming, moment. As Jack puts it, “at times I think we’re floundering around like idiots, but now and then I think we’re making a real difference.” I couldn’t agree more with the latter point.
Beyond the power of presence and the bravery of being out in Turkey – the wonder of Perking the Pansies is also in its stories. It is through the stories of the lovely Üzgün (and his eventual murder) and sweet baby Adalet (and her eventual adoption) that we get a sense of more of the depth of Jack and Liam’s experience in Turkey as expats – both in terms of the challenges of living life as out gay men – and of the joys of friendship and relationship in the face of navigating a new and sometimes truly confusing culture. It is, after all, through our relationships with different people that we find the truth that perhaps all expats seek, I would argue. And as Jack narrates the couple’s first year in Turkey, we can see the truth of their good and life-changing decision emerging. It leaves me wanting to hear more about what unfolds, and what is under the veil of these characters over time. Where will all of this lead Jack and Liam? Well, I am sure we will see. Let’s hope they don’t abscond for Bulgaria anytime soon.
As for the puppets, they are over by the Christmas tree, cheering mightily about the book – and riding our dog around the apartment as if he was an elephant during the Raj in India while they wait for their individual turn to read the book. Karagöz is leading the cheer – “give me a P” he screams – to which the puppets tumbled themselves up into the shape of a P (much to the chagrin of the dog). Esma continues on – “give me an A” she cried – so excited that jasmine blooms started shooting out of her ears (which only happens when she is in a state of true bliss). Tiryaki, the opium addict who usually nods his way through the day, in a rare moment of energy on an opium-free day calls out “yeah, man, give me an N, you know for nargile, like on the cover of the book, to smoke from.” Bebe Ruhi, the questioner with Dwarfism, not wanting to be left out, and always wanting to find an opportune moment for a question, said “yes, and give me an S, for so many stories to ask more about.” Since nobody is home to think I am crazy for talking to my imaginary puppet friends (um, are they?), I jump up and join the crew – “give me a Y” I yell happily, ” it’s PANSY time!”
QUOTES FROM THE PUPPETS ON PERKING THE PANSIES: All of the puppets are so excited about this book – but they are sharing one copy – so far – only five have read the book cover to cover on their own – and here is what they have to say…
Karagöz the irreverent puppet who loves to create chaos and is not very learned says: “I love the brash and real style that Jack embodies in his writing. I’m a simpleton, not much for books, but this one made me want to read a lot more! I love that Jack and Liam are out, loud and proud.”
Hacivad Bey the learned Sufi has this to say “Rumi teaches us to love – and to be lovers of the world. Jack opens his heart in this writing – and writes about the search for meaning in life through this new adventure. I applaud his work in this arena. As the Mevlana himself used to say, he never thought he was a poet until he met Shams of Tabriz, and then it flowed out of him. Looks like Jack has found his muse.”
Zenne, the nervous nellie, is transfixed, and has this to say about the book “Well, I was quite nervous to read the book, I worried, what if I don’t like it? I really want to like it. But I loved it – and it made me see that even if there is fear about doing something brave – like moving to a new country as a gay couple – that fear can be overcome in the face of fun, adventure and community-building. Where’s the Valium – I want adventure!”
Tiryaki, the opium addict cum surfer dude, has this to say: “Dude, these guys know how to have a good time – a rockin’ read I’d stay straight for.”
Esma, the little hippie puppet, has this to say “as a traveler and lover of life, I applaud what Jack and Liam have done – taken a stand for themselves, for their sanity, for their relationship. These men know what is important – and have fun along the way. They shared it with us, and this gives us inspiration on our own journey to truth through m’lady’s cross-cultural marriage. Here is cheers to the examined life!”
Bebe Ruhi, the incessant question-asker, only has this to say “what will happen next? I’m dying to know!”
- Perking the Pansies in Southwest Turkey (perkingthepansies.com)
- Twas the Season to be Jolly (perkingthepansies.com)
- Elif Şafak on stories as wall-breakers: Crossing circles, moving between (slowly-by-slowly.com)
- Last night in Bodrum: Fish cheeks, rakı and coffee (slowly-by-slowly.com)
- After the storm: Karagöz puppets gone wild (slowly-by-slowly.com)