The Karagöz puppets would like me to announce that they are taking a sporadic vacation this month – and will only make occasional appearances here on Slowly-by-Slowly. They are exhausted and in need of a good, long nap. Instead, you will be hearing from me, Liz Cameron, as I have taken on the challenge of writing via dictation software for the coming month as part of Blogher’s December NaBloPoMo challenge – to write on the topic of “work” each day for the whole month. As some of you know, the past month has been a tough one for me, one in which I have realized that things are way out of whack for me when it comes to how I address my approach to work. Upon reflection, work is a central theme in the discussions and arguments that M. and I have as each half of a Turkish-American marital union, so I am hopeful for this to be a month of rich reflection on how east and west approach – work.
Lately, I have been realizing how my workaholism has caused iceberg-like problems in my life, problems floating just beneath the surface that are both medical and mental. Now that I am stuck without a writing hand and meekly dependant on dictation software, I have been unable to work, and have had a lot of time to think. And I have been spending a lot of thinking time sitting in our living room drinking glass upon glass of Turkish çay with lemon, meditating on the tiny tinker’s sound of demitasse spoon on glass as I stir the sugar into oblivion. And sitting there, with my çay, in our living room, I sit with three achingly gorgeous black and white photos of my kaynana (Turkish for mother-in-law). And as I sit with these photos, I think about my current-day workaholism and about how my life might be different if I was a wife in Istanbul in my kaynana’s era…and how there might be some middle path that would work for me, and for M.
When I get burned out on analyzing my situation too much, I just go back to the content of those photos of my mother-in-law again. Clearly, my kaynana is the epitome of graciousness. Always dressed to the nines, she poses perfectly in those photos, nary a hair out of place and always looking at me with what can only be described as a deeply kind, understanding and warm-hearted smile. She has a muted glow emanating from her, even in these photos, and it gives me great comfort to feel that glow from her. I can only imagine what my kaynana must have looked like in real life, as I never had the chance to meet her. She died the same year as my biological mother.
Now, many people joke about the best mother-in-law being a dead mother in law – and all I say to that is “how crass!” Although, truth be told, I have never experienced a terrible one, I suppose. As a woman married to a Turkish man, I have noted that many write about the challenges of marriage to a Turkish man – especially with regard to the relationship with their kaynana – just try a google search and you will come up with a veritable cornucopia of commentary on the topic. Mary Yücel, for example, provides a typology of Turkish mother-in-laws – but takes a positive spin. Natalie Sayin, for example, writes with hilarity about her short-lived membership in the elite Turkish housewives club in a way that is a tiny window into her life with her kaynana. Zeynep Kilic writes about her “exotification” in the dating process – after two marriages to Turkish men ended, with a slight but large enough mention of the ways that their mothers, perhaps, got in the way. American women who are married to Turkish men often find solace in a secret conversation with me about the challenges of their relationship with their kaynana – knowing that I won’t spill the beans. And Turkish women that I know too, have referenced the struggles with their particular kaynana as well. Clearly, the Turkish male worship of their mothers rivals that of Mary, Mother of God worship – or the Virgin of Guadelupe, perhaps, but perhaps in less of a healthy way. And it is for this reason that I feel extremely lucky, as I have a wonderful, imaginary relationship with my phantom kaynana.
And so over these past weeks on medical leave, sitting in my pajamas at mid-day, depressed as all get out with my arm in a sling, reflecting on the past 7 years of my workaholic academic life and floundering about where to go from here, I can only imagine what my kaynana would think of me. I must admit, I would rather keep the glowing image of her in these three photographs, with an idealist image of a friendly, respectful relationship in which she taught me all she knew about Turkish cuisine, for example. But I can only imagine what she might have thought of her American daughter-in-law, the workaholic with fly-away hair, unkempt fingernails, microwave meals and a racing, workaholic heart most of the time. Now, although she did have household help given the family economics and culture of Istanbul at the time, M. tells me that she did much of the cooking and tending to her boys. So, as a feminist, of course, I must honor the fact that she, too, was a working woman.
And as these last couple of months came crashing down into my shoulder injury and parallel major depressive episode, it was, in part, the observation of these photographs of my kaynana as I ran out the door to work in what can only be described as a harried and frenzied state, that made me realize that my life was indeed massively out-of-whack, so to speak. While we cannot afford the luxury of the life my kaynana led, there is a lesson in the need for self-care, order and calm seas in one’s life.
Tomorrow, I will talk about how I have imagined the presence of my kaynana during a typically crazy American academic work day. I hope you will stay tuned!
- An expat looks for love in her adopted country – only to be told she’s “exotic,” the Other (1/2) (thedisplacednation.com)
- Highly Productive Gifts for the Workaholic (gizmodo.co.uk)
- Health: Are You A Workaholic? New Quiz May Tell You (philadelphia.cbslocal.com)
- Top Relationship Counseling Blog RockinMarriage.com Announces How to Keep Marriage Strong When Married to a Workaholic (prweb.com)
- The real reason we wrongly worship workaholics (chrisyeh.blogspot.com)