Of east and west, work and rest in a Turkish-American marriage

We often view the role of work, and rest, in what I think are Eastern-informed and Western-informed lenses (Image by Jenny Lee Fowler)

We often view the role of work, and rest, in what I think are Eastern-informed and Western-informed lenses (Image by Jenny Lee Fowler)

Living in a Turkish-American marriage, there are some differences that are glaringly garish, more that subtle, a few that are barely perceptible and some that really creep up on you over time.  As my theme of the month is “work,” due to my participation in Blogher‘s NaBloPoMo, a discussion of how work is perceived in my own relationship seems appropriate to share.

As a couple thrown together from Eastern and Western traditions, work is often an area in which we clash.  M., who is much more of a bohemian and easygoing person than I, loves his work more than anything – and after 8 hours – comes home – and that’s that.  He is a curator in a museum that is a particularly healthy workplace, if you ask me.  The culture of work in that place, I believe, supports what M. knows about the value of balancing work and rest time – as his rest time is when his true work begins, as he is also a working artist.  Lately, he has been in the throes of recalibration – as he has perhaps adopted too much of a work ethic on the volunteer front – and needs to step back.  But unlike me, he knows it when he sees it.  Would that I were that way.

I, on the other hand, well, it’s not that easy.  It is likely that I make nothing easy on myself as I come from the Yankee work ethic tradition that has rushed vs. trickled down from generation to generation.  I feel guilty if I am not working or doing something useful.  This tendency has been cemented in my psyche by choosing to work first in social services for years (where workaholism is the only way to get impossible tasks even partway done) and then to choose academia.  Ah, academia, the land of no rest, knots in your stomach and a constant “somewhere else to be, something else to do,” type of feeling.  I know that my e-friend over at Turklish is wrestling with the same things (you should check out her blog here, she is marrying a Turkish man and moving to Turkey soon – while doing graduate work). With my need-to-prove-my-worth work ethic and my Yankee roots, I think I am doomed.

Hacivad Bey, the learned Sufi elder puppet who has been observing and facilitating this whole work meditation, steps in at this moment.  “This, m’lady,” he says softly, “is the reason you met and married M.  So different from you he is, you are bound to have to take another good look at yourself and decide what is, and what is not healthy.”

And then, without further ado, he unfurls a soft and worn scroll of parchment in front of my eyes, and it reads:

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do” – Rumi  

Almost imperceptibly, he whispers this to me – “Figuring this out now, M’lady, is your task. It’s time to get well again” And it becomes clear to me that I have a lot to learn about the Eastern approach when it comes to balance – and determining what it is that I will do.


This entry was posted in Academic hell, Cross-cultural learning moments, Family Challenges, Turkish-American Matters, Visits from the Karagöz puppets and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Of east and west, work and rest in a Turkish-American marriage

  1. I’m loving the Rumi quotes. These work culture differences definitely resonate for me too. Thanks for sharing.

  2. E. says:

    Hi Green and Ginger, thank you so much for your comment. I am glad you’re enjoying the Rumi quotes I also think there is so much in them, and it is been so wonderful to find them.

    Are you also in a cross-cultural relationship? I see that you are living between Oxforf and Istanbul. Or perhaps your work is back-and-forth there. Either way, it makes for an interesting life – And lots of interesting observation on cross-cultural difference. By the way, I am starting to really get into and enjoy your blog. Thanks for what you’re doing. See you soon. Best, Liz

  3. Audrey says:

    As a Stay at Home Mom, I am technically never “off”. But even when I was in the corporate world I found it very hard to come home and “do nothing”. Drives my hubby crazy, and it is probably the reason I am so tired all the time.

  4. I got a book of Rumi’s writing for my birthday recently, and I find it really beautiful.

    Yes, I am in the cross-cultural love club too, also with a turkish guy – I think that’s one of the reasons I’m enjoying your blog so much!

    Thanks for the compliment, really glad you’re enjoying my blog. I’m still figuring out this blogging game, slowly-by-slowly!

  5. Kathy says:

    Very interesting post about the balance of compromise and differences in marriage.


  6. Nancy says:

    And I think you must have the wonderful Rumi books, illustrated, lovely, I’ll bring one next time we see one another, and if you don’t have it, Santa may be able to fix that.
    And Rumi and Hacevid Bey are right: you are getting well, and love is your work, and M. is the one you have been given to love now, And H’s love for you will never die, for love never dies. It will always be there, living in you, and you will always be able to find it, even tho you cannot touch H anymore. You are his heart. And M is yours.
    And there is a four-legged friend near you now, who knows a lot about all of this . . .

  7. E. says:

    Thank you so much for your comment!

    Stay-at-home moms are the hardest workers of all, no doubt about it, having been raised by one! I think we, as a culture, have to re-think our approach to life, and the obsession with busy-ness that seems to run freely in the water we drink!

    Take care of yourself, take some breaths – and please stop by Slowly-by-Slowly again!

  8. E. says:

    AHA – another member of the cross-cultural love club tribe! I am so glad that you found the blog – my intended audience is people just like us. So much of what I read about cross-cultural relationships is negative and or milquetoast (i.e. “learn about the other culture”) – that I wanted to blog on more of the “grey area” in between the black and white poles we hear so much about in the dominant media. I am so glad, also, that you have discovered Rumi! SO much wisdom.

    Be well, Liz

  9. pathwriter says:

    I use this Rumi quote at the bottom of my email signature, but I also add the next phrase in the quote: “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Good luck with your inner work on work!

  10. E. says:

    Thank you so much pathwriter, for your comments and sharing. Your daily quotes are giving me a lot to think about these days. So please know that I appreciate your blog even if I am a silent lurker!

  11. pathwriter says:

    I’m glad you’re enjoying the quotes. And please feel free to lurk silently!

  12. Pingback: Şekerleme: On the work of both rest and cultural competence in Turkey | Slowly-by-Slowly

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