Aç ayı oynamaz: A hungry bear won’t dance (on working, relaxing and patience)


I don’t know if these bears are hungry while they dance – but I take a different spin on the proverb in order to continue making sense of things in my work life (Painting of dancing bears by William Holbrook Beard)

The world of Turkish proverbs is a full one, and barely a day goes by when M. doesn’t let one rip with vim and vigor – much to the delight of the Karagöz puppets, who so enjoy his excitement at speaking these perfect nuggets of truth in just the right moment.

And I can relate to this, as my mother, too, loved aphorisms and proverbs, which she was wont to share on a daily basis as well. So much so, that they have apparently seeped into me and on into my classroom, where my students give me the side-eye on a regular basis, as they have not one iota of a clue about what it is, exactly, that I am saying.

But back to M. and his Turkish proverbs – and how his eyes light up as his pointer finger juts about in mid-air – buoyant at his ability to share – even if he does have to repeat it to me several times in order for me to get the words. I have noticed that M. speaks more rapidly, but in a tone softer in Turkish with me as compared to the boisterous Skype calls to his best friend that I am often awakened by in the early morning.

And this early morning, while there was no Turkish Skype discussion unfolding at a great clip in the next room, it was one of his proverbs that I thought of when I saw Blogher‘s prompt for today’s NaBloPoMo challenge – Are you happier when you are working or relaxing?

As I read the prompt, my mind wandered about the mint-walled-room and onto the towering bookshelf (itself bursting with knowledge that might hold an answer, I postulated) and it was at that particular moment that I remembered that he had once told me something about a hungry bear, and how such a creature will not dance without a good meal in his belly. He also told me of the horrible treatment of dancing bears, and how it made him cry. Now, animal rights and circus bears aside, there is a lot of truth to this. My take on this proverb is that it implies that one needs sustenance to do work, and indeed, on the face of it, this is true.

There it was again, another tough question from those torture-experts over at Blogher’s NaBloPoMo who seem to be asking me all of the penetrating answers I need to sit with – and begin to answer. Unlike yesterday, I didn’t cower under the sheets, but I did think about that dancing bear All day long. And I heard the growl of my tummy, but in my brain.

And yes of course I made myself busy, So busy with this and that all day, that all of a sudden here we are again, at the magic hour of 8:30 p.m., as I begin to face this question in my daily writing practice…and here is what it is that I must admit:

Truth be told, I am both ashamed, relieved and anxious to share My answer – that until recently, I would have said I was a hungry dancing bear of sorts – against the wisdom of the proverb – as I would have said “work is relaxing for me,” and meant it. Really meant it. You know, comments like “oh, a relaxing night for me would be hunkering down for some major data analysis, perhaps grading a stack of papers within an inch of their life while putting the red ink police out of business, or over-preparing my lecture for the next six weeks, And being very attentive to all those late night emails from my colleagues to which I would respond within minutes.” Sick, right?

Yehuda Rebbe, the Globalized, Jewish wise man puppet and Hacivad Bey, the Sufi elder puppet, well, they are both eyeing me suspiciously from across the room, where they are ensconced on the piano window, watching me type. “Please M’lady, show yourself some compassion,” they said as they began to prod me with their verbal cue sticks, “what else?”

“Well,” I said, shuffling my muffled feet here and there under the chair, “I guess it means that I need to break from the circus full of bear dancers, and dance to the tune of a different drummer.”

Nodding in approval, I knew they wanted more, their cue sticks circling faster and faster at me, as if to hypnotize me into finding the right way on this one.

“I need to work – and I need to relax. And I worry that academia is a place that I have trained myself to only work work work to the bone – and not have a healthy balance. Some of this is the institution of academia as a whole, some of this is the particular institution I have worked at – and some of this is my own gerbil wheel of personal erosion, which has me running, endlessly, against expectations real and unreal, internal and external – and fictitious. And most of all, I don’t want to discourage my new e-friend L. over at Turklish, who is at the beginning of her academic career, still in graduate school, working on a balance of her own. This problem of mine – it is my doing – and I need to re-negociate it all.”

Karagoz interjected at this point, “M’lady,” he said, in between somersaults that made M.’s prized collection of Chinese ceramic bowls gyrate on the shelf, “if I had a lira for all the times in the past few weeks you have said ‘need to re-negociate your relationship with work’ – I mean enough already! Just get on with the work!”

Tears began to stream down my face, and I thought, “that crazy puppet is right, and I just don’t know how, but I do believe this is just part of the process. And will I cry at these big realizations all week? Will there be any respite?” My heart began to squeeze, a sign of physical anxiety. But before I reached for the prescription Ativan to quench the feeling, Perihan Hanim appeared again – you may remember her from yesterday, she is my fairy godmother puppet.

Mount Zen II

Mount Zen II (Photo credit: adesigna)

“What you need, dear, is to learn about having some patience for yourself, for the way to become clear. And that is why, dear heart, your other human fairy godmother encouraged you to sign up for the retreat you are attending this weekend, which, of all things, is entitled “Patience: Emptying the Ocean with a Teacup. Ignore your beloved trickster puppet, forget worrying about whether that is an American tea cup or a Turkish çay glass, put out of your mind that you have no idea what all the Buddhist rhetoric in the program announcement is all about and just pack your bags, you are ready to go to this meditation retreat, and with that, you will begin to find that the way, indeed, will become clear.”

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This entry was posted in Academic hell, On writing about my life with the Karagöz puppets, Turkish-American Matters, Visits from the Karagöz puppets and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Aç ayı oynamaz: A hungry bear won’t dance (on working, relaxing and patience)

  1. Nancy says:

    M’dear, the retreat is an excellent plan. And the puppets are wise. And you were busy all day with things, and not absorbed by your pain and unable to be busy. And M is delighting your heart and mind. And the whole post feels like you are at home. Blessings . . .

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

  3. E. says:

    Dear Nancy, thank you so much for your comments and your endorsement. That means a lot to me from you in particular. It was a very good retreat, and I learned a number of things that surprised me about myself and also about my capability to meditate. Not going Buddhist or anything, but I see the value in their practice. And I am feeling more at home, in the way that you mean. Thank you so much love, Liz

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