Keşmekeş: The Karagöz puppets wreak (helpful) havoc


The red-hot torture light the puppets are making me sit under until I get this post finished after several weeks of silence. You can see the exit sign in the background, but the chorus of dancing ladies will not let me through there while the wise men and women puppets sit staring at me from across the booth in this cafe. The pressure is ON. (Image by Liz Cameron)

The Karagöz puppets are urging me to send out this “I’m still alive” message to the few and dear readers of this kooky blog. So, a few words on what is going on these days.

In all fairness, I must describe the fact that they have immobilized me under a torture light – you can see it pictured here. Until I write a post, they are going to shine this light in my eyes.

So, here I am, outside of the house, which is unusual as of late, as I still cannot drive yet, and as it has been too cold to do more than walks all bundled up and to be honest as it is just hard to talk to people these days. I’ve been burrowing away.

So, today, upon the “suggestion” (think twisted arms) of Karagöz (the impish puppet inhabiting my mind along with his entire troupe as we galavant about on the cross-cultural marital road trip I am one half of), I asked a friend to drop me in a local shopping area so I could do some errands and then sit and write for a while in this cafe. I am still supposed to take it easy on the left arm/hand, but I am allowing my fingers to type up a gentle storm because they have been so stuck as of late. So let me address the stuck-ness, which I am sure many of you can relate to.

When I became stuck: So in addition to dealing with my injury and depression, the stuckness came from another set of places as well.  I last posted on Christmas eve – just over three weeks in to the BlogHer December NaBloPoMo challenge on addressing topics of work. This was a very important stretch of time for me, as I did a lot of good thinking about my relationship with work – and how everything that I thought I knew how to do well may in fact be bad for me in the end if I stay with my current career. Sorry, BlogHer, I failed, and don’t worry, there has been lots of flagellation as a result. In any case, on Christmas day, I became totally immersed in stuck-ness and could not find my writing voice anymore. Maybe I was just DONE with writing about work or maybe it was my Mother’s suggestion that I was promoting simplistic stereotypes about East and West (in some cases, she is right, as I wasn’t clear enough about what I was writing about) or the comment from a lurker-reader who has, on several occasions accused me of denying what he refers to as the Muslim genocide in several world arenas, and of perpetuating Western Orientalist stereotypes (in part including the Armenian Genocide).

Now, as an academic, I am used to people criticizing my work in often brutal ways – that’s what we do.  But somehow, this comment, one negative comment in a sea of so many positive ones as my dear friend the Archer of Okçular pointed out, should not stop me.  But it did.  My whole goal with this blog was to name the unnamed when it comes to stereotypes and biases that M. and/or I experience or witness with respect to Islam, the Middle East, Turkey.  The thought that I might be missing something hurt me a lot.

After several weeks of the puppets’ window washing as consideration of this critique has bounced about my mind like an itchy tag in a new shirt, I realized two things.  In part, I think this commenter may be correct – although he has not likely read my “about” page where I talk about naming even the difficult to name things/beliefs or feelings I may have had at various points in my life that might be described as Western Orientalist biases or stereotypes.

I have always tried to engage with this person in a respectful tone – with honesty.  M. tells me to ignore him, that he is an outlier – a crazy person just wanting to fight.  I disagreed and hoped for dialogue, but it is clearly impossible with this guy.  However, when he responded to something M. wrote to him in Turkish by un-necessarily ridiculing my husband’s language – I am more inclined to agree with M.  Now, several weeks later, I think it is clear that the lesson here is to be as explicit as possible about what I am trying to do in this vein in each chunk of writing – as people may or may not read this blog asynchronously.  You can get a sense of this commentor, Gercek, by looking at the comments on this post.

What I did instead of writing while stuck – in my mind: Now, although my mind was stuck, the Karagöz puppets took over and began a major spring cleaning of my mind, this involved a lot of window washing. Now of course, this process was led (I would say “spear-headed”) by Kenne, the Queen of Manners, Etiquette and the Maintenance of Ladylike Behavior. Although she usually tortures me about how much I am not ladylike or could remember my etiquette more and the like, I do have her to thank for the clear windows. In the morass of my mind, lots is becoming clear – and new areas of un-clearness are emerging as well, to be worked out like tangled yarn in need of becoming a warm sweater. Glowing orbs of things on the way to becoming in focus include my current job, making peace with aspects of my childhood and adolescence and finding a healthy way forward.

What I did instead of writing while stuck – in my feet-on-the-ground-life: Now, despite the window cleaning activities inside, a lot was going on where my feet hit the floor – and that has mostly been in the kitchen. The Karagöz puppets, you see, decided that I needed a good challenge, and Mercan Bey, the Arabian Spice Trader Puppet had just the idea – all the puppets agreed in unison the minute he said it during their brainstorming session about how M’lady was to feel better. Here’s how it went down:

Lifting his hand to the sun (his gallant homespun mustard-colored robe slipping back as he did so) Mercan Bey decreed the following: “It is time for M’lady to get back to cooking, which she loves. And as we are doing this massive internal spring cleaning, let’s make the external part in parallel so perhaps they can work together, what say you, my puppet brothers and sisters?”Huzzahs were heard all about the troupe, and it was decided.

Turning to me, Mercan Bey gave me explicit instructions, “You, M’lady, you need to clean out this massive pantry of yours.  You need to cook this stuff – starting with everything that is about to be outdated, if it is not already so.  And given that your upstairs neighbors have some sort of worm infestation in THEIR pantry, better safe than sorry – you don’t want to deal with THAT nastiness, do you, M’lady?”

My eyebrows perked up as I said “what an interesting proposition!  Do you think I should write a blog about it – you know what I made each day from the leftover condiments in the fridge and all the stuff in the pantry? Could be catchy, sort of like the book called Life From Scratch where she writes about blogging about cooking?I started to feel excited, until I saw the puppets projected into tall shadows encircling me “NO MORE BLOGS!” They exclaimed with stern voices and wagging fingers, “just COOK. Hop to it now!”  I was afraid to do anything else – so I began to look in my pantry in order to decide where to begin.

Now some context is helpful here. I have always hoarded a lot of extra food in my pantry, just in case of a nuclear war or Hurricane or something that would require being prepared with food. Maybe it comes from growing up with Depression era parents who, for example, bought several trash bins full of preserved “soy food product” in the height of the end of the cold war. Those bins stayed in the basement for a long time, and I saw them every time I lugged laundry to the washing machine. So, yes, I am an anxious person in this regard, always needing to plan ahead about food – and, well, everything (other than my elopement with M., which was an anomaly)! Indeed, last night, my mom reminded me that my dissertation adviser had referred to me as “the most ‘planful‘ person she had ever met,” and this is true. It comes with the manic worrying and anxiety of unknowns that torture me. And of course, I probably have Zenne the Nervous Nellie Puppet Like a Bowl of Quivering, Shivering Quince Jelly to thank for that, or maybe vice versa.

So, drawing down can upon can of tomato puree, black beans, posole, olives and pulling out bottles of soy sauce, sweet rice vinegar, pomegranate molasses and the like – I began to cook.  Here are some highlights:

1) Thanks to all five large jars of peanut butter, two bottles of sesame oil and one container of tahini, I produced a massive vat of sauce for spicy sesame noodles (enough for 10 dinners – now frozen).

2) Thanks to seven jars of unfinished sour cherry and raspberry jam I made a number of batches of M.’s favorite jam bars – an old fashioned Yankee cookie bar.  He finally begged me to stop as he was gaining so much weight.

3) Thanks to eight cans of pureed tomato, two bags of yellow onions and a bottle of sherry, I slow-cooked several vats of tomato-sherry sauce for pasta, and fish dishes.  All the leftovers are frozen now.

You get the picture.

So here I am, ready to return, and happy to be back even if I do so as I am in the process of making my way through the significant mental and physical keşmekeş (great disorder, in Turkish) in my life.  At least my pantry is clean even if the mental window washing is not yet complete.

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.

11 Responses to Keşmekeş: The Karagöz puppets wreak (helpful) havoc

  1. Nancy says:

    It is really good to hear from you, m’dear. I’ve had some updates from B, and hope for a visit, and will call about that. V. glad you are cooking, and typing some, and writing about this tough time, and working your way through it. The current of the days will carry you, and you can rest in them. Lay the plans aside, let the puppets hug you and tell you sweet things and silly things, and wise things and foolish things, and think about the people you love, and find ways to hug them, with jam and sauces, with doggie biscuits, with tidbits of news. All will be well, all manner of thing will be well . . .Namaste . . .

  2. Jack Scott says:

    People often tell me I’m talking rubbish and there’s a price on my head in some foreign quarters. What I true to do (and I think you do too) is to distill sometimes complicated issues down to a simple, easily understood message that hits the mark. The thing about stereotypes is there’s often some truth in them. God knows, we’ve all heard the jokes about effeminate gay men and masculine lesbians. Most aren’t but some are and so what? Don’t be so hard on yourself. Keep truckin’, my dear! 🙂

  3. Sandra Yudilevich says:

    Hi, E. The blogger who is an “outlier” does not deserve the benefit of any more of your attention and/or energy, psychic or otherwise… Be well. Sandra

  4. Alan says:

    . . when I saw the email notification I smiled; thank you for causing that! Our social lives and our blogs are so similar – first they belong exclusively to us – we can choose who/what to bring in and who/what to exclude; what to talk about and what not; where we go or don’t go and above all we choose who joins us at our party! Now, you being a Prof of Soc etc will want to elaborate and delve into all the corners before marking me -5 for being simplistic, but, deep-down you know that we ‘simpletons’ have smiles on our faces for good reason! How nice it is to have you back – like Jack said being a good trucker is all about getting the load to its destination – İyi yolculuklar!

  5. E. says:

    Hi Alan, no negative marks for simplistic – I think I need a lot more simplistic in my life these days. Thanks to you and Jack for your support in getting me back on the Internet airwaves. And I am thrilled that it brought a smile to your face. XO, Liz

  6. E. says:

    Hi Sandra, thank you so much for your comment and the support I really appreciate it. Best, Liz

  7. E. says:

    Dear Jack, Your logic rings true and I agree with your thoughtful assessment. Perhaps it’s the teacher or “explainer” in me that wants to distill things to a more simplistic level. I need to be more thick-skinned about it. I’m going to keep on trucking! Thanks to you so much for the encouragement. Best, Liz

  8. E. says:

    Hi Nancy, thank you so much for your comment and your good advice. I’m resting a lot and processing a lot and I guess I’m doing okay just feeling a bit insular. I’ll do my best to call you soon, but know that I send my love your way. Love, Liz

  9. Turklish says:

    Hi Liz!
    I too was happy to see your new post after such a long absence. I’ve been a bit disconnected myself after a long trip in Turkey where I kept myself away from the internet for most of the trip, except for some short blog posts. It feels good to be back and see you back to writing! Cooking is a great way to clean out the cupboards in the kitchen and in the mind – I’m glad you were able to stock your freezer while relaxing and rebooting. I hope your puppets can keep you moving forward through your days and through this personal journey that is so difficult at times. I’m wishing the best for you!


  10. Pingback: Writing about fear: Sarai Sierra in Istanbul (Part 1) | Slowly-by-Slowly

  11. Pingback: Keşmekeş II: When life gives you limonlar… | Slowly-by-Slowly

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