2016 – A Year in Pieces

As I lie sick in bed on this second day of 2017, I am reminded yet again that I used to be a writer. Sometimes I sketch out poetry in my head while traveling home on the ferry, and other times I grab angrily at my laptop and type something down quickly, out of fear, rage or longing – but it is just as quickly deleted and my computer used for more passive activities, such as news reading or movie watching. So much has happened in the past year here in Turkey, at times it just feels like too much to even think about, let alone write down and share.

My last post was from almost one year ago – after Istanbul’s first attack which would become one of many to come. A few months after the attack in Sultanahmet, another suicide bomber blew himself up on Istiklal in Taksim. A street which used to be so jam packed with people I’d have a panic attack just trying to get through it. Now the shops are leaving, the hotels and restaurants closing down. Now, it has become a mere memory of itself. The next big explosion was at Ataturk Airport, followed closely by a failed coup which brought this city, this country to its knees. This was the most terrifying. It made everything else pale in comparison. At the height of the night of 15th July, I stood on my terrace looking out at the darkness. A military helicopter fluttered above, as an F16 yet again broke the speed of sound – which feels more like your neighbor has just been bombed than a jet flying too close to the ground – a woman below me apparently agreed, as she began to wale in a fit of fear and terror. For a split moment, I felt I could slightly understand what the beginning of an air raid in WWII might have felt like, or one of the first months of the siege in Aleppo… thankfully it was just for a second. We woke the next day, astonished that we had actually slept at all. The coup had been put down but the arrests, purges and fear that has come sweeping in after will cause immense impacts on this country for years if not decades to come. Everybody has been made an enemy and nobody is to be trusted… you couldn’t make this stuff up. Every week there are more and more arrests – mostly academics, journalists, all marked as ‘enemy number one’. Foreign teachers have been detained, sent back to their countries without even being able to return home for their belongings. Why? There are no reasons anymore worth writing down. The truth no longer matters.

As summer came to a close, and the east continued to burn, and Turkey waltzed into the war in Syria, it somehow just all became normal. The ‘heightened’ security when entering public transit, the machine gun clad teenage cops, posted in strategic places across the city, the persistent warnings from the embassies. The closing of embassies and the propaganda that lay everywhere – it all just become normal. And so the autumn felt quiet, despite all the crazy that was swirling around, it simply felt relatively, quiet.

Then, in early December as I was reading at home, came another explosion. I jumped at the sound – did something just come tumbling down on my roof? No, it was somehow further, deeper… I knew this feeling… my heart sank. I ran out the terrace door, looked around. My neighbor (different neighbor this time) was doing the same. We saw nothing, I went inside and grabbed for my phone and waited. One minute, two minutes… then, “did you hear that?” “What the fuck was that?!” from all across the city and my fear was confirmed. Twin bombs had gone off outside the new stadium in Beşiktaş. It was aimed to kill police guarding a match that had recently let out. It killed dozens, 38 to be exact. One killed was a 19 year old boy, not a police, but a normal university student. His picture was plastered all over social media and it was hard to look at this boy. He looked just like so many of my students. It was his father’s words that affected me the most though. He is a professor and wrote a eulogy for his son that was heartbreaking and even in my broken understanding of Turkish, I cried as I read it. He asked for his son not to be called a martyr (which is what they love to call people who have been murdered here – the bridge where the coup started has been changed from the Bosphorus Bridge, to 15 July Martyrs’ Bridge. They are also calling the hill above the stadium in Beşiktaş “Martyrs’ Hill”). I couldn’t agree more with this father– this martyr word is absurd to me. These people, kids, have not died for any cause – let alone a religious one. They have been murdered, in cold blood, it’s as simple and terrible as that.

That Monday after the stadium attack, I was the most surprised by how my students’ response had changed. It had barely been a year before when a bomb had gone off in Ankara at a peace rally and I came to school to everyone wearing black, to impassioned speeches given by tear stained faces and protests, protests in anger at the injustice that was happening in their country. But a year later, when people were dying in their own city… the halls were silent of grief. It was spoken about in passing amongst students. They often write about the explosions as if they are something one just lives with now. They talk childlike about it. They want to leave, go to places like Norway, where bombs don’t go off… They used to talk angrily about these attacks, now they just look defeated. It kills me to see such spark disappear. These kids feel a different generation from the ones of Gezi Park, a mere three years ago.

A week later, the ambassador to Russia was assassinated by a religious fanatic at an art gallery in Ankara and two weeks later, after that was just a memory in the back of our minds, it was time to celebrate a new year.

The end of the year came in much like that of the previous year, wet. We had rain for days and power cuts across the city. Nobody really knew or knows why. Some report weather, other the lack of energy in Turkey and others still point to conspiracy in the government. Take away the power and people don’t pay as much attention to what the rulers are concocting… this is Turkey, after all. People were excited to begin a new year – say bon voyage to 2016. Perhaps 2017 would make up for the disasters of Brexit, Trump – the terror that was running rampant across Turkey and so much of the world. But sure enough, not even two hours after ringing in the New Year in Istanbul, the radio in the taxicab I was riding in reported a massive shooting in one of the most popular nightclubs in Istanbul. I instantly raced through my intoxicated brain to think if I knew anyone who was going to be there. It’s one of those places, everyone’s been, goes to. It’s the place to be seen in Istanbul. By the time I got home there were 35 dead and I fell asleep in tears. The next day I watched my Facebook wall in awe – half the posts were of joyous celebrations as people from all across the globe rang in the new year – the other half were heart retching cries of anger, disbelief – “we are in the middle of a war, why are they killing us like this?” Images of the Bosphorus neighborhood I know so well, still dreading I would find out I knew one of the victims. This year was not starting out like it should. We wanted to be celebrating and instead we were again, mourning and afraid.

A day later, the list of dead has not been released. A lot of misinformation and confusion. The shooter/shooters are still at large. There was another shooting at a mosque last night…. Nobody died, I don’t think. I am home, with a cold, but coworkers at the university I work at say, all is normal. But this is not normal. I get emails and messages from people I haven’t spoken to in years, checking in, making sure I’m ok. Making sure I’m not dead? This is not normal. But, it has become the norm. When does it stop? And why am I still here, you may ask. I ask myself that question a lot. And the answer is never a straightforward one. I have a Turkish husband, which makes it harder to just pick up and get on a plane – even though he does have a ten year visa to the US and so technically we could very well do that. I’ve lived here for six years – this country has – for all the good and bad – become my home. My job is here, friends are here, my life is here. And then I think of Obama and his red line with Syria. And I realize we have done the same with our life here in Turkey. For years we’ve tried to give ourselves a ‘red line’ – something that if crossed, would be our sign to leave. When we no longer felt safe, when there were bombs going off in our city. But here we are, after many lines crossed later. We are getting attacked from within the country and from without. The acronym no longer matters, the reasons all the same – to create fear and chaos. Some blame Islam, some blame the Turkish government, others the US. It doesn’t matter, not really. The end result is all the same, death and the normalizing of atrocity and blood in the streets. I have argued it’s not just Turkey, and I’m right, it’s not – but the rise of events here is making that argument pretty weak, I know. I’m exhausted, I feel rundown. My soul hurts. The optimism I had last year after our first terror attack is gone. You see, this city infests you, it grows inside you – all the beauty of it reaches deep within you and grows roots. This beauty is what you try to gravitate to in times of darkness – but what happens when the darkness becomes all encompassing? Does it block out the light? What happens when those roots become toxic and turn to rot? Do they relinquish their hold on you, or do they hold you tight – with promises of a brighter tomorrow?

I watch the sorrow in my husband’s eyes as he loses his country. As his way of life slowly gets snuffed out from so many angles. Yes, we can leave this city, this country, but it will always live deep inside us – the beauty which draws us to its beaches and the darkness which we will, sadly, carry with us always – for him, so much more than me. Yes, we will leave, to a Trump America, I suppose. For whatever that will bring. When? That, I am not sure. But if this past year isn’t enough to push us past that red line, I fear we have much more suffering to go.

On that somewhat dreary note, I want to just say that even though this past year has been a difficult one, and the present year is looking to not give us much reprieve – I want to point out that there is still so much beauty to be seen, felt and shared. I was married in the midst of all this, the light in the dark of this morose year. It was a beautiful ceremony back in Colorado. The sun sparkled, the green overpowering. There was even a rain shower, which was somehow as magical as it gets, driving up the windy mountain roads in a wedding dress. I have an amazing family who support me through their unending fear of us living here, two wonderful bags of fur that provide great entertainment into the wee hours of the night, great friendships which without would make life so much grayer and overall a life I love immensely. We are lucky to be here – the world needs us to shine in these times of darkness and confusion. Life is not easy – or simple or easily understood and neither should it be I suppose. It’s the difficult times that make us truly appreciate the light. I see so much suffering in the world, and mine pales in comparison. We are still the lucky ones, next time you are at your wits end with it all, try and remember that. And here’s to 2107 – give us all you got – as we are still, unbroken… a bit battered and worse for wear, but resilient.

Rust

It’s been over a year since I have written anything of substance, of any intent, really. Life washes in in waves I suppose. Not that I haven’t had anything to write about, perhaps there has just been too much and I just haven’t been able to figure out where to start. Whatever the reason, it’s unacceptable and childish I am sure. It’s most likely been out of fear; that it’ll all come out bullshit or that I really DON’T have anything to say…. and given my life, that’s pretty scary indeed.
There have been times in my life when I think I’ve actually been a fairly good writer – I grasp at those moments to try and understand what was so unique about these circumstances – and all I can really come up with is, yes, I was writing all the time. Rusty fingers reflects a rusty mind.
I come up with a million excuses not to write, until I find myself staring out the window with all these billions of thoughts and ideas jamming around in my head like a rock concert gone awry and I want to explode….. does anyone need a cocktail? God, anything to not let me be alone with the threat of having to write it all out!
So my ancient computer couldn’t be unplugged from its precious power source, good excuse – not mobile, can’t write. Ipad’s touch screen keypad is precarious at best and takes me forever to get out a thought. Another good excuse. Can’t write at work, no time. Paper?! Who uses that anymore? I flirt with the idea of bringing my dream journal back from the dead, but it dustily remains at the top of my wardrobe. Then I got a new laptop for my birthday and I can’t seem to find any more excuses. It sits there, with its light up keyboard and clutch-like, stylish mobility and what else can I do? But write?
So here’s my starting point – as measly as it may be – gotta start somewhere, right?
And that brings me to my next dilemma – and it makes me realize there is a theme running around here – just not sure why.
I have a week long holiday. It starts in two days and I haven’t made a single solid plan. I have a million ideas, a gazillion places I want to visit, so very many places I have not been and MUST explore. I have been living in Turkey for the past two years and have yet to get out and acquaint myself with the surrounding countries. I am in the heart of the world – to my east I have the great and all mighty Middle East – most of which should wisely be off limits for my current explorations, but Beirut pulls me in this tempting direction. The Balkans lie to the north and the southern half is yet to be discovered by my wandering soul. Then there’s Greece to my east and Cyprus to my south – ah, all the very many places to explore.
Getting back to my dilemma – why have I not chosen a location? I know I am notorious for last minute planning, but come on! Two days?! So I think I will most likely hop on a plane to Belgrade and take it from there. My shaky itinerary consists of Belgrade, Sarajevo, Mostar, Dubrovnik and Skopje. Unreliable transport and a plethora of languages I do not know… ah, home. I miss my solitary adventures, but honestly, it all feels a bit on the intimidating side – all that unknown, all that time to think – god only knows what I will come up with out there on my own. And therein lies the reason why I need to go. Travel feeds my soul and I’ve been feeling a bit malnourished as of late. I really don’t think it matters what destination I pick, as long as I PICK one – by the ticket and go. I need to put some WD40 on my travel brain and get back to where I am uncomfortable and unsure – for only there do I ever really feel truly alive.
And since I am also notorious for rambling, I will cut it short and post – first blog in over a year. Hopefully my next attempt will be a bit more profound and slowly the cobwebs and rust will work themselves free and maybe, just maybe I can get back to feeling like a ‘fairly good’ writer again.

me

Thoughts

Going through old Google Docs – found this from a few months back. A bit dark and foreboding but holds true for me as well as for so many.

Tonight I am letting the darkness get the best of me
I have let myself become unprotected, lost sight of the potential that has guided me
This army of me seems to be fighting a losing battle
and as I struggle to regain the light, the glimmer just seems to get dimmer and dimmer
further and further away I feel myself slipping into the shadows of the night
I stand alone here – always, as before and as always, I will remain
false promises I have let encapsulate me, promising me a reality that will never be my own
I can not own it, for never will it truly be my home
all I have is this body, this soul, this heart that beats – rhythmically yet at times out of tune
it screams out for freedom, to feel anything but this…
this darkness which can’t be ignored – can’t be reckoned with
it swarms around me like a plague of massive proportions
perhaps I’ve longed for a savior, knowing all too well, there can be no saviors – no white knights to take away the brutality of this fire
as it burns, unrelenting and uncontrolled
I lit this fire, long ago – perhaps out of spite, perhaps out of fear
of letting anyone or anything get too close, get too near
the realness which IS this darkness, this emptiness which seems to be inviolable
untouchable and forever vast
the only constant is this burning – and it burns and burns and burns
it burns my flesh and burns my aching heart
I struggle to put the pieces together that will show me how I got here
to this place of dark, unlit tunnels where I wander, helplessly and childlike in search of the many answers to the questions I have dared not ask
yet I am left perplexed and without direction
staring at walls and empty bottles of imperfection
only I am to blame for the roads I have taken
and only I am to judge for the moments I have mistaken
and perhaps my judgements have been flawed
and perhaps I’ve let my idealistic dreams guide me to a place of unrealistic expectation
perhaps
and perhaps I am just another lost dreamer, in the throes of another worlds’ sensations

Isn’t all this sunshine just a wee bit blinding?

I spent an entire morning in the beginning of January writing a blog about New Years and reinvention and that painful ritual of self-reflection. I wrote about the highs and lows of my 2011; the beauty and melodrama which was scattered throughout the year… I wrote a lot… only to have not been signed in… henceforth, nothing I wrote was saved, which in a way is kind of ironic. It’s ironic because I thought I had come to all of these amazing self realizations; then to have the whole work disappear, at first felt a bit crushing, like everything I had uncovered would now crawl back into my subconscious until I could get it out on paper again, as if they never existed at all. I struggled with how to get them back, as quickly as possible. But then my boyfriend reminded me of a painful truth that every writer must learn the hard way; you can never recreate something that you have lost. It’ll never be the same – but ok, perhaps this is not so bad after all. And if I really think those realizations are no longer viable, just because I no longer have them down on paper (or on some electronic database), then I’m in more trouble then I thought. It’s ironic because I made all of these promises to myself for 2012; to not be so critical of myself, to accept and relish in the presence that is this moment… blah blah blah – and then when the words were gone, so were the promises… well, until I discovered what I was doing and then embarrassingly made the addendum promise not to renege on my promises. Then I extended this promise, not only to promises made to me, but to promises made to others. (I really wanted to continue this trend and add promises made BY others, but I realize this is entirely out of my control.)

So here it is the end of February. I am sitting in a sunny window at a friend’s in Istanbul – up early to bask in the glorious morning sun that I have been stupidly denying myself for months. I don’t know how the beginning of this year has managed to be so exactly what I was trying to avoid; filled with insecurity and self-deprecating frustration, but here I am, engrossed in more questions than I have answers to, and those promises I made only a couple months ago… seemingly light years in the past.

There were a lot of things I wanted for 2012; a lot of places I wanted to be and realities I would have liked to have existed in. But really, my biggest struggle, is just to exist in the reality of my own skin. To make that conscious choice to just BE HAPPY… for fuck’s sake! And I almost believe that it really could be that simple… make the choice and just ‘be’. Just like so many, I’ve had a lot of beautiful things taken from me in my life; however, just as well, I have also consciously walked away from just as many beautiful things, people and places. I’ve ran, I’ve fought, I’ve struggled to exist in a world I seldom understand. I’ve made choices I’m proud of and choices I sometimes cringe at, but they’re mine, and so I stand by them, loyally, like an attention starved puppy.

But here we are again with this conundrum concept of, choice. ‘Free choice’, ‘the choice is yours’, ‘pro choice’, your choice… a million and ten choices! I have had this conversation many, many times with my fellow expatriates – and the weary conclusion always comes to; we have too many choices. Especially being an expat, we have created an insurmountable array of choices for ourselves. We have the possibility to live anywhere in the world, to embrace any culture we are drawn to, to learn, to work, to love, to run, to stay… to be virtually anything and anyone, and if we get tired of a decision made, it’s just as easy to reinvent and start again – making more choices and expanding our possibilities. And do those possibilities ever get worn out? Some I suppose must. Do WE ever get worn out? Some, I suppose MUST. It’s exhausting all these choices. Not that I’m unhappy with the choice I’ve made to make possible all of these choices, but after a while the decisions become extremely difficult to make and the labyrinth just keeps getting more complex. Sometimes I think I just want somebody else to make a choice for me – like I am too tired to possibly make one more life altering decision. Because that’s what they are – every choice made is a choice to move your life into another realm – to turn down a path, to open one door and close another. We see all the choices, all the possibilities, and they’re mind-numbing. When all anyone wants is to find happiness. Does door number one have the highest chance to provide happiness? What about two, seven, forty-six or perhaps eighty-nine? If I explore them all, with that bring me a greater sense of clarity? hmmmm…. perhaps. But really, isn’t THAT also a choice? Nobody else can make us happy, no special location or occupation. No person, place or thing can save us from our own insanity and self-loathing. And I think it’s the hardest choice we have to make. Where it’s only so easy to choose a new hairstyle, house, city, country, career, lover, or persona – deciding to be happy with whatever choices we make, is, terrifying!

So here I am, back making myself promises again – to be happy – to make better decisions that will somehow lead to a greater chance at being able to actually stick to those promises – to not so easily and quickly loose sight and perspective when life doesn’t go as smoothly as desired, or those previous choices made turn out to not have been the wisest decisions. It’s rarely easy, but if we are always waiting for it to GET easier… we’ll always be miserable and stuck in the cycle of promising ourselves, and others, a reality we’ll never be able to live up to.

“The question we need to ask ourselves is whether there is any place we can stand in ourselves where we can look at all that’s happening around us without freaking out, where we can be quiet enough to hear our predicament, and where we can begin to find ways of acting that are at least not contributing to further destabilization.”
― Ram Dass

I’ve always tried to remind myself of this quote as I go about my life… yes, another one of those pesky promises I’m apparently so bad at keeping… well, at least I’m trying, and if that’s the best I can do – then so be it. 🙂

A Christmas Misfit in the Land of the Ezan

Yesterday a Turkish friend of mine asked me a question I have been asked many times before. She asked me if I were religious; not to know my standing on god or to have a religious debate, but to know if I would be celebrating Christmas next week. I paused then answered, no, I am not religious, but I still celebrate Christmas. My father would call this, being “culturally religious”, and if that’s the case, than perhaps I am. However, I don’t really know if religion really has anything to do with it. I think for most, ‘god’ has been taken out of the Christmas equation many moons ago. But if that’s the case, what then is Christmas all about? I suppose the ‘idea’ of god is still present for some; with the festive joy and merrymaking for the birth of Christ… But what about the rest of us? Is it really all about consumerism? Fighting traffic and fellow elbowing shoppers to get that last most-have-Christmas item for a loved one? Maxing out your credit card as you try and outdo your last years Christmas barrage of presents? Battling the tree as it topples and wobbles about in the tree stand? Hanging sparkly lights outside your house and drastically increasing your electric bill for the month of December? Trying to out-shine your neighbors? Forcing yourself to smile when surrounded by all the relatives you try painstakingly to avoid for the rest of the year? Sending Christmas cards to everyone you’ve known since birth; bragging about how perfect your family has had it all year, unsympathetic to those that may not have had it so good, that are curled up alone after loosing their only child, or been diagnosed with some terminal disease? Ah yes, the splendid joys of the Christmas season.

A lot of people hate Christmas, and when I say hate; they despise it with an ungodly sort of determined loathing that could send any small, Santa Clause loving child into a palpitating sense of shock. They’ve usually suffered some traumatic Yuletide event in their past or quite the opposite; had a wonderful childhood of Christmas bliss and have, for one reason or another, turned against it. I had a brief moment of being in this second category. It was a short lived moment and one that I am glad has quickly passed and I can now come to a greater understanding of just what this crazy holiday means to me, god and religion aside.

The reasoning for my sudden shift from sparkly eyes of Christmas wonder, to a tearful, panic laden stocking stuffed nightmare, was the death of my brother. Unsurprisingly enough, I have met many that turn against the holiday in a saddened rebellion of a lost loved one, and unfortunately, many never do go back. I think what it took for me was a couple years completely divorced from the holiday all together to really be able to appreciate what the significance of Christmas really is in my world.

This will be my second Christmas spent in Turkey, a country totally devoid of the Christmas holiday, (makes sense being a Muslim country and all). I have few ‘Western’, or should I say ‘culturally Christian’ friends here and the ones I do are off to enjoy their free weekend on brighter shores. While living in Poland, I always made the long journey home, but for reasons of poor economic planning, I simply have not had that privilege for the past two years. So I have somehow managed to avoid Christmas all together. No tree, no hours fighting crowds in the mall, no Christmas cookie making with my mother as silly Christmas songs waft throughout the house, no entertainingly watching my father try to balance the towering pine, no eggnog and toasty pj parties as the world becomes white and slippery all around us. No having to hear the same monotonous holiday songs as they blast in and out of every shop you enter or pass by from Halloween until well after New Years… (phew, thank GOD for that one. There are many things about Christmas in America, that I am very happy to be living without!)

Some say Christmas is for children… and perhaps they are right. Some of my most cherished memories growing up are of the Christmas season. None of which have anything to do however with god, or the ritualistic giving and receiving of gifts. They’re about the incredible warmth I felt being surrounded by my family and friends. A few years ago, when I was back at my parents’home in Colorado, I looked through some old photo albums. When I got to the ones of my teenage years, I was a bit shocked. The only pictures of me where taken during Christmas. Being a pretty unpleasant (to put it mildly) teenager, I was not exactly the picture perfect daughter… (literally). I realized, the only time of year during these charming teenage years that my family could get a smile out of me, was around Christmas time. So some of the only pictures I have of me as a 16 year old girl, are of me standing by the Christmas tree, dressed all in black, dog collar around my neck and sprouts of green hair messily poking out from under my bright red, velvet Santa hat. (The pictures are seriously adorable!) Anyway, the season was magical as no matter what psycho drama you were currently undergoing, Christmas somehow made it all better – like you instantly reverted to a worry-free child of five for a few weeks and all the other trivialities were put aside for the time being. Oh great! So basically, Christmas is like a break in time from reality…. where you get to simply enjoy the things that you have been lucky enough to have been given, and that are the most important… like family, friends and of course, good food and (dare I say), credit?!

Christmas falls at the end of the year, when you can reflect on the good and bad of the past 12 months. It’s around the Winter Solstice, when our hemisphere is at it’s darkest, and for many, their world is encased in thick ice and snow. Christmas hopefully warms us up a bit and brightens our long, often dark and lonely nights. I’m still struggling as I search for a way to observe, celebrate or experience Christmas this year. Away from my family and the familiarity of my Christmas comfort bubble, I feel a bit cheated from my gift of my cultural ‘reality break’. A present sent across the globe, is a very nice gesture, even if it never reaches it’s destination. A Skype conversation on Christmas morning is sweet, but misses the point… the point of being together, to feel that warmth that is such a splendid mix of cherry flavored liqueur and just plan old good feeling. A Christmas Eve dinner with fellow ex-pats you barely know is a fine attempt at trying to recreate this feeling, yet somehow is destined to fall flat.

All sappy sentimentality aside… (if that’s at all possible at this point), I miss Christmas – not because I miss the gifts or the shopping, or the decorations, or the stupid music… but because I miss my family and all their wonderful traditions that made a dark and cold time of year feel magical and alive with wonder… 🙂 And on that sappy note, I bid adieu and to all, a Merry Christmas!

In search of the seasons

It is toasty in this tidy, pink Istanbulian apartment. Outside the wind blows strong – just like a November wind should – releasing the loose leaves from their trees’ passive branches. Both tree and leaf know their symbiotic relationship has come to an end, doth the season tolls and the cycle continues.
I long to be a part of it, (I miss the strong presence of the seasons so). With little trepidation, I open the door and let in the autumn that beacons for me to emerge; and like a lost child, I run to the sound of its call. Except for the breath that flows vociferously all around me, the streets are empty of sound – not another soul is visible – it’s just me and this early November day. A gust rushes up and around me, I pull my sweatshirt closer, and breathe… my desire for the frosty burn of winter intensifying.

I miss the changing of seasons like I miss an old friend – a friend I willing, yet somehow unknowingly let slip away. And like a lover in the throes of regret, I long to come crawling home, back into its fiery embrace. Frustrated, I am unsure if it is a resurgence of my melancholic nostalgia, or just a masochistic longing for what I don’t currently have, and a desire to return to the cyclical world I hold up on my pedestal of familiarity.

It’s this season particular which I long for the most – the season of dying – of fading away – of watching the world of vibrant colors turn to shades of rusty orange and brown – of getting out the extra blankets and opening your arms to the inevitability of the cold, bitter winter ahead.

I ask myself why, then reluctantly realize it’s ingrained in me like my DNA – and the more I try and escape it, the worse it seems to become. So I have learned to embrace it – what can I do? I can not run. It’s the smell in the air as the fall slowly turns to winter, the crunch under your feet of fallen leaves… then packed ice and snow. It’s the excitement of gloves and hats and pretty woven scarves, the boots that have been in hiding all summer that you proudly take out of the back of the closet and your toes delight in as you walk down the chilly sidewalk. It’s the joy of the extra few minutes you get to stay nestled in bed in the morning (if you are lucky), and the dread at having to jump out from under the warm sheets and face the frigged day… as they shorten and the depression from lack of sun sets in… and you LONG for the spring to relieve you from this misery that is winter. It’s all these things and many more, which call to me like a mother, to come home. But instead of dragging me in from the cold, she beacons me out. Into the snow drifts and blustery winds of a past that somehow longs to be my present. Or perhaps it’s simpler than all that – and really, it’s just that the seasons are what keep us connected. Connected TO our past, our present and the hope of a future. They connect us throughout the years and generations; as winter turns to spring, and fall turns to winter; the seasons signify time, change and our very mortality. They remind us that all things must die, must fade away – but also that there is birth and beauty and brightness – and it all repeats… over and over again. Ah, we have a sense of stability in the changing of the seasons. We can rely on the fact that the winter will eventually end and bring us into a longer, warmer, freer time of year – just as we can rely on the falling of the leaves in autumn and the silent melancholy of the approaching winter. It’s amazing how one can feel such a sense of being lost when taken away from the familiarity of their seasons. The extremes of the seasons make you appreciate everything you thought you hated about the other seasons’ extremes. We moan and we complain – and we do all these things in a cyclical rhythm, right on cue with the seasons. I suppose this moaning is also ingrained in me, I miss it – and I long to returned to it – in all the glory of my masochistic, melancholic nostalgia laden insanity.

My American Identity

‘Identity’ – this is something I have struggled with and questioned for years – obsessed with answers to my conflicting concept of the American me vs. the European heritage of me – I even went to graduate school in Eastern Europe and scrupulously studied  the complexity and importance of… ‘identity’.

Being a forth generation American, one would think I’m pretty as ‘American’ as one can get. I grew up with ‘American’ traditions and ‘American’ holidays. Yet, growing up with friends of 1st of 2nd generations – I always felt like I was missing out on something. They had these rich cultural traditions from Poland, Mexico and elsewhere – and I knew nothing of my ancestors’ beliefs, customs or even really where they were from. I felt a black void in my history that grew deeper and wider as I became an adult.  I think my father suffers from this too – his response being to meticulously sift through and identify old family photographs, register at Ancestory.com and piece together a family tree that seems to shockingly leave me as the last of the line…

I, on the other hand have chosen a different path – one that has however left me with more questions, than any concrete answers, or solid structures defining the construct of my own personal identity. Where my father looks back to the past for these answers, I have apparently rested hope that the future will inevitably map out the way. He constructs the puzzle, I go in search of the most appealing image…

Six years ago, I more or less, tried to run away from my American identity. Disgusted by my country’s politics and posturing around the world, I attempted to quietly sneak out the door and re-join a more sophisticated and intriguing ‘European’ dream.  In Poland, I was close to my Bohemian roots, ( and for whatever this was worth, it made me feel a little bit closer to the ‘real’ me, the deeper me.) I felt as though I could identify more honestly with the eastern Europeans – their sorrow and darkness I could so easily relate to, and I embraced their cultural memories as my own – for I too had suffered… so of course, I belonged, I understood.

While in Poland I also became enmeshed in nationalism, wrote my master’s thesis on it – the good, the bad, the ugly of the monsterous beast that was and is, nationalism. Like identity, I wanted to understand it, and like identity, I had no solid definition in my own world. I was obsessed with the idea of such strong, impassioned feelings for one’s mother land. The mere idea of fighting, dying and sacrificing family, life and all else for a piece of dirt mystified me – still does. For standing behind the ideals and actions of your country seemed so utterly foreign – but then I realized it all came down to one thing… identity – the constant struggle to hold on to and maintain the sacred, secure sense of one’s identity –  nationalism seemed a very safe fortress indeed. But I had no sense of nationalism, no faith in my homeland, no proud identity as an ‘American’. And while I found a great sense of myself in Eastern Europe – I would never really be eastern European – would always be a foreigner, on the outside looking in.

So I took myself to places I had no connection with – places where peoples’ identities were extremely different from my own – which began to really show me how much of my identity really is embedded in the land I had come from – and in turn – I finally, for the first time in my life began to appreciate my cultural identity.  Not because I was displeased with what I was observing of others’ cultures, but because in learning their beauty and complexity, I was slowing beginning to understand the beauty and complexity of my own – and realized, I could not escape it – my culture was ingrained in me, sown into the very fabric of my being.

I had this epiphany moment this past spring while waiting on a corner in Antalya, Turkey for a friend and an anticipated bike ride up into the mountains. As I waited, I nonchalantly rested my bicycle against a tree and sat down on the sidewalk – Indian style. Cars past and people stared – as if I were sitting there completely naked, or doing some sort of awkward street dance for all to gawk at. I was amazed…(ok, well, not really… this is Antalya after all), but still, the moment perplexed me. Why was this such a shocking sight – a woman sitting on the sidewalk as she waited with her bicycle? You don’t see such things here; people don’t typically sit on the ground – it’s dirty first of all. And a woman?! Never! Oh well, I thought as I continued to wait – I’m an American – I have different standards apparently for where I can or cannot sit… and frankly, I’m happy with that. I am perfectly comfortable with my cultural norms of ground-sitting and will continue to practice them, unabated.

My ground-sitting more or less made me ‘proud’ to have come from where I did. I was happy that I was able to sit on dirt, or pavement, or hug a tree or roll in the grass if I so desired. And then yesterday, I past an older man and his grandson, lying in the dirty autumn grass, and a smile crept upon my face, as I realized, I somehow felt completely ‘connected’ to them. Mind you, I had no idea who these two people were – just a Turkish man and boy lying in the grass. But it was their act of enjoying the ground that connected me to them… like our cultures had suddenly come together in this simple act of allowing oneself to get dirty.

Of course there are so many more complex and dynamic examples of what makes up my cultural DNA, but then I am forced to question how much of this chain is directly linked to the ‘American’ me, and how much of it is linked to what I have picked up (knowingly or not) along the way. I realize I am a mix of cultures, of experiences from different countries, people and traditions. So given that this is initially what made America what it is – the grandiose mix of identities that it has become – does that make me MORE American… or just a post-modern, country-less, identity perplexed woman of the new world? Bewildering and troubling indeed… I suppose all I can do at this point is keep questioning, keep living and experiencing, and perhaps someday, I will be able to stop challenging my identity so, and just marvel in the many layers that make it unique and 100%, mine.

A decade on… and the memories still smolder

Ten years – it’s scattered across our computer screens, TVs and newspapers in unrelenting abundance. Everyone has their story about 9/11 – where they were, what they were wearing, thinking and ate for breakfast that morning – and everyone wants to share that story. It’s ok, it never seems to get old – we all have a story – the same desire to share it, over and over again. Our lives changed that morning – everyone’s.

For me, it signals the very beginning of a monumental splintering in my short life. 9/11/2001 – sleeping – past out sleeping from too many Black Cat beers the night before. I was 21 and had just moved to Minnesota from Colorado – was living in a dark and dingy basement apartment with a girl I had just met. I awoke to the shouting of her boyfriend as he slammed his way into the apartment to announce that a plane had just crashed into one of the Twin Towers, or was it the Sears Tower… nobody knew for sure WHAT was going on at that point. Groggy and confused, we reached for the controller and turned on the television. What we saw… well you know… it was beyond shocking, apocalyptic and unreal. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I plopped down in the dark living room with my roommate to try and make some sort of sense out of what we were waking up to. Unknowing of what to do, everyone went to work, and I was left alone in the apartment, eyes glued to the television. My parents were in London – and way back then, you didn’t travel with your cell phone or computer… there was just no way of me getting a hold of them. My brother was back in Colorado. I spoke to him for hours, although I can’t really remember what we even talked about… probably about how to get in touch with our parents and what sort of symbolism this would in turn represent. I phoned friends in New York – repeatedly plagued by busy signal after busy signal, I watched as the city burned and the mayhem spread. I spent the day this way, like millions of people around the world – unable to peal one’s eyes away from the grueling images on the screen. And day turned to night and I was no longer alone in the apartment. Beers were drank, conversations had, questions raised and left unanswered. I suppose we eventually turned off the television, drunk and exhausted from the day’s events, and had gone to bed. I don’t recollect the days that were to follow – only the incredibly eerie silence in the skies over Minneapolis for the next few days, weeks… I can’t even remember how long it was before planes were allowed to fly again. If you’ve ever been to Minneapolis, you know the presence the airplanes have in your daily life. The airport is extremely close and the planes roar thunderously overhead, day, night. It hadn’t taken me long until I got used to having to apologize to the person I was having a phone conversation with… “Sorry, no, that is not a bomb being dropped outside… just a passing plane”.  Their lacking presence was felt – a constant reminder of the previous day’s world changing events.

But life carried on. Got back to normal…or so it would seem. I moved out of the dark and dingy apartment, got a job, started classes, got a gym membership, made new friends… then two months later, to the day, I experienced a blow a million times greater than the globally debilitating September attacks… the death of my brother. One phone call, and the world had stopped.  My breath was ripped from my body and everything I had ever known came tumbling down… symbolically much like the twin towers. The following days are a bit more vivid than the days which proceeded 9/11, but not unlike 9/11, sounds were meticulously noted: the deafening sound of the television as it spat out morning cartoons to a living room devoid of laughter, the sound of a bird song –  offering peace, and the painful lack of sound – of the other, of  a voice that would never again resonate these walls, and the unbearable silence of a past world, long gone…

But life carried on. Had to. People must move forward, step out of the shadows of the past and into the light. It’s been ten years since that fateful morning on 9/11 – and almost ten years since the phone call that would send my life careening down the current path it is on. I suppose it’s rare to have such defining moments in life where you can directly point to events and say “this is why”, or “my life’s events have been directly affected by THIS”. But then again, perhaps not. As a collective, every generation seems to have them. For my parents’ it was JFK, for my grandparents’, Pearl Harbor. And individually, the same I am sure. Each of us has their schisms – moments that change our lives forever – for better or worse. I have no idea what my life would look like if the events of 2001 had never taken place, nobody can. Sometimes I imagine a dual reality, where the Twin Towers are still standing, where there were no brutally unjust wars created, George W. was never re-elected, the world didn’t hate Americans so veraciously, religious warfare remained at a slow simmer instead of its current boil, there was less fear, more understanding, my brother was 28 instead of perpetually 18…  but as lovely as that world is, it’s a world I can not inhabit long. It’s a world left for moments when I am free to close my eyes and leave the overwhelming reality that is sometimes just too great to stand. Each time I open my eyes, even though it’s to a world I can not predict, where you can be shattered and torn at any given moment, I try and embrace the beauty that surrounds me, the unknown, the joy that is created and the laughter that surrounds us- of the past, present and future.

Ten years on, I am a 31 year old woman living in a small Mediterranean city in the south of Turkey. I have been an expat for over half of these ten years and have changed and shifted in ways that are sometimes too big for me to even fully comprehend. I hover in a constant state of flux, but I am trying to face life honestly and forever retain the optimism that tomorrow will bring a brighter day. I think of all the lives changed, shattered and lost in direct connection to the fall of 2001 and it’s diabolical… and while I am unable to pick up all the pieces that have scattered across the decade, I continue to work hard to sew together the frayed fabric of my own world, keeping life in perspective and not letting a few moments too greatly define my existence – for it must be remembered – that we are a series of billions upon billions of moments – letting one or two completely define us…would be… sacrilegious to all the other moments that build, enrich and propel forward – the individual.

However, no matter how hard I try and fight it – today marks a moment in time for me – when everything changed. The beginning of a new world, a new era, a new life. What I choose to do with that however, is completely up to me. How I reflect, how I place the past in memory, I can control that. And so, I write, I am lost in my thoughts and I will shortly close my computer, slide on a pair of sandals, take the hand of the man I love and see where this September 11, 2011 will take us.

From Brooklyn to Dobbs Ferry: My brief encounter with New York City

The first time I came to New York City was 1999 – I was a 19 year old punk rocker and the first place on my list of ‘must sees’ was St. Mark’s – lined with tattoo parlors and vinyl record and clothing shops, I thought this had to be the coolest place in the world. I got to see the last Halloween parade held in the Village, a Misfits show (which remains a tad hazy) and attended some crazed, drag queen rave party in an old warehouse in some obscure corner of the city. I loved the dinginess of the subway, the rats that scurried about the tracks, the people who just didn’t seem to give a fuck and all the art, music and everything else a 19 year girl yearning for a bit of dirty-city fun could get her hands on.

The second time I came to New York City was in the summer of 2006 on a buying trip with a few friends and old colleagues from a small boutique I once worked at in Minneapolis. Most of my time was spent seeking out bizarre and trendy jewelry in China Town and bartering for knock-off Prada bags. I didn’t go to Ground Zero, or feel the least bit compelled, but I did spend a bit of time in the Polish part of Brooklyn with a Polish friend and his mother. I fell in love with walking down streets that briefly reminded me of being back in Poland, listening to Polish, eating Polish food and then stepping on to the next block, only to begin to hear Russian and see Russian shops, then Hasidic Jews, Yiddish and kosher food stands. I kept walking, giddily anticipating the next language or culture I would run into. I was fascinated and rapturous. This was nothing like the Poland I had just come from – with it’s 97% Polish Catholic population, or any other place I had ever been. I didn’t make it back to St. Mark’s, but I did find my way to the Alice in Wonderland sculpture in Central Park… and I knew I had a lot more of this city to uncover.

So when I had the opportunity to come back to New York City for six weeks – and get paid to do so – I pretty much jumped at the suggestion. Coming from the beaches of the Turkish Mediterranean, my first impression of the city was – as I had remembered it – dirty. Three hot, subway riding hours after arriving at JFK, I was at SUNY Maritime College  in the Bronx, where I would spend the next five weeks of my life. Now when one thinks of the Bronx, they probably don’t envision sailboats and quaint little maritime houses, white picket fences and fuzzy dogs clad in glow-stick, wrap-around party fare, but that was mostly my experience.  It’s a different world however as soon as you go a bit further south and the hour plus bus/subway trip into Manhattan every other day or so proved to me just how MANY differences are incorporated within this city. The subway line picks up in the south Bronx, leisurely clanks it way through Harlem and down into the Upper Eastside, and all the way into Brooklyn. Quite the trip I must say and the personalities it gathers along the way are eccentric enough to fill a novel with vibrant character analysis on the extraordinary dynamic which makes up this city. I know one of the first things you are ‘taught’ as a child about going into the big, bad city; is never to stare at someone, make eye contact or even glance at someone for more than a measly second – but really, I can’t help but to ‘watch’ and observe as people get on and off trains, sit and chat over a cocktail at a restaurant or simply walk down a crowded city street. The individualism is amazing and I don’t think I would be so perceptive of it if I hadn’t been abroad for so long.

So, unapologetically, I sit on the subway, watching people – and if and when they lift up their gaze to meet mine – I simply smile and turn away. And to my amazement, most everybody smiles back – wow! So it’s become my social experiment of the summer – to watch people, all people – most importantly, the toughest looking people I can find, get them to notice me, smile and gauge their response. People ligthen, soften – and will sometimes even speak to me in the most human of all tones, civility is catching.

For the most part however, people ride these trains in their armored bubble – headphones on, mobile in hand (even though most of their ride must be endured without service), so they play games, read their Kindles (no more newspapers), stare at the dirty floor, their feet and sit in silence – often trying to ignore the unignorable rantings of the occasional drunk, junkie or badass, belting out-of-tune lyrics to whatever profane song may be blasting into their ears from their headphones.  People screaming lyrics about how they are going to ‘slit a motha fuckin’ nigga’s throat’, ride along with conservative Muslim families, men in pressed business suits, pregnant teenage girls, art students from Nebraska, delicate old ladies, dressed to the nines, tourists, immigrants from all across the world, and me. I love the subway for how it ‘brings people together’ – maybe not ideologically, or spiritually – but physically, these people have to tolerate one another for the length of time it takes until they are released from the moving iron tin and are free to again congregate in their respected borough of the city.  Perhaps most just zone it all out – the people they normally would not dream of being anywhere near – but they still have to sit there, for a brief moment, and ‘get along’.

This time around, I’ve spent a lot more time outside of Manhattan – from Brooklyn with all its hipsters and vegan-asian-fusion restaurants, to the many different faces of the Bronx, the dirty, musical splendor of Harlem, all the way up to Dobbs Ferry where I am currently spending my last week in New York.  A forty minute train ride  from Grand Central, Dobbs Ferry is quietly placed on the Hudson river, in the lush greens just South of White Plains and North of Yonkers. Except for the skyscrappered skyline way off in the distance – you would never know you are such a short ways from Manhattan. This town is charming; clad with its picture-perfect main street, organic deli, Mexican, Japanese and Italian restaurants, knick-knack shops and wine stores – it’s the perfect family retreat from the dirty, hectic life of the city. And I must say, I have found myself pretty comfortable here- going on long walks at dusk, running into families of deer, fanatic squirrels and the sauntery groundhogs that seem to have quite the network going on around this campus.

Regardless, I am ready to leave New York behind for a bit. Flirted with the idea of looking for a job here, but just don’t think I am cut out to struggle relentlessly in the economic debacle America has gotten itself in. You really do have to have money here – and a good amount of it. I see how the city can eat its people, bit by bit, piece by piece. People struggle to make ends meet, to feed their families and to simply survive. In a city awash with the haves and have nots – I really don’t want to be a part of the have not crowd. So I’ll happily say my regards to Broadway, to the MOMA and the Met – to Harlem and yes, to St. Marks Place and the many fabulous Pho restaurants that have crept up there. I have still not been to Ground Zero – and doubt I ever will. Too many other things of actual interest to be seen in this remarkably complex city.I will leave that for the wide-eyed tourists and finish out my last few days exploring as much of this grandiose city as I can- and the Sex Museum is next on my list. 😉

Link to previous Blog…

http://myszka1189.blogspot.com/

I may be switching blog sites, but as with all fresh starts, we also take a bit of baggage along with us. So I am linking my previous blogs so you can read, analyze, criticize or simply follow the last three years of my life.

Currently counting down the days until I finish my current summer job, I am about to paint my toes and ready myself for an evening on Broadway – away from the constant bantering of these teenage drama queens.   So, until I have a bit more time to construct a proper blog, please feel free to catch up on my previous comings and goings through the posted link and enjoy the breeze.