Thursday, March 31, 2011


What I'd like my writing process to be:
Wake up.
Drink water.
Drink coffee.
Write 3 brilliant pages that came to me in a dream.
Eat breakfast while gazing out the window.
Edit those 3 pages of brilliance, then, so inspired, write 5 pages more.
Go about my day smugly satisfied with aforementioned brilliance.

What my writing process apparently is:
Wake up.
Check to see if the grant I applied to months ago has sent out a response yet.
Think about what to do in my near future when I see that it hasn't.
Think about what to do today, and what order to do it in, and how it will all get done.
Drink watercoffeebreakfast.
Sit down with computer, write a paragraph.
Check to see if the grant I applied to months ago has sent out a response yet.
Edit paragraph, feel despair.
Check facebook to see if anyone else is feeling despair.
Do some reading for class, make fun of the writer for the HORRIBLE arguments I see.
Look at edited paragraph.
Write a paragraph in a notebook, because everything will be better if I just write with pen and paper.
Type paragraph from notebook verbatim into Word.  Edit in Word.
Move to library, everything will be better at the library...(shuffle and repeat, and also add:  make peanut butter and jelly sandwich, look for coffee, drink coffee)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Urfa to Mardin

My guesthouse in Urfa was a newly opened konak evi, and I awoke on my last morning to a quiet mansion. The caretaker/night guard Musfta slowly made me breakfast after I sat down at the long table in the courtyard.  First bringing bread, then a plate, then tea.  Only then, the rounding-outs of the guest-house Turkish breakfast.  The owner of the guesthouse runs "the" LP-approved local travel agency, and I'm glad he's not around for morning chit-chat.  Then again, I'm just glad to be alone.

I gathered my things and asked directions to the otogar, with the intention of finding it myself.  Yet as I asked the question, I could see immediately that I was about to find myself in one of the sweetest bits of hospitality I constantly find myself caught up in, which I will call the soft-boiled egg treatment, where I am carefully passed from one local to another in my travels like a very precious and delicate soft-boiled egg until I finally arrive wherever it is I first inquired after.

Mustafa locked the guesthouse, lead me through Urfa’s walled maze, through the courtyard of Ulu cami and to the bus stop, where I was carefully handed off to a driver.  He was fully informed of my origin, destination, and soft-boiledness, setting off a chain of handoffs until I found myself at the otogar.  Before I knew it, I had landed softly in a seat near the bus’s middle door, and the clean-cut attendant scowled at a man who tried to sit next to me, moving him to the back.

Eyeing my warm bottle of water, the attendant snatched it, tossed it, and replaced it with a cold cup of water, which was tehn replaced, without a word, and without a glance at the other (possibly also thirsty) passengers, with a paper cup of hot Nescafe. 

After all passengers had settled down and we pulled away from the station, a shy young girl was patte3d off of her mother’s lap and slid onto the seat beside me.  The concerned attendant offered me a seat at the front “with a better view,” but as you can’t hope for better in the bus seat neighbor lottery than a shy young girl, I stayed put.

Looking out over the window revealed only lazy sloping hills of dry grass, burnt yellow by the inescapable summer heat.  Sloping up and down and up and down, offering no more aesthetic diversity than the occasional brindled cliff, and no more movement than the occasional flick of a gray horse’s tail, or the slight sway of a lone tree. 

Between hills we would sometimes pass a small irrigated oasis, surrounded by a bundle of houses and a quiet roadside market, men relaxing in the shade of the awning with the ubiquitous glass of strong tea.  Around the houses were fences made of stone, and families worked in the field.

The bus clock is wrong, so incorrect as to not make even the slightest statement as to the current hour.  The shy girl is caught between sleep and wakedness, long eyelashs lifting on every rough bump to check our progress through the scratchy countryside.  Her parents have purchased a touristic wooden-crafted model ship as an Urfa souvenir, and every time the bus stops her father carefully pulls the ship out of its overheard compartment, examines it, and slides it carefully back inside.

I just go on sitting in the cool AC, taking what comes to me in space and time, with the thin red numbers shining into the daylight that it is 22:35, and the yellow and the green, and the gray horses and the stone fences.  I only just learned it was Sunday when I bought a newspaper for the bus ride.

But as we ride towards Mardin, many of the other passengers staring at the same yellow hills know exactly where we stand in space and time; outside our air-conditioned capsule the beginning of Ramadan is approaching .  Now it is only a few days away, and for the first time in years during the long days of summer.  But on my loose trip itinerary, it starts “in Hasankeyf.”

As we move east, the landscape seems a relief of the previous fields – wide patches of green with the occasional barren strip.  The water rerouted from the nearby Euphrates is sprayed in neat squares and rectangles, with very few drops straying from the careful, but fuzzy, border as the green rows fly by and the high cliffs in the distance creepy by almost imperceptibly.  

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Домой (1/2)

[Was looking through a notebook I carried around this summer and found this entry]

Sitting in one of the many Heathrow departure lounges, I am yet another in a long line of luckily travellers who pause a moment to realize that, if they really wanted to, they could go nearly anywhere.  The high barriers of travel: visas, time, money and responsibility – are easily surmounted by us privileged 20-something Americans (emerging adults?).  

"Doha, Helsinki, back to Istanbul" Heathrow’s shiny departure boards offer as I eat my 3 pound Boots meal deal and wait for my gate to open.  But I’m not heading off to travel somewhere, now I really do have constraints on my near future, and I’m flying back to Michigan.

Looking at the long list, I realized it is not only for holiday I could go to these places. Having done the expat thing in a string of countries now, I know that as a young, educated American, the only real constraints on where I can hang my hat is a real desire to hang it any place in particular.  Of course I couldn’t really make the best living at the destination of each of these flights.  But I could do it, if I really wanted to, and this seems a bit crushing actually, like choosing between 23 kinds of toothpaste.

Some subtle reminders that I’m in – and going back to – a different kind of place:

Despite a general conscientiousness about littering in London, my attempt to locate a bin at my gate to throw away the packaging of my new toothpaste was met with suspicion by nearly every employee on duty. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Things found in library books

What better procrastination study break than to post about studying.  Here are my top three favorite finds hidden in library books this quarter.

A snide margin-scribble...

 an angry reader with strong language and a pencil...

And a gift from a kindred spirit (who, I am assuming based on the evidence, is also geeked out about both Istanbul and language shift in there a missed connections for this sort of thing?):

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Obama in Hyde Park

Midterms this week, so this will be a quick post, but at least it's heavy on the pictures!

Hyde Park is Obama country.  Before his current gig, he taught law at the University of Chicago, and his home away from White House is still here in Hyde Park.  Local businesses certainly take advantage, to varying degrees of creativity, of this obvious marketing strategy:

Midterms rally this weekend, and Obama was in town.  Was my first time hearing him speak live.

Waiting in line

Waiting for Common (yes, he made a guest appearance)

Oğuz waiting for all of the Chicago dems to stop talking.  Also funny because you can see the kid in the center wearing a "Where fun comes to die" sweatshirt.

Obama's on stage

Midway's packed

Most prevalent thought while taking this picture:  we have a pretty cool president.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Istanbul to Urfa

Half the price of flying last minute but several times the trip length, I board the bus to Urfa at Istanbul’s main otogar in the early afternoon.  I settle into my seat with 19 hours of road ahead of me, and I don’t really know where I’m going. 

The woman next to me is large and seems to grow larger with each of my attempts to reclaim lost ground (key on an overnight ride of any sort), as I drift closer and closer to the window.  Ignoring the rolling hills and the polite, general announcement to refrain from cellular communication, she complains loudly that she had to take the bus instead of flying to Gaziantep.  “So she’s getting out before me,” I think with some consolation, which then begins to melt away as she hangs up and folds her hands on her lap, forming a sharp pointed elbow that seems to interpret my forearm as an armrest. 

Before leaving Istanbul, I dismissed the good natured advice of some friends to avoid the long distance bus by telling them the not untruth that I enjoy long-hauls.  “I don’t mind them, and if you get too tired of it you can always stop to eat at the tesisler…who can resist running into the tesis with everyone on the bus at 3am to eat sütlaç?”

“Yes,” a friend had replied, “ everyone who ends up on the has that romantic view of those places, but it is only because it is the only damn thing to do.  Don’t forget the toilets.”  Yet a few hours into the drive, I’m looking forward to our first stop with the excitement of a kid whose been promised a Happy Meal “when we get to Kentucky.”

Nearly everywhere interesting outside of Istanbul is at least an overnight bus ride away, so it seems everyone has an overnight bus story or two.  [Yet since most of the bus rides go so smoothly, none of them are usually very good.] This shared Turkish travel experience varies slightly depending on your bus company and destination, but for the most part is wonderfully predictable and comfortably dull.

If you’re my height, there are no complaints in the seating department.  In accordance with your ticket price and luck, you’ll be entertained in one of the following ways, in decreasing order of desirability:  an interactive screen, a la transcontinental in-flight entertainment, strategically placed televisions with Turkish films, sit-coms or dubbed foreign films you’d never otherwise see (I’m thinking “The Lake” and Lohan’s “Love Bug”); Turkish music blaring from one speaker; Turkish music blaring from speakers above every seat, which you may or may not be able to turn off; a single Turkish CD playing again and again and again.

The bus will also have a flight attendant who keeps everything in order, passing out drinks (coffee and tea, water, Coke and some version of orange soda) and – again, depending on your luck – pre-packaged cakes.
Just when you’ve had more than your fair share of the complementary beverages, and usually in exactly the middle of nowhere, brakes huish huish huish into a parking lot, filled with a handful of other busses, all spilling out passengers to the cafeteria.  For breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, or for whatever sort of meal you might feel compelled to eat at 2am, while still others pour over the nuts and sweets in kitschy barrels and islands of boxed Turkish Delight, buying bags of gifts for recipients most likely yet to be determined.
But on the bus to Urfa, I was one of the few passengers who even stepped inside these shiny monuments to modern Turkish consumption and construction.  I sit in the AC with my lahmacun, looking through the glass store front at the families eating sandwiches and dolma from old yogurt tubs in the sticky air.
I usually indulge in sütlaç at these stops, but sweets aren't as fun alone.

9:30, and I’ve been on the bus for 9 hours.  My two friendly attempts to small talk with my neighbor have failed, but I’ve hardly looked at the clock – particularly impressive as the reading lights don’t work.

Riding along on this route – and indeed many routes in Turkey – you realize how big it is, what a large, growing country it is.  Riding a bus, with little else to do than look out the window, you’re bound to reflect on where you are, where you’re coming from, where you’re going.  It feels like a timeless slice of life, an empty mind stationary yet rolling, and somehow more profound than being an empty mind anywhere else.  As the countryside seems endless, I think about where I am.  The tesisler, which we find in fields of nothing and so leave them, are new, unarguably clean with the sad reality of the utilitarian multi-purpose space.

On my last long ride, from Istanbul to Athens, I thought for hours about Greece’s long coast, miles and miles of coast, with every gas station boasting a clean, uninterrupted sea view.  But I feel that the quintessential Turkish bus ride – not just this one, but the one I’m nurturing and contemplating on this long ride [and again typing my notes from the trip] – is not one winding along turquoise waters, but one lost in the middle of Anatolia.