Bicycle Pump Part 3

Photo: Aisha Harley

(this way to the  previous chapters…)

They did not have swimming suits, so we brought an extra pair with us.  They always wore our clothes anyway.  They were so small compared to me and Esin, so when our clothes did not fit us anymore our moms gave them to Ruya and Mina. Every time they received a heap of t-shirts, shorts, skirts and shoes they knew the proper thank you words and how to show respect to the elderly.  Behind their polite silence around the adults I could see how they were exhilarated to own the clothing that was once mine and Esin’s. I always felt like a heroine, a rock star when I was around them. They admired me and loved me so much! Maybe a little too much sometimes!

When it was time to change our clothes they got shy so we resigned to different corners of the garden to change. On their skinny bodies our swimming suits looked too large. The top part of the bikini was absolutely unnecessary. I was a bit concerned about the bottom part as well. What if it floated away once they were in the water? Their legs reminded me the branches of the sour-cherry tree Nene planted the year Esin and I were born. Until the moment I saw them in bikinis, I had not noticed how big their heads were compared to their bodies. Their black eyes looked larger than ever due to the excitement and fear they were feeling.

“Malnourishment” was Nene’s explanation for their size. “These girls can’t grow because they don’t eat proper food. They should eat with us more often”.

But they never did.  At the end of the long mornings when we played in our garden when one of the adults called our names (and theirs too) from the upstairs window for lunch, they remembered that they needed to go back home and help mom to prepare lunch. They ate ice cream with us though. In the afternoon when we heard the bells of the ice cream car from the end of our street, mom gave me extra money so that I could treat the girls as well. They could not say no to ice cream. Or maybe they knew that their participation was necessary for me, for their dear heroine, to enjoy her own ice cream. They were right in a way. I could not and would not eat any if they were to stare at me with their big black eyes and empty hands.

They indeed knew so much!

***

We walked downhill in Old Lady’s garden towards the beach in one line. They followed me silently. Even the 3-year old brother was quiet. In my backpack I was carrying all the plastic swimming devices that I had sneaked out of my parent’s room earlier that day. My father was taking a nap when I tiptoed into the room. Life jackets, a pair of flippers, sleevelets and swimming suits for the 4 of us. I had carefully placed them in my backpack and quietly closed the door.  Dad murmured something in his sleep.

When we arrived to the beach I let Mina lead the way. She knew where the hole in the barbed wire was. We followed her into the sea, which reached to the level of our thighs right away. Mina was right. The hole was there but it was too small for me and Esin to pass through. Plus, the wire separating the private beach of the “Club” from Old Lady’s property was rusty.

I watched the girls and their baby brother passing through it with no difficulty.  I took a few steps further. The water has reached to the level of my groins and my short were getting wet. I looked at the other side of the barbed wire. Girls were waiting for me to do the move. They were probably expecting me to help Esin to pass through too because I always helped her. Plus this time she had this patch covering her right eye which made her look even more helpless than usual.

She had an eye operation ten days prior and she was not supposed to put her head in water. It was not like she was not supposed to go into the water at all or anything. I tried to reason with my mom and my aunt many times during the previous week. She could have kept her head above the water. We could still go to the beach right? It was ridiculous that we stayed at home the whole day because Esin had to avoid seawater.

How about we still go to the beach but she does not swim? “C’mon,” I begged them, “we always go to the beach. It is too hot to stay at home. And so BORING!!”  They did not even listen to me. I cried and yelled at them for being mean and unreasonable. My mom stormed in to the room, grabbed me by my shoulders and hissed into my ear that it would be very, very bad for me at the end if I continued to act like a spoiled brat.

That is how my perfect plan began.

We did not need the adults to go swimming. That was my first point as I later explained to Esin. As long as she kept her head above the water, she was fine. We were not babies anymore. We always spent our time between breakfast and lunch on the street or at Old Lady’s garden anyway, so none of the adults would be concerned about our whereabouts. I thought about each and every possible way that we could be caught and blocked it strategically.

“Plus” I said and stopped to increase the power of my words,

“We will be swimming not just anywhere. Not in the public beach where our moms take us all the time. No. No.”

I watched the anxiety on her one eye slowly being replaced by curiosity and excitement. Just like the clouds in the sky.

“We will swimming at the… Club beach!”

This last one had the bomb effect that I was expecting. She jumped up to her feet!  Swimming at the Club beach? Was I serious?

“Yes”, I said, “Now sit down and listen to me carefully!”

and then????

Bicycle Pump- Part 2

Haven’t read the Part 1 yet? This way please…

Photo: Aisha Harley

The plan -my plan- was perfect if the gardener’s daughters had not insisted on dragging their spoiled little brother along with them. If he had not come with us, their mother Jamila would not have freaked out and run to our house at lunchtime. I have no memory of Jamila ever coming to our house before.  Her husband worked occasionally in our garden, when our own gardener was sick or away or there was too much work for him to handle on his own. Her daughters Ruya and Mina often came to play with us but Jamila herself never showed up at our place. She stayed at home taking care of the young son, Murad, the brat who spoiled my perfect plan. He was the third child of the family, who finally arrived after the two girls; the long awaited; the most precious; the one who would carry on the lineage: The boy!

“We have to take him with us” said the girls when we showed up at Old Lady’s house. “Mom is cleaning Old Lady’s house and we are supposed to baby-sit him. This is the only way.”

I knew right away that there was no other way. Still I wanted to give them a headache.

“Then you are not coming with us. We can’t go with a baby along. He can’t swim anyway.”

I saw Mina’s eyes growing bigger and darker with disappointment. Ruya, the calmer and more sensible one of the two, who turned out to be a genius and was later accepted to some Ivy League school’s genetic engineering department with full scholarship, glimpsed at the fancy swimming devices we had brought along and gulped.

But we needed them for the plan to work. I knew it and so did they. Still they kept their mouths shut. They lived on Old Lady’s property, which went all the way down to the beach. We needed the beach access. In fact access to the beach was key to my plan. We needed them badly. I hated it.

***

Old Lady was a famous painter who lived all alone in a huge mansion with her mean black dog. She had never married, had no kids. She was not as old as Nene but much older than my mom and my aunt. She wasn’t pretty like them but there was a different kind of allure in the way she held her lean body. She had a sharp chin, tight lips and light brown straight hair, cut very short, a hairstyle I had never seen in other women. I not only found her haircut bizarre but was also amazed by the tight pants, tiny vests and the hats she wore.

Even though she was a friend of grandma’s and visited us a few times during the summer, she rarely talked to us kids and when she spoke to Nene, her tone was so low that I never knew what she sounded like. She never laughed and when she smiled she looked so uncomfortable, as if her lips were forced to do an extraordinary exercise.

We never saw any visitors at her place. Nene had mentioned a sister of hers whom she –Old Lady- hadn’t talked to for more than a decade. When I inquired about this Nene gently scolded me for snooping into the conversations of the grown ups. However I knew that it would not take very much to convince her to give me some more details. Our grandma loved telling stories.

The two sisters, both very talented artists, had loved each other very much once upon a time and were inseparable. After finishing university –where they had met my grandparents- they went to Paris for more studies and started their painting careers. They were very charming and made many friends, both men and women. At this point Nene would always lower her voice before going on with her story of “a little too bohemian choices” of the two sisters. And sometimes she’d pause to focus all her energy into kneading the raw minced meat mixed with bread, onion and parsley. Her hands would be deep into the bowl all the way down to her forearms or she would be busy cooking other delectable dishes.

But “why, why, why?” I insisted this one time. “Why are they not talking to each other anymore?” “Oh well” said Nene as she dried the sweat on her forehead with a cotton cloth she always carried in her apron pocket. She was preparing meatballs, kofte, with parsley and the kitchen was getting hot. I was sitting on the marble kitchen counter with my legs dangling and was sneaking small pieces of raw meat into my mouth.

“Upon their return, the young one –Old Lady- got more famous than the other and the older one got jealous so they had a big fight and they stopped talking. And you should stop eating the raw meat. Worms will grow in your tummy.”

“Oh come on Nene”! Not even an 8 year old would believe in a story like this. Of course there was some jealousy and some romance and some men, even maybe some women…I knew from prior eavesdropping sessions that there was a fiancé in the picture. Not Old Lady’s but her sister’s fiancé who might have fallen in love with the younger sister. But then there were rumors that the older sister liked women more than men. So why was she engaged in the first place? And the French fiancé if he was so much in love with our Old Lady, why didn’t he marry her?

I had all these questions in my head, but when we reached this point in the story, no matter how much I begged or tried to trick her into further details, Nene’s only comment was, “Don’t come on your Nene. Grandmas are not to be comeoned.”

Instead of satisfying my curiosity with further details, she used the opportunity to give me advice and switch her story telling tone –which I loved- into her advice tone –which I found boring.  Giving advice was her other favorite thing to do.

“Do you see how lonely she is up there? An old woman all alone in a huge house? No children, no grandchildren, no husband…If you don’t settle with a decent man when you are still young and pretty that’s what happens to a woman. A little too much fun and a lifetime of loneliness. No man wants a woman who had too much fun in her past. You will remember that, will you not my dear smart girl? ”

***

Ruya and Mina’s father took care of Old Lady’s infinite gardens. In return, Old Lady provided them with housing and food.  It was Old Lady who later discovered Ruya’s genius and paid for her schooling until the day she was admitted to college.

Their house was more or less a hut hidden somewhere in Old Lady’s gigantic property. They all slept in one single room that lacked fresh air desperately and smelled of dirty socks all the time. Parents and the boy slept on the only bed and the girls slept on the floor on some pads. The room was packed with rolled mattresses, blankets, and a couple of wooden chests that contained the whole family’s clothes.  There was no room to walk in it, so they went in there only for sleeping.

Their old style kitchen was big though, and a big wood stove stood in the middle. I often daydreamed of the evenings in that kitchen during winter.  Huddled together by the stove, girls doing their homework on the kitchen table, Jamila cooking dinner and saving the best piece for Murad or maybe for her husband. I wondered what it would feel like to be in that kitchen with them on winter evenings when darkness falls so early, and what it would look like when they would turn the lights on. It must have felt so different compared to the long summer days.

Summer was the only time we saw each other. During the long afternoons we spent lying around in their front porch and reading books, I often asked them to tell me about the island in the winter. Was it so empty when all the summer people were gone back to town? Were there many children in their school? How did it look when it snowed? Would they ever go to our garden to play with the swings? No, they said the swings were taken down in winter, so their wood would not swell when it rained.

Even though I read more books than they did, they knew so much more than I did. When a new children’s book arrived at the only bookstore on the island, I was the first one to know. The second person was Ruya who patiently waited for her turn to read it. I knew she wanted to keep the books to read again and again in the winter, but they didn’t have space in their house, so she returned them to me usually the day after she borrowed them. The sight of her reading always reminded me of a hungry tiger gulping down his prey.

Yet they did not think winter on the island was at all interesting. They thought they could come up with nothing to impress me. How could they? I must have been having a fantastic time in the City, going to a private school and seeing movies, buying toys, making friends, going to their birthday parties…No? “Sure, it is fun” I used to mumble, distracted. In truth their questions always touched that sour spot of loneliness of the winter nights. A winter spent all alone in my bedroom with the faint sound of TV coming from the living room and the never-ending “discussions” of my parents. “We are not fighting sweetness, we are only discussing” my mom would say when I asked them to please stop fighting. There was never enough homework to keep me busy until the evening and television programs were boring even for the grown-ups. No, the girls would have never believed me if I told them I’d rather spend the entire winter in their kitchen by the stove.

But it was summer then. The winter was so far away that it was hard to believe that it would eventually come and we would have to decide what coat to put on before leaving home.

To be continued…stay tuned..

Defne

Photo: Aisha Harley


The Back Side of the Earth

Lesvos Island, Greece
Photo: Ayse Kaya

Happy full moon everyone!

This month, beginning of the lunar and solar months -almost- coincided, so now they are peeking at the same time. Full moon and the midsummer’s dream together…This is the perfect time to be in a boat in the Mediterranean sea! If you are in the middle of the ocean in mid-August you can see the sun setting on one side of the boat and the moon rising a minute later.  On the eastern horizon the moon looks so hot and big that there has been a few times I thought I had been watching the sun-set only later to realise that it was actually the moon rise!

I always think of the middle of August as the peek point of summer. From that point onwards, it is a downfall to Fall. Many of friends and family are actually watching the sunset/moonrise over the Mediterranean sea this time of the year because they live nearby. Plus with the economic crisis in Greece, the islands have become the cheapest destinations for the Turks whose country is competing with Switzerland in terms of the prices of the boutique hotels, which were once simple family guesthouses.

Long story short, this summer’s favourite holiday pattern in Turkey is to rent a boat and hit the Greek shores, have wine and fish and swim in the unpolluted Aegean waters away from the hot political climate in the country. This is what my friends are doing now…

Here in Portland, if clouds allow we may be able see the full moon and enjoy its silver light over the pine leaves.

Maybe because we are on the “back” side of the world, I feel like we are catching everything the last minute. In terms of the time zones I mean! By the time it is morning for us, majority of the world population has already lived that day and are ready for bed. Most of the time I think I have something precious in hand, that is a fresh “today, something my friends and family on the “front” side already used up!

The full moon will salute us the last and I find it very special for some reason.

***

This morning I woke up around 7am. No yoga practice due to fullmoon. In fifteen minutes I was already on my bicycle heading towards…

Where?

Somewhere where I can write my morning pages.

Now if you are from the front side of the world, you may ask, what kind of a coffee shop opens at 7 on a Saturday morning? As oppose to Istanbul where the earliest good coffee starts to be served around 9am and Athens around 11am, in Portland, coffeeshops do open at 6am! Believe it or not! This is an American dream!

And it is not just that…If you come to Portland from a dense city like Istanbul, entire town looks like a scene from a fairy tale. I remember my first morning here, only 8 weeks ago. As I was cycling up on the Clinton street and looking at the quiet green scene around me, I kept asking to myself: Is this a movie set or some sort of a Truman show situation? Could this be real?

How is it possible that this little back corner of the world remained so green, abundant, quiet and healthy while in the rest of the world people live shoulder to shoulder in dusty, polluted cities or filthy villages where there are children with black teeth.

Every time I come back to Portland I can’t help but ask: How real can this life be?

***

Well for the people of Portland, it is real. Now, after 8 weeks of my arrival, it is real tome as well. I quickly forgot how its beauty and its ease seemed surreal at the beginning. Now I act and spend my day as if the American dream is my only life.  I live as if the front of the world with its dusty narrow streets and tiny portions of meals does not exist!

But more than anything it is the availability of the space that strikes me the most! It is this space I miss the most when I am away. It is for this space that I choose the clouds over Mediterranean Sea.  And it is not just space in the physical sense. Yes, the streets are wide, houses have 2-3 bedrooms, plus a basement and an attic and a front porch and a back yard!  The bathrooms in the restaurant are so spacious two people and a wheelchair can move around freely…Abundance of physical space…That is something we have in Portland for sure. But  there is more…

There is inner space, there is space in between parked cars, space in the human relationships and there is private space, and here even time feels spacious…(maybe because the distances are near and there is no traffic to struggle through)

In the midst of all this space, I am thinking about writing a series of blogs.Let’s call it the “Space Series” and see where it takes us!

To be continued, stay tuned!

Defne Suman

The Taste of the Forbidden Fruit

Photo: Aisha Harley

Nowadays, I arrive everywhere early. Just to have a cup of coffee or to read a few pages before the next thing on my schedule. Like now for instance… I still have 40 minutes before my evening class begins and I have already arrived to the coffee shop next to my studio.

Now…How about a piece on this coffee thing?

Friends, students and readers, who recently read, heard or saw that I drink coffee, have been commenting on this, which I find interesting.  Some people who read Mavi Orman write and ask me if I am still drinking margaritas and eating chips and salsa. (yes of course I do!)

Aren’t these the “forbidden items”? (says who?) How about not eating after sunset? (how about it?) Aren’t there rules to follow and regulations to apply for a good practice?  (are there?)

I gather that there is some confusion in the minds of people who take or want to take yoga seriously into their lives, about the ways of eating and drinking in the yoga world.

***

When I started practicing yoga in Thailand, I had set rules for myself right away. I always loved setting rules for myself (and for others) anyway, so I embraced the opportunity and the soldier in me celebrated my decision!

By then I already had no zest for alcohol, cigarettes and its contents due to my overconsumption of them in the previous decade. So a ban on these was not a major change for the soldier in me. In the winter before I went to Thailand, my friend Ayşe had suggested that we follow a chicken diet which entails for duration of one month, consumption of nothing else but all kinds of birds, and nothing else. (Well, maybe plus a salad or two).

As you may guess, at the end of that one month, which was supposed make us lose 6 pounds (and didn’t) I lost ability to eat anything with wings on them. My disgust was to such a degree that I still can’t stand the site of the chicken on a plate!

Around the time I started yoga I was getting tired of my Thai-Lao breakfast which was mainly consisted of Larb – a mixture of mint, lemon and a roasted meat of some unknown animal- and sticky rice. Taking a break from being a carnivore sounded like an attractive idea.

So quitting chicken and meat was no challenge and the soldier in me had high aspirations anyway: He deemed appropriate that coffee, soy milk, sugar, salt, fish and seafood should be forbidden.

Thus, began my meals of papaya salad-white rice-green tea for eight months. When I went back to Istanbul on the eight month, the color of my skin had turned almost orange  –because of the papaya– and I had no other thought than trespassing my forbidden zone.

Ice-cream, coffee, fish, corn chips, french fries…

***

Photo: Aisha Harley

It is very well explained in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic-Programming) seminars: Whatever we focus on not to do reproduces itself. If a thought is focused on prohibition, the brain continues to produce the thought of the prohibition continuously.

A decade earlier than my papaya-sticky rice diet, my friend Yasemin’s mother had taken us to a dietician. Since we were not backing up from our obsession of losing weight, she thought we had better continued our madness in the supervision of an expert. We were seventeen. We truly believed that if we could live on half a packet of diet crakers and one (yes, in numbers 1) red mullet a day, we could lose our “extra” six pounds.

I remember my shaking hands before every dinner out of hunger-driven nervousness and I drove my mom crazy with my grumpy impatience while she cooked my single mullet. Then on the weekend when Yasemin and I got together, provoking each other easily, we used to break the fast with McChicken meals at the nearest Mc Donalds!

So Mr. Dietician handed us, the seventeen year-olds who were suffering not from any extra pounds but lack of self-confidence, lists of what to be eaten in my day:  3 fruits, 100 grams of meat, two dishes of vegetables, etc. (We did consider once, one whole water melon per person as one of the three fuits!)

And one more thing: An X.

X, he said, could be anything and it could only be consumed once a week. Ice cream, bagel (simit), chocolate, street food, hamburger, french fries, whatever it may be!

X immediately became the only dream of our dear young brains! We were constantly talking about what the X of that week would be, and making special plans for that special day of the week that we would eat the X!

X was the forbidden fruit for us and we were reproducing its idea in our minds over and over.

Isn’t this exactly the story of the forbidden fruit?

***

Yoga and Ayuverda texts present some suggestions of eating and drinking for a healthy, balanced body, calm and centered mind and a deep yoga practice. This is true. But they also draw our attention to the fact that all these suggestions should be rearranged according to one’s bodily constitution, and that each person should explore the food, which nourishes him in a wholesome way. Certain food that have the potential for agitating the mind, like meat, fish, alcohol, coffee, salt and sugar, may not have the same effect on every body. Some minds on the other hand, could be agitated not because of these food, but because they try to over-control themselves.

I repeat in my writings that yoga is not about control. Discipline –which is different from control- is necessary to acquire the ability to observe with patience what is good for one, what is not. I find that the best way is to monitor myself during the practice every morning. Unless we have the metabolism of a fifteen year-old boy, food we eat at a late hour previous night and its remains would still be occupying our inner organs the next morning.

Yogasana is a practice that deepens as the breath gets slow and long. The more space we have in the navel area the freer the breath gets and stronger the core center of the body.  Experiencing such strength and freedom make me want to reduce the amount of food intake at night-time. And of course there are some nights, when going out with friends, eating and drinking is more worthwhile then doing a deep yoga practice in the morning. Then, I don’t’ worry about my inner organs and next days practice too much.

Again, if I  feel weak, tired, stiff or reluctant while doing yoga in the morning, I take a look at the previous day’s menu. I do the same thing in the mornings when I feel flexible, strong, full of joy and enthusiasm. Whatever I did in the previous day yielded good results for me. (Bear in mind that along with what we eat and drink, factors like stress, overuse of muscles, sports, staying in the sun for too long, thirst will effect our next day’s yoga as well).

My teacher often tells us that yogic life cannot be led by control and prohibitions or by recipes that may work for others but not for us. He mentions that everyone has different needs when it comes to diet and each one of us should all arrive there slowly by exploring what kind of food suit us the most.

The thought of forbidden fruit is a great pleasure for the obsessive mind. Imposing the ways of eating/living/behaving/making love are all different forms of the same obsessive mental pattern. As discipline and control do not mean the same thing, yoga practice does not evolve with imposition either. Yoga is about exploring one’s true self through the study and understanding of his/her real needs, shadows as well as gifts. The way to go about it, I believe, is possible by staying curious and in love!

Bon appetite, all!

Defne

Photo: Aisha Harley

By the way…Yasemin, with whom we dreamed of X’s, studied psychology and holistic nutrition. She is now a successful health and wellness coach. If you would like to explore what suits you the most under  her guidance. Here is her address:

http://www.yaseminagazat.com

Translation: Ebru Salman

Some Other Thing

1998

In the morning of the day after my 35th birthday, I woke up with an uneasy feeling in my chest. I remembered coming home from my party and hopping into bed without even brushing my teeth. The uneasiness  was unexpected yet familiar.

The lights of the warm sun were dancing on the Marmara Sea. I examined my inner space to find out what to do this morning. No signal came other than the familiar but distant uneasiness. The weather, however, was so playful and tempting. I thought about a place where I would not have come across anyone; that I would not need to talk with anybody or socialize… Where should I go?

I got in my car feeling not so sure about my direction. I have been driving the same car for fifteen years. Like a loyal horse, my Daihatsu Feroza, waits for me in its corner when I am not in Turkey and it smells different every season.

When I sat by the steering wheel, I knew where I was supposed to go by smelling the car:

To Boğaziçi University.

Really?

What if someone sees me there? A professor? A teaching assistant maybe? What if they say, how could you leave us like that, with no farewell? What if they condemn me for all these years I remained silent and distant?

Maybe I should go to Bebek, instead of the school? “No,” said the smell, “You must go to Boğaziçi”.  Then, my car rode the road from Gayrettepe to Boğaziçi on auto-pilot anyway. It is so used to this route. It even entered the campus. The guards did not recognize me, but the old sticker on my car’s window. I parked by the Engineering building and skipped down to the stairs which lead to the main square. Without looking at my watch, from the calmness around, I knew that the 10 o’clock classes had just begun. I sat on a bench and took a deep breath.

I recognized the uneasiness inside me all of a sudden. This was an uneasiness that belonged to the Old Me. Now I knew why I came here. The Old Me  called me from seven years ago. Perhaps to say, “You think you have grown up, but it is not so easy to leave me and go away”…

Because lately I have been getting a big head. A more important date than my official birthday yesterday was February 20th, the seventh birthday of the New Me. That is, the seventh anniversary of my first yoga class. From wherever I heard it, I knew that all the cells in human body were renewed every seven years. With the remnants of ontology I learnt with my late philosophy professor Arda Denkel, I had even filled up a few pages looking for an answer to the question: “What is it that makes the current me the same with the me seven years ago?”. As all the cells in my body are renewed, is there anything common left between me and the person who started yoga on February 20th seven years ago? Or is it another illusion of the mind to consider myself a marvel of continuity?

I turned my cell phone off as I sat across the beautiful green lawn of the university. While watching the singular light from the Bosphorus gliding through the New England style stone buildings, I realized that I didn’t want calls from anyone from my “new life”. My mind was canceling everything I liked or disliked about “today”. The thought patterns,  feelings, behaviors, and sensations which I have developed within the last seven years were being erased from my memory one by one like in the movie “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”.

I felt like eating kumpir –stuffed baked potato- and  making sculptures out of clay. In the illusion of time I thought my friends would soon come out of their classes, down to the lawn. Until they come, I should try once more to understand an abstract theoretical article; just as I decide to do that, my mind takes a flight to the flowers, the bugs, and I leave it.

By the end of the second class, students started to appear, they sat around and lay down on the grass. Does time stop at Boğaziçi? The students who sat on the rather wet grass around me looked the same as before. A whole millennium passed since I left and they still drink that awful tea in paper cups and eat miserable sandwiches. Girls take off their jackets and sweaters, and expose their skin to the sun, while laughing with no reason. To the smell of their sandwiches, three-colored cats come by shaking their big bellies, and giggling girls remain indecisive whether to feed or chase away.

I lay on the grass as well. I spent ten years in this school. My professor Nilüfer Göle used to  say, “You turned this place into your mother’s womb”. That was because I couldn’t get out of it and launch into life. In a reference letter for a doctorate application, one of my professors wrote: “Defne is such and such, and it is about time she made a change in her life”.

Just like it is now, the South Campus of Bogazici University was so green, so secluded from the life outside, and so safe that, we would do anything we can to delay the day of graduation. Everyone within the walls of this castle was bright and intelligent, the lessons were of high quality, and we had numerous channels through which our creative energies would flow.

While feeling surrounded by muses within these walls, I would feel shattered outside the school; that’s right. The uneasiness I felt today would visit me often in my youth. I felt like an empty nutshell then. I knew that life was bigger, much bigger than the oasis of Bogazici, but didn’t have the power (or maybe the courage) to make the slightest move to discover it. I tried to patch up  the gaps in my life with self-destructive love affairs, dramas, endless socialization, night-life, getting drunk and one-night stands.  It was the time when my friend Teoman released a hit song Paramparca (Shattered into Pieces). In his song there was line saying: all the lives around me are shattered in to pieces. Mine was definitely one of those lives around him!

Then, in the morning I would have my breakfast composed of a huge mug of black coffee and water-soluble aspirin, drive my Daihatsu down to the Bosphorus, and along with the feeling of satisfaction that the school disseminates in my soul, I would either forget last night or leave it aside to analyze it later when the girls come out of class.

We used to have much fun then. It was like I was protecting myself from my dark pit inside by having fun. I used to think that life was all about an oscillation between pain and pleasure. My dear stories were dramas caught in the “intimacies of stolen times” in my friend Nazan’s terms. 

With no notion of balance, sometimes I whistled my uneasiness in this Yeni Turku song:

Some other thing

is what I want

Resembles neither the tree nor the cloud

The land I will travel

is somewhere different

Its air is different

and its water is unlike any other

And sometimes I would stop and ask myself, what is this that “some other thing” I wanted? And right after that, I would say, “Whatever… we’ll think about that tomorrow.  Now I must focus on  what I am doing tonight.”

Yesterday was my birthday. In the hours that the Old Me got a hold of my soul, I realized once again such a blessing  has been finding the path of yoga in my life. With every new age I stepped into in the last seven years, life became more fulfilled and meaningful, more beautiful.

When in all my honesty, I started questioning why I did things that I really didn’t want to do, what needs of mine were served through self-destructive patterns, slowly  the dreary works, innutritious food, drunken nights, one-night stands and dramas got eliminated from my life.

What remains is a life in which I only do works from which I derive gratification and in which I find the relationships that nourish my soul.

This life is becoming more mine every year.

As I am entering my thirty-sixth year on earth, I am so content and grateful for all the opportunities and people who came across my way. In such spiritual contentment,  I cannot think of any other wish than “May everything continue like this”.

Now, I can see that the unsatisfied girl with storms raging inside her is looking at me with envy in her eyes from the grass lawn of Bogazici University. My heart is filled with compassion and pride as I look at her.

She doesn’t know yet.

That girl wants to be me.

What she wants is

some other thing…

This is an excerpt from my book Mavi Orman, published in February 2011 by Kuraldışı Yayınları.

Translation from original text Başka Türlü Birşey:  Ebru Salman

HUGGING the TEACHER

I love my students and I love hugs.

I don’t like hugs from my students.

I remember the feeling when one morning in Istanbul, after my class, a student, who is also a good friend, walked up towards me and gave me a big long hug and a loud kiss on each cheek. I felt uncomfortable. Other students were gathering their stuff and getting ready to leave but they were still in the room. I was trapped in my friend’s need to connect and my own desire to take a distance.

It is not that I don’t like her hugs. When I see her outside of the studio we naturally kiss and hug each other as a form of greeting. This is the cultural norm in Turkey. When a person refuses to offer her/his cheeks to the other, the message that is often perceived is that something is not right in the relationship.

This is at least true among friends and equals.

I often have friends who come to my yoga classes both in Portland and in Istanbul. I heard over and over my friends saying that if they were going to start yoga, they would prefer to start with me. This is not a good idea. I would advise them to start with a good teacher whom they don’t know as a friend even if it feels uncomfortable at the beginning. In yoga we are not seeking the feeling of comfort anyway.

Teaching friends is a tricky business. There is always some degree of confusion by the student on the teacher’s authority when the same person is a friend under different settings.  This is inevitable.  The confusion arises from not being able to switch from one mode of relating to the other for both sides.

Not always but most of the time, it is student-friends who arrive to the class last and they are more easily distracted. Frequently, it is they who don’t see anything wrong with yawning when I talk while other students hide their yawns from me. The lingering of the friendship mode inside of the studio can make me feel uneasy.

There are various “modes of relating” to one another.  Every relationship creates a space. That space is made up of agreements and boundaries that are recognized by individuals partaking in the relationship.  Friendship for example is a relationship based on equality. It usually operates at an emotional level. It is because we love them, we stay connected to our friends.

Teacher/student relationship on the other hand, neither operates on the emotional level nor is it equal. It is a fine balance being kind and at the same time holding the space of authority. My teacher is the excellent example for this balance. I don’t hug my teacher and I can’t even imagine doing that unless he initiates it.

If the mode of relating in friendships is based on love, I believe respect and trust are the two central components of student/teacher relationship. It is not just the teacher in person but also the knowledge he embodies is the source of this respect and trust. The knowledge I am talking about here is not simple information. It is a kind of knowledge which we acquire as we discipline the mind and surrender to the teachings of a system. Discipline, paying attention and repetition are necessary components for this kind of learning process.

However what is equal –at least in my case- is the distance I feel towards each of my students. If there is a consistent group of students coming to my classes regularly, I feel a strong connection between us.  Whatever other modes of relating we might have outside of the studio, do not affect the way I see them in the class.

My teacher always reminds us, the tools we need to operate during yoga are very different from the tools we use in our everyday relationships. During the practice, everyday tools of relating to one another, whether it be partnership, friendship or parenthood, must be suspended for a while.

This is also true for couples and families coming to yoga classes. It is a common thing when couples come to my classes, the husband sneaking peaks at  the wife or wife feeling responsible for explaining her husband’s limitations. For a fruitful practice, it is best if we can forget our outside identities and emotional attachments to other people in the room. In the end, yoga practice is something we do in our solitude.  Whether alone or surrounded by others in the room, we are on our own during practice.

That is why, when my student-friends switch to our friendship mode right after class. When they ask me what I am doing for rest of the day, a pattern for a knitted sweater, when they start a friendly chat about some stuff that happened the night before, when they want to give me a hug or a kiss, I can’t help but think that something is missing in my relationship with them.

I am well aware that it is my job to hold the space of the teacher and to evoke authority and respect.  The desire to please or comfort someone may be an essential component of friendship but it should not interfere with teaching.

As a teacher this is something I am learning. And like all other challenges, I view the presence of my friends in my yoga classes as a good opportunity to grow out of my shadows and transform myself for the better.

Love Affairs of Self-Destruction

Special thanks to Kokia Sparis for his meticulous editing and for his inspiring ideas on this blog.

 

Yesterday I went to the swimming pool with my father. One of us is a Cancer, the other a Pisces; so we like socializing in the water. Instead of meeting at a café we often make plans to see each other in the pool.

It was the same routine yesterday. He took a break every twenty-five meters, I on the other hand, took my break every seventy-fifth. On those breaks we chatted as we enjoyed the free movement of our limbs in the water.  At some point he said: “I keep reading your blogs and I am a bit surprised to see no references to your father. I think I know you very little.” I tried to laugh it off, “Haha, its because mom was the main traumatizer. You should consider yourself lucky”. Then we swam some more. Throughout my next 75 meters, I kept thinking about what he said. Really? Did my dad have no impact on me? What was the role of my father in the formation of my character? What about my strengths and my weaknesses?  When we reached our meeting place at the other side of the pool, I confessed:  “Dad I remember nothing of the times you and Mom were married. It is as if you weren’t there during my childhood”.

But how come, he said. “Remember, when you had run away from home, and I spanked your hands with the bicycle pump? The time at the Golden Dolphin Hotel in Çesme, when I told you fairy tales, for hours, until you fell sleep? I remembered both of those times. I also remember my mom having fun at the discotheque of the hotel and him taking care of me; I remember I found it very hard to accept my mother’s abandoning me that night, and how I cried non-stop for over an hour. Even though I am aware of these fragmented memories, I still cannot find traces of my father in my formative childhood memories, the kind that shaped my feelings and conditionings of today.

He said, “Think about it a little more if you like, I will complete this lap and get out”. He dove into the water and swam away. Could it be possible that my father’s behavior, his words, his expectations, the way he expressed his feelings or his inability to express them, had left no mark on me during my childhood? Or was the trauma caused by him so deeply buried that I can’t see it? Would a therapist be able to expose these wounds residing in the dungeons of my psyche?

After the pool, I drove back home passing through the back streets of Levent, one of the oldest suburbs in the north. In the last seven years that I haven’t been driving in Istanbul, the roads have changed so much that I get lost in what used to be very familiar places. I am bewildered as new streets intersect with the old back roads I used to know so well.

I was making my way from the swimming pool to the main street of Levent when I suddenly realized that everything looks very familiar. Could this be possible?  Wasn’t this the neighborhood I used to visit every day? There must be a house here, I thought: A white villa with a garden, a garden with flowers and fruit trees. The one I had accidently driven over and flattened. But how did I get here? In the past the road would have ended here and a stream would have continued. Wasn’t there supposed to be a shantytown on the other side of the stream? I looked and saw that the little slum was still there, to my right. On my left was the familiar old street. The new road I was driving on used to be the stream. How things had changed!

Where was that white villa with the garden now? Can I find it after all these years? What if I turned right from here? To arrive to the house we’d have to drive down a long hill. In the winter when it snowed it would get so icy that getting down that road was impossible. Oh, how it had snowed that winter! We couldn’t get out of the house for days. The garden was totally white under the snow. The roads were closed and the hill was too treacherous, even to walk on. I remember how happy I felt when there was no way out of that house. We had to stay inside. He couldn’t have asked me to leave or to go out. I was safe in the white villa that was owned by the man I loved so unhappily.

My heart fell into love affairs of self-destruction twice in my life.

I was fourteen with the first one. One morning I woke up and all the poems, songs and love stories had found a reflection in my soul. I was in love with self-inflicted agony, until I finished high school. I loved a boy who could not decide whether he wanted me or not. I mistook the bitter taste of longing for love itself. As that relationship ended, I promised myself, that from now on, I would open my heart only to men who appreciated me.

I didn’t keep that promise though and soon hit the wall of desperation again! With my next boyfriend I did it in such a way, I got to experience self-destructive love in its deepest form. That winter the snow stayed on the ground for the whole of March and as I turned 22 in the White Villa, I knew that soon, I would have to leave.

I read somewhere that it takes seven years for the cells in the human body to renew themselves totally. When I look at my personal history, I see that it is made up of transformations that were delivered in 7-year periods. I spent the whole of that third 7 year period between the ages of 21 and 28 – by warming my story of heart-break over and over in my mind, and injecting its bitterness into my blood.

I am back in the neighborhood of the white villa with the garden although I can’t find the house. If I had come up the main road I would have found it but I wanted the challenge of the back streets. I used to know every single road that led to that house; every pothole and all the plants that grew on the side of the streets, the placement of the trashcans. I had known every detail. Now, there is a black hole in my memory. It has been fourteen years since I left the white villa for the last time. Is that enough time to forget, or did I bury those times away along with the memories of my father? I sensed a connection between the times with my father during my childhood and the times I spent in the white villa with the man I loved so unhappily.

I gave up looking for the white villa and took the main road to return home. From the hole in my memory feelings from the past leaked out. The bittersweet pain of our heart breaks with my girlfriend Ayşe began to surface. I remembered stepping on the gas pedal of my red Skoda; cigarettes smoking in our hands, singing along to Alanis Morrisette at the top of our voices, we had driven to İznik. On our way, to console each other, we talked about the pain of our similar and unhappy love affairs. The emotions were felt deeply like notches made on fresh wood. We thought we were adults, but in actuality, we were just at the end of childhood. As we shared our stories, we were discovering our psyches and exploring our fears, our wounds and the tendencies that piled up inside of us. While the layers within us were being exposed, our stories were also passionate and self-satisfying. A sense of gratitude arose for those unhappy love affairs, as they provided us with much satisfaction and purpose. We were crying, then laughing, drinking and dancing, making oaths to close our doors forever to those who didn’t appreciate us!

It is probably no coincidence that my father had left home when I was seven. No one told me why he left. They had simply said that he had gone to America. From the whisperings of my aunt and my grandmother, who cared for me at home, until my mother came back from work, I could guess there was something going on which I wasn’t supposed to know.

I knew it anyway though, like an animal sensing fear, I too, sensed my father’s insecurity when he was at home. As a consequence of him not feeling safe, my need for safety was not met either. I knew that he loved me but his insecurities made me instinctively stay away from him.

Nowadays I know the story better. He was married to a woman who was powerful, beautiful and emotionally unavailable:  That was my mother. She had an elitist family behind her and that family never appreciated their new young son-in-law of no prestigious background. He needed his wife’s support to prove himself but that support was nowhere to be found. Yet he was young, strong and in love. He expected to have that love reflected back at him. He waited patiently for 15 years. Meanwhile he tolerated criticisms, judgments and insensitivity all around him. One day, a time came, when he quietly closed the door behind him and left.

My charming mother had stolen not only my dad’s heart from the very first sight but also mine. When my dad left, I found it convenient not to inquire about his absence. She may or may not be responsible for moving him away from me I thought to myself. What I really cared about, back then, was that his place in their bed was now mine, and I fell into deep seamless sleeps in my mother’s bosom.

My father remarried soon. I heard the rumours that he’d been “seeing” his new wife for a long time. Long before I heard that though, my friend Ilgaz had informed me that my father was having an affair.  I remember accepting this news with a nonchalant numbness, like I was watching a soap opera. Later, my mother also remarried and I felt deceived and abandoned for a second time when that happened. Finally my numbness melted into a new emotion: Anger. I could not express it as much as I would’ve liked to. My mother was on her honeymoon and my grandparents were too old to be screamed at. Instead I abused the neighbor’s daughter and stole her toys systematically.

Both male characters in my self-destructive love stories had met me, while still in love with other women. They were fairly honest about it. They told me about their situation at the beginning. Still, I told them I would wait for my turn. Perhaps because they found some consolation in me wanting that, they did not stop me from softly falling into their arms. Whenever I settled into those arms a little too much, they were quick to remind me, that my turn would probably never come, but I was not giving up; one step back, two steps forward, I continued to fight.

As I read different psychology theories, which link our destructive relationships to our unsatisfied needs, I wonder what needs was I trying to satisfy in the unhappy love affairs? Why did I stay in these relationships when I was suffering so much? In modern psychology, this type of suffering can represent the need to be emotionally stimulated.

Both affairs ended in the month of May ten years apart. In both times I realized suddenly that it was over and as if it hadn’t been me who begged and cried for years, I silently closed the door behind me and left. Although I struggled with this pattern again, I did not return to an unhappy love affair after that.

According to Freud, all of that had to do with my father. When I was a child, my father loved my mother but also found consolation in another woman whom he later ended up marrying. Perhaps that’s why I believed I could only be loved when I was in the position of the second woman. That position was curiously comfortable to me. If I waited a little longer, would I be loved by this man in the way I desired to be loved? The very same question was on my father’s mind when I was born. It was emotionally encoded in the genes he passed on to me. I felt it in his worry and dissatisfaction. I saw it in his face as the lines of disappointment formed around his eyes.

They say that our parents give us the wounds that help us find our way home.

It is true my parent’s relationship unconsciously provided me the guidelines for romantic relationships in the first portion of my adulthood. I expressed my father’s pattern when I was old enough to pick a man. I became him and looked for my mother’s unavailability in my relationships. I enjoyed the familiarity of the situation in the arms of men who couldn’t promise love.  It was natural and paradoxically safe.

Yet it is also true that in those self-destructive love affairs, I tasted life a little deeper. When I passed through the tunnel of emotions and took a look at myself, I discovered things about the ways we experience life. Even though I was very sad in the those love affairs, I nourished my soul with experience, got enriched and grew up.

When I saw I could not get nourished any more, I closed the door behind me quietly and headed home.

Translation from Turkish original to English: Ebru Salman

Blue Forest


Tonight I am all alone. My roommates are out for the night. There is no humming of the TV from downstairs or human voices traveling through heating ducts. Behind the closed doors I am reading, knitting and listening to music. It is late but I don’t care about the time. I feel so complete in my solitude I don’t want sleep to take that away from me.

I feel like I am 15 years old. Back in the days when my parents went out and left me alone in the house, I enjoyed the silence of the empty apartment and a sense of freedom that was somehow connected to the solitude.

I am back at that age again. Contained, content and accompanied by myself.

All that matters is knit and purl, good music and Orhan Pamuk’s latest book.

I am resting in the moment. In this moment the sense of time and space is lost. I could be 15 or 35, here or there. The fluctuations of my mind are suspended for a while.
Oh how happy I am that I decided not to go to Canada!

What does Canada have to do with this picture?  I sometimes hear this voice inside my mind. It says: C’mon, let’s go somewhere. I shrug. It insists: Let ‘s take the early morning train and go to Canada. We can spend the night in Vancouver and return tomorrow in the evening.
In the old days I always listened to this voice. The “voice”, was my charming guide. Now because I have enough experience to know, I can resist it a little more. What am I going to do in that new place? Most likely I will be lost in the streets of an unknown town and will search for a coffee shop to rest. I will want the coffee shop to suit my taste, not only in coffee but also in music and atmosphere. In my search I will get tired of walking and maybe even cold. Plus I will not want to go back to that cold ugly hostel room where I will be staying because of my college-student budget.

When I recount all these things to “the voice”, it becomes quiet for a day or two, if I am lucky. Then, like an addict, I start to feel that familiar craving. As if I had not described exactly what would happen if we went, or as if we hadn’t experienced the whole adventure before, “the voice” starts again: Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we take a trip to Canada this weekend?
“Let’s Go Somewhere Else, I can’t Take It Anymore”, demanded the voice!
This particular state of mind has been with me, ever since I can remember. When I was 8-9 years old and the voice would speak to me, I used to cycle all the way to the tip of the island where we spent our summer holidays. The tip, which was called the Tongue, was outside the limits of my “permitted zone” in the island. Therefore a short trip to the Tongue was enough to satisfy “the voice”.

Later, during my high school years, I started taking random public buses to unknown destinations after school.  That is how I discovered the poor and old neighborhoods of Istanbul, which were very different from the affluent parts of the city where I grew up. There I saw wooden buildings on the verge of collapse and the people living in them. I walked the narrow cobble stoned streets over which clean laundry was stretched from one house to the next. I watched the neighborhood kids coming back from their schools. I wondered about their lives. What went on in the old wooden houses? I imagined their stories.

When I had my first car, I drove all the way from my home to the Black Sea and the eastern villages of the Asian side.  Driving in solitude, I thought was freedom unlimited and it had an addictive quality. One Friday night I decided to drive to Antalya, a southern beach town 600 miles away. Before I reached the first third of the road – the voice was already silent and I realized that I needed to be back at school Monday morning so I drove back home!

One important and common aspect of these adventures is that I always needed to go on my own and secretly. Since I have no reasonable explanation of why I am going on this adventure, I preferred not to mention my plans to anyone. What if they wanted to join me?

As I grew older, trips extended to other countries. During the time when I lived in Thailand, I kept visiting remote villages in Laos. If you have ever been there, you
already know this: It is a true misery to get from one town to another in Laos. In a sticky hot bus you’re squeezed, between villagers, vegetables and livestock. If Laos sounded too hard, then I took the night train to Bangkok. Once during a summer holiday I returned to Istanbul. I found a cheap flight to London and sneaked out without notifying anyone. Another time in Portland, my cousin lent me her car for the weekend and I drove it to Seattle to spend the day! I have more stories but I think by now you get the picture!

So, you may ask, what happens when you arrive?

It is always the same thing! The first thing that happens is the voice which kept talking and filling my head with the dreams of freedom shuts up completely and is nowhere to be found. I start looking for a place to stay.  Once I settle in a small ugly room in a youth hostel or in some budget hotel, I go out. And then a HUGE emptiness slaps me in the face! That is when and every time I silently scream: “What the hell am I doing here?” Since the voice is not there anymore and the craving is gone, I find no answer, no explanation. The next thing that happens is that I want to go back home!
In the absence of the voice I am left alone with my restlessness that is guiding me nowhere. I feel exhausted and disappointed. Didn’t the voice promise me an exciting new reality at the end of the road? Wasn’t this new place supposed to satisfy my curiosity? What happened?
Now I realize at the core of all these little adventures is a feeling of anxiousness.  If only I could make my way into the unknown I would be free of this unsettling feeling.
What is this unsettling feeling about? Did I feel it when I went to the Tongue in the island at the age of 8? Did I feel it when I was roaming in those narrow streets of old Istanbul? It seemed that I was excited and joyful during the journey. Back then, the adventures were not my escape from an unsettling feeling but they were tools for exploring myself. Each trip was a journey inward.
Then something changed. I found myself in a restless state. The whole trip was filled with frustration, grasping and a need to achieve the ideal, which had been that calm sensation I remembered from the earliest adventures. Once the ideal was created by my mind, then, instead of being present with my experience, I started to compare everything to that. Childish wonder was replaced by the greed to arrive there. I stopped exploring the experience as it spontaneously happened and transformed. Could the restless sensation, which I hoped to liberate myself from, be connected to the end of my childlike curiosity? The adventures continued but the journey within was over.
Is this what it is to grow up and become dull towards life and its wonders?
I know I am still curious. I still want to learn. The unknown continues to fascinate me and I still believe there is freedom there. The human mind is made for exploring yet one does not have to go far to meet the unknown. Stepping out of everyday routines and into new places has something to do with freedom but it can easily turn into another manifestation of our achievement-oriented lives or even into a pattern of escapism. Such adventures will satisfy our hunger for knowledge and freedom only if they go hand in hand with an inward journey. The inner journey begins once we start to transform our habitual ways of feeling, thinking, and acting in that new place.
A part of me knew this from the very beginning. When I was little, my mom used to read me a bedtime story called The Blue Forest. The hero, named Bunny Nomad leaves his home behind and takes a long journey in search of the Blue Forest. Finally, after many adventures our hero finds his way to the Blue Forest. As he approaches his final destination he looks up and sees that the Blue Forest, was the forest that surrounded his village and also the beginning of his journey.

I remember saying not a word after my mom finished reading the story. When she left the room I cried silently under the covers. Was I crying because my young heart was disappointed with the ending or was it because I felt that my own destiny was designed in a similar way to Bunny Nomad’s?

Sitting here in the silence of my room instead of hanging out somewhere in Canada – I feel so peaceful and satisfied that I think that I have arrived at the Blue Forest after all.


This is an excerpt from my upcoming book Mavi Orman which will be published in February 2011. Special thanks to Kokia for editing and helping with the concepts.