12 lessons from Rainer Maria Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet"

I just finished reading the compilation of letters written by Austrian poet and writer Rainer Maria Rilke to Franz Xaver Kappus, a 19-year-old officer cadet at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt.

The entire compilation is such a gem that I found myself highlighting bits and pieces on every page. Below are twelve excerpts I found to be the most essential, pragmatic, and poetic all at once.

  • “Someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only of life and reality: the female human being.”

  • “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

  • “Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you?”

  • “Sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien… You must be patient like someone who is sick, and confident like someone who is recovering; for perhaps you are both. And more: you are also the doctor, who has to watch over himself.”

  • “The only sadnesses that are dangerous and unhealthy are the ones that we carry around in public in order to drown them out with the noise.”

  • “And as for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.”

  • “Allow your judgments their own, undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and then birthing.”

  • “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And to point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

  • “All beauty in animals and plants is a silent, enduring form of love and yearning.”

  • “Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

  • “It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it. It is also good to love: because love is difficult.”

  • “We have been put into life as into the element we most accord with, and we have, moreover, through thousands of years of adaptation, come to resemble this life so greatly that when we hold still, through a fortunate mimicry we can hardly be differentiated from everything around us. We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us.”

ode to autumn

Today marks the first day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere this year. For many, fall signifies the end of summer - the season they look forward to the most and the end of which they lament the most.  

For me, fall is a season of beauty. After days of endless sunshine, it’s a period of time when you can wake up not knowing, or even better, not even being able to anticipate what weather you’ll be waking up to. There’s something incredibly refreshing and rejuvenating in opening your eyes to dark and cloudy skies, stepping out to breathe in the cool and crisp morning air when it smells like it’s just about to rain. You can then go back to bed that same night and wake up the next morning to a brand new, sunny day. Differences in weather are like changes to your routine; they allow you to distinguish one day from the next, make discernments about your preferences, and strengthen your ability to adapt to change. 

The simple act of putting on an extra layer in the evening as it starts to get chillier each day or starting to crave heartier foods than those you’ve been eating all summer are beautiful reminders of the intelligence of your body and its sync with nature, if you choose to listen to it. 

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the best way to lead a healthy life is by learning about the nature of each season and living in harmony with its essence. With the gradual shortening of days, the cooling of the weather, and the changes in colors around us, autumn is a time of shifting from the external to the internal, of turning our attention inwards, letting go of things we no longer need, of organizing ourselves, and harvesting the fruits of our labors so far throughout the year. 

The organs associated with the season, according to Chinese medicine, are the lungs and its counterpart, the large intestines. While the lungs are responsible for “taking in” the new (fresh air, your next breath, oxygen…), the large intestines are responsible for “letting go” of the old, of anything the body no longer needs. While our organs helps us physically take in the vital and discard of the waste, through intention and effort, we can do the same on a more subtle, esoteric level. We can take this as an opportunity to look at our lives and discern what we might be gripping on to too hard, so that we can first become aware of the things that might be causing pain (both physical and emotional) and second, work through them in an effort to let go. The emotions associated with fall are sadness and grief, so the prevalence of overwhelming amounts of either or both can indicate an imbalance or deficiency of the lungs. Similarly, difficulty with elimination through the digestive system (ie. constipation) can be indicative of not being able to let go, and is therefore an incredibly efficient way of our bodies telling us what’s going on. 

Just as this is a good time to “let go,” so is it a good time to start new projects and become more introspective; focusing on cultivating our bodies and minds. I find it very rewarding to keep a gratitude diary, noting everything —  however big or small it might be — I’m thankful for during that day. Writing this down each evening not only allows me to end the day more peacefully, but it also rewires the way I go about living my day as I look for things to be grateful for, instead of focusing on inconveniences or things I want or wish I had or said or done. Of course, as is the case with most things in life, after almost seven years of consistently journaling, it still remains a practice. I am not a beam of positivity walking around the city as I go about my days. I am, however, more inclined to pay attention to the smallest act of kindness someone might offer or stop to interact with the cat sleeping on the stairs of an apartment building. And when these things add up, they actually make a positive difference. And at the end of each day, I get to reflect on them and over time, go back to read the shifts and changes I have gone through on this path. 

One of the shifts I referred to in relation with the arrival of fall was the changes in color in nature, but I won’t go into much detail about it here, as a simple Google search will tell you more than what you need to know about eating according to what the seasons have to offer. I will just say that longer cooking times, heartier ingredients, and foods with pungent flavors are your best friends during these few months, before the arrival of winter. Think garlic, onions, vinegars, fermented foods, spices, pears and apples. 

There’s so much more to be said about fall, but I’ll leave it here for now. It’s the last few days I’ll be spending at our beach house and I’m leaving my laptop screen aside to enjoy the afternoon breeze, watching the navy blue Aegean in the distance, listening to the pool water run off, and Baskan (my dog brother) snore over Philip Glass’ “Opening,” playing through the speakers beside him. 

homecoming (i)

In silence, even the softest sound occupies space. It arrives, naturally as it always does, without a beginning or end, leaking in, to fill the void and the richness that is, all at once, silence itself. 

He feels his feet slowly get colder as the tides wash the heat away from his body and into the water’s depths with every sway. There’s no way of telling where the sand stops and the sea begins; the two are like one, merging into one another; the incoming tides like inhales carrying life into the body through the lungs, the returning like exhales; a natural, effortless response to the first. One does not exist without the other. Or, rather, there is no “other.” They are, simply, two halves of a whole. 

The only evidence of daytime is the remaining warmth his toes find as they dig deep into the sand below the surface. 

A black layer, like satin sheets, covers the world around him. The sky, the sand, the sea... His legs, his arms… Everything, black. 

In that moment, words lose meaning. They only mean what they mean because we believe them to, and in that moment, there is no evidence to help him make sense of the sea, the sand, the sky, or even himself, as words -or things- that are separate from one another. In that moment, everything, including himself, is part of One, a Whole. Complete. 

He closes his eyes, or rather thinks he does, but can’t be sure. He touches his eyelids to make sure they’re really shut, as the sensations between the two states are hardly different. 

Just as no two snowflakes are identical, so too, he starts to notice, that no two waves make the same sound. They each have a unique personality, a voice of their own, as they swoosh inland, sink into the sand beneath, and quietly retract.

Like people, some are more playful than others, some more quiet. Some linger even after they’re gone, just like some people remain, long after they leave. 

The notion of time ceases. There is simply now; the incoming breath. The incoming wave. 

And now; the departing breath, and the departing wave. 

Now, the physical boundary of skin, that which marks where his blood and cells stop and the ocean begins, feels absent. There is no self, no other. He is the sea as the sea is him. Both the other; both at home.

This omnipresence has a certain heaviness to it. That heaviness, in return, feels ever so light. 

He finds ease in the reliable pattern of repetition, the continuity of certain things. The tides that will continue to push and pull, come and go, in and out; the air that will, moment after moment, enter his lungs and leave a little warmer. Both instinctive. Both cleansing.

Both that will continue, endlessly, eternally.

Both that will continue, until one day, they won’t. 

imagined interview (i)

RY: So you’ve had it for 28 years? 

YY: 29 actually. 

RY: 29. Wow. That’s quite remarkable. 

YY: Isn’t it? I’m dating myself, huh? (Chuckles) 

RY: And it’s been with you the whole time? 

YY: For the most part. I think there were a few years, back in ’87 or ’88, I’m not sure now, where Daisy had custody over it. That was the time when I moved to Prague for work. Daisy was still in Paris at the time. I left Paris with nothing but a small suitcase that was barely big enough to hold a few shirts and maybe a pair of pants. I didn’t have many clothes to pack anyway, so that wasn’t much of a problem. (Chuckles. Sighs.) So I had this small suitcase to take with me on the train and I didn’t trust myself with it. Or maybe I didn’t trust others on the train. I don’t really know to be frank. I decided it was best to leave it with Daisy. She’s always been reliable and good with that sort of thing. You know? 

RY: How did you ask her? 

YY: Well… (Chuckles again.) “Ask” is a tricky word. I knew she would stop by my house to pick up a few of her belongings after I left, so I just left it on the only table I had with a note on it for her. 

RY: What did the note say? If you don’t mind me asking. 

YY: I’d rather keep that between the two of us, if you don’t mind, dear. 

RY: Of course. I completely understand. So, how did you get it back? 

YY: Her sister brought it to the funeral. She knew it belonged to me - I guess Daisy told her, even though I had made her promise not to tell anyone. But then again, there are a few promises I didn’t keep either…  Serves me right I guess...

RY: That must have been difficult. 

YY: I was already quite shaken, so that didn’t add much more to the pain… It was… (Starts to tear up. Sniffs.) I told myself I wasn’t going to do this. (Long pause) Sorry, honey. 

RY: Please! No need to apologise - I completely understand. (Pause) Would you like to take a break?

YY: I think that’s a good idea. (Sniffs, blows his nose.) Thank you, dear. I’m sorry. (Pause) It’s just - 

RY: Please; you don’t have to explain. I’ll turn it off. 

 

<End Tape>

i wonder

What happens to the love you were given when the source of that love is no longer alive? 

Is love an energy that isn’t created or destroyed, but rather, one that changes form? 

Is there less love emitted into the stratosphere each time someone passes away or does a newborn have the capacity to replace that which went missing?

Does the amount of love we were given diminish or does it continue to live on, almost as inheritance that the deceased left behind? 

 

I sat next to a man on the train the other day. He reminded me of my grandpa. 

My grandpa passed on almost three years ago now. 

I kept two shirts, three sweaters, a pair of pyjamas, a watch, and what was left of his perfume on the day he passed on. One of those sweaters still has the napkin he had left in one of the front pockets the last time he wore it. 

I think about him quite often, but actually feel his presence whenever I come into contact with any of these items.

I remember how special our relationship was, how much I loved him, how much I still love him, and of how much I will continue to love him. 

And of how much he loved me. 

And then I realise he is no longer alive. 

And then I realise there is one less person in the world who loves me in the selfless and unconditional way that only a parent is capable of loving. 

Perhaps it’s a self-centred view of the world and a self-centred way of thinking, but it is, nevertheless, something I think about. Especially at times when the world feels harsh and hollow and lonely. 

I still love my grandpa. 

Does he still love me? 

 

What happens to the love you were given when the source of that love is no longer alive? 

Is love an energy that isn’t created or destroyed, but rather, one that changes form? 

Does he still love me?

 

Still?

 

Still? 

 

I hope he does.  

habitat // 3. the shoreline

It’s that time of day again when the sky bursts into flame. It's quite incredible to watch the colors turn from laundry water blue to the brightest yellow, to that of a ripe apricot, a cantaloupe, and then a watermelon simultaneously. The warmer the colors turn, the cooler the air becomes; like ying and yang, balancing each other out.

He’s been here for a long time. Not long in the way humans know the word to mean, but long in the way the Earth rotates around the Sun, an entire species gets wiped off the face of this planet; long like the time it takes for a loved one to return from wherever she might be.

Once, a long, long time ago, he was under water. Not long in the way humans know the word to mean, but long in the way that an entire ocean finds itself drifted, shrunk, receded. Leaving the earth underneath dry. Leaving it barren.

Now, he sits among millions of tiny specks that, together, make up an entire coast of sand. He’s close enough to the sea that a wind blowing in the right direction carries to him the intimately familiar smell of salt. On a lucky day carrying even a few droplets of the water that once was the only home he knew. Onlookers consider him lucky; magnanimous, grounded, lucky to be placed on one of the most beautiful coasts ever known to man.

He knows they are mistaken, but places no blame. No blame for making these assumptions, for not knowing how hard it is to be so close to something so deeply embedded in one, while fully aware that reunion is not in the books for them. For not knowing how painful it is to see one’s only object of longing each and every day; to watch it move around as freely as ever a thing moved, without being able to look away or get any closer; how torturous to see it meet other rocks, other sands, embrace animals and humans and plants, while remaining unable to move at all himself.

His distractions are plenty, so long as the sun is up. A kid leaning against him with a bucket in his hand, building sand castles and sand people and sand animals. A crab or two climbing into its nooks and crannies to make a temporary home for themselves. A young couple laying on him to absorb some of his blazing heat, to then distribute it evenly between their two bodies. Once or twice, leaving their swimsuits on him to dry while going for a dip in the ocean; free of clothes, free of rules. Free.

Then, almost as if pegged to the Sun's graceful descent into the horizon at the end of each day, all life retreats into darkness; to where it came from, where it belongs. The slow evening summer breeze becomes cooler, moving around without restriction; with nothing to interrupt its flow, nothing left for it to carry, no duties left for it to fulfill. In the encircling abyss of blackness, it is free to play.

It is an abyss that conceals and one that exposes simultaneously. As the sudden muteness of one sense heightens the sensitivities of others, the endless blackness masking his sight enhances his capacity to hear. In the tranquil of the night, he listens to the unhurried rhythm of the sea as it carries one slow wave after another to shore.

In, and out.

In,

and out;

 

In,

 

           Out.

And for a few ephemeral moments, he feels whole again; him and the ocean, the only two things left on earth. Brought together through some force of nature, reunited.

It is this transient glimpse of hope that gets him through the next sunrise, the next noon and the next sunset; until the same time of day arrives again, when, in the absence of all evidence against it, he is free to exist in a world that is exactly the way it should be.

Him and the sea. At one with each other. Complete.

habitat // 2. the icu

She's the only one who likes being here. Her and the eager interns, just starting their rotations. No one else wants to be here. Not the man in the bed who’s been breathing through a machine for the last two weeks, not his wife who’s spent every waking hour outside his room, looking in, waiting for a hand or toe twitch; for any sign of life. Not even the doctor, for he’s tired of smelling death, even before it arrives.  

Not her. She likes it here. It was the last place she existed while still in a body, still visible to the human eye, still with a heartbeat. Still alive.

It’s not that she’s trapped in this unit, on this floor, in this hospital. No. She could go anywhere she desires, but she chooses to remain put.

She first arrived in this hospital three years ago, twelve floors below, at the emergency room.  

The ER is different than the ICU. It’s loud, busy, overcrowded; the ICU is silent, slow, spacious. But the ER has hope. All that hurrying, running around, yelling; they're not for nothing. They’re signs that there are lives still left to be saved, that there’s more to be done than just waiting and letting time run its course. The ICU is quiet, but it’s not the type of quiet anyone desires. It’s not peaceful like how one feels during the first snowfall or a morning swim in the ocean. It’s a quiet that weighs on you. That sits on you and doesn’t leave. A type of quiet that drags out and distorts time like nothing else. A type of quiet that is very familiar to her.

She spent a month here. Thirty days. Seven hundred and twenty hours. Forty three thousand two hundred minutes. Two million five hundred and ninety two thousand seconds.

Each and every one of those seconds experienced individually, to its fullest duration by her mother who was on the other side of the glass doors separating them. And by her fiancee of two weeks; the longest time they spent apart from each other.

There was always hope, until one day, there wasn’t. Her mother and her fiancee were told to prepare themselves, but it had already happened. Doctors are always a few steps behind, but she didn’t know this back then. She watched the two of them, her two favorite people in the world, hugging, sobbing, sobbing. Sobbing. She wanted to hold them, tell them it was alright; that she was finally herself again, for the first time in a long time, that she was right there next to them. Each time she tried, she became more frustrated. It was like swimming against a current, writing on water, screaming inside a vacuum.

So she watched on and let it happen. She let grief run its course. Perhaps this is better, she thought, for nothing else would bring closure, she knew. That night, her mother collected the remainder of her clothes, her watch, her phone. Her fiancee took her ring, the one he had given her just a few weeks before. She watched as they left, choosing to stay behind.  

That was three years ago. She made a home out of this floor since then. There was no way of knowing, but she believed her presence made everything a little easier for those who came in and out of the unit. She was unable to help the two loves of her life, but there were other loves of other people’s lives, who she could.

It’s impossible to know if she has anything to do with this, but those who’ve visited the unit after she came along have described an unexpected sense of serenity and awareness washing over them. Like a much needed dip in the sea after hours under the sun. Or the stillness that comes from someone else’s body heat after a long walk in the snow.

Something only available to the one who’s in need of it; invisible, indescribable. But there, nevertheless.

habitat // 1. the gas station

He’s spent his whole life in this town. The only reminder of the existence of other lives, of other towns, and of other countries is a plane that flies over his head approximately at the same time each day. The passing of a plane, coming from somewhere, going somewhere else, means there are other “somewhere”s outside of this, the only one he’s ever known.  

He has many, but unaccounted for and undocumented years, under his belt.

He doesn’t take up much space in the universe, but is mighty nevertheless.

Ageless like an oak tree; small like an ant.

He wakes up at 4:30 every morning to beat the sun and its asphalt-melting heat. It’s an hour long walk to the gas station where he spends seven days of his week, twelve hours of his day. The track to the station is one that would be deemed scenic by those who don’t have to tread the path everyday. Through fields of sunflowers spreading as far as the eye can see, saluting the sun day after day, in gratitude for giving them life. He doesn’t notice the beauty in any of this anymore; the simple act of repetition has turned the beauty in most things mundane.

The gas station, which bears only four pumps, is located on the highway, somewhere between two other somewheres, and is too small to have earned its rightful spot on any map. Every now and then, a car or truck stops by to fill up its tank, and on rarer occasions, someone stops by to use the bathroom, which is when they’ll meet him.

Interactions are transactional. No one’s interested in talking to him; that’s not what they’re there for. They hardly even say hello. It doesn’t matter to him, either way. He’s been doing this for so long that the act of collecting coins is just a mindless, automated one. Sometimes, he’s not even there. Only his body is.  

There is one stall, which is plenty, for the number of people seeking its services has never, in his entire time working the job, exceeded that. There’s an old, slowly decaying wood door with a half-functioning, rusty iron sliding lock that leads to the dark box inside. The toilet is a mere hole on the mud floor, so one has to kneel to take care of business. There’s no flush, but he provides visitors with a small bucket to pour water into the hole, if they should so desire. Toilet paper is also available, at whatever rate the visitor regards appropriate.

He sits on what was once a white plastic chair, which he placed under an olive tree. They make a good couple, the olive tree and him; ageless and outworn at once, grounded and serene, with roots running deep below the surface of this tiny. in-between town. He rolls and lights a cigarette every now and then. His is not a glorious life, but one that he’s content with. The shade of the olive tree, an occasional breeze, the slightly numbing feel of tobacco on his tongue, and the nostalgic sound of bolero music slowly leaking from his pocket radio...

 The music plays for him, for the olive tree, the canaries, and the ants. It oozes from the tiny holes of his radio, flowing into the atmosphere, growing, spreading; traveling further than the plane flying above him ever could. Those who stop at the station think he’s there, but hardly they are right. Most of the time, he’s floating with the music, miles away from his body, in a somewhere far away.

Unbound. Limitless. Free.

bridge

I’m not positive, but would guess that the first bridge I ever saw and crossed was the Bosphorus in Istanbul.

It’s hard to explain the feeling if you’ve never crossed it yourself.

If you haven’t started your journey on one continent and ended it on another.

It’s hard to explain the feeling, but easier to explain the richness of the navy blue waters hundreds of meters below, stretching on both sides, as far as the eye can see. The blue that is enveloped by the deep emerald of the densely populate trees on land, by buildings and homes of different material, height, color, shape, and age, by the minarets of mosques generously scattered around.

The idea of moving from one continent to the next within a span of minutes without getting on a plane is one that I’ve never quite been able to wrap my head around. I always get a rush to my head, my heart starts beating faster. I become hyper aware of my smallness within the larger spectrum of this planet, and then of the entire universe. It lifts my spirits as I get invigorated by the sudden realization of my ability - by man’s ability - to constantly figure things out to grow, improve, and challenge our means of existing, of leaving our mark on this planet.

The idea of crossing continents.

The idea of crossing waters.

The idea of crossing lives.

---

Several days ago, I was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. It was a late afternoon as the sun slowly descended back into the horizon, taking the day’s heat with it. The last few rays of warmth hit my eyes as a cool, but embracing breeze brushed my skin and through my hair.

There were fewer tourists on the bridge than there were earlier in the day, but the ones that were there were still taking photos with their selfie sticks. The photos that would serve as their witness; proof that they were there, that they did the thing.

Normally, my patience for selfie sticks and walking speeds of visitors not familiar with New York City walking guidelines is minimal, but perhaps because it was my favorite time of day, perhaps because I had some great music playing through my headphones, and perhaps because looking at the skyline of downtown Manhattan from a distance put things in perspective for me, I didn’t seem to be too upset.

Instead, I watched those I walked past as they took photos of the bridge, of themselves on the bridge, and of everything below, above, and around the bridge with larger than life smiles on their faces.

And I couldn’t help but wonder: Where does our admiration for bridges come from?  

---

“Love is too weak a word for what I feel - I luuurve you, you know, I loave you, I luff you, two F's, yes,” says Woody Allen in the iconic scene of Annie Hall, set against a beautifully lit view of the Brooklyn Bridge.  

It is quite often on a bridge that characters meet, whether in film or literature, whether they’re lovers or adversaries, whether for the first time or to reunite after some time has passed.

The bridge is a fair and objective meeting point. It doesn’t take anyone’s side, but rather connects two sides to each other. Both parties have to cross it to get to the other side or even just to meet in the middle. Each side has to take a few steps, quite literally, towards one another. Whether they meet in the middle or one crosses further is another question, but the fact that both are at the bridge, ready for whatever awaits them, means that they have already taken the most important steps - the ones that got them there in the first place.

In this way, the bridge is a strong physical symbol of our openness, our willingness to give things a(nother) try, to put ourselves ‘out there’.

---

“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world,” writes Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby

In this way, the bridge is also a fine platform to gaze at things from. Whether the subject of your gaze is a someone, a something, or simply yourself, the bridge allows you to remove and distance yourself from the situation, and identify a bigger picture to fit your own inside of.  

Just as a field of roses looks beautiful from a distance, without the thorns that might sting your fingers if you were amidst them in the field yourself, people and situations are somehow the same. Gazing at the skyline of a city or at boundless waters or land below you, it becomes easier to see someone who might have hurt you for the person (s)he is; with their flaws as well as their strengths. You can somehow make sense of and put into perspective that thing that happened to you that had been occupying most of your existence.

Seeing life go on in the distance; cars going places, trains carrying people, city lights shining through the night, you can’t help but feel that things will somehow work out. In the grander scheme of things, they always have, and they will continue to do so.

Our lives are like graphs. The ups and downs, the bumps along the way are deviations from the mean, reminders that we are alive. That life is happening now, it’s happening here, and it’s happening to us.

And in the larger snapshot of our lives, that graph is one continuous line, going on and on until one day, it doesn’t.

To locate ourselves on that graph and to try and move higher and further, we occasionally need to step outside of it and take a few steps back.

Maybe even onto a bridge for a better view of it all.

the color of dusk

There’s a moment in each day.

Right before the sun slips away below the horizon, to wherever it is that it goes after that.

After it’s been up all day or hiding behind a sheet of clouds, or wherever else it’s been.

You wouldn’t say it’s up, but it’s not down either. It’s somewhere in between, as if hanging by a thread, descending quickly as the thread gets worn by the pull of gravity on it, as if it could break any second, leaving everything in darkness.

This is the golden hour.

In New York, it turns rows of apartments into flame.

Not the kind of flame that’s passionate, rough, aggressive, but the kind that sustains itself quietly as you sit around it in the middle of a field or on a beach, listening to the sound of nothingness around you. A warm, welcoming flame.

In Bodrum, where our summer house is back home, it softens the day.

It cools down the land, letting the blue of the Aegean drift onto the red of the inland earth; letting the heat from the day rise up; letting everything breathe.

It looks a little different in each city, but is my favorite moment in all of them.

It’s not so much a time of day itself as it is a reminder of the other times of day, a break in between them, a bookmark.

It’s an opportunity every day to step back and review the timeline of our days. What have I done so far? How have I chosen to spend this day? What lies ahead? And is what lies ahead what I really want to do before the end of yet another day?

It’s apprehension itself.

It’s a way to stop time for a brief moment and take it all in. To realize that there are still a few hours left to do something with this beautiful day. To not only accept, but to get excited about the uncertainty that the rest of the day, what the evening holds.

It’s an opportunity to pause and breathe.

To practice awareness.

Awareness of the things behind you, of the unknowability of those ahead, and the beauty of those in the here and now.

 

It’s a well kept secret between what feels like only a handful.

So few people are in on this secret that joining them feels like entering an alternate universe; one that is superimposed onto the world as everyone knows it, covering the city and life and everyone in it with tracing paper with a much more colorful, liberating, alternate one painted over it. This one, the superimposed layer, is accessible only by those who know.

 

And the beauty of it is how easy it is to arrive here.

If you’ve ever been moved by the color of pomegranates turning the skies above the cool afternoon summer breeze into flare, if you’ve ever looked up at the cool winter sun as it sets into a crisp February evening and wondered what that very sun looked like to someone else on the other end of the planet only a few hours ago, if you’ve simply ever admired its presence above you on the first day of Daylight Savings—for making you feel more alive, like you can take on the world and do just about anything you set your heart to, then you have experienced that arrival.

 

You’ve experienced what it feels like to be in the presence of something that you absolutely have no control over and to admire it for nothing more than its presence.

Its slow, kind, wise presence.

A presence that slows you down, softens your heart, and offers you a different perspective.

A presence that reminds you there’s no need to rush. Not now, not ever, really.

 

But its power and potential to awaken lie not merely in its existence, but instead, in the elusive nature of that existence.

It is beautiful because it’s temporary.

It is captivating because it’s fleeting.

 

We stop and watch the sunset because we know it is not going to last.

We appreciate every minute of it, every shade of orange, of pink, every hue as it descends further into the horizon, turning from pink to violet, from purple to blue.

We take in every shape it morphs into, and the speed at which it does so.

We watch—captivated. Mesmerized.

We are moved by it as much as we are, because of its short-lived nature.

We know it is momentary because we’ve experienced it the day before, the day before that, the day before that, and so on.

So, while there’s repetition in its briefness, each instance appears a small miracle, contained within itself and compared to no other.

 

We let it run its course on us because we know it will eventually fade away.

We know it will fade away, but we don’t know when.

We don’t know how.

Our only certainty lies in knowing that it’s here now, changing in front of our very eyes with each moment, ultimately shifting into nothingness.

 

We are moved by its unpredictability.

Its ultimate, unavoidable boundedness.

Its mortality.

 

Each time the sun sets into a line in the distance, completing its daily cycle, is a time that reminds us of the finiteness of things.

Of the weight of full stops.

The realness of mortality.

 

It’s its terminal life that reminds us of the terminability of our very own.

 

We look for the beauty in things we know are guaranteed to fade away.

We look not for things to fix in them, for parts to exchange, but for pieces to love.

We seek not their weaknesses, their messy sides, but the inherent beauty in them.

We don’t neglect them, but stop to acknowledge, to appreciate. To say, “I see you”.

 

We find beauty in things when we can anticipate their ends.

That’s why summer romances are so audacious, airport goodbyes so revealing, eulogies so poignant.

 

With its capacity to help us see the fairness, light, and virtue of things and people and places, the golden hour should be our guide in how to live our lives.

Our lives that are just as elusive, momentary, just as fleeting as the pinkness of the sky before it turns blue, and eventually black.

 

Our lives that are just as passing as the golden hour itself.

As extraordinary.

As delicate.

And just as beautiful.

short. two.

Time & Setting: We’re inside a subway station, so don’t really know what time of day it is.

There aren’t a lot of people around, so it’s either early in the morning, somewhat late at night, or a weird hour of the day when people aren’t commuting.

This is an older subway station because it just looks older, dirtier, dimmer, and leakier than most others.

The scene starts with the doors of the subway car opening up. The camera’s facing the doors, which means inside the car. We’re not necessarily looking at any particular person, but rather, around.

There’s an older man, tall, perhaps in his 60s, but perhaps younger who just happens to look older than he is. Black. Wearing a long, beige raincoat that seems to be a few sizes too large for him. Hair (both on his head and face) is messy; clearly hasn’t been washed or groomed in a while.

We hear the subway car doors close behind us as the conductor says (with absolute monotony of voice); “Brooklyn-bound R train, next stop-- Canal Street. Stand clear of closing doors.”

The second the doors close, the man standing up starts speaking with a very loud and deep voice, but one that has no hint of joie de vivre in it.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Hank and I’m a gospel singer. I lost my wife to cancer a year ago and then my home and job to drugs. Ladies and gentlemen, it is not my intention to bother you and I wish you all a safe journey home to your loved ones, but, ladies and gentlemen, I have been sober for two months and want to spread some joy today to all of you if you will let me. If you can spare some change or a bite to eat, I assure you it will go a long way. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen and may God bless you all.”

The camera does a scan of the car.

There’s a couple, clearly tourists, with their backpacks and a map in the guy’s hand, sitting ever so close to each other, taking it all in. They go back and forth between looking at the man (avoiding eye contact) and then around them to see other passengers’ reactions.

There’s a girl, Latina, perhaps early twenties, headphones plugged in, listening to loud music, tapping her feet, and texting at the same time.

A guy, also in his twenties, larger, Black, with his knees spread wide, resting elbows on thighs, with Beats by Dre headphones, listening to music and playing a game on his phone.

There’s an older woman, with a Trader Joe’s bag between her leg, who reaches into her pocket to take out a few coins.

A group of 3 girls, late teens, standing, holding onto a pole, and laughing and giggling amongst themselves. They’re in athletic gear, so must’ve just left soccer practice or something.

It’s as if the gospel singer isn’t there. He’s invisible. Tuned out.

All of a sudden, we hear him start to sing a familiar tune; “This Little Light of Mine”. His voice is indeed beautiful. Raspy, melancholic, a little wobbly at parts, but beautiful.

He starts to walk through the car, holding out an old baseball cap, turned upside down to collect whatever will be offered to him, singing.

 

Ev'ry where I go

I'm going to let it shine

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine”

 

The contrast between the joyful and optimistic lyrics of the song with the dark, forgotten, dirty, and somewhat pessimistic interiors of the train, coupled with the carelessness of the passengers is quite unsettling. Upsetting even.


 

to live

I’m from a country that’s been ruled by the same party for the last 13 years. In our case, that also means the same man. Each election he comes back, stronger than before and miraculously, with more supporters than before. No corruption scandal, no foreign policy fiasco, no hateful rhetoric has managed to slow him down.

Each time he gets on the balcony to deliver his victory speech, he’s more polarizing, more segregating than the previous time. The distinction he’s created between “them” and “us” is more apparent and obvious each time.

As part of the “them” group myself, I’ve experienced first-hand how it feels to be on the losing side, the side that’s cast aside by its own president, alienated, and oppressed.

This week, the US elected Donald Trump as their 45th President. Following the election, an air of grief took over New York City, where I reside.  The morning after, I myself, woke up in tears and called my mom who has always been the best at calming me down. I’ll repeat what she told me, as a few people I shared this with came back to me to tell me that it helped them too, as they tried to get through the week.

She told me to check myself, and to realize that regardless of who the US elects as their president, there will be no real threat to the overall regime. The United States of America will continue to be the United States of America, because the premise that this nation was built on exists independently of any man or woman who might serve as its Head at any given point in time. There will, undoubtedly, be significant differences between the US of A we know now and the one that Trump is most likely to create over the next four years, but fundamentally, there are things that he will not be able to change, regardless of how biased the House and the Senate and the Supreme Court collectively may be.

Why? Because The People still have a say in this country. And that’s what differentiates you, who live in the USA, from my mom and dad, who have to live in a country where speaking against the government through any means is made virtually impossible.

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are two of the most precious, sacred rights that we possess.

When you’re muted by a government that tracks and bans social media platforms, closes down opposition media sources (newspapers, TV channels…) and arrests journalists and reporters associated with those sources; that sends its police force to spray its own people with inhumane amounts of pepper spray and teargas, it creates a feeling of someone sitting on your chest and of not being able to do anything to make it better. That’s what it feels like to live in Turkey nowadays.

That, however, is not what it feels like to live in the USA. At least not yet. And even that is reason enough for all anti-Trump communities to stop playing martyr.

On Wednesday, I left work to walk home with my headphones plugged in. As I walked past Union Square, I was amazed by the number of people that were there, protesting and rejecting Trump’s election.  What was more amazing was that not a single police officer intervened. Rather, they had stepped aside to observe. It was quite chilly outside and the election had happened just a day before, but somehow, miraculously, tens of thousands of people had organized overnight to gather at the same place at the same time for the same cause. And there was no one stopping them.

As I continued to walk downtown just across the street from the protest area, I couldn’t help but smile. I suddenly had an incredible sensation of feeling alive. Of feeling human. Something about seeing so many people of different ages, sexes, sexual orientations, races, and ethnicities unite over strong feelings of patriarchy, anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-misogyny, and anti-“other” made me feel human again; unlike I had felt ever before during my time in the US. I knew that the presence of certain feelings, both negative and positive, often lead to bringing different groups of people together, but I had not witnessed the power that anti-feelings and rejections (rather than support) of feelings could have the same power.

Yes, America might have made one of the biggest mistakes of its life by electing a man like Trump as their next president. But they don’t say ‘every curse is a blessing in disguise’ for nothing. This is an opportunity unlike any other for Americans who care about the future of their country and the general wellbeing and safety of people in other countries around the world, to take a step back and look at themselves from a distance. Because, just as Khalil Gibran once wrote;

    “When you part from your friend, you grieve not;

     For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence,

     as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.”

It is a chance for America and Americans to stare their problems right in the eye and talk things through, instead of brushing things under the rug until the rug can no longer conceal the dirt beneath.

It’s a chance to wake up, shake it out, splash their faces with cold water, and get back to work. Throughout history, some of the greatest people came out and the greatest accomplishments took place during and after the darkest of times. The beauty of life is hidden in the struggles; we need things to fight for, values to stand by, and ideologies to defend in order to feel like we’re breathing, like we’re human. In fact, the only way to realize what the things we want to fight for, the values we stand by, and the ideologies we will defend are, is by having them questioned, challenged, and put into test. And what better time than the next four years to do just that?

The Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, who spent much of his life in exile in Russia, famously wrote:

                        You must feel the pain of this now,

                        You must feel the grief right now.

                        You must love this world so much

                        To be able to say ‘I lived’…”

The next four years are going to be far from easy. Not just for America, but for the rest of world too.

You (we) must feel the pain of this now,

You (we) must feel the grief right now.

You (we) must love this world so much

To be able to say ‘I lived’…

have you ever tried it?

It was almost seven years ago when I moved to the US. I was living in a shoebox of a dorm room in Philly. I had just moved away from home in Turkey to live by myself on the other side of the world, alone, for the first time in my life.

I had a mini-fridge in my room where I kept a few essentials like yogurt, milk, etc so I could have breakfast before leaving for class every morning. Back in Turkey, I was used to having a proper breakfast with cheese, bread, olives, tomatoes, and eggs, which had suddenly become a luxury that I realized I wouldn’t have access to for a while. My discovery of the cereal isle in American grocery stores made me forget about what I was missing out on, as I met my first true American crush: Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Each little square was like a gift from the food Gods; audibly crunchy with a sugary cinnamon coat that slowly melted away in your mouth after being soaked in milk.

Why would anyone want to eat anything else, I thought. I was going through one box every two days.

I probably don’t need to tell you how much weight I gained that first semester.

There was, however, one more, and actually much more long-term consequence of my love affair. I realized I was experiencing a bad stomachache after most breakfasts. I didn’t know what it was and for the longest time dismissed it as insignificant.

The problem went on for months afterward, which was when I decided to consult a doctor who told me it was most likely lactose intolerance, and that I should stop consuming dairy for a month to see if it made any difference.

Magically so, it did.

During that month, I had to find alternatives to dairy, which was a first for me because I had never had this problem before. You also couldn’t find almond, soy, or coconut milk readily in grocery stores in Turkey. At first, I couldn’t get used to the uniquely earthy taste of almond milk or the overpoweringly sweet taste of soy. I didn’t know anyone back home who consumed either and I continued to think my disappearing symptoms were a mere coincidence of timing.

Over time, I had to accept that the disturbance was a result of the dairy consumption after all, and I was doing obvious harm to my body by refusing to adapt and make a lifestyle change for the long term.

Almost 7 years later and now I can tell you why you should not drink soy if you’re a woman, why you should only drink home made almond milk, and why oat milk is actually a better alternative to either of the above. I feel much better and more energized, and can still enjoy a cup of regular cow’s milk when I’m back home in Turkey because my body works well with the way foods are processed there.

I just had to listen to my body. It was already telling me that I needed to make a change.

--

Today, Americans need to do the same.

On Tuesday, they are going to collectively make perhaps the most important decision they have ever made.

Trump vs. Clinton.

Republican vs. Democrat.

Man vs. Woman.

 

Dairy vs. Non-Dairy.

 

And they need, perhaps more than ever before, to listen to their bodies and pay attention to the symptoms. And not just their own, but of those who have shown and continue to show similar symptoms.

During all 240 years of its existence, the US has consumed dairy. In 2008, it tried a different flavor for the first time, and seemed to enjoy it. Nevertheless, that was still dairy.

But the US isn’t alone in its consumption habits.

Since the year 1900, there have only been 36 female presidents anywhere in the world and they came only from 26 unique countries.

There are 196 countries in the world today (give or take a few, depending on who you ask), which means that 170 of them have yet to elect or appoint a female president.

Since the year 1900, there have been 265 wars, collectively responsible for the death of 14,105,796 people. Wars that were started by male leaders.

In 2013, a global study on homicide by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime concluded that males accounted for about 96 percent of all homicide perpetrators worldwide.

96 percent. Let that sink in.

On Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index of 2015, the bottom 30 countries (ie. Top 30 most corrupt) are countries that have never had a female president. What’s even more interesting is that even in the same regions of the world with neighbouring countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, while countries that have never had female presidents are ranked bottom on the index (Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), those who currently have or in the past have had female presidents are ranked much higher (Kyrgyzstan).

Let’s look at the flipside.  

According to a Psychology Today article, women tend to be better at emotional empathy than men, which is the kind of empathy that fosters rapport and chemistry. People who excel in this specific kind make good teachers and group leaders because they can sense how others are reacting in any given moment.

In a study conducted by the Boston-based trading platform Quantopian, researchers compared performances of Fortune 1000 companies that had female CEOs between 2002 and 2014 with S&P 500’s performance during the same years. The results showed that the 80 women CEOs during those 12 years produced equity returns 226% better than the S&P 500. There are many explanations as to why this might have been the case. One, according to the Product Manager at Quantopian, has to do with “how hard women have to work to become CEOs at such large companies in the first place.” The same applies to aspiring female presidents.

--

The world has collectively been suffering throughout centuries. It’s been suffering from stomachaches but refusing to consider the causes. Or worse yet, accepting, settling, and enduring them.

There are a few countries that have tasted almond, soy, and oat milk, but their experiences are unfortunately not common enough to apply the law of large numbers to, and draw generalized conclusions from.

On the other hand, we have more than enough sample size to claim that we’ve given male leaders a try and they’ve given the whole world one big, everlasting stomachache in return.

Perhaps switching to oat milk will not solve the problem. Perhaps the problem isn’t an intolerance we’ve developed against dairy to begin with, but one against gluten. But we’ve got to try the more obvious, common sense, doctor-recommended alternative first, before considering other causes (and relevant remedies). If you go to the doctor with a persistent headache, she will not start by checking your lungs first. Perhaps you have a rare disorder that causes something in your lungs to give you a headache, but it would be stupid of the doctor to assume so and start treating you accordingly.

The US has never tried a dairy alternative. Perhaps oat milk will not cure all of its discomforts, but it sure is a good place to start.

I’m not making a case for feminism for feminism’s sake. Perhaps the conversation would be different if Hillary was running against someone much less caricaturized, much less extreme in his rhetoric, and much more comparable to her in experience and qualifications. However, the fact that he isn’t any of those things makes the case for oat milk one that’s much easier to stand behind.

Why not bet on something that has much fewer risks, that has proven successful in other countries, and that you know pretty much all the side effects to?

Yes, Hillary was involved in an email scandal. But she was also cleared of the charges after the FBI reviewed all evidence against her. Twice.

She comes in an FDA approved milk carton with the nutritional values and all possible side effects openly listed in the back.

Donald, on the other hand, has lawsuits from workers he hasn’t paid, multiple bankruptcies (concerning for someone whose proudest accomplishment, besides being Ivanka’s father, is being a “successful” businessman), a huge question mark regarding his income tax payments, statements he stands by dictating what a woman should do with her body (even though he’s a father to two young women), openly expressed hatred towards religious, ethnic, and national minorities, amongst many other, possibly lethal side effects.

This is not even a fair comparison.

The FDA hasn’t properly run tests on him yet. If you choose to go with regular milk that’s been sitting out for a few days, you consume at your own risk, as well as the risk of everyone in your family who you might potentially be poisoning.

The world already has a bad stomachache. It also has heartache, headache, throat ache, toothache, poor circulation, and growing pains.

The decision that Americans make on Tuesday will have the power to advance or worsen the overall wellbeing not just of their own country, but that of the world.

It’s a crucial one.

And I, for one, think it’s the perfect opportunity to give oat milk a chance, despite how weird it might sound (and taste) at first.

Especially when the alternative is guaranteed diarrhea.

short. one.

INT. MODERN NYC STUDIO APARTMENT – DAY

The apartment sits in silence and darkness, lit only by the cloudy sunlight coming in through the windows. The main door opens, a girl walks in.

THE CAMERA ONLY SEES HER FEET.

She's wearing some worn out, but classic sneakers and simple socks inside. She slowly, casually, but confidently walks towards the camera and stops, facing the left, just a few inches away from the camera. We hear the sound of keys being placed on the table. Then, we hear the sound of speakers being turned on.

"Slow Swing and 'Sweet Jazz Music'" starts playing (2:05).

She takes off her shoes by stepping on their backs, then socks (one by one, lifting her feet), then turns away from the camera and walks away. After she disappears out of view, we hear the sound of the water in the shower being turned on. After a few moments, the girl comes back, barefoot, and this time, puts water in the kettle to boil. She turns the kettle on and walks away again.

THE CAMERA CAN ONLY SEE HER FEET, FROM A FIXED POINT, THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE PROCESS.

After a few moments, we hear the shower water sound switching from the faucet to the shower head in the background.

BLACKOUT.

We can still hear the shower in the distance and the jazz music & boiling water in the foreground. 

business cards

I get handed a plethora of business cards each day. Before starting in my current role, I hadn’t really thought about business cards, what they mean and what they symbolize, but now I know that they have a whole world of their own. They communicate something about who their owners are, but perhaps more importantly, carry a sociological significance with all the underlying hints about the owner’s socioeconomic status and values that are cherished by him or her. It’s not just the card itself, with the material it’s made out of, the size, shape, font, colors, weight and thickness, but also the way that it’s carried and presented, that speak worlds about its owner.

It’s an accessory that we don’t think about as being one. Just like what your watch or wallet or socks say about you (or the lack thereof of any of those), your business card says just as much, if not more.

In my experience, there are four types of people in the world, or rather, in New York, as New York is not a very representative sample for making generalizations for the rest of the world.

The first type is characterized by the typical Midtown guy in a charcoal suit, white shirt and striped navy and charcoal tie with black leather shoes and a black leather briefcase. The business card for this type is a traditional thin white cardboard material with a logo of the bank or consulting firm, and then the owner’s name, title, and basic contact information. The color scheme is nothing that stands out; grey tones or dark shades of colors like blue, green and red, to communicate scholarliness, business-savvy, and professionalism. Usually, these types of business cards are handed in a very “Fordist” fashion; as just another step in the process that one needs to follow, after having met someone else in a professional setting. The card does not say much about its owner (it’s not even clear who the owner is; the person handing it out or the company for which that person works), and the owner is aware of this. So, it’s usually handed in a less than ceremonial gesture at the end of a meeting.

The second type is the “corporate creative”, characterized by a downtown/gentrified Brooklyn executive from a more creative industry than the one described above-- most likely in advertising or media/production. The guy in this category knows what’s expected of him as someone in a “Creative” industry and dresses accordingly to express this awareness; a navy blazer (sometimes with a colorful handkerchief in the front pocket) with either a white t-shirt or button-down, fitted jeans, a pair of socks that are either neon orange or covered in two-colored polka dots to indicate a sense of humor and not-taking-one’s self-too seriously sort of attitude, completed with leather boots.

The business card for this second type is a bit trickier to explain, as there are usually significant levels of variation. One common thread, however, is the name of the company, which is usually a play on words or a combination of two words that have absolutely nothing to do with each other; Salt + Swing, Caviar Monkey, Original Derivative, etc (none of these are real companies, I just made them up for the purpose of demonstrating). The logos are usually whimsical and purposefully childish or extremely minimalistic, depending on the name. The color scheme matches the philosophy behind its owner’s outfit; carrying hints of “fun”ness (perhaps a fuschia logo), with an innate sense of corporateness (everything else is in black, Helvetica or Helvetica-like font). The thickness usually varies; some cards have three layers, the middle one being fuschia to match the logo. Such cards are usually presented with a not-so-discreet sense of pride in the uniqueness of the card, typically manifested with a small side-smile, a brief pause before handing it over to elevate suspense, or in some cases, an overt statement about how interesting the card is, followed with one of the above.

The third category is the truly creative individual who realizes that a business card is a helpful tool for anyone trying to put himself out there in the commercial world, but wants to hold onto his creativity and express it via a piece of material that has to be small enough to fit inside someone else’s wallet. Typically residing somewhere along the J or F trains, these guys can be seen wearing black pants and a baggy white t-shirt with a pair of old Nikes, flannel from his grandpa’s wardrobe, with frames that were found in a vintage store and repurposed, and some simple jeans and CATS boots, or a vintage bomber from the 80s, simple pants and a white shirt. His card reflects the creative, rebellious, not-abiding-by-the-norms side of him; usually of irregular dimensions (short and wide) and/or shape (square instead of rectangular), covered with a print of the owner’s choice and perhaps an irregular placement of text (skewed to one corner of the card). The way these cards are handed over is almost always with a no-big-deal attitude, drawn from the owner’s awareness that the card will speak for itself.

The fourth category is the I-don’t-give-a-f*** about business cards card, also known as the no-card. These cards are usually carried by people who see no point in owning them and of course, who do not work for an organization that requires its team members to have and carry them. This is a truly independent soul who doesn’t give a damn about certain societal norms such as the one on having and exchanging business cards, and will do the work of the card himself. He can wear whatever the fuck he wants, and will call/email you himself if he needs something from you, so doesn’t feel the need to present you a piece of material that he knows you’re going to throw out a minute after he walks away.

Now, I know that I initially mentioned there were four categories. This week, however, I met someone who didn’t fit into any of the categories described above. His name is Julian Crouch and he is the mind behind the ideation, creation, and execution of-- for the lack of a better phrase-- a puppet show named Birdheart.

Birdheart was one of the most touching, hopeful, inspiring pieces of work I’ve seen lately, and witnessing someone so passionate and in love with a craft so niche and so specifically defined was incredibly inspiring, to say the least.

That evening, Julian was wearing jeans and a baggy shirt, his grey hair and beard groomed enough to make him look put-together, but not enough to call him “sharp”. At the end of his performance, he grabbed a stool and started taking audience questions. He was so humble, so serene, and down to earth. In response to being asked about his next plans for the piece, he said his goal was to take it to a much more challenging environment and play for people who have no source of fun or access to entertainment, and who are, perhaps, the ones who deserve and need it the most.

Being from a country that’s currently home to the largest Syrian refugee population, I immediately wanted to talk to him about bringing the piece all the way to Turkey and about having him perform in areas highly populated by refugees, as that would not only help satisfy Julian’s goal, but also serve as a remarkable source of joy in the lives of kids and parents whose main and most important task has become to stay alive.

Seeing Julian not just perform with such vigour, heart, soul, and a visibly burning flame in his heart, but also his genuine interest in bringing this phenomenal piece to an audience that would soak it in with as much passion as the dry desert soil soaks in the rain, was already enough to bring me to the verge of tears. But then, something else happened.

I approached Julian and talked about Turkey; the lost art and tradition of shadow puppetry (which he, of course, already knew about), the Syrian refugee crisis, and the possibility of bringing Birdheart there. As we were speaking, a pool of people surrounded us for a chance to congratulate him. At that moment, Julian uttered the magic phrase; “let me give you my business card…”.

He reached for his back pocket; one of the most practical, pragmatic, and unpretentious places to carry business cards. Even though I knew it wasn’t going to be something pretentious, I still couldn’t stop myself from wondering what this enormously talented, creative, and successful man’s card would look like.

It was at that point that I was handed a “card” in traditional dimensions, but made out of a frail brown paper material with just the word BIRDHEART written in all-CAPS, followed by three email addresses. No names, no logos, no phone numbers. No fancy three-tiered, demagnetizing materials. It was clear what the card’s purpose was; a means for Julian to spread the word about the show, without trying to send three thousand subliminal messages along with it. He didn’t even have a website to direct people to, and so the “card” (though “paper” would be a more appropriate term in this case) is the only physical document that links him to Birdheart.  

--

I throw away 99% of the business cards I receive right after my meeting is over because I already have the email address of everyone I want and need to stay in touch with. I don’t need anyone’s statement-making stationery that’s trying too hard, in order to be reminded of them.

I couldn’t throw out Julian’s.

While emptying out my bag at home that evening, I blindly reached inside and grabbed ahold of something that felt like a piece of the paper bag from lunch. I pulled it out, only to see BIRDHEART written on it. The simplicity of it hadn’t struck me amongst the chaos of work, but it certainly did in the calm stillness of my apartment. And I immediately started crying.

That card was the most beautiful and melancholic symbol of our societal and perhaps even global, values. The man who lives and breathes his work and feels it in every cell in his body is the one who has the most modest, understated of cards, and uses it mainly to sustain his existence and that of his work, in the world.

The card says it all.

Makers, creators, and thinkers have simple cards; they tell you, at first glance, that their owner knows his work is something bigger than himself, and should therefore take up more space on paper and in the world. Most other cards are simply too intentional. Too self-aware. Too constructed. Too conceited.

The world, unfortunately, is mostly made up of the latter; the type of card that ends up costing you way too much to customize and print.

That’s precisely why it is so very special to find the few fragile, pragmatic ones that don’t make a fuss about themselves, but instead, simply… exist.

 

lessons on loss

(Originally published on 3/29/16 on littleredridingwoolf.blogspot.com)

The past couple of weeks have been challenging.

First, my hometown Ankara became the victim of a terrorist attack, which claimed the lives of 30 innocent people.

Three weeks later, a separate attack killed 37 more, right in the heart of the city. As the names of the victims were revealed one by one, what used to be mere statistics slowly turned into faces and stories. Stories of people just like you, just like me, who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Then, just a few days ago, Brussels got hit by the same source. And Sunday, Lahore.

For this or that reason, which is a discussion for another day and another blog post, the effects of the Brussels attack created a much larger ripple effect, and once again, spurred a wider conversation about terrorism, and what it means to be human, and how these are attacks not on just one nation or one group of people, but rather on humanity.

***

There's a famous quote by Harper Lee; "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."

I think this quote speaks to a widespread human condition of not being able to appreciate the things we have, all the things going well in our lives, the important things that have the potential of keeping us together as the human race.

It wasn't until someone blew himself and 32 others up, that we started reciting the phrases we've heard time and again.

"We need to stick together as...", "My heart goes out to..." and more.

It wasn't until our global safety, security, and perhaps most importantly, sense of humanity reached the verge of extinction that we started (or re-started) conversations about what it means to be human and the need to stick together during times of dismay, just like the one that we're currently in.

It isn't until we lose something, that we realize how essential that thing that we lost was to our being.

***

Throughout the week, I find myself getting lost in my mind, overthinking the smallest things, complaining or venting about work, about living in the city, about the difficulty of meeting someone, the difficulty of this, the difficulty of that.

I do try to be mindful. If I'm lucky enough to catch myself doing it, chances are, I'll give myself a reality check. The tricky part is that I am unable to catch myself each time I fall into this vortex, which is when it becomes a problem. Sometimes, it takes someone else to snap me out of it. Most of the time though, it requires a conscious effort on my part.

Friends who are about to move out of NY serve as a good example. Knowing that they will soon be leaving the city, they create bucket lists of all the things they want to do, to see, to taste, to hear. All the things they haven't experienced while still living here for an indeterminate amount of time. Now, knowing that their time left here is finite with a foreseeable end date, they suddenly want to take advantage of the island that they'd been living on, without fully immersing themselves in it.

It isn't until we lose something that we realize its importance to our being.

***

It isn't until we lose something that we realize its importance to our being. But, there are some lessons we can learn from others who have lost (or perhaps never even possessed) things that the majority of us hold so dear, without having to go through the experience of losing them ourselves. Through the sharing of the loss or absence of such things, we may be able to help each other. 

***

Last week, I met Zach Anner, an award-winning comedian who's hosted shows on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Soulpancake, as well as his own YouTube channel. 

Zach was born with cerebral palsy, which, at first, sounds like a big obstacle that would get in anyone's way of accomplishing even the most basic tasks during a typical day. This isn't the case for Zach.

Meeting him was one of the most inspirational interactions I've had in a long time. It made me realize two very important things.

The first takeaway was that there are very few things in the world that are true limitations. Most things we think are limitations are limitations because we believe them to be so.

Zach says that his inability to hide the fact that he's committed to a wheelchair is actually a strength, not a weakness. He says that there's something in each one of us that we try to hide from the rest of the world, as we put versions of ourselves that we'd like to be or think others would like us to be out into the world. This is not a criticism, but rather an observation about a very human tendency that majority of us share.

While growing up, the thing that Zach wanted to hide used to be his wheelchair for a long time. Perhaps the most relieving moment in his life was when he came to terms with the fact that he was never going to be able to hide the chair. Therefore, he decided to embrace it and teach the rest of the world that Zach Anner came with a wheelchair. Accepting what he used to consider as an obstacle to be part of his identity, Zach felt liberated.

Accepting that he will likely never appear on the cover of GQ freed him of all the noise out in the world telling him to look a certain way, to eat a certain way, and exercise a certain way.

Hearing him speak, I had a moment of clarity in realizing that most of the so-called limitations and obstacles I feel imposed upon me are actually imposed upon me because I choose to let them be so.

I, not anyone else, have the power to decide what can and cannot have that influence on me.

We, the people who want to live in a safer, more humane, more just world, have the power to dictate the dialogue on what direction we're headed towards. We can't do that if we're sensitive to only the pains of a certain group of people living in a certain part of the world. Superficial, hypocritical, surface-level concerns will not do. I'm not saying we have the power to end terrorism on a global scale, which would be a naive claim to make. I am saying, however, that the reason why these attacks are so scary, powerful, and "successful" is that the people carrying them are attached to each other and truly, deeply, and fully devoted to the cause. Call this Pollyannaish, but I believe that if feelings of hatred have the power to bring about such terror, feelings of empathy have a much bigger power to bring about change in the opposite direction.

 

The second takeaway, which is more a reminder, was about adjusting my attitude towards daily struggles.

Zach told us a story of the time he skydived, which he described so eloquently that it landed a permanent place in my heart. He was going through a rough couple of weeks at the time he decided to jump off a plane miles above ground. A few seconds after jumping, he got to that point where it felt like he was floating mid-air and suddenly, everything around him became silent. He looked down to see the streets and trees and houses and lakes, all tiny, all perfectly aligned within the larger landscape. He found it amazing how problems that seemed too huge to deal with just a few minutes ago, suddenly seemed so unimportant in the greater scheme of things. He realized that at the end of the day, things usually work out; and even when they don't, Nature (or whatever else you want to call that "thing") has a way of helping us until, ultimately, we find a way to work them out.

I haven't quite figured out how this fits into the snapshot of the world that I've tried to take earlier in this post. Perhaps, it's my way of telling myself that we are currently at the part where we just boarded the plane with all of our concerns and worries and frustrations. Perhaps, the clarity that comes when we jump off, is just around the corner. Perhaps, there's a better interpretation. I'm not sure.

I am, however sure of a few things. I'm thankful to be alive, to be in a healthy body with a healthy mind, to be living in one of the most exciting cities in the world, to be able to come home to a warm home at the end of each day, and to have people I love, care about, and love and care about me in my life.

***

I know I said it isn't until we lose something that we realize its importance to our being, but perhaps I was wrong. I realize the importance of all the things that I just listed up there, and I am so very thankful that they are still mine to claim.

an ode to ' home '

(Originally published on 1/7/16 on littleredridingwoolf.blogspot.com)

Saying goodbye at the airport gets me every time. I try to hold back my tears because I have a wonderful mom who’ll cry ten times as much as me if she sees me do it first.

But one thing I realized today as I walked towards the plane and away from the airport is that it’s not only the exchange of byes and hugs (we try to keep this part as casual as possible as per a long-standing request I made from my parents) that creates a knot in my throat and an ache inside the bridge of my nose as I prepare to leave. It’s something much bigger than that.

Allow me to explain.

Earlier today, when I walked into the lounge at the domestic departures segment of the airport, the first thing I saw was six TV screens placed next to each other, all showing different people from the government (not a single channel that’s known for its opposition was on). The second thing I saw were a group of magazines, stacked upright and next to each other so as to display the cover page. Right there on the cover were the faces of Obama and Erdogan, with the title “The Best of 2015” written in all caps Turkish.  I could feel my face changing as my anger levels increased quite tremendously and in a very recognizable fashion.

When I’m in New York, I don’t actively think about the unfortunate absurdities going on back home. I know that they’re there, but it’s much easier for me to avoid being stressed, annoyed, and angry, as there aren’t constant reminders of such things in my day-to-day life. Moreover, even though New York is not known for being home to the politest people in the world, it’s still an epitome of civilization, and you can expect basic manners such as respect towards people’s personal spaces, not cutting others in line, and so on and so forth to be present majority of the time.

It is mostly when I land in Istanbul and get off the plane that things start bothering me about my own country and that I express the highest level of disappointment that I don’t feel like I belong here. It is when I get in line at passport control and someone decides to drag their entire family in front of me, when cars don’t give priority to pedestrians in traffic, and when drivers have absolutely no patience and start honking the second the light turns yellow that I feel isolated and alienated from my own country and my own people.

It’s when I read in the news that the President of my country dreams of having the powers that Hitler once had, when a man’s mother gets killed in the Southeast because the government doesn’t care for the civilian Kurds living in that region and her sons have to take turns watching from 150 meters away to make sure vultures or dogs don’t pick at her body (since they can’t pick her body up because the first person who tried to do that also got shot and killed), when the Ministry of Religion releases an official statement on its website stating that it’s a sin for Muslims to marry people from other religions (and somewhat more acceptable to marry people of other denominations of Islam), when the President openly threatens a journalist who revealed news that he’d been sending weaponry to rebels in Syria and that journalist later gets thrown in jail with a life sentence without even a trial, that I feel a terrible frustration build up inside my chest.

That frustration becomes even stronger when I talk to people who support this President and his government because he’s so strong and powerful and brave for shooting down a Russian jet (little do they know the million ways in which he conflicted with his own words after the incident saying that he wouldn’t shoot down the plane if he knew it belonged to Russia, and then going out to the public and making a statement that he would do the same thing if the situation re-presented itself), that he made the healthcare system much better (untrue, as even though people can see a generalist more easily, if they have a more serious problem that requires them to see a specialist and perhaps get surgery, they cannot see some of the best doctors who work in government hospitals anymore as their insurance no longer covers it (and much, much more problems that I’ve heard from patients and doctors both), that he made the education system much better (completely false as the introduction of the 4+4+4 system made things much more difficult for families of lower income as they can now enroll their kids in middle schools only within their own neighborhood, which creates a cycle (or rather, trap) of poverty or, alternatively, encourages bribery). It makes me so sad and mad that half of our country’s population lack the urge or need or skill to think and question things, but that a large portion of that half uses empty reasons lacking any sort of reasonable basis to defend this President and his government.

It is when I get in arguments with such people or watch them talk their heads off on TV that I feel more and more removed from them, and less and less like I belong here.

But then again, there are moments that make me feel the exact opposite emotions.

Every time my parents and Baskan (my dog brother) drive me to the airport and we say goodbye at the domestic departures security checkpoint, every time I take a last sip from my black tea in a traditional Turkish tea glass or a final spoonful of lentil soup at the airport in Istanbul before heading to my gate; every time I go to our favorite seafood restaurant with my parents and the waiter knows exactly what we want and when we want it; when me and my mom go to the hairdresser who’s been cutting her hair since 1985 and mine since I was old enough to get haircuts and talk to him about his kids; when we go to get my dad’s shoes repaired or my mom’s necklace adjusted and know each of those people by name and their families by name and if their wife has healed after her chemotherapy; every time I come home and wash Baskan and hear my mother tongue being spoken in the background on TV; every time we watch daytime programming with my grandma when we visit her for a cup of Turkish coffee; every time we see an old apartment building that was left untouched as we drive around town with my mom, I feel a swerve of delightfully positive emotions that make my heart feel full of warmth, love, happiness, and a sense of belonging.

I feel happy to know that there are people who still care about this country, about each other; who remember what its like to be neighbors and friends and to be there for another who may benefit from solely the other’s presence, even if we can’t do anything else to help them. And every time I take a final look outside the window of the airplane and make a wish to return here on happy days, for happy reasons, and not too late at that, I feel that I’m leaving pieces of my heart here with the people and places I love; the ones who have made and continue to make me who I am; and that I’m taking pieces of their hearts with me in return.

A few hours ago, I was listening to Fazil Say’s “Nazim, Op. 12/1”, a piece he composed for Nazim Hikmet, one of the most amazing poets in the world in my opinion, who led a long part of his life in exile as he was accused of being a communist. Say is without doubt, one of the most gifted musicians of our time, and it makes me proud beyond words that he’s ours to take credit for. Not because we’ve made him who he is (in fact, most of his concerts are getting canceled in Turkey today because the Ministry of Culture doesn’t support him as he is known for speaking very openly against the government and Erdogan), but because despite his universal fame and the difficulties he faces in trying to perform here at home, he composes pieces dedicated to people and places and to other works of art from his own country. His wonderful pieces smell like home and somehow only the good parts of what I think of, when I think of Turkey as home.

I was listening to Fazil and watching the traffic in Istanbul as I walked towards my gate. It was then that I realized what it feels like to miss someone, to miss a place, before even having left them yet.

And it was then that I realized that there is no other country like this and no other country that I’d rather be from. The people ruling it today sometimes make it hard to see all of its beauty, but no dictator in the history of the world who has caused this much pain for others has had a happy ending. This one (and his clan) is no exception.

Ultimately, I know that I’ll come home and see faces on TV that are good for the world to see and hear voices on the radio that are good for the world to hear, and I’ll take a deep, calming breath knowing that we live in a place that we feel like we belong in; a place that we identify with.

Despite all, this is where my heart feels whole. Despite all, this is home. And I know that good things happen to good people. And finally, I know that my people are good.