dear Turkish men

31 08 2010

19 August 2010

Istanbul, Turkey

When I was in Italy, I didn’t think anybody could be more charming than Italian men. That was before I came to Turkey.

I’ve had the same conversation so many times that I’ll just sum it up here:

“Hello, Lady. Where are you from? Russia? America? I like you. What is your name? Wow, you have beautiful eyes!”

“Thank you. Are you trying to sell me something? Where do you think I’m from?”

“I like you. Where are you staying?”

“I’m staying around here.”

“Which hotel? What’s your hotel room?”

“Why do you need to know that?

“Only interested in making people happy and making new friends.”

Riiight. Oh, but why don’t I trust it? Just like the Doors song, “Hello, I love you. Won’t you tell me your name?” Over and over and over again. And much more pushy.

My non-committal replies usually get some over-the-top comebacks the next time around.

“I wait half hour for you, you never come.” Or, “I made dinner for you, you never come,” neither of which I trust all that much.

However, my favorite was just the other day. After expressing a bit of mistrust as yet another man sidled up to me on the road and stuck to me like a fly on flypaper, he said, “Don’t worry, I’m vegetarian, I don’t eat people.”

Turkish men are very charming. Self-proclaimed clever bastards. Case in point, the most interesting character had to be Mehmet, the leather and carpet dealer.

As I was walking toward the Blue Mosque yesterday, an older man approached me.

“Excuse me? Excuse me?”

I kept walking.

“Excuse me? You want enter mosque?”

“Yes,” as I kept walking.

“You must hurry before prayers. Only a few minutes. Here, I show you the entrance. Where are you from?”

“Oh, thank you, I’m from the States.”

“Which part?”

“I’m from Utah.”

“Are you Mormon?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Ah, my Mormon sister!! So many things similar your religion and mine!” as he grabbed my hand. “Here, I’m not a guide, but I show you.”

He took me to the front of the line and explained different parts of the mosque, and how the sultan in 1609 wanted to build some sort of monument but the woman he loved, Ayse (sounds like I-sheh), didn’t want to lose the huge flower garden that was already on the piece of land. He promised her if she consented, the monument would be full of flowers. She consented and now flowers are everywhere—on the tiles, doors, carpet, and outside.

Then my new “guide” took me around the back to the faucets and explained how Muslims wash themselves in preparation for prayer: three times each hand, three times the face, each ear, top of head then neck, then each foot. It was so interesting and I loved the more hands-on lesson. But then I asked to take a picture with him and he started calling me “Sweetie” and “Honey,” both with a cackle and a REALLY tight squeeze. It got weirder and the squeezes got tighter and tighter.

“We spend one or two hours together, okay? Happy time.”

I should have backed out, thanked him for the impromptu tour, and high-tailed it out of there, but he invited me to see his leather and carpet shops nearby with the lie of a condition (“You don’t have to buy, just see.”). He was getting squirrelly, but he had also been very kind, so I decided to take a gander at his shops.

Both shops were beautiful (exquisite carpets!), nevertheless he seemed genuinely pissed when I did nothing but admire and ooh and ahh at things while sipping the apple tea offered to me. He gently kicked me out with his business card in hand and a bad taste in my mouth and the first real rancor in my heart at having to deal with this again and again.

The only trouble with being raised by really kind and generous parents is that you sort of just see other demonstrations of kindness and generosity as just that: kindness and generosity given from the goodness of someone’s heart. Nothing more, nothing less, with nothing attached, and you have the same willingness inside to do the same should an opportunity arise. Here, in Istanbul, the clever friendliness is appreciated and surprisingly familiar (somehow echoes of it distilled over generations, which in part explains my dad’s amazing example of not just, for example, giving directions but going 100% beyond and walking them there and handing them a freshly-made apple pie with a container of some homemade ice cream to enjoy once they arrive). There is something so beautiful and familiar about it, even when it feels a bit forced upon you. However, the attached strings and demand for money in return are so not appreciated.

Dear Turkish men (especially you businessmen), why must you give your great city a bad name and leave me with a bad taste (sometimes literally) in my mouth?

in front of the Blue Mosque

Istanbul in the background


inside the Blue Mosque

top of the chandelier holding three ostrich eggs meant to repel spiders and spiderwebs, with flowers on the tiles

flowers on carpet

tight squeeze from my impromptu guide. me starting to look uncomfortable.

sundial, visible as you enter the courtyard

tighter (see how uncomfortable I'm looking?)

even tighter (bleh!)

outside of Blue Mosque

a man in devil "horns" selling angel "halos" outside the Blue Mosque during Ramadan--a fitting example of my experience with devilishly-clever-but-appearing-angelic Turkish men


Italy: A country that cracked open the sky

25 08 2010

Italy is magical for me. And I don’t use that word lightly. But it is magical. I love the vibe, the food, the basic aesthetic sense (which at its lowest is nothing short of excellence even to the point of extravagance at times), and the devotion to and delight taken in pleasurable goodness in life. Milano, Venezia, Bellagio, Ascone, Sirmione…they’re all a bit magical. However, no city—non citta’—is quite as magical for me as Firenze, or Florence, is.

For being as small of a country as it is and as disjointed its history as a country has been, Italy has produced more than its fair share of geniuses. And not just plain old geniuses, if there is such a thing. These are geniuses that have changed the direction and consciousness and awareness of the entire world, geniuses that helped crack open the sky to let in more light.

Why, then, should it be any surprise that here in the navel and birthplace of the Italian Renaissance—where the level of consciousness was elevated and enlightened, where the beauty and precision of the human body was understood and accepted and venerated—why should it be any surprise that I would feel so inspired and so much more comfortable in my own skin?

me on bridge

on the Ponte Vecchio bridge

against the Florentine skyline

Arno river

Il David

25 08 2010

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Il David, L’Academia, Firenze, Italia

After a few minutes of looking at the exquisitely gorgeous sculpture of David by Michelangelo, it’s hard not to sense a sort of anima existing in the stone, only stealthily covered by creamy marble (like a thick layer of theater makeup), and to see him almost breathing. It’s also not hard to think of some benighted angel peeling herself off a nearby canvas, hovering above David’s head and gently kissing his cheek, like Pinocchio, with a spark that ignites a deep change, turning him, finally, into a real boy who then—unassuming and subtle—takes one of the stones in his hand, places it in his slingshot, and then with his brow still furrowed and intense, aims and lets it fly with an unearthly hurl of power.


photos were restricted, but i couldn't help but sneak a couple shots





25 08 2010

17 July – 1 August 2010

Let me just preface this. What follows is not the most beautiful essay or entry I’ve ever written or the most clear piece of work. Traveling and practicing being in the moment sort of preclude me from delving much deeper into this to really flesh it out right now, but what matters most to me is the internal impact this has on me. And it is immense.


I bought some gold bangles today while on a school trip in Lucerne, Switzerland.

They’re such a small thing, really. Thin, shiny, gold circles that clink and leave bits of gold specks on my arms and clothes, making me look like I’ve just been visited by Tinkerbell.

But it marked a bit of a turning point for me and here’s why.

My favorite color was never pink. Never. Actually, I have always had trouble choosing just one favorite color because (as I’ve always said) I simply love color. Period. Except, usually, for pink. It’s only in the last few years that I have developed an affinity for the color. I don’t mind it now; in fact, it can be really lovely, especially when paired with gold or purple or orange. I like it. But I’ve always loved red.

Red always spoke to me, even as a child, of strength and of all sorts of other things I couldn’t name. But I felt guilty liking a color so much that was always associated with sin and murder and passion. So I quit it. I quit my love affair with red many years ago.

Or so I thought. Recently, the spark has returned and I am drawn to it. (And it looks better than ever on me!) I bought a red dress for the first time and there are weeks when it’s all I want to wear, but I must go slowly. The honeymoon phase will inevitably end, but I don’t want the affair to end again, so a bit of restraint is in order.

A few months ago, I was at lunch with a friend eating some delicious Indian food and I was telling her about two international job opportunities that interested me—one in Taiwan and the other in Istanbul. Both seemed like great opportunities. She had also worked in Asia before, and after telling her my difficulty in deciding where to go, she firmly suggested Istanbul because “Asia is like a cool color. Istanbul seems like a warm-colored place, like you.”

Which reminds me of the time I was out with a friend and colleague. He and I have a lot in common and during this lunch date, he was (I think) tossing around the idea of dating me, but at the end of out great time together, he said, “You need someone who is passionate. I’m not.” Whether or not he really was considering going out with me, he was right, and (although I hadn’t really thought about it before) I knew it the moment he said it.

So let’s talk colors. There are warm colors (browns, reds, oranges, yellows, certain shades of green) and cool colors (most greens, blues, purples, grays, blacks). You can have different shades and undertones in these colors that make them warmer or cooler, but generally speaking half the color wheel is warm while the other half is cool.

I have worn too many cool colors in my lifetime. I confess that I love black because it’s classic, chic, easy to match, and (let’s be honest) it doesn’t easily show sweat marks. But recently, I just can’t wear it. I try some mornings and I put it on while getting ready, but inevitably I take it off. It just doesn’t feel right.

But my friends are right: I AM a warm-toned person and I have been hiding in cool-tones for too long.

So you see, buying the gold bangles (I always chose silver before) was a big step and a turning point for me. I like the bangles. I like the gold next to my skin. No, I love the bangles and I LOVE the gold bangles with my red dress.

A couple of weeks before I came to work in Europe this summer, a healer said to me, “As you improve your relationship with yourself, your relationships with others will improve.”

I believe she’s right.

It’s like the sea and my hair. My hair has never been straight or easy to manage, especially in a dry climate, and I’ve always felt at war, in a way, with the nature of my hair. Generations back in my family, people were ashamed of their curls. Didn’t know what to do with them. Were always self-conscious about them. Tried to get rid of them. For me, my “nature” was just wrong and something to be ashamed about. I didn’t know, however, just how curly my hair could be until I lived by the sea. Here, on the edge of the Caribbean Sea, there is no use fighting it. It’s completely futile…and quite liberating.

How could I completely be happy with someone unless I’m not at war with myself?

And so, my happy gold bangle purchase was small, but it has taken me around (just as one may follow their perfect curves) to a new but key epiphany.

I know what happened to me now.

MIA: Emotional safety—enough to be and show when I was happy; vulnerability—a safe space and a safe person to tell how I was really feeling and thinking. These are what I was missing while growing up and they are what have shaped me more than almost anything else.

I knew at age seven there were certain people I couldn’t trust or rely on for help. Actually, there were really only one or two people I felt I could trust, but even then it wasn’t all the time. I grew up very comfortable in melancholy and criticism and for years have wondered why being happy and smiley and showing that I was happy gave me anxiety and made me sweat.

I fought against everything and everyone that was really meant to protect and secure and create safety for me. I didn’t feel it and when it seemed offered I didn’t trust it. Couldn’t trust it. I always wanted to, and well, I did run away from it whenever and however I could.

This body has known such terror and fear, such self-consciousness, such terrible comparisons, such discomfort, such fight, such battle and war and criticism and despising of my own nature. This body has felt such insecurity and unease—more than most people in my life know—and this body and mind have felt such entrapment in the condition of distrust.

A colleague and I were recently discussing whether it was easier for us to give or to receive. For her, receiving is easier, and her graciousness and class and calm are evidence of that gift. For me, I said, giving is much easier because deep down I am so clearly aware that I have heaps and heaps to give and I enjoy it (sort of like the way a sea needs a river outlet to keep it alive), but also because deep down I also just don’t really trust that anyone else truly understands or is capable enough or sees clearly enough to really give what I truly need. And disappointment and betrayal are not new things to this body. (It’s not the best way of thinking, I know. Sort of prideful and problematic at times, but it’s protective.) So I was briefly explaining my trouble with receiving and strength in giving and my colleague then clearly remarked, “Is that why you take such good care of yourself?”

Hmmm. I have taken on a kind of parental role over myself. And even in the worst of time, I was fiercely devoted to myself and whatever divinity was inside, no matter how hidden it was.

I don’t lay blame on anyone, not anymore. There is a clarity now in my life about what happened and a love I feel is the best and only thing I need to give, even though I’m sometimes unsure how to give it. I sort of wish things had been better for me, and there are things I wish I knew better how to do and things I wish I were more comfortable in, but I so appreciate the strength and wisdom, like internal steel, it led me to develop.

I LOVE my parents and appreciate so many of the values they taught me, for the reverence and generosity they demonstrate, for their good hearts, for their willingness to learn and grow, and for all sorts of individual traits they have respectively.

I feel lucky, really. I was released from several things in life: from an extremely awkward growing up, from emotional non-safety, mistreatment, physical deformity, and from severe self-consciousness. I’m still not exactly in the position I want to be entirely, but my gut still tells me I’m capable of so much more. So many others never find release or relief, and I feel intensely grateful I did.

In the end, I’m grateful that it taught me to be a fighter and taught me how to create some of those things I lacked and that it pushed me to find a safe place in things like music and writing, and that it pushed me to develop a kind of internal strength and tenacity and wisdom that I continually rely on. Simply put, I’m grateful for who I am.

Even though I’m aware of those emotions and those memories and that distrust still stuck in some places in my mind and body, I’m intensely grateful for my brain, my mind, my heart, and my spirit that somehow, collectively, allowed me to realize things and grow, especially when there are so many others who never do escape. More than that, however, I offer gratitude that somehow and somewhere in this universe, my heart was heard, even when it didn’t know the words.

I’m grateful to know—just know—that God loves me. I appreciate how it pushed me to rely on Him—as a God, as my parent, and as my friend—and how that laid the foundation for me to know and rely on myself. I now have such appreciation for the internal strength it pushed me to develop and for the authenticity of what I know and feel.

I’m so grateful for my internal eye that sees what’s beyond in myself and other people and that understands this continuing blood poetry and to—somehow, without obvious reasons—just know things.

I love my brain and I love my heart. Fiercely.

Most of all, I’m grateful for the realization that I don’t have to live the same way anymore. Actually, even more than that, I am grateful for the opportunity now to learn how to feel safe and open and to live safely and openly, especially with another person.


the bangles




i LOVE the sea

i love my boys!

17 07 2010

Four of my students (troubled and/or argumentative or actually great) are gone on a weekend trip to Nice and Monaco in France, which left me with three delightful 15-year-old boys in class today. And class was, for one of the only times this session, amazingly peaceful and lovely today! We had so much fun together, and I just think it’s one of the greatest things to watch my students get more comfortable in class: singing and actually enjoying it, joking around, demonstrating more respect for each other and for me, and breaking into genuine grins that then breaking into belly laughs. They would never want to hear this, but I think they are positively adorable!

Now if only they could be like this when everyone comes back on Monday!


12 07 2010

Some may think my working in Europe this summer is a breeze of a vacation. And, well, I admit, it is a little piece of paradise that drips blossoms and hosts robust thunderstorms and offers the tongue as many flavors of pizza and gelato as there are delicious hues in Italian Renaissance art. And visiting Monte Tamaro, Venice, Milan, Ascona, Como, and any other dreamy little places nearby is, well, dreamy. (For photos, you can visit me on Facebook.)

But vacation it is not. Not really.

My classes here at TASIS (in Switzerland) are usually filled with drama, especially with my particular group of students, but today was especially dramatic. I feel as if I have inherited seven highly hormonal teenage children, some of whom seem to be enshrouded with drama like the character Pig-Pen from the Peanuts comic strip was with dirt and are the stuff that soap operas are inspired by; some who seem to have little to no control over what and how much comes out of their mouths or sheer cognizance of what common courtesy or respect is or that any difference exists between being proactive and forgiving or simply reactive; and others who it seems are just now discovering the opposite sex and are as jumpy as fresh tadpoles on dry land; still there are others who carry such sensitive souls and fragile trust that after all I have tried to do seem lost, especially one of my brightest students today (which tears me up inside); but all of them continually amaze me with the strength and fierceness of their sense of justice. I think we’ve all hit a breaking point this week: just two days ago I felt my first wave of loneliness here.

In class, I feel like I am either refereeing or involved in some sort of sparring or full out battle–even smaller-scale political, cultural, and/or personal battles–every day. I’m a bit spent emotionally.

A deeper appreciation swells inside for the principles I was taught and raised by in my family and in my greater community. The question that plagues me, though, is how (and is it even possible) to bring more of that goodness and wisdom and self-management into my classroom and into the hearts of my students?

How to be just mama-ish enough to this emotional bunch is the question.

tigers & scrolls: mastering fear

6 07 2010

Not one but two tigers wandered in my dreams the other night. I was sitting in the driver’s seat of a car trying desperately to roll up the passenger side window before the first one (whose presence felt female to me) arrived. It was walking slowly through traffic but heading straight for me. I couldn’t get the window up and it hopped up on its haunches with its giant head and front paws in the window and it hissed at me. There was another girl who was in the street who calmly came over to the tiger and started talking to it and telling it where it needed to go. It listened, at least for a little while. Once I finally got the car started and made it inside a house, it came right back inside, again straight for me. The girl again gently and calmly guided it back out and then disappeared. Then it came in again through the back. This time I knew it was my turn to master my fear of this giant copper and black striped beast so I stepped up to it, hooked my fingers into a collar that was unexpectedly around its neck, and led it out the door…only to find that this was a second tiger (whose presence suddenly felt male to me) because the first tiger was still in the street.

Then with my heart racing, I woke up (coincidentally finding my fan making a rattling noise that coincided with the tigers roaring).

I got back to sleep only then to dream vaguely of birds and companionship and the sky suddenly opening up to me like a 3-D graphic design: a scroll among the sunlit clouds with a message of encouragement written on it.

When I woke up a second time, I felt both terrified and blessed, and I knew the dream had been a gift.

Dream Dictionary Composite:

To dream that you are unable to roll up the windows of your car, suggests that you are showing some hesitation and reservation about the direction that you are taking in life or the path that you have chosen.

A tiger indicates career due to the color combination of orange and black. Traffic also indicates career and for this reason it is common to dream of tigers walking in traffic.

They are associated with power, wild beauty and intense sexual force. You will overcome opposition and rise to a high position in your way to enjoy luxuries with ease and pleasure.

A tiger may symbolize something that frightens you. It may represent repressed feelings and emotions or a situation in waking life that terrifies you. Courage will see you through this period of adversity.

The tiger is one of the most pregnant symbols of power, strength and leadership in literature and dream interpretation, along with the lion, panther and other forceful and sturdy wild animals. Exactly like the panther, the tiger stands for female sexuality, but an aggressive one involving power of seduction and imminent danger at the same time.

We should not forget that this wild cat usually gets anything it goes out for, consequently it may denote the strong character of an individual who has the abilities of a leader and knows how to use his or her qualities and any conjecture to be victorious and obtain all he or she wants to.

If you manage to control or kill the beast, then you will be successful in anything you put your mind to.

The skies are symbols of the future and the possibility of change and transformation. They link to ideas about the future and our general ability to transform and anticipate. They also link to changes which are looming in our near future.

Birds often symbolize goals or ideals as they are something we usually have to look up to.

A scroll is associated with ancient writing and wisdom and in dreams indicates that you have a creative writing ability. As with any other spiritual ability you are being shown you have it to encourage you to develop and use it.

A scroll of paper or parchment in a dream foretells a release from current worry.

To look up at the clear blue sky in your dream, denotes hope, possibilities, creativity,  peace and freedom of expression. The sky is something you have to look up to see and in dreams asks you to adopt a better view of the subject matter of the dream – look up to it rather than looking down on it. The sky is often used in dreams to introduce the color blue. A blue sky represents your philosophy of life with regard to the subject matter of the dream and attempts to get you to lighten up. White fluffy clouds in a blue sky also heal a negative philosophy of life by restoring confidence (white) for the future. When the sun is prominent in the dream it is also very healing and encourages creativity (sun) in dealing with your current challenges.