Wednesday, October 31, 2012

National Geographic - You Disappoint Me!

I have been raised with an appreciation for National Geographic.  From the days when I was big enough to hold a book or magazine in my own two hands, I was flipping through the pages of National Geo.  My dad has had a subscription since the late 70's - it was something, in fact, that he prided himself on.  My family moved several times and each time I was witness to the discussion of "what to do with all those magazines".  My mom thought we should get rid of them, my dad wanted to keep them - after all he had them building up for 20+ years, in those days.   (Let's just say I'm pretty sure my parents still have boxes of them in the basement.) 
Yep, piles of National Geo look something like this.  (Image from

With this background in mind, when my Turkish fiancé bought a subscription of National Geographic and National Geographic Traveler (unprovoked from me or my dad - mind you) - I was ecstatic!  I began reading the Traveler when it came each month and savoring the travel details and the bite-size articles.
This month's Traveler

This month in the November issue there was an article about Istanbul, Turkey.  I was thrilled!  I read it, I frowned, I put it down, I passed it to my fiancé, he read it, then he was the first to speak. 

"This is horrible!"  He exclaimed.

"I know!"  I shouted.  We immediately started discussing the ridiculousness of this article and how disappointed we both were in National Geo.

Boyd Matson wrote an article titled "When 'No' Means Go".  Now, just the title itself gives a big hint that this man must be stubborn. 

For those who don't have access to Traveler, I'll give you a brief summary - Matson travels to Istanbul quite a bit, but for some reason he is on a tour visiting all the same sights he has already seen several times - and he is soooo bored.  So instead of finding more "off the beaten track" places to visit and write about, or "gasp" getting out of Istanbul to see a different part of Turkey, Matson squirms his way around the typical tourist sights trying to get a pass to go places he's not allowed to go. 

He admits that for him "No is like a four letter word" and when he hears it, it makes him "determined to keep pushing, maneuvering, and negotiating until I get 'Yes'". 

Ahh - nothing like a brutish, egotistical, stubborn American to make a good impression around the world. 

He endures hours of rejection until he finds the muezzin, or "the guy", as Matson writes, to let him go up to the minaret in the Blue Mosque.  Then he begs women to pretend to be his wife so he can go to a couples only hamam that he was already rejected from since he wasn't part of a proper couple.

If I had a chance to speak to Boyd Matson, I'd ask him - "Was it worth it?  Did you get what you were after?"  He wrote his article, it was published - thus bringing down National Geo from the pedestal where I had held it since my childhood days.  What did he really accomplish with this article?  Perhaps he convinced other Americans that it's okay to act like a self-serving, ignorant jerk when abroad - can't get what you want - just be more pushy!

 It's disappointing to see Americans act with ignorance when abroad, such as the way Matson describes himself  - I've seen people with these attitudes all over the world - but it's even more disheartening to see a world renowned publisher like National Geo promote this type of attitude.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A journey into the soul of Turkey's most famous female writer

Black Milk: On Writing, Motherhood, and the Harem Within
by Elif Shafak

Memoir has become one of my favorite genres in recent years.  For me, reading the real stories from the life of a living person can be just as interesting and ensnaring (if not more) than the made-up plot and characters from a fiction novel.  In fact, these two genres - Memoir and the Novel - are not actually that far apart in some respects.  Novelists are often inspired by or based on real life people and experiences, and in the memoir truth can be stretched when authors take liberties with story details and dialogue - not to mention the distortional element of the human memory that often creates images that are far from the true past experience. 

Elif Shafak's memoir, Black Milk, is a perfect example where the line between memoir and fiction are blurred.  I am not by any means casting doubt on the reality of the experiences Elif shares in her memoir, but her harem of Thumbelinas or "The Choir of Discordant Voices", as Elif calls them in the memoir, do add an imaginary element to Elif's story that creates quite a unique read.

Elif in Black Milk:
"There is a mini harem deep down in my soul.  A gang of females who constantly quarrel and bicker, looking for an opportunity to trip one another up.  They are teeny-tiny creatures, each no taller than Thumbelina….They make my life miserable and yet I don't know how to live without them…Each has declared a different corner of my soul her residence."

I'll be honest - at first I was unsure about these tiny characters that Elif employed to discuss her innermost thoughts and conflicts.  These Thumbelinas are highly exaggerated elements of Elif's personality, each one separate and individual so that when they come together for critical decisions in Elif's life,  they fight and argue, pulling Elif in six different directions.  Once I became comfortable with these characters in the memoir, I began to really appreciate this method of storytelling and I began to see how this idea plays out in my own inner world at times….

While Elif's memoir is slated as a book about post-partum depression and the struggle that Elif encountered when she became pregnant and gave birth for the first time. It is true that this period of Elif's life is a large part of the novel, yet for me this was not the lasting image that remained with me after I finished the book.  Perhaps it is my age and my own experience, but I can connect with Elif's journey as a woman who wants to remain true to herself and true to her intellectual desires, she sometimes dips too far into seclusion and rejection of her material self, but then she rises back to the balance of brain and body - of human love and love of ideas.  Many women, single or married with children, would be able to connect to this journey and I'm glad Elif shared it.  She is an inspiration to me to keep writing, keep pursuing my goals, and to not worry about - and even try to control - the voices inside my head that tell me to do twenty different things at once. 

For another review of Black Milk see:
An article on the Ms. Magazine Blog:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Change the world? Why not try...

More often than not I take on more than I can handle.  I try do it all - be it all - reach great levels in many areas and I maintain near impossible goals.  There are dangers to this lifestyle and lately I have scaled back in some areas to leave more room for other areas to prosper.  For example - I exercise much less rigidly and I spend more time on reading and language learning. 
Can I be a blog superwoman?

This blog is a good example of me trying to be a super woman.  I started it in the thick of the summer when I was preparing myself for my comprehensive examination.  I let it go for a while, and I concentrated on my other work.  Now I am back behind the screen and considering what I really want to accomplish with this blog.  Is it simply a public space where I hold myself accountable for my Turkish language and cultural learning?  (Yes, but more…)  Is it a place where I attempt to form a community and connect with others?  (Yes, eventually…) Is it a place where I try to reach grand and lofty goals of combating cultural ignorance and encourage cross-cultural  intellectualism?  (Humm…that would be a little too grand - but wouldn't it be nice?)  The reality of blogs is that few of them are very successful - while blogging is becoming more and more popular lately, the majority of bloggers I read cater to a similar crowd: expats living in the same country or considering the move, lifelong nomads, tourists in search of a new destination, and language connoisseurs.  Do these blogs ever reach the masses that do not share a desire for ethical travel, cross-cultural understanding and language learning?  Probably not….  Is there a way to use these blogs to springboard into more vocal types of media where there is more chance to be heard?  Probably, with some blog success other writing gigs become more likely and eventually radio, TV and books can become a part of the equation (if the blog is uber successful).

I should not write my blog with the goal of changing the world.  Yet, lately that seems to be a good reason to put my effort into it.  There is so much ignorance out there, Americans that have no clue about the people and culture that comprise the "Middle East" and only gobble up the news that is fed to them at 6 and 11pm in bite-size, digestible chunks of misrepresentation and bias.  Do people go search out the news for themselves - find reality - and read from multiple perspectives?  No they do not (for the most part).  I understand, most do not have time. 

I really do not have the time to become a free journalist either.  However, I am doing what I love - reading and processing and learning - this is what I can do.  I can become a better person and share what I know and what I learn and what I think with others.   If they want to listen and read and discuss then that is great.  If they ignore me or dismiss me then that is fine too - because in the end I'm not writing this blog for them.  I am writing it for me.  I am writing it to express myself and to progress forward.  Maybe someday it will become something more, but for now it is what it is.  A place a space to express myself with the opportunity of the public dropping by and with the chance that I will develop a community to converse with and share stories and ideas - eventually.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...