A Lousy Lyre

Oh, hi. Yeah, it’s been a while. I’ve backed off writing for several reasons. The first is strictly practical. Creating three-hour PowerPoint slide shows on the passive voice and modals of possibility takes a lot out of a guy. If you think you’re a tough readership, try addressing people who speak English at an upper-intermediate level. In order to make any point, I have to turn language into algebra, with formulae, constants, and variables. Sometimes I’ll slip in a cute pattern sentence like “Mehmed drives like a maniac; he’ll probably kill someone someday,” but the laughter and applause sound a little forced.

Such free time as I do have, I devote to staying in shape. I’ve extended my morning runs to about 15 kilometers. Here in the North Anatolian Fault Zone, the topography resembles my moods – up and down, hill and dale. Pounding over it doesn’t leave me with much energy, and that I tend to use up doing pull-ups and parallel-bar dips in the playground across the grazing commons from my apartment building. Exactly what I’m training for I haven’t decided. I think I’m just eager to make a good impression on people too naïve to peg me for a loser. It’s better to be known as the cut American than the poor American.

But what’s really keeping me away from the keyboard is something more fundamental. This morning in a Facebook PM, my editor Elizabeth Scalia told me, “You’re in Limbo.” She’s right. Upgrading my legal status from tourist to resident involved a wild-goose chase through a welter of misinformation. And all I got in the end was a 90-day permit. Whether I’ll be able to get another when the time comes I have no idea, and the uncertainty has left me morbidly aware that anything I write can and might be used against me. Writing about failed past relationships is a lot easier – not to mention smarter – than writing about relationships that are still active and trundling their way from romance to partnership.

Back in the States, I was resigned to a depressing, dead-end existence. It was no fun, but at least I could say I knew the drill. No great surprises lurked around any corners. Life was going to be cruddy, but the cruddiness was bound to be familiar and livable. A spot where everything is settled and nothing matters is a pretty good spot for a writer to be in. If she has no other luxury, she at least has the luxury to reflect. The output might be a little on the melancholy side, but now, in the reign of Twitter and Snapchat, melancholy feels like an art to be preserved at some cost, like glass-blowing or Cambodian Aspara dancing.

Now, for a change, I am in a spot where everything matters because nothing is settled – not even my identity. The person lecturing Bosch engineers and execs isn’t, quite, the same person who wrote search-friendly ad copy for peanuts and walked barefoot to the Circle K. Not having figured out how to be this new guy consistently – or even whether the opportunity to be him will exist after September – leaves me uncertain who to write as, never mind what to write about.

This probably sounds like a second adolescence, and I guess that’s what it feels like. When I was a real teenager, I liked to pretend I was beyond all the angsty stuff by imagining how my life might look once I finally came through it all. In a sense, I’m doing that again. Whenever I allow myself to take stock of my situation, I imagine myself far in the future, writing about it all in the various past tenses. The title for this work in progress is either Why I Failed in Turkey and Didn’t Even Care or How I Succeeded in Turkey (Without Really Trying). What I have to say about my trip to Orhan Gazi’s tomb or that sonofabitch of a drum they’ve been banging outside my window every morning at two-thirty since Ramadan began, will depend on which book it ends up going in. Here and now, with everything up in the air, I draw a blank.

That’s all for now. Thanks for listening. I’d say more, maybe promise to check in more regularly, but I’ve got to run, literally. After that, I have to prepare some speaking exercises for tomorrow’s class. These days, the big trend in TESOL is Task-Based Learning, where students are impressed into some big, noisy activity that looks like a cross between a Korean game show and the Dance of 100 Smurfs. I hate that stuff. I’m a sullen introvert. Or at least I was.


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