as an avid reader always with a book and pen in hand, swallowing pages and underlining sentences and scribbling comments on the margins, my head spends hours bent down with the vertebrae of my neck spiking up like the back of a dinosaur. the muscles of my shoulders and upper back are very often stiff from the words that i take in and the words that i’m trying to send to commute from my soul to my hand. from the continuous reading and frequent writing, my head sometimes feels heavy, and it makes it feel as though my shoulders are carrying me, not my legs. those are parts of myself that i take pride in, parts of my life that are precious to the extent of sacredness, only because they combine taking in and giving out in the form of words. this gives meaning to my life and vibrance to my existence, and for that the eternalness of my gratitude somehow expands every single day.
jealousy in relationships. why? i don’t get it. loving someone is not owning them. loving someone is not stealing away their freedom. loving someone is not guarding them to the point of suffocation. from what i see around me, we have no idea what the true essence of love is. we think that loving is depending on someone entirely, when in reality, true love is independent. it does not weaken the lover to the point that his whole life is in the hand of his beloved. that’s an illusion. what that is is need, not love. unconditional love sees beyond all those things, and is so much simpler than we think. it desires no control; it lovingly yields freedom. it gives and keeps giving out of love, not out of expectation to receive. true love between two souls does not narrow their whole existence down to each other’s presence in each other’s lives. love is so much more spacious than that. you love another human, but you don’t die when they leave. you love them so preciously that you don’t put the weight of your whole life on their shoulders. that’s the filthiest form of “love”; so much so that i pity those relationships because their basis is fear cunningly disguising itself as love.
so, back to jealousy. love your person, don’t imprison them. they are a bird in the sky of their own lives, and you are the beholder with the admiring eyes. you are the music to their dance. you are meant to uplift them, not bring them down just because of your own fears. love your beloved like God loves you. He gave you freedom, choice, and individuality. just like that. don’t strip your beloved out of her freedom, her choices, her individuality. support her. cheer her on. and you too. support him. cheer him on. know your places in each other’s hearts, and don’t let insecurity steal away your peace. remember, this is a companionship of not just bodies and brains, but souls too. eternal souls. souls that see beyond judgment and love without attachment.
i don’t know what to say about this year. it was scary, confusing, surreal. the first half was close to heavenly, and the second was close to hellish. i say ‘close’ because i couldn’t help but find heavenly moments in bad days and melancholic moments in good days.
confusion became my best friend over those months. while the first half of the year i was lovers with gratitude, confusion came one day in June or July and snuck its way into our bed. i became an ambiguous amalgamation of loneliness and wholeness, joy and sorrow, love and fear — so much fear. in the first half of the year, i lived my days in childlike astonishment. i woke up and thought the same bubbly thoughts and did the same things; but i wasn’t the least bit bothered or bored because a sense of joy was dancing around me. i was gliding in an ocean of gratitude and joy.
come summer, my arms began feeling weak. i couldn’t peddle with ease anymore. i could see myself pushing up the stream rather than flowing through it. a part of me was sitting there watching, still and surrendered, knowing that this was just another lesson for me to learn. yet the majority of this nation of voices that make up my earthly self were raging. i spent the summer holiday in my favorite places on the planet, İstanbul and Seefeld, yet allot of my poetry was the blood of my melancholic body rather than the nectar of my joyous soul.
however, i can’t deny that even in my sadness i found ways to find joy in my days. i would wake up early every morning and go for a walk either by the sahil in İstanbul or amidst the mesmerizing greenery of Seefeld. i would have a book in my hand, and an audiobook in my ears. i would be inspired by the pure oxygen and breathtaking scenery to unleash my inner turmoil in letters that i would email to my dearest friend who was in the opposite side of the globe. i would sit at one of the handful of cafés in town, order an americano, and i would lose myself in words, reveling in this gift of nonjudgmental and uncensored self-expression that i got to share with the most loving soul that sees light in my darkness and talent in my nonsensical blabber. i would walk out of the café, reentering the world of people and the intangible feathers of laughter they spread in the air, feeling refreshed and alive. my eyes would gleam like two full moons reflection the sun of my soul. my body would be bursting with vitality from the love pumping my heart and it would be full of energy from the euphoria of having written something beautiful.
August came with a wave of melancholy climbing my bones and wrapping itself around my body like a cloth. time lost its meaning and my body completely lost sense of it. doubt crept up my veins like a disease. i lost sight of my ambitions and aspirations. like a deflated balloon, i descended from faithful joyousness to doubtful stagnation. the hopeless old woman in me snorted once and said that my joy was a phase of wishful ignorance. her stubbornly hoarse voice was in a constant one-sided brawl with the innately joyful child in me that knows nothing other than an utterly pleasant existence.
i would sleep as the sun was rising and wake up as it was setting, spending the hours in between either reading or watching something to keep my attention as far away from my conscience and sadness as possible. a few days into this, my hands picked up my laptop on a whim and began writing what i suspected was a short story. it was inspired by my current state of unexplainable sorrow; it was the fruit of my pain turning itself into art.
as i worked on it every evening for two months, it grew from a short story to a novel whose writing was cut short due to my subconscious resistance to completion and success. the only thing i knew was that i wasn’t dying before finishing it. that was September, and it was the first time in my life that i had something more dear to my heart than death; something that would replace my lingering plea for cessation with a sweet feeling of wanting to live, wanting to be here in this world.
in October, the knot of fear that had been hiding in the darkness of my being came to light. the rebel within me that thought it was strong and could handle to actually live its unconventional ideas got slapped with the reality that i was only rebellious to what i was forced to do, and that my urge to rebel gets deflated the moment i do what it says and face the fear and decide to go back to the easy way of living where i do what i’m meant to be doing at the age of 18: studying, because high school graduation doesn’t mean the end of academic education.
November was a continuation of October’s unpleasant discoveries. what i found out about myself during those 30 days could make up an entire book of agonizing and disconcerting self-reflection. what i discovered was so painful and embarrassing that i couldn’t even admit to myself what i knew had just come to my awareness.
all i can say is that i’ve come to the conclusion that being human is — as silly as it sounds — very much like being an onion. multiple layers are covering your true essence, and you must peel them as you go, your eyes burning and weeping at the effect of the shocking sight of what you’ve been accumulating in your psyche from the moment you were conceived in your mother’s womb.
the most significant example of how this year entwined good and bad in such an impeccable and bewildering way is that while my problem with food and my body had been resolved in an effortless and unexpected manner, my sadness still remained. it’s as though the heaviness had transferred from my body to my very being, my very existence.
to put this year simply, here’s a comparison: in January, i was a blooming sunflower amidst a field of blooming sunflowers feeling utterly grateful and blessed and lucky to be me; in December, i very often caught myself wishing i wasn’t me, that i wasn’t this girl in this family, in this life with all those distant dreams, in this human vessel living a life that lacks true meaning and fulfilling purpose.
a human being, with his or her brain that can store beyond its comprehension of how it does it, is not made to speak only one language. not even two. i think we dissected the way of expressing ourselves into hundreds of languages, each of which expresses our ideas in a way that another cannot do with the same intricate efficiency. for me, i was born into Arabic, placed in a sea in which the swimmers swam in English, and upon my taste and curiosity, i chose to dive into the seas of the Turkish language. what i noticed as my brain gained the capacity to think in three languages is that my consciousness expanded and felt like i have more space to think and more paths on which i can embark to reach different discoveries. what i write in English transpires in a different way than what i write in Turkish unfolds. what i say in Arabic can be put in two words while holding meaning as deep and novel as a whole book; but if i voice it in a language like English, its true essence would be anchored into more words and perhaps the meaning would be lost in length and translation. what i am trying to say is that in every language, i am different and i think differently; in every language, i am someone i cannot embody through another language.
Elif Shafak put it beautifully when she was asked why she wrote some of her novels in English first:
“I have come to understand that sometimes distance brings you closer, stepping out of something helps you to see that thing better. Writing in English does not pull me away from Turkey; just the opposite, it brings me closer.
Every new language is an additional zone of existence. This is the century of people who dream in more than one language. If we can dream in more than one language, if our brain is perfectly comfortable with this multiplicity, then that means we can write in more than one language too, if we so wish.”
had it been up to me, i would have booked a flight three hours after my last final exam, and a reluctant return flight on the Saturday night before the first Sunday of the new semester. with a heart flying like a glorious white bird, i would leave the obligations of university behind and embark on my journey back into myself, free in every sense of the word.
but it isn’t up to me; i’m still too young for such a luxury, and i accept it.
the different thing about this vacation is that it’s only 10 days in my favorite city. usually we stay longer than that. this shortness with its fleeting moments has inspired me with the idea to spend my days here really here, not in other places through this screen. i’ve vowed to the birds dancing over the Bosphorus to live my moments in this city without staining them with wishes and nostalgias, and i’ve vowed to the ebb and flow of the Sea of Marmara to keep myself open to the inspiration that will rain on me from this serene İstanbul sky.
with a novel whose writer makes İstanbul as much a part of his characters as their hearts and minds, and with a passionate urge to get my hands on every Turkish book translated into English that my eyes know they’ll never see in the shelves of the bookshops back home, i roam through the city and let its winds, its sounds, its scents, encompass me like a hug.
photos by İlker Yılmaz
one day, i decided to drop everything i ever knew about food. i attempted to erase all the messed-up beliefs from my mind, and then i placed what remained due to repetitive engraving under the word ‘myth’ in my mind. the words ‘breakfast’, ‘lunch’, and ‘dinner’ were no longer in my vocabulary. time of day was no longer something to associate with food or consider when eating. out of overwhelming frustration and deep respect for this body that i have mistreated my whole life, i gently spoke to it and said, “when you’re hungry, tell me. and if i happened to be too busy to respond, please feel free to move and feed yourself what you know you need.”
i dropped the label ‘vegan’ from my shoulders; not with the intention of eating animal products, but with the intention of erasing all those red, restrictive lines that i had been confined into ever since i could eat and think, before even declaring myself vegan. i knew that my body was wise and not in need of another soul’s dead flesh to function.
i decided to listen to my body, not my mind; to eat out of requirement for fuel, not out of mindless habit; to eat for nourishment, not for taste that ends up as a balloon beneath my ribs; to move for life and clarity, not out of fear or self-hatred.
the strict regime of daily exercise was out the window with a relief washing over my relaxing muscles. the only movement i engaged in was the kind that my body chose without the interference of my mind. i found myself getting off the couch out of the blue to stretch and do some yoga on my mat, finding calmness in posing with my head on the ground and my feet to the sky. some afternoons my body felt energetic so i went on walks and let my legs jog when they felt like it and rest when they felt like it.
as the days and months passed, my body morphed into the shape and size that felt comfortable and healthy and didn’t stand on the way of my self-confidence. ever since that day in August, my relationship with myself and this marvelous body that i have been lovingly placed into has flourished beyond anything i’ve previously experienced. i feel at home, like i belong here; no longer stuck in a bag of flesh that’s too heavy — emotionally more so than physically — for me to carry.
upon this experience, i have come to the insight that yes, food is a joy, but one must be careful not to cross the thin line that turns it into a disease.
i’m happy and i’m sad
i’m in gratitude and in gloom
my best friends — words, poetry, creativity,
have flown this withering town of my reality
and made their homes far away in the land of my dreams
there’s no telepathy that could connect me to them
they command that i leave everything here
and flee just as they have
but i can’t
i’m too small
to take such a long flight away from home
even if this home is too far from heaven
and dangerously close to hell