Love is not a miracle


“Love is not a miracle… it’s an art, a skill, a mental and physical exercise of the mind and of the senses like any other. Like playing an instrument, dancing, or woodworking.”

—The Art of Joy by Goliarda Sapienza, written in 1967, first published in Italian in 2008

Photo by Juan Felipe Rubio.


Love, Cynicism, and Cheese


“Why do you use this word ‘cheese’? ‘You’re too cheesy?’ Do I have anything about cheese? When you say, oh, ‘he’s being too cheesy,’ when you manifest something that it is the most important thing that we have, we become very cynical. Probably this is is defensive. You know? … I’m going to tease you on this cheesy thing, because… I’m talking to you from Switzerland, and here cheese is something that’s considered one of the most important things, you know? …So I’m going to defend the cheese itself, not as a derogatory word, but something that it is positive.”

–Paulo Coelho, On Being



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Sana gitme demeyeceğim.
Üşüyorsun ceketimi al.
Günün en güzel saatleri bunlar.
Yanımda kal.

Sana gitme demeyeceğim.
Gene de sen bilirsin.
Yalanlar istiyorsan yalanlar söyleyeyim,

Sana gitme demeyeceğim,
Ama gitme, Lavinia.
Adını gizleyeceğim
Sen de bilme, Lavinia.

I won’t ask you not to go.
You are cold, take my jacket.
These are the loveliest times of the day.
Stay with me.

I won’t ask you not to go.
Still, you know.
If you want lies, I will tell you lies,
You’ll be hurt.

I won’t ask you not to go.
But Lavinia, don’t go.
I will keep your name a secret
Even you shall not know Lavinia.

–Özdemir Asaf, 1957

Years ago, a friend recited this poem to me. He himself heard the poem from another friend, who in turn must have learned it from someone else before her–a teacher, a professor, a romantic interest. I forgot about the poem until yesterday, when the first lines jumped out at me from a wall near Galata Tower. Now, I am posting it here in the spirit of passing on what was passed on to me.

Freedom of giving up


Critical, high-stakes moments in life are often preceded by intense deliberation, stress, sturm und drang.

Did I answer the exam questions correctly? Am I going to make it there on time? Did the payment go through? Should I kiss him? Have I packed everything I need? Am I ready? What should I do? How will I know? Will it go wrong? Will I get hurt? Will I cause trouble for others? You’re a deliberate person, you want to know the outcomes and make a plan, but there’s no crucial insight and the questions spiral into a minor insanity.


Painstakingly, slowly, you hand in the exam. The agreed-upon meeting time slides 5, 10, 15 minutes into the past. The payment deadline passes. The sun rises as the first kiss connects.  The sun sets and the flight lifts off.

And in that moment, right after the pivotal decision is made–the weight lifts, the sky clears and a lightness sets in. Because it’s true, as it has always been: you might get an awful grade, be late for the meeting, incur a fine, have your heart broken, leave your sunglasses behind.

Or you might not. But the critical decision is done, the painful part is over, and life carries on. All that is left is to bask in the irrevocability of reality, trust your judgement, rely on your instincts for the next stage, and if necessary, fail better.

Sometimes giving up, and giving in, is the most liberating choice you can make.

Photo:  ‎Nasir Almolk Mosque (“Pink Mosque”) in Shiraz, Iran. Photo by me.

Service and love


All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,

“You owe me.”

What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.

–Hāfez, 14th century Persian poet

The other day, coming home late from work, I was thinking about my students and how much I love them, in an unconditional way that I have never quite experienced with anyone else. When I pass by them in the hallways, or see them circled around me nestled in their desks, or when they come up and chat with me during break times, my chest warms and my hearts lifts and my stomach flutters. I am filled with this urge to help them and support them and serve them–and become a better person in order to better help them–even though I don’t get anything in return from them by doing so.

“I really want to meet and have more students,” I thought that night, “so I can teach them and help them, because every student I’ve taught I loved, and I want more students to love.”

And I realized at that moment–it’s by helping people that we grow to love them unconditionally. There is a connection between service and love. We learn to love, and grow to love others, through service.*

It’s a mysterious connection–I have not come up with a logical progression of thought as to why helping others leads to this profound empathy and attachment–but somehow, I know it’s true and I know serving others is going to have to continue to be a theme in my life.

*Just like the Jesuits at my school always said!

Little successes

People often ask me why I came to Turkey. It is a fair question as it is not an obvious place for an American woman to be. The bureaucracy involved with setting up a life here is torturous, most people don’t speak English, it’s a long 16-hour flight from home, the culture is often conservative, women are often the object of unfair attention, there’s no real Christmas… falan filan. In my city, a major regional center and very cosmopolitan, there are perhaps only two other Americans besides us. So when I’m asked The Question, my usual spiel goes: “I had the opportunity to come to Istanbul in high school, and I just never stopped coming back.”

If I were honest, I would have to recite off a protracted list of small, seemingly insignificant things I love about being here. I love that life here is surrounded by learning–linguistic, cultural, personal–whereas in the states, my surroundings felt stale and predictable. I love that life here is filled with little successes; every interaction that flows smoothly, every correctly-applied “güle güle” and “hosça kalın”  buoys me up a little bit, so I can feel myself improving every day, becoming more natural and immersed in the linguistic sea. In comparison, back home daily interactions are mundane at best and annoying indignities at worst. I love that I can live without driving or owning a car, unlike most U.S. cities. I love that stores are open late every day, and that there are public spaces–parks, cafes, meydans, and bars–open until late in the night, even weekdays; even children play at the playgrounds until 10 or 11 at night, long past the time when American children have been banished to bedtime. I love the ezan and the way that an intensively shared national and religious culture gives structure and meaning to life. I even enjoy the political conspiracy theories, and I appreciate how other foreigners who end up in Turkey are engaging, adventuresome people who have good, interesting reasons for being here. And who can’t help but love the fresh produce and delicious cuisine and ubiquitous tea?

Most of all, it’s rewarding to have worked for something so hard–I’ve been traveling here since 2008, and been learning the language since 2009–and to see it pay off. It’s gratifying to think back to myself at age 14, heading off to boarding school in my first attempt to get away from whatever I was fleeing, or going towards whatever I was seeking, and realize I have come this far. Without really knowing what I am going towards, I can’t know if I am actually any closer, but it feels like I am closer to…something.

Post on Eskişehir, the university, and my living situation to follow soon? Unfortunately, general rosy contentment does not translate into a reliable Internet connection.

Photo of Ankara by W.D. Thanks for the great shot.

Mattotti and Intimacy

I love these warm, intimate, romantic illustrations of ardorous lovers by Italian illustrator and graphic novelist Lorenzo Mattotti. The simple, striking compositions are defined by three objects–a man, a woman, and a mattress–in various configurations. The two figures connect both physically, with their limbs tangled or hands touching, and emotionally, gazing deeply into each other’s eyes. The monochrome images contain deep shadows which engulf the figures, who seem to melt into each other. The color canvases meanwhile are built out of bright and defined blocks of cheerful color.

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These images resonate with me right now as I’ve been going through a pretty intense process of reflection–figuring out what I want out of the intimate relationships in my life and being honest about what is even possible relationship-wise at this stage of my life.

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Starry embraces

I am still working on all your (challenging!) drawing suggestions from last week. In the meantime, I have been finishing final exams, packing, moving, spending time with friends and family, babysitting, beginning one of my summer jobs, and finishing this painting.

Looking back, I can see it was clearly (but unintentionally) inspired by this great Matisse print that I adore (click to make larger–in case you want to read the attribution info) wherein you can see that the guy had a knack for drawing fabulous buttcracks…

..but also, of course, a knack for composition, movement, crisp dynamic linework, emotively stylized human anatomy, playfulness, and passion.