Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Free Electrons

"Then what's the point? We're like free electrons!" shrugs my friend often. The free electron metaphor is not the only one. When I was leaving Izmir last time, we saw a baby running with his two arms open, little legs making little swift steps, he just kept running. My mom said laughingly, "this is like your life! you keep running until you hit something!" It's funny and cute, but maybe I do need some direction. I've been like those dry leaves, ready to go wherever the wind blows.

Free electrons without a proton, without an anchor or a reference point. Nothing that pulls us to the ground, to something. Severed from our roots long ago, we are looking for something, something that will pull us. We started out with protons not of our own making - we started out with a family, a country. Now that we are away, now that we are not bound to anything, we need to find our own anchor, we need to find something new to attach to. We need to make the meaning, there is no predetermined fate or story that we must discover and follow.

I wanted a sign to tell me where I'll be happy, and I started seeing signs everywhere. A sign here, a sign there, pointing at different directions. I tried to take other free floating electrons as anchors, but two electrons don't really make anything. You can't hold on to another electron when they are floating and you are floating. Electrons need to find their protons before anything else.

The same friend who calls us electrons, she also told me that I should look inside for what I'm looking for, not outside. I thought she contradicted herself - a couple of days ago she told me not to think too much and act! But now I see what she's saying. I have to find my anchor first, I need to find my own thing.

So I'm not looking for signs outside anymore. I'm not depending on anyone for my own happiness. But I'm also staying put until I find it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Not knowing yet deciding

“…When things come to you easily, when things click effortlessly into place, it is so tempting to use the four-letter F-word. Fate. Which to Millat is a quantity very much like TV: an unstoppable narrative, written, produced and directed by somebody else.

Of course, now that he’s here, now that he’s stoned and scared, and it doesn’t feel so easy, and the right-hand side of his jacket feels like somebody put a fucking cartoon anvil in there – now he sees the great difference between TV and life, and it kicks him right in the groin. Consequences. But even to think this is to look to the movies for reference (because he’s not like Samad or Mangal Pande, he didn’t get a war, he never saw action, he hasn’t got any analogies or anectodes), is to remember Pacino in the first Godfather, huddled in the restaurant toilet (as Pande was huddled in the barracks room), considering for a moment what it means to burst out of men’s room and blast the hell out of the two guys at the checkered table. And Millat remembers. He remembers rewinding and freeze-framing and slow-playing the scene countless times over the years. He remembers that no matter how long you pause the split-second of Pacino reflecting, no matter how often you replay the doubt that seems to cross his face, he never does anything else but what he was always going to do.” (White Teeth, 526, 527)

“If neither imperative can be overridden, then choose one, and as you say, get on with it. Man makes himself, after all. And he is responsible for what he makes.”

“I may yet redeem myself in your eyes… or you may be mistaken – your decision may come back to you as Oedipus’s returned to him, horrible and mutilated! You cannot say for sure!”

“No… no… we are not fortune-tellers. I could never have predicted my life would end up in the hands of a child… Corinthians I, chapter thirteen, verse eight: Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. But when will it come? For myself, I became tired of waiting. It is such a terrible thing, to know only in part. …

If only we were brave enough to make the decisions that must be made…between those worth saving and the rest… Is it a crime to want –“

“Imagine, if you can, events in the world happening repeatedly, endlessly, in the way they always have…

imagine this war over and over a million times…

It is not a serious proposition. It is a test. Only those who are sufficiently strong and well disposed to life to affirm it – even if it will just keep on repeating – have what it takes to endure the worst blackness. I could see the things I have done repeated infinitely.”(538, 539.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins conversation box song.
Mary Poppins "anything can happen if you let it" song.
The Widening Gap

During exams time, I wrote about Olson's observation of rational ignorance. In the same article, he wrote about the tendency of business practices, laws and regulations to become more sophisticated over time. Intelligent, sophisticated people come up with new, innovative ways to do business and make money all the time. Policy makers and legislators have to catch up with the suitable regulation and legislation. Then business people need lawyers, auditors, accountants and advisors to make sure they play by the rules (and find out if there were any gaps in the rules, any opportunities.) This all creates an exclusive, closed-circuit biosphere of intelligent, sophisticated people. You have to prove your intelligence, motivation and cunning to break into their circle and rise up to their level. You have to work very hard and build relationships. You have to pass the exams of their associations. All simply because they don't want the competition over-crowding brings.

And we are struggling to join the biosphere, not only because we need the money, but also because it's the only way we think we can prove our intelligence. Joining their circle seems like the best use of your time, something challenging enough. Something that can prove ourselves and the world that we are worthy. Look at the money we make. Look at the people we hang out with.

When I go to private equity conferences, I am envious. I feel like I'm looking at their circle from outside, because I'm not smart enough. I am dependent on the information they provide me within the few minutes of spare time they have, because they call the shots. Their time is important. This envy makes me want to join their circle. Become one of those smart girls who are always on their feet. It blurs my vision of what I really want to do and what is meaningful to me.

"Pretend you have some responsibility," said my dad. "Changing jobs every three months won't serve your career."

He said this after he asked me what would happen if he quit his shitty first job and I reminded him that he already had a wife and a daughter by then. He didn't have the choice.

But it's hard to think you are responsible for something when in fact you aren't. It's hard to run after food when you aren't hungry. It's too easy to get distracted and get all these noble ideas like becoming a novelist and an academic and inspiring people. (Think of Refik in Cevdet Bey ve Oğulları.) Thinking you're special. One only gets these ideas if one has spare time. One can only be an idealist if one can afford it. Everyone else is busy sustaining themselves.

In my freshman year History of Capitalism class we read an article about the pendulum - how nations work hard and become rich, and then once they become affluent, they start spending more time and money on culture and arts and philosophy and education (and enlightening others, if you know what I mean :) They become complacent. Then one of my professors this year crudely suggested that if the soft budget constraint was the weakness of communism, inheritance was the weakness of capitalism. It breaks the momentum.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The confused interpreter

One of the great questions that kept philosophers occupied was, "what is the truth?" Can we ever know what the world really is? Whatever we see around us, it will always pass through the box that is our head, that is our heart (hormones, that is). Even our eyes, can we trust they are projecting the world as it really is? (Here's a little story for you: A man who sees everything narrower draws a tree. Then a person with healthy eyesight looks at the drawing and sees a perfectly normal tree. But this doesn't change the fact that the guy who made the drawing saw the tree differently than the other guy.)

Many people had theories about this, some said we could comprehend the truth, some said we couldn't, some said who cares, do we have an option anyway? The only theory I can link to its owner now (because it was my favourite - the middle ground) is Kant's. He said all the information goes through the processor that is our brain. Whatever limited information we actually get, our brain divides into little pieces, puts them together with what it already knew, rationalizes them, blows them out of proportion (with the help of hormones!) and in the end you get something that is new, different from what the world told you in the first place. The rays are refracted until they point in a completely new direction. And the most important information, the one that is most dear to you, the one that has the greatest consequences, is the one that gets distorted the most.

For example your perception of yourself. At any point in time, I perceive myself as someone stronger, weaker, smarter, stupider, prettier and uglier than I really am. The catch is that how you are determines how you see yourself and how you see yourself determines how you are. It is as if you put a broken mirror across an intact one, standing in between, trying to see yourself among infinite slanted versions of the truth.

Then all those misunderstandings that make the romantic comedies and soap operas all so grueling. The viewer knows the truth, she watches what both sides are going through, and she watches them interpret the limited information falsely, she watches the truth being distorted and hastily countered with the wrong reaction - how difficult is that? I know you know the feeling. You want to somehow go into the screen and poke the character and tell them what it really is. He loves you, stupid, don't go running off now! You'll ruin everything. He will not be able to stand you, he will give it up just because you thought he would.

Hence the self-fulfilling prophecy. Hence the power of positive thinking. The secret. It actually has nothing mystical to it, it all makes sense. You are pessimistic, you interpret the information wrong, you see yourself weak and stupid, you think the others see you weak and stupid, you distrust them, you distrust yourself, you don't apply to your dream job, you don't pursue your dream boy, you leave them before they leave you, and then you end up losing the boy, losing the job, only because you thought you would. You leave yourself, as Alanis Morissette says, you don't stand behind yourself anymore. Now I figured it all out without even having read the secret ;)
Boiling point

Watched water doesn't boil, as my friend Milan said. At least, your intent stare by itself won't make it boil. For water to boil, the molecules should get enough heat, they should have enough energy to start moving quickly and far enough from each other and stay there. They should have enough power to overcome the lazy tendency to stick together. Or so I remember from my high school chemistry class.

Sad but true - I act on something IFF:
1- I'm late enough OR
2- I'm envious enough.

Both conditions are fulfilled now.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Note to self

No, you don't have to strive at something just for the sake of accomplishing it. You don't have to keep this job and be bored out of your mind just for the sake of not giving up. As you wrote long ago, there are many great things to do in life, but one has to pick one, because we have one life (I know how irresponsible and spoilt that sounds - but this doesn't justify middle aged men leaving their wives and kids, for the record.)
White Teeth

It's literally the light in my life now. I'm scared I'll miss my tube stop when I'm reading it. I'm looking forward to the hour I'll read it before going to sleep. I don't know what I'll do when I finish it. It's so real, so larger than life and down to earth, but it still has bits you could underline, lessons from life, things you didn't know you knew, like the stuff in this blog if I may say, but the talent lies in embedding them truly in the little, light things in life so the whole thing flows. Daily Telegraph says the book "has energy, pace, humour and fully formed characters; it is blissfully free of the intoversion and self-conscious detail that mar many first novels... the dialogue is pitch perfect... bounding, vibrant, richly imagined and throughly enjoyable."

Of course, all this comes with envy, longing to do something similar myself. It must take so much labour, patience, talent. One must have collected and observed so much already. Once I talked about writing a novel with someone. Without thinking, he said something in the vicinity of "but it's easy, all you have to do is come up with a story!"(Hard to believe he's a philosophy student.) Then I told him no, the story is fiction but everything, every little detail has to be real, believable. That's so difficult to accomplish, to write something others can identify with. Stepping out of your bell jar (or finding something universal in it.) That's why people write about what they know best, what's closest to their heart. They write about people like themselves, their families, they write about their cities. Pamuk writes about Istanbul and Smith writes about half Jamaican, half English girls from north London.

I don't like shopping malls, supermarkets, where people try to push themselves (plus shopping carts and buggies) absent mindedly through corridors lit by white shining spots, and I found out I don't like IKEA, either. (I went to the one at home a few months ago, and I thought I liked it, and I imagined how I would shop there to decorate my place when I had a place - but no - I don't like it.)

I accept it, the idea is novel - you cut millions of pieces of wood and plastic and glass instead of hundreds - economies of scale. Then people make one trip for everything they need (and didn't know they need) instead of ten trips. You make order lists and stand in huge check out lines (a fight broke out in the adjacent line when I was there) and everything is oh-so-efficient and functional and clean-cut. So are our homes. But where is the individuality, where is the story of a coffee table you bought in Camden and carried all the way through Regent's Park? That would be special. But in IKEA, I don't see how anybody could feel special. I don't know if anyone cares.

Still, it was nice to have good friends along to stand on the check out line with and endure the sickening bus ride to and from Wembley. Maybe that's the key to feeling special. Being with special people who think you're special. Then you don't even wonder whether you're special, because you know you are. Something like that.

Friday, October 05, 2007

"If religion is the opium of people, tradition is an even more sinister analgesic, simply because it rarely appears sinister. If religion is a tight band, a throbbing vein and a needle, tradition is a far homelier concoction: poppy seeds ground into tea; a sweet cocoa drink laced with cocaine; the kind of thing your grandmother might have made. To Samad, as to the people of Thailand, tradition was culture, and culture led to roots, and these were good, these were untainted principles. That didn't mean he could live by them, abide by them or grow in the manner they demanded, but roots were roots and roots were good. You would get nowhere telling him that weeds too have tubers, or that the first sign of loose teeth is something rotten, something degenerate, deep within the gums. Roots were what saved, the ropes one throws out to rescue drowning men, to Save Their Souls." White Teeth, 193.

Roots #2

Since I came back to Turkey almost a week ago, waves of emotion are washing over me. Emotion, cheap, abundant, ample seas of emotion. The flight home - as Kundera says, things lose a fraction of their meaning each time they are repeated, and I've flown back and forth too many times - but I still feel happy when I fly home. Countless dramas with their familiar, predictable plots. Old songs (they don't seem to make any good songs anymore, so they just sing the old ones over and over.) Horrible morning shows with dark singers and circular conversations. Ramadan desserts and memories from the time when all I knew was this country and didn't need to imagine further. I go to Alsancak and high school kids are hanging out just like we did six years ago.

Then I met up with two friends from high school and saw how they grew up and how they are struggling and surviving without making a big deal out of it. That was something new, something different, something refreshing. They are passing into a new stage in their lives ever so smoothly, instinctively, cheerfully.

This reminded me I should shake off this irrational, romantic, heavy cloud that sits over my head when I come to Turkey, when I think of Turkey. It's making me very lazy, and it's time I take it for what it's worth. It's the icing on the cake, but I need to earn the cake first.
Mad Woman

"In North London, where councillors once voted to change the name of the area to Nirvana, it is not unusual to walk the streets and be suddenly confronted by sage words from the chalk-faced, blue-lipped or eyebrowless. From across the street or from the other end of the tube carriage they will use their schizophrenic talent for seeing connections in the random (for discerning the whole world in a grain of sand, for deriving narrative from nothing) to riddle you, to rhyme you, to strip you down, to tell you who you are and where you're going (usually Baker Street - the great majority of modern-day seers travel the Metropolitan Line) and why." - White Teeth, 174.