Friday, June 22, 2012

Goodbye job... Goodbye friends... Big Changes Ahead... Breasts and a 'Harajuku Moment'

I try not to write anything useful for people who are living and working abroad, and I assume that's about how this entry is going to go as well.

When I come across those blogs by people who profess to float from place to place while living some sort of exotic high life, I tend to feel a couple of things (apart from envy). One is that they're quite possibly lying. The other is that flitting around and sampling other places is a dumb lifestyle. Mind you, I'm still envious, but it's still dumb.

I left my job. It was a good job, but it needed to be left in order to feed myself and my growing family.

I miss my friends there and I still think about what I'm going to share with them next time I see them at work... but then I realize that I'm not going to see them.

We're moving to my new job in Istanbul. It's a big confusing mess of a city filled with people who act like they shouldn't be living in a city.

It's been a little bit of a strange time. My baby son was born just a few days ago and we're (my wife and I) learning how to make magic juice come out of her body in order to nourish the little guy.

One of the biggest mistakes we've made so far as parents, and we made this one just hours after becoming parents, was to force massive boobs into his face and foster a lasting fear of them. It sounds impossible, but it's not. The second mistake we made was to enable this fear by buying a box of formula for our starving, screaming child.

In breastfeeding, two things need to happen: The baby needs to be hungry, and food needs to come out of the breast.

Simple, right?

Not so much. So far, a poking, prodding parade of rather annoying Turkish women have been lecturing my wife on breastfeeding and child rearing. Frankly, I'm tired, and we're just beginning to produce results. We've finally begun reversing the damage we've done as parents.

First, we needed to help baby to face his fear of boobies by tantalizing him. Make him chase the boobie and not the other way around. Get the milk started, then give him a taste. Wait a second, and pull back. Repeat 1,000 times. It helps to sing to him. My favourite song for this is one that I made. I call it 'Eat the Boobie.'

Second, we had to deal with the problem of passivity caused by giving him bottles of formula. This is probably one of the biggest problems I've seen happening in Turkish private schools. Letting the child lay on his back, doing absolutely nothing while feeding him nutrients from a box (or good grades) is a bit like attaching lead weights to a kite... or squishing a beetle under your heel and then naming him and adopting as a pet... and hoping he'll be able to learn tricks later.

Making a boob seem friendly and nonthreatening takes very little brains or talent, as many Hollywood actresses could easily tell you. Making the child less passive, however, was a real trick. Luckily, as I was thinking of how to deal with the problem, the solution presented itself accidentally when my exhausted wife started to doze. I'd left the room to go to the kitchen and take a just take a breathe. The baby wasn't doing what he was supposed to. As a teacher, I was already aware that children aren't simply programmable robots and that they can be frustrating sometimes. For you non-teachers who are thinking of becoming parents, you need to be aware of this. Unless you are a horrible pop musician (like Pitbull, who can barely complete a song on his own), you do not have the power to simply program children.

When I came back from the kitchen, I saw something wonderful. It was absolutely inspiring. My baby was looking at the breast, which was just out of reach, and sucking madly on the fingers of one hand. He was reaching for the breast with his other.

In teaching we learned about Vygotski and his zone of proximal development, or a manageable yet challenging gap to achievement that sets the bar neither too high nor too low. For my newborn baby, the gap between his sweet little face and my sleeping wife's funbags was too long, but he was sucking madly and knew what he wanted. Nothing passive there... woke her up, moved her closer... problem solved.

Tim Ferris, the talented business and fitness writer, has a talent for naming things, and I experienced something that he called The Harajuku Moment.

With the baby's goal too far away, he was doing the next best thing. With his appetite whetted, he was furiously trying to get what he wanted. It was nice to see that he wasn't giving up. My fear of him becoming a passive blob of an adult was soothed.

When I first read the term "Harajuku Moment" I thought of a Haruki Murakami short story called, "On seeing the 100% perfect girl one April morning." (Be sure to read the entire story as it appears in Sputnik Sweetheart and not the partial version that people put online). In fact, I'm sure it was the inspiration for Tim's coining of the term, which would make it a more interesting double edged sword.

The story is highly personal for me because it actually happened to me, and it happened in Harajuku as a single young man on my way to a job interview with a recruiter for a school in Tsukuba. It was morning. It was April. I can't for the life of me remember what the girl was wearing, but I saw her there and thought she was my future... and I kept walking.

It must happen all the time in Harajuku. Seriously, the place has that feel about it.

In Tim's version of the Harajuku Moment, the motivating, life-changing 'ah-ha' moment. In mine and Murakami's version, the needling, lingering feeling of 'what-if' that can follow a missed opportunity.

In life there are many things we want to do. Recently I saw a travel program about Vietnam. What I saw had me excited for days afterwards, so I sought out opportunities in Vietnam. I scored big and got a fantastic offer. It was much more than I had hoped for and I was ready to go. My baby was going to grow up with three languages. My son was going to eat cobra hearts and study martial arts. We would explore asian jungles together. Then the familial push and pull of discussion started to affect my ability to make decisions. The realities of the pregnancy and child rearing began to appear heavier and problems more insurmountable. Even now, the word "Vietnam" is associated with irritating feelings of lethargy, grasping and whining.

It's what no parent wants for their child. It's what no one wants for themselves. It's the difference between getting the milk and just sitting and sucking on your fingers, looking at a boob.

So, this morning I solved two major parenting problems (that I had helped cause) and been struck with a very inspiring ah ha moment. What am I going to do with it? Miss the opportunity like I did with the girl in Harajuku or a new life in Vietnam, or will I grab the bull by the boob?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Getting Older... End of the School Year... Accomplishments...Existential Crisis

A few days ago I had a birthday - a benchmark. The start and beginning of a unit of time that is used to define my life. I don't actually feel badly about it even thought the number of years I've been on this earth are getting into the triple digits (that's a joke, slowpoke).

Today I saw a video on youtube that was passed from someone in their twenties to someone approaching thirty to a couple of us who are well into our thirties, myself being more well into my thirties than anyone else in my office. The video is a song filled with jokes.. it's funny enough, poking fun at all of things average Americans pout about in their thirties. The main things seemed related to accomplishments. I'm not going to promote the video, so find it yourself. There are probably hundreds on the same theme.

I think that the word 'accomplishment' has a very dark connotation for a lot of people when their birthday rolls around... much like I dread Christmas when I haven't got any dough. I suppose it's like anything. The deadline comes and the work isn't complete, and the five year plan requires an extension.

Success and accomplishment certain gain steam as priorities when you get older and realize that those bowling trophies of yours don't shine as brightly as they once did and every car you've ever owned was was either a gift or a P.O.S.. By the way, how's it running these days?

NOTE: The best car I've ever own - a gift - was a teal Chrysler LeBaron like the one in Freddie Got Fingered.

NOTE2: I don't currently own a car. I'm planning to buy one in about a year when I can get a little scratch together.

(I don't actually care much for cars, as much as my childish side thinks owning an exotic supercar or a 1970s muscle car would bring me happiness)

As a chronic malcontent, I sympathise to an extent with the people who get well into their thirties and think, "What have I don't with my life? I'm fat. I don't like my job. My car/house/family are boring."

As a chronic malcontent, I also understand that the bar scene/barbecue scene/church picnic scene can be unsatisfying, even if that's what you look forward to while you bust a hump at that job you dislike.

But even to the greatest extent that I am a chronic malcontent who is well into my thirties without having become any kind of person of note, I am unsympathetic to much of the whining I witness in popular culture. Your existential crisis is not interesting for others. That is why it is an existential crisis. For me, it's like reading other people's poems. I'll write mine. You write yours. Just keep yours out of my face.

As a chronic malcontent, I have to report that all things considered (new pains, lack of notable accomplishments, lack of financial success), I'm feeling pretty content about my age.

And it feels weird to realize this.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Online Personhood

Since first getting online in the late eighties, I've probably spent a couple of years of my life using the internet, but not really for anything important. During that time I've made a few dollars on Ebay while getting ripped off on my Star Wars collection and about twenty two cents on blogging, which I am unable to find. Much of it has been wasted time. I produced some dumb fiction, wrote some bad poems, had some arguments... I prided myself on winning a good number of them, but the kind of people I argued with were mostly Bush supporters, which was like stomping around on a hill of fireants. Sorry fellas - the boots win... or do they? Rematch, anyone? My skin's gotten a bit thicker over the years.

This blog is going all over the place, but it's growing to represent a new personal step on the internet... a more honest one, I think, and a conscious acknowledgement of the fact of what I'll call 'online personhood'. Afterall, everyone is some kind of person online, right? Even if they're a different person in real life.

Now that blogs and dumb comments are as good as written in stone, I'm thankful for a couple of things, and one of them is that I wasn't too young online. Nothing special or eventful really happened, but I'm still happy that those days of personal discovery are gone, thanks to 35mm film. If anyone wants to make an attempt at finding embarassing photos of me online, they'll have to wait for me to first dig up piles of old photos and unstick them from each other, then digitize them provided they're undamaged enough to be damaging. And what would there be in that dog-eared pile? (I just realized that the cliche term 'dog-eared' is going the way of the dodo, much like hyphenating words) There's nothing in that pile - because 35mm film developing was too expensive! Oh! Blessed days of old. We had privacy, if not out of respect for each other, basic human decency and all of that, but because privacy was too costly to invade. Now invading each other's privacy is made fun and easy with any and all consumer electronics. It's even encouraged in advertisements featuring pretty people taking candid photos of other pretty people having spontaneous fun, which is why Facebook is overloaded with photos of people trying to look pretty in all of those contrived photos... and often getting into trouble.

Since privacy is something that doesn't actually exist, we can hope at least for a modicum of anonymity, the way a reticent person can escape notice in a room filled with braying jackasses. (I'm wondering now, since my online personality isn't being reticent, where I might fall on the jackass scale).

While I'm happy that my youth isn't searchable, I do wish that I could search a couple of things once in awhile. The local bands and artists I liked in university are all gone. The wild artistic people I admired often have very respectable, high paying careers (I searched them!). While I wish the music and images they produced were online and saved for posterity for me to look at whenever I felt nostalgic, perhaps it's better that those things are gone. There's no online persona that will follow them. They're truly free from it. That's the way things ought to be. If I want to remember someone, I'll have to actually have to use my mental faculties to remember them rather than simply typing their name clicking 'like' on their photos.

The next few years will be interesting even with the ability to delete much of our online histories. For one, we're going to learn as a group just how much of our online histories can be deleted. For example, if I bully you, you might get upset and delete the copy of the message from your e-mail or you may keep it and throw it back to haunt me later on. Anything we do can end up being copied and sent anywhere. We have no control.

In fact, if I were to make a quick recommendation about what to do with online bullies, I would say that keeping their comments is probably the best thing to do (but make copies in case they try to bully you into deleting their previous bullying).

I could even make a cute saying about it: Every time you're an idiot on line, you're an idiot for all time.

Please feel free to post and repost that little nugget of wisdom, perhaps with a picture of a kitten next to it.

Even after being online for about 15 years, I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I've got an online identity, and even if I were trying to fake being someone cooler or more interesting than I really am, the truth probably would have come out by now. But how close is my online identity to the person I am when the computer is off? What kind of snapshot does it provide for a person who would like to know who I really am? After this many years, it's definitely more than a snapshot... unless you want to call a Diego Rivera mural a doodle.  After awhile, the online persona must become an online person.

Found in Notebook: "Teflon Jim"

It's the start of something. I just found it while looking for some paper to write a list on:

                                                                            Teflon Jim

Rabies and Fistula are clanking around in the kitchen and Meat is napping on the sofa. She deserves a rest - she just got off her shift at the supermarket and smuggled three pounds of ground round in the hood of her sweatshirt. She said it choked her so bad that she had to walk from the breakroom in the back all the way to the front of the store and out to her car without breathing because her manager was leaving at the same time. She dropped her keys twice and nearly passed out.

Tonight's dinner is hamburgers.

Rabies and Fistula are cooking. It's my night to do dishes.

We're using paper plates I stole yesterday. They call me Snatch because I tend to take things.

I'm watching Meat sleep. I tell myself it's because there is nothing on television, but in reality i can't tear my eyes off of her.

Twenty minutes later the hamburgers are in the hands of a large hungry group. Bin, Cookie, Hands, Fart and Jim, who is Teflon to nicknames, are all here.

Fistula opens a bottle of Turkish raki, which is horrible stuff, but it's fun to watch as it turns cloudy and milky when you add water.

Later, we're watching a film - a French film with subtitles and we're having an international night.

Hands complains too long about having to read the dialogue, but it's a good story about a man who sells cigarettes and magazines and lives in the basement of an old library.

Halfway through the movie I see Meat smile and my eyes are almost too stuck on her to notice that she is holding Jim's hand. I immediately think of a nickname for him, but I won't write it here.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Baby Shower... via Skype

My mom threw a baby shower for us, and we were there via Skype. I didn't talk to a single guest because of the garbled sound, but it was still nice. They played games and had cake over there, we had cake and watched the games over here.

Maybe the Skype noise and sugar made me cranky because I really didn't want to go out, but we walked around and looked at people jumping over fires for a festival that I didn't fully understand, but kids were burning broken furniture and tires in the small parks around our apartment and no one seemed to mind. With no adults to supervise, the children were free to kick ashes around and pick up the burning pieces of wood to reposition them so they could make more impressive jumps.We also made a wish under a rosebush - if the things we put under the bush are disturbed, out wishes will come true.  As a festival, it fell a little flat, but there were a lot of people walking around on the street, presumably looking for a fire to jump over or a rosebush to wish on.

Last night was also the supermoon, but I saw it for just a few seconds. When the moon was out, this old man was already in bed!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Faced with a new challenge

Hunkered down, laying low, staying home, watching movies. That has been my life of late. I'm saving money. Why?

I'm having a baby.

American abroad having a baby with his Turkish spouse.

The timing couldn't have been bettter.

That last bit is not true.

The truth is that I was making serious plans to leave Turkey and scattering my resume all over the world while fretting about where I will find the money to buy planefare to relocate. That would be quite difficult with a baby and a spouse who would frankly prefer to stay in Turkey.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Ride

Buy the ticket, take the ride.
- Hunter S. Thompson

Today I'm thinking about retirement. That's right. Today. I've spent quite a few years living and working in various places and at various jobs. The path of my teaching career is either sideways or downward. Sure, last year was a brief upward spike, but this year I am squeaking by month to month. Teaching in America was a bust. Japan was a crabwalk towards old age. Turkey is just too tight a fit.

So where do I go from here? I find myself thinking about jumping off again towards a paradise location where there may or may not be amenities like hospitals, electricity and hurricanes. Low salaries are a real consideration. Should I try to stomach the UAE or Saudi Arabia in exchange for some savings in the bank? It's a possibility.

(I'm also wondering if I should change the tone of this blog to sound like a know-it-all expert)