• Flash Fiction: “Short”

    He could see the bullet in the gun’s barrel, whirling towards him.

    Freddie’s harmonics started at the same moment the smell of lilacs hit his nose, singing an amazing feeling coming through. He was surprised to see how beautiful was the face of the man who was holding the gun. How did he miss the arresting canary yellow of that single flower sprout through the cracks of the pavement? Suddenly he tasted the ocean. I was born to love you. A piano never sounded this wonderful.

    A hand slowly touched his back. A hand cup his cheek. Another landed gently on his shoulder. Another on the other shoulder. And another. Countless hands. With every single beat of my heart. He saw his grandmother petting his head as she used to do when he was a little boy, which had always put him to the happiest of sleeps. He felt how proud each person around him was, as he always felt when he looked at his daughter. Yes, I was born to take care of you.

    He remembered the brilliant summer day they had in the park last year. His wife baked most delicious blueberry muffins, he could still taste them, and they brought a large thermos of tea, which felt bottomless. Every single day of my life. The warm sun on their face, they chased after the frisbee, read books aloud, and his daughter drew the stories with crayons. The smells of horse-chestnuts and silver limes, mixed with boiled corn and fresh crushed grass, was still alive in his nose. They fell asleep watching the clouds, wife on his left, daughter on his right. 

    He watched his daughter fly towards the clouds in her swimsuit, beaming with the pure rapture of a three year old, arms widespread, eyes reflecting the shimmering sea. Her liquid laughter was the song he could never have enough. You are the one for me. He caught her midair and they dived underwater where he saw his wife’s face in front of him, smiling mischievously, her auburn hair flowing upwards like a mermaid queen. I am the man for you. They kissed for a fleeting second and when they broke the surface he took a big breath, waves turn to sheets, sweat dripping salty, hands locked, he came in her, You were made for me, her irises like deep cobalt canyons him falling caught by a firm hand behind the saddle and gave him a push, You’re my ecstasy, he felt the balance and was riding the bike, wind on his face dribbled the ball and kicked and scored! He jumped with jubilation and fell to the couch next to a chess board between him and his father smiling at him expectantly and he found the best move to his mother’s heavenly milk before he was blinded by a bright light, If I was given every opportunity.

    A heart beat.

  • A concert, a bubble, and the status games

    12th October, Berlin, 18:05, last night we watched The Rasmus perform live in Metropol Berlin, which is an impressive building with a gorgeous facade. We’ve never been in Metropol before, so we arrived early to explore the premises. Upon entry we are welcomed by an elegant old theatre with a small but cosy stage, surrounded by curvy walls, a circle of chandeliers overhead, high columns rising between two galleries, and a giant disco ball rotating on the high ceiling, sending glimmering rays of light all around the hall.

    It was so strange to watch a music group I’ve been listening to since MTV times and because the members were so young when they formed the band, wikipedia says 8th grade, they don’t seem to have changed at all. I felt young again as I sang their songs aloud. The audience was mostly mature looking people, probably sharing my feelings of nostalgia. It was a fun night. I especially enjoyed their new guitarist Emppu’s contagious electric joy.

    At some point in the concert, I found myself in a dreamy, introspective mood, thinking how privileged I was. Not just being in that hall, watching a wonderful live performance, but overall living in a wealthy first world country, living a luxurious enough life that can allow me to have a head space for writing. The looming shadows on the world, climate crisis, wars, economical crisis, energy crisis, food crisis, are a constant reminder of our blessings. 

    Staying in that funny mood, while the music faded into the background of my mind, my eyes got fixated at the hefty columns draped in the fake fog and the ominous red light emanating from the stage, which made the hall look like Hell’s reception and, for some inexplicable reason, the exact representation of the cosy bubble I was living in. How could I, in my privileged and blessed life, still feel trapped in a thick celluloid prison? What could I want more? Was I not ashamed to want more? 

    So far I can think of two reasons why I may be feeling trapped; 

    The first is the feeling of “being handled”, caused by the curated content we’re presented with. It started with the advertisements, but now it’s the pictures, videos, movies, people, places. We are constantly being analysed and categorised. As a software engineer, I know how much effort is spent on this on the other side of the fence. The problem is that it’s a feedback loop, which makes us feel that we belong to a clumsy category or a stereotype. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the decisions made for us become us. It slowly grinds our edges, hence the bubble.

    The second reason is feeling absolutely mediocre. I feel like in the absolute middle, in the perfect centre in every measure I compare, every race I compete. I’m not losing or winning in any category. In every direction I feel surrounded by millions of people, thus the bubble.

    But, why do I think I should compete at all? In a society that favours equality and strives to provide a minimum living standard, just like here in beloved Germany, where mediocrity is actually celebrated, and where I’m so grateful living in, why am I driven to stand out? What is the source of this mixture of appreciation and consternation?

    Is it the constant status games we play? Can’t we turn it off? 

    The first time I read about status games so explicitly described was in the book “Impro”, written by the pioneer of improvisational theatre Keith Johnstone. He explains the technique of understanding and using the power differences in any given situation, say in a master and his butler, or a queen and her fool. The statuses are communicated through body language and the inflection of the voice. He says, “once the status becomes automatic, as it is in life, it’s possible to improvise complex scenes with no preparation at all”.

    Here are some insightful highlights from the book;

    • Many people will maintain that we don’t play status transactions with our friends, and yet every movement, every inflection of the voice implies a status. My answer is that acquaintances become friends when they agree to play status games together.
    • When a very high-status person is wiped out, everyone feels pleasure as they experience the feeling of moving up a step. This is why tragedy has always been concerned with kings and princes,
    • In my view the two people scan each other for signs of status, and then the lower one moves aside. If they think they’re equal, both move aside, but the position nearest the wall is actually the strongest. If each person believes himself to be dominant a very curious thing happens. They approach until they stop face to face, and do a sideways dance. 
    • Servants’ costumes are usually rather tight so that their bodies take up a minimum of space. Other things being equal, the servant should be near a door so that he can be instantly dismissed without having to walk round the master.
    • breaking eye contact can be high status so long as you don’t immediately glance back for a fraction of a second. If you ignore someone your status rises, if you feel impelled to look back then it falls.
    • The corners of couches are usually high-status, and high-status ‘winners’ are allowed to take them.

    I don’t know how to stop playing the status game, but at least I wish to control its influence over my happiness. While having all these thoughts today I came across this beautiful poem;

    By Rumi

    Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
    There is a field. I’ll meet you there. 

    When the soul lies down in that grass,
    The world is too full to talk about.
    Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other
    doesn’t make any sense.

  • Once Upon a Time

    It’s been seven months but he was still nervous bringing the plates to the table. He quickly went through the list of animals and “rabbit” he decided. He gently placed one plate in front of his three year old daughter and watched her expression very carefully. She looked in it, for maybe 10 seconds, her eyes surveying the little vegetable landscape, then lifted her gaze to his face as he sat down. Having her attention made him feel the need to jump in. He forked a potato, lifted it up to examine it. His heart was beating fast, “stage fright”, he thought. 

    “There lived underground a family of rabbits.”, he started and immediately realized his mistake. But he learned not to hesitate and keep pushing through. Flow was more important than facts. “They were a happy bunch living in their home under a beautiful olive tree. During summer they ate all the carrots in the world. But when winter came there were no more carrots. They would puff up their furs, go out every day to find food, and would come empty handed. One day, moma rabbit didn’t come back. Daddy rabbit and baby rabbit were so sad they stopped going out to find food.” 

    She was looking ahead, her eyes glazed over. “God! I’m taking too long.”, he thought.

    “When baby rabbit got sick, daddy rabbit started digging the ground because he was scared. Suddenly he came across a yellow patch! ‘What is this?’ he asked and licked his paw.”, with a frown he licked the knuckles of his left hand, right one still holding up the fork with a potato. “‘This is so delicious!’, daddy rabbit exclaimed and brought some to baby rabbit.”. He was getting hungry. He put the potato in his mouth and continued while chewing. “Baby rabbit loved the potato! And they were so lucky that there were hundreds of potatoes around their house and they kept eating potatoes all winter until daddy rabbit and baby rabbit were both fat and their fur shiny.”

    She didn’t move a finger yet. He felt like sinking. He thought it was a good one. The Pediatrician’s words kept playing in his mind “This phase could have a permanent effect.”. He decided to play his best card. He forked a mushroom. 

    “When summer came, baby rabbit went to the forest to collect some mushrooms to cook with the potatoes.” “What a smooth segue.”, he thought. “Baby rabbit was so hungry and the mushrooms looked so tasty that for every two mushrooms she put in her basket she ate one.”, he swiftly ate his mushroom and forked another. ”After a while baby rabbit got tired and fell asleep next to a tree. When she woke up she realized that it wasn’t a tree but a huge mushroom!“ A smile formed in her face and he felt the tension on his hamstrings easing. “And she saw a caterpillar sitting on top of the giant mushroom smoking a cigarette. ‘You shouldn’t be smoking, it’s bad for your health!’ said baby rabbit. The caterpillar smugly replied, ‘A hundred years ago I would say society is afraid of the unknown, but you’re right little rabbit, science has proven that cigarettes are really bad for health, you’re a very smart little rabbit!’.” “An anti-cigarette propaganda, well done!”, he congratulated himself silently. But he knew he shouldn’t dally any longer. “‘Wait a minute!’ baby rabbit said. ‘How is this mushroom so huge?’ she asked. ‘Oh you didn’t know little rabbit? Some of the mushrooms are magical and can take you to the dreamland!”, he nodded. “You must’ve eaten one.’ the caterpillar said.”. He saw a mushroom disappear in her mouth. Something melted in his chest. He quickly ate a forkful and for a delightful second father and daughter looked at each other chewing.

    “‘I’ll tell you a secret.’ the caterpillar said and he whispered the secret to baby rabbit’s long ears. When baby rabbit went back home, she planted three rows of zucchinis and watermelons side by side.”. He forked a zucchini and thought, “Am I getting good at this?“. “When the zucchinis were half grown she cut their roots and connected them to the watermelons. And because zucchini roots were deeper than watermelon roots, they could drink more water from the earth and so her watermelons grew into enormous sizes!”, he gestured with both hands in the air, ”When baby rabbit took the giant watermelons to the forest market, everyone was aston…”

    “I like this.”, she interrupted. An onion ring rose from the plate hanging on her clumsy fork.

    His shoulders sank a little. “Of course you like it.”, he thought. A memory of his pregnant wife chasing him in the house after eating a raw onion like an apple “HANONION HAD HAAY KHEEPSDEEE DOOCH DOOOR HAAAWAAY!”. Well, it didn’t.

    “That’s an onion, baby.”

    She ate the onion and swung her head slightly from side to side. He just watched her, heart full.

    “Do you know any an-yan stories Jason?”

    His name on her lips was pure bliss. He took a moment to relish it and looked at her through a haze.

    “Of course I do baby of course!”. He fought the urge to steal a kiss from her rosy cheeks, she didn’t like it much. 

    He straightened his posture, took a deep breath, and forked a piece of onion.

    “Once upon a time”

  • My year of course correction, part 2

    6th October, Berlin, 19:24, continuing my story from yesterday;

    At the end of 2018, I was back in my home town, living with my parents as a recovering workaholic. I quit a ridiculously well paying job in Dubai because I simply got scared to get used to earning high numbers and lose my ability to walk away anytime I wanted. My friends told me to my face how stupid I was. Maybe they were right, but I never regretted my decision. I was determined to stay hungry, stay foolish.

    On top of leaving behind a glamorous life in a shiny desert city, I was planning to buy land to start a food forest and become a farmer. Everybody thought I was mad with sunstroke. 

    After a month without work, without stress, spending happy time with family, catching up with old friends, a weight was lifted off of my shoulders and my movements lightened, I was breathing easy again.

    As I got rested and my energy increased, I decided to try my hand on something I wanted for a long time; app development, specifically games. Hyper-casual games were making tons of money and I thought I could pull off a few, which would be a great addition to my food forest dreams. Who wouldn’t want passive income trickling in while you’re cleaning the chicken coop or refilling the worm farm with bio.

    Besides, I knew that once I bought the farm and started building, I would be fully dedicated to nature and its continuous care, which would be a period of non-stop learning and observing that would leave no time or energy for anything else. In fact, after years of software development, I was looking forward to physical labour, dreaming of aching muscles after a good day’s work.

    In the meantime, I was slowly remembering how challenging it was to live with parents as an introvert. I wasn’t getting enough alone time at home. In her book “The Cost of Living”, Deborah Levy mentions a writing shed in a garden protected by her landlady where she wouldn’t be interrupted or even have the possibility of being interrupted, except for squirrels. I needed my shed, an incubation space. So, I decided to rent a house for a year. 

    There is a neighbourhood in Istanbul called Caddebostan, with its green streets, elegant houses, theatres, educated inhabitants, and its proximity to my friend’s houses, it was the perfect area where everything was within walking distance. 

    I rented the first house I viewed. It was love at first sight. As you enter, you’d be welcomed by a magnificent wall of windows in the living room, looking at a lush garden, leaves gently swaying in the autumn wind. You’d feel the house was cocooned in a green canopy. As I entered the empty house, an image of a long table next to the windows flashed before my eyes. Warm lights hanging over the table, friends sitting around it, having dinner, playing games. A daydream that would come true.

    After settling into my new home, I dived into the Unity game engine. Influenced by years of playing MMOs in my youth, and in my initial excitement, I made a 3D role-playing game with a huge map that has rivers, mountains, villages, enemy encampments, fancy combat mechanics, magic of all sorts, hundreds of lootable items, bosses hidden in cave systems, an arena for multiplayer fighting, etc. etc.

    I toiled and toiled and it was not even close to finishing and still looked raw and basic. I decided to wrap it up, put it in the store, consider it a learning project, and start a smaller game instead. 

    To package the game with a story, I made a deal with a writer I found in Fiverr. A few days later when I received the story, as if a magic dust was sprinkled over it, suddenly the game started to look much better. That’s when I realised I needed to start from the story, not the mechanics.

    With this revelation, I started reading a game design book called “The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses”.

    Here are a few wonderful highlights I saved during that first read: 

    • The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
    • Genres come and go, but the basic principles of game design are principles of human psychology that have been with us for ages.
    • There are certain feelings: feelings of choice, feelings of freedom, feelings of responsibility, feelings of accomplishment, feelings of friendship, and many others, which only game-based experiences seem to offer.
    • You can’t leave every decision to playtesting, especially early in the process, when there is no game yet to playtest. At this point someone has to exert a personal opinion about what is good and bad.
    • This principle, in reference to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle from quantum mechanics, points out that the motion of a particle cannot be observed without disturbing the motion of that particle. Similarly, the nature of an experience cannot be observed without disturbing the nature of that experience.
    • When problem solving is removed from a game, it ceases to be a game and becomes just an activity.
    • When something captures our complete attention and imagination for a long period, we enter an interesting mental state. The rest of the world seems to fall away, and we have no intrusive thoughts. All we are thinking about is what we are doing, and we completely lose track of time. This state of sustained focus, pleasure, and enjoyment is referred to as “Flow” and has been the subject of extensive study by psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi and many others. Flow is sometimes defined as “a feeling of complete and energized focus in an activity, with a high level of enjoyment and fulfillment. ”
    • When comparing games with books and films, one of the most striking differences is the number of verbs. Games usually limit players to a very narrow range of potential actions, while in stories the number of possible actions that characters can engage in seems nearly limitless. This is a natural side effect of the fact that in games, the actions and all their effects must be simulated on the fly, while in stories it is all worked out ahead of time. In Chapter 16 we will discuss how this “action gap” can be bridged in the mind of the player, so that you can give the feeling of limitless possibilities while keeping the number of operational actions at a manageable limit.
    • Prolonged play is desirable because it allows for a higher score and a measure of success, but it also taps into our natural human drive for survival.

    To be continued…

  • A book launch and dreams of a food forest

    5th October, Berlin, 22:23, we just came home from the Berlin launch of a book called “Odesa at Dawn” from Sally McGrane. I loved the fact that there was a microphone, unlike the book launches we attend at Hopscotch Reading Room, which made it so much more pleasant to listen to the conversation between the book’s editor and author. 

    The book is a spy novel set on Odesa, in Ukraine, around 2015-2016 and the author said she wrote the story while living in Odesa and without knowing that we were on the brink of war. She read two excerpts. The first one was about Mr. Smiley, a cat with a scarred face, who turns out to be the boss of the cat network of the city. Mr Smiley knows more than anyone, including humans, what’s going to happen and where. An intriguing start. I immediately thought about Istanbul with its millions of cats, which could be a great prequel setting for Mr. Smiley. James Bond of cats? 

    The second part she read was about the spy who was drunk at that moment and having a stomach churning taxi ride, driven by a flat nosed boxer who were talking about the city and its recent guests. A night ride with a chatty taxi driver is a clever way to introduce a place the reader has never seen. She read it so amiably that we decided to buy the book and add it to our signed book collection, which we did right after the talk was over. I think she found my Istanbul catspirocy idea amusing. Well, whoever develops that idea, I can’t wait to read it.

    A few years ago it dawned on me that every time I feel tired, but deeply tired, I find myself dreaming of moving back to Turkey, buying a piece of land to practise permaculture, growing a food forest and living self-sufficiently by its all year round yield.

    This yearning of going back to the land started in me around 2013 when I was tired of living the fast life in the city. I wasn’t taking care of my health neither physically nor mentally. All I could think of was working hard, trying to make money, make it fast through startups, shortcuts. Then trying to relax on weekends in the worst ways possible. I was clearly burnt out, but I didn’t know it then. 

    With like-minded friends who were in similar fed up states, we decided to pool our money and started searching all over Turkey to settle. Soon we found reasonably cheap lands in incredibly beautiful parts of Canakkale, Bayramic, which looked like Tuscany in those days. Our assessments were verified later, by the many ecovillages and community farms built in the area. 

    But our dreams were shaken by a series of financial hiccups which would still allow us to buy only the land but continue working in our soul crushing city jobs until we have the essentials settled in the farm. Finally, I was strongly vetoed by my father who found our farming plans half-baked and said “You’re too young to give up your education and experience in software, and settle in a remote village. You need to be in the heart of the action in your prime.”. He was right. Spock to my inner Kirk. Listening to his sage advice, I went back to work.

    5 years later, I was burnt out again after working in Dubai and spending years staying in hotels, like a modern day beduin. I was burnt out because it wasn’t that Dubai was in the middle of the desert and extremely hot, but because I fell into my bad habits of careless living. To escape that dangerous comfort zone, that golden treadmill, I quit and came back to my home town. My plan was to do nothing for a year or two and only work on my neglected health. Building a farm immediately started playing in my mind again, and this time money wasn’t an issue. 

    2019 became one of the most important years in my life. Although I couldn’t get in shape as much as I hoped, I was finally relaxing after years of grinding stress. I was catching up with all my friends, playing boardgames, sitting in cafes for hours watching people, thinking uninterrupted, journaling ferociously, reading all the books I had left for another day, finally taking the sailing lessons I always wanted. A massive course correction was happening in me.

    Continued here: https://orkunsjournal.com/2022/10/06/my-year-of-course-correction-part-2/

  • Movies, brunches, demonstrations, and being connected to a city

    2nd, October, Berlin, 15:41, on Friday we watched a movie called “A Bigger Splash”. We chose this one because a few months ago we came across “Call Me By Your Name” from the same director, Luca Guadagnino, which was a great summer entertainment for us. 

    A Bigger Splash” had the same qualities of a sexy European summer as his later movie. A small Italian town, local festivals, spati looking local joints for playing cards, enjoying karaoke, dancing clubs for hot and sweaty nights, and lots of sexual tension between the characters of the movie. It starts with a young couple having a slow vacation in a gorgeous villa with a pool. Then they get a phone call from an ex-colleague, and soon we’ll learn, an ex-lover, played brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes. He enters the screen with the warmest smile and continues to burn the frame with inexhaustible energy. We were so dazzled by him that we had to look up his age at the time of the shooting of the movie, and learned that he was 52. Physically he looks amazing too. Later, seeing the amount of naked shots he had, I understood the reason for his ripped shape. At one moment he was dancing with utter bliss in the open air, a warm breeze on his face, and I found myself hoping to be in the same shape his was and relish life when I’ll be 52 as he was relishing at that moment.

    Somehow we predicted the second part of the movie which contains a tragedy. Maybe it was a curious look that gave it away, or the unnatural moves and dialogs the characters were having I cannot tell for certain. And after that the vibe of the movie completely changed. I actually thought it ruined the whole thing. We were frustrated because we were looking for an emotional drama, a more subtle message. When we looked for other criticism on the net, we realised this movie was a remake of an old classic called “La Piscine”, which explained the story structure and the director’s next movie without the big tragedy.

    Yesterday, we went brunching with friends at a lovely place called Turnhalle. It’s like a big sports court with a high ceiling where a huge chandelier is hanging. I was sitting right under the dead centre of the chandelier, its tip hanging over my head, which provoked a conversation around trusting technology and individual control over our lives. In that instant, I had to trust the people who installed the chandelier to be able to enjoy my food and the company of my friends. Like taking a plane to anywhere, we have no choice but to trust the engineers and the pilot and the ground control. Then our friends told us about their vacation and their adventures in an amusement park where one of them fainted during a ride on a roller coaster. For her it’s impossible to understand how anyone can enjoy that dangerous machine. For us who can enjoy it, it’s hard to understand how not to let go of the fear and trust the machine.

    But she was right, safety is an illusion. Last week I was going to my physical therapy session for my shoulder and I was at a wide crossing in Alexanderplatz. Because it’s the same traffic lights I’ve been crossing for the last two years, I know the exact timing of the green light, which I use for my benefit to cut the crowd and step into the road before everyone else. This time, when I was in the middle of the road and was leading the pack, I heard terrifying exclamations coming behind me; someone drawing in breath in a shock or half a scream. The same second, a car buzzed past me a few centimetres away. I was frozen in place and a huge doze of adrenaline was released in my bloodstream. It is rare in Berlin for anyone to break the rules of the traffic this way, but it was a reminder of how much we are not in control of our fate, even though we have every kind of order and education, and how close we are to death at any moment.

    After the brunch, my girlfriend surprised me by taking us to an escape room, which she planned and coordinated with our friends. It was a nice birthday present. We went into a spaceship themed challenge and nearly failed due to the misdirections of the helper girl on the other end of the walkie talkie. It wasn’t intentional, it’s just her English was not so good. But we had fun overall. 

    Then we joined our friends in the demonstration regarding the violence that’s going on in Iran. People are sick of the islamic system of rule and the enforcement of head cover for women. There were many catchy chants both in farsi and deutsch. People’s favourite was “weg, weg,weg, Mulla muss weg”, probably due to its simplicity and musicality. It was a big gathering, several thousands. We heard that there would be a march towards Brandenburg Gate but we left before the march.

    Three years ago, before I got hired by unu and came to Berlin, I had an interview, the fourth and the last one, called the “culture interview”, done by employees that are not going to be working in the same department with me, so that they are not biassed about the hiring decision. They asked me questions totally unrelated to software, common sense questions designed to evaluate my creativity, my humbleness, and my connectedness to the city I was living in, which was Istanbul at the time. When I arrived in Berlin and joined our Friday all hands meetings, I saw the benefit of having a culture interview. There was a strong sense of like-mindedness, almost a general frequency everyone was vibrating to and was keenly aware of. 

    Later I learned that I almost failed the culture interview because my interviewers didn’t think I was connected enough to my city. One of the questions was to describe my city as if describing a person. I can’t remember my exact words, but I always thought of Istanbul as a chaotic place, suffocating, painful to navigate, a cutthroat environment. So, I probably didn’t paint it in the most complimentary light. Then they asked me where I’d take them if they were visiting Istanbul and I was their host. I think I’ve mentioned some historical places, a hamam my friends and I frequented, a restaurant with a Bosphorus view I liked to patronise in those days. Thinking back, they must’ve found my choices pretty dull or ordinary touristic spots you can find in any travel website, nothing special for someone who lived in Istanbul for 18 years. And they wouldn’t be wrong in their assessment. 

    I started questioning what it means to be connected to a city. How can you understand an enormous context such as a city? In three years in Berlin, I have visited its parks, its lakes, museums, theatres, cinemas, favourite breakfast places, local markets, christmas markets, malls, U-bahns, S-bahns, regional trains, hiking routes, concert halls, art exhibitions, graveyards, second hand bookshops and watched book launches, read the books about Berlin, read the giant tome of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the country’s and the city’s history, joined writing courses, made friends, formed writing groups that meet in the city’s most cosy cafes or the stairs of Alte Museum, marched in demonstrations, parades, feasted in its beer gardens, witnessed the bloom of the cherry avenues, played chess in its streets. Does all of this make me connected to Berlin? If not, what else should I do? 

    As I was searching for the meaning of connectedness to a city, I decided to take a closer look at my old friend’s blog I mentioned in my previous sessions. His blog started in 2010 when we were 29 years old, when we were hot headed, running around the city like daredevils. We were both curious and excited about our adult lives, our freedom, spending our own hard earned money on whatever we liked. Now, through his blog,  I recognise a different perspective, paying attention to different things. Now I realise while I was an introspective person trying to understand myself, he was deeply observing the city. 

    For example, a post from September 2010; he took pictures inside an old and empty stadium which was demolished a year later. The pictures show how worn out the stadium was. It belonged to Galatasaray, a football club with a long history, a club who won a European cup once. But my friend is a big fan of another football club, Galatasaray’s biggest opponent at the time. But still, in his post he acknowledges the history of this stadium that is marked for destruction, and he is clearly sad about the memories of legendary games that are going to be swept away with it. He was paying his respects to the place that played an important role in the lives of millions of sport fans. 

    This stadium, Ali Sami Yen, is the same place I watched my first concert as a young boy when Metallica first visited Istanbul. I also knew it was going to be demolished, but I wasn’t as sentimental about it in those days. I vaguely remember thinking that it was actually a good decision because the stadium was in the middle of the city, in the middle of an important traffic network, and every time there was a football game or a concert it would create horrible congestion and the whole traffic in Istanbul would come to a halt, resulting in the misery of millions for the pleasure of a lucky few.

    Maybe football and fanaticism is overrated, maybe the problem was the way the roads were built without regulation, but one thing is certain; my friend was sensitive to the changes in the city while I was careless. After the stadium was gone, the neighbourhood was not the same. The excited crowd’s enthusiasm was taken to the outskirts of the city, no longer rippling from the heart of the city.

    Another interesting post from September 2010; a sticker we started to see on the ATM machines, almost mimicking the branding of the bank, but with a critique of the new bonus system the bank was employing. My friend was reporting in which neighbourhoods the sticker started to pop up, closely tracking the visibility of a single sticker. Then he finds a similarity between the design of the sticker and certain stencils around the same area, claiming that it’s produced by the same artist. Not stopping there he finds the nickname of the artist and thanks him for his efforts.

    One of the first things I noticed in Berlin was the explosion of stickers and street art in every corner of the city. I felt blessed to live in a city where creativity was so abundant. But I never got curious about the distribution of the same sticker in the city. I never wonder who made a sticker or a graffiti I liked. Once we got lost and found ourselves in a back alley where a few artists were painting the walls, but we didn’t think of stopping and appreciating their art and maybe shaking their hands.

    But now, after reading my friend’s blog post from 12 years ago, I decided to look closer, get more curious, not take the street art for granted but appreciate every piece of creation with more care, take pictures, take notes, and try to research the artists behind the art that makes Berlin a more beautiful place to live. Perhaps, that would make me more connected to my city.

    Stream recording: https://youtu.be/5m12yFuVdoM

  • The Morning Commute

    04:35, She wakes up ten minutes before the alarm. Still dark. Her husband rolls away and farts as she gets out of the bed. She glares at his hairy back while quickly getting dressed. Moving silently and without checking on the kids, she leaves the house and is out on the narrow streets. A big fat rat is moving slowly in the ditch next to the sidewalk. A crouched cat is watching it, not daring to come closer. She can’t judge which one is bigger. The diversity of life in this neighbourhood kept surprising her; last week it was a scorpion on the wall, as big as her thumb. Despite all the toxic materials and chemicals used in these houses, and despite all the underfoot ready to trample them, the creatures still managed to co-exists with us, she is musing as she scurries uphill to the minibus line a block away.

    05:05, She jumped into a minibus which are usually slower in the morning to fill their capacity. Unexpectedly, there is an empty seat, which is a tradeoff of a momentary comfort now vs the trouble to get out of it later. Sitting is such a rare treat lately that she feels it’s worth risking it. But she forgets the duty of passing the money around that comes with the territory. The main problem isn’t the dirty money changing hands, but the constant hassle of communication in a noisy environment. Money would come and go with a location attached to it. Occasionally the driver would shout something like “what is this X lira is for?” with his head half turned, keeping his eyes on the road, and she would shout the name of the location that is usually too hard to pronounce or to care. She dreads a mixup. Bumpy roads, sharp turns, and frequent stops and starts doesn’t help either. When her stop approaches, she starts to claw her way out of the crowd between her and the door as people sternly stand their ground. Sometimes a pervert would position himself in her way, and at all times she had to guard her purse vigilantly. But she is not harassed today. Nothing she can’t handle.

    05:40, She decides to take the metrobus for a change. She doesn’t want to use Marmaray which goes under water. Metrobus is cheaper, took longer, but she likes the view, she tells herself crossing the roundabout where congestion is beginning. The light blue of the new day gives her the strength she needs to brace for the human flow she throws herself in. Once you pass the ticket turnstiles, it’s near impossible to turn back. You are pushed and pulled by the collective will of the morning commuters and the wave of metrobusses. These long buses have their own lanes and are driven by daredevils. Every month there is news of an accident of the ghastliest kind. She holds her breath as she is sucked in by the next one, together with a million other people. A suffocating mass of arms, chests, wet armpits, bags, and hair. She fights for air as unwashed body parts are broadcasted by sweat. The worst is the crying baby. Who would bring a baby to a metrobus? At this early hour? Oh, maybe the baby is sick and they are taking her to a hospital, she thinks and feels grateful that none of her kids are sick today. She can’t deal with an emergency right now. She slowly makes her way to the nearest window, not caring for the mumbled protests. This is her single pleasure. The metrobus is speeding smoothly towards Bosphorus bridge. She takes it all in as a vast open space and sea spread in front of her; basked in an orange glow, boats and ferries gliding on the water, Maiden’s tower, Topkapi palace, Galata tower, skyscrapers on the hill, and Istanbul with all her chaos. She feels as if her life is like a fast-forwarded video between these peaceful moments on the bridge. It lasts a minute before the scene is cut by concrete.

    06:10, when she gets off the last vehicle, she takes a big breath of sea air mixed with roses and pine. She turns to a quiet side street where the birds are waking up. As she enters the garden, street lamps turn off. The guard at the lobby sees her coming and buzzes her in. She knows that his shift is almost over, and he knows that she is in a hurry. They silently nod each other good morning. She takes the elevator to the 11th floor while searching for the keys. As gently as possible, she unlocks the steel door and enters the apartment. She barely has time to take her coat before a little boy hugs her leg.

    “Nana! I want an omelet!”

    “Shh you’re gonna wake up your mom and dad.” She giggles and starts to walk to the kitchen with a monkey on her leg.

  • The Bottomless Pho

    28th September, Berlin, 15:59, I get excited around 11:50 and run upstairs to prepare quickly for my favourite time of the day; lunch! My belly is groaning but I can’t even hear myself think as we walk past the red brick church whose bells are tolling loud, where time stops and we find ourselves at the exact spot under the same exact daylight and the exact same puffy clouds flying over the fairy towers day after day as if nothing happened between now and yesterday, as if the repetition lulls us into a sweet dream.

    We reach our beloved asian restaurant around the corner of the block. Since the days are getting colder we sit inside. Big windows, warm lights, big smiles welcome us. We usually are the first customers, but the tables will be full before 12:30 and the loveliest white noise will fill the interior, blending into the steam of our Pho soups. 

    The waiters know us and make a guess; two Pho? Yes. With? Beef and chicken bitte. We like to surprise them by ordering a different combo every day. Tofu and beef. Chicken and tofu. Tofu tofu, beef beef. We like to keep them on their toes.

    Within minutes our Pho soups arrive. Two large bowls of absolute deliciousness! There is lime, chilli, and crunchy mung bean sprouts next to it. I put chilli in mine, she puts sprouts, and we both squeeze our limes to the last drop and lick our fingers in a ritualistic harmony. A hearty new waitress asks if we’d like garlic for our soups. We’ve been going to the same restaurant for two years and we’ve never heard of the garlic option. We say why not. She brings a jar of liquid with thinly sliced garlic and chilli in it. A strong smell hits our nose as we lift the lid; mouth-watering garlic. We both add three tea spoons of it in our Pho. Without tasting it, we know it’s a whole new game now. 

    I’m a spoon, she’s a fork person. I eat everything using a spoon, but for pho I prefer a fork and she a spoon. I mix the noodles making sure the spiciness of the chilli, the sourness of the lime, and the earthiness of garlic is equally distributed around the soup. Then I roll the noodles around my fork and have the first bite of the day. It is heaven.

    As we revel in our Pho she tells me the recent news from the war. I intensely feel the evanescence of our happy bubble. I lift the bowl to my face and drink its rejuvenating broth with slurpy relish. It’s at perfect temperature. Neither lukewarm, nor too hot. The warmth reaches my bones, colours intensify, all senses awake. I feel like I’m having a hot bath in the open air on a beautiful autumn noon. I wish my soup never ends and never gets cold.

    But before I can finish my wish, like waking up from a dream, my Pho is gone, and I’m swiping the last remains of the herbs stuck to the sides of the bowl. We sit there for a few minutes digesting the reality of our finished lunch, trying to gather the necessary willpower to get up and go back to our laptops and remote work. I’m tempted to have a second Pho, but I know it would be sacrilege. Waiter brings our receipt without us requesting it; another special treat for they know she needs it for reimbursement. We tip gratefully for we know without their hospitality our Pho would never taste as divine.

    Pho soup with beef
  • Movies, misfortunes, and graveyards

    27th September, Berlin, 18:28, yesterday I woke up with a mild case of vertigo. It’s been happening infrequently since 2019. The first time was in my sleep and I was falling. A horrible feeling of helplessness. I’m a constant turner when I’m sleeping and every time I turn to a  certain side, I would fall into an invisible vortex. I learned that it’s caused by stress, tiredness, and salty food. This time I know the culprits are the popcorns we had at the movies on the weekend. The moment I realised I can eat popcorn despite my braces I went berserk. Well, I’m paying the price now.

    The first movie we watched was “Don’t worry Darling”. Over the last months its trailer was the first one to dazzle us, right after those long and boring ice cream ads. The constant and brilliant sunshine, pretty dresses, perfect makeups, fancy cars and pools, and the promise of a psychological puzzle intrigued us. Our heroine was having a meltdown of some sort and we were trying to guess what might be the reason. Since experiences are subjective and there are no ways to know the cause of her distress is internal or external, I labelled her as an unreliable narrator and waited for more clues. The city, built on a desert, seemingly away from everywhere else, was run by a charismatic leader played by Chris Pine (one of my favourite captain Kirk). The extreme order of the city was close to ridiculousness, and it reminded me of the recent news of Liberland, where a bunch of people are trying to create a new country using the latest technology and fantastical new ideas of social order. 

    As the story progressed, the mystery around a hill grew. All the men leave the city in the morning and at the same time, in a choreographed way. They return in the evening to their dutiful wives waiting for them with night dresses, dinner and a drink ready. Clearly an order that can only be designed by a man. I expected what they are doing in the mystery hill is either a genius project, or something we’ve seen before. Unfortunately, it was the latter. On top of that, the movie answers only a few questions it raises and leaves it open to interpretation. Visually, a lovely movie, but it didn’t stimulate me as expected.

    The second movie was Avatar. My girlfriend didn’t watch it when it was released in 2009, so we had to remedy that before Avatar 2. It took me way back to the tumultuous years of my life. I remember how its technology blew us away and it still looks good. Especially the flying scenes are always a wonder to watch. What I didn’t realise 13 years ago was the subconscious nudity of the indigenous population of Pandora. Yes they are alien, blue, and have tails, but still the muscles and curves are exposed.

    Another difference was the basic premise of humans travelling through space for years to mindlessly mine and destroy a paradise of a planet. Actually one of the characters says “There is no green left back home”. If so, we would be more careful not to destroy a second chance like Pandora. A more believable story would be the rich colonising it after exterminating the local populace. Well, despite its stock characters, broken behaviour, ton of exposition, and predictability, Avatar is still a highly entertaining movie.

    At the end, we are given a glimpse into Avatar 2. It was a bunch of blue kids swimming and teasing each other. Some of them were evolved to thrive in water, with their special limbs and lizard-like tails. I must say with 3D glasses the movie looks incredibly real. We were in total awe. It will be another huge jump in animation technology, just like the first movie achieved. Can’t wait to feast our eyes in that gorgeous movie.

    On Sundays it’s really hard to do anything serious. It’s almost like my brain loses all its erect stance and turns into jelly, jiggling uselessly. So, we’ve been playing steam games instead of reading or writing or preparing posts, etc. Twitch helps a lot to find adventure games. 

    The other day my girlfriend was watching Horizon Zero Dawn and after watching it for about twenty seconds I was already exhausted. All those jumping, sliding, running, tumbling, shooting arrows. I thought doesn’t she ever get tired? Even the fittest person would have to stay in bed for two days after that activity. The person who is operating her with a controller naturally must feel an eternal youth and an inexhaustible energy. I wonder what it would look like if a game really mimics the maintenance of a real body, taking the tiredness, the food, the rest, the heart, the lung capacity into account.

    After a bit of searching and watching on Twitch, we found a delightful casual game called “Little Misfortune”. It looked and sounded extremely cute. But after five minutes we learned our child heroine had a drunkard father who beats his wife, a smoker mother who doesn’t care about her child to the point of forgetting her in the mall. It only got darker and darker after that. In her dark and loveless world, little misfortune is led by a voice in her head, and goes on a mission to find eternal happiness which she plans to give to her mom. The game was a mixture of depressingly sad stories and funny moments, and overall a horror game. The quote that hit me was “nobody teaches me how to feel”. We finished it in three hours and in need of a happy game to wipe away our tears.

    Yesterday, after work we went to the big graveyard in our neighbourhood. One corner of it, maybe one tenth of the whole graveyard is made a park. During summer it’s packed with families having picnics. Even though it’s small, it’s dense with trees and great for hide and seek. Many interesting paths carved through the foliage, either by design or by the playfulness of the children. And there are still gravestones in the park area. Regularly visited by the squirrels who are not afraid to engage and sometimes climb humans for a few nuts. 

    This time we were walking through the graveyard itself. A tranquil place. Perfect for pondering, slowing down. There are huge mausoleums for ancient families of Berlin. We sometimes look them up, wondering what they did in their time to deserve an impressive spot like that. We found innovators, musicians, writers, army generals, mathematicians, and owners of banks. 

    Some of the glamorous graves are not maintained anymore, it seemed to us. Broken marbles, tumbled stones, bullet or shrapnel holes on the walls, plants taken over some of them. And there were very small parcels, not enough for a body. My girlfriend said they were for the ashes of the person, perhaps an urn buried. 

    Our stroll reminded me of our family graveyard in our small hometown in Turkey. Also a tranquil place. It seems to me that all the graveyards are located in the best parts of the town. Or do they preserve the natural beauty of the place by preventing human activity from spoiling it? I remember visiting my grandfather’s grave with my grandmother. She was in her eighties, already ailing. She seemed to have made her peace with death. There was an empty spot next to my grandfather’s grave. She said “I just want to crawl here and lay down next to my husband”. I was shocked as a young person, but I’m beginning to understand her as I get older. 

    “On the shortness of Life” Seneca says, “Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.”.

    The one difference between the graveyards in Turkey and in Germany is that there are highly decorated graves here. They put lamps, toys, pictures, personal items, walnuts in small squirrel towers, and many other creative constructs to remind them of their lost relatives. There are so many creative gravestones too. I’ve seen tiny steps going around a huge rough stone, as if a fairy would walk it when no one is looking. I really like this positive attitude towards death. So, we sat next to one of them and watched the bees work a beautiful flower, which, after googling it, turned out to be orpine.

    Francis Bacon, the painter, says in one of his interviews: “I have a feeling of mortality all the time. Because, if life excites you, its opposite, like a shadow, death, must excite you. Perhaps not excite you, but you are aware of it in the same way you are aware of life, you’re aware of it like the turn of a coin between life and death. And I’m very aware of that about people, and about myself too, after all. I’m always surprised when I wake up in the morning.

    I don’t know why but today I remembered my friend’s blog and decided to check it after a long long time. It looked like it’s almost deserted. He started it in 2010 (oh, maybe watching Avatar caused this nostalgia) and until 2014 there are an average of 140 posts a year. Then the average drops to 5 a year for the last 5 years. It’s a shame because it was a wonderful creation. Looking back, he seems to have captured our prime time in Istanbul. A few other contributors to the blog and I were together most of the time, hanging out together. But somehow I never wrote anything for the blog. I was barely reading it in those days. Now I can’t even remember what I was busy with. Work? Relationships? Games? It’s funny that I’m creating my own blog now. As always I’m a late bloomer.

    I messaged him right after reading our past and diving into a heavy nostalgia. Like a good wine, the blog aged gracefully, its value growing each year. It captures our youth beautifully. He didn’t seem to share my enthusiasm and love for the blog. Maybe he sees a burden while I can enjoy it by being detached.

    He told me to read his latest posts, a small series. He has written that he was inspired after reading José Saramago’s book The Stone Raft in Lisbon. It was about a fictional event of the old town of Istanbul breaking from the rest of the land, taking the landmarks and its inhabitants with it, sailing through the mediterranean, crossing the strait of Gibraltar with a big friction, and finally coasting next to Lisbon. So, we get a new city that is half Istanbul, all the best parts of it, and half Lisbon. Istanbul brings lots of cats which gave the rats and dogs of Lisbon a hard time. The merger creates an explosion of diversity in food, music, sports, religion, and bad habits. What an imagination. 

    I checked the date of the series, they are written in 2020, the year he moved to Lisbon for his studies. It’s only natural to want to take your beloved city, and your connections and favourite places in it, with you. A heartbreaking example of homesickness turned into splendid art.

    That made me wonder what other fantastic combinations of cities can be dreamt up. A combination of Istanbul, Berlin, and Dubai? Which cities and which parts of those cities you’d throw in the mix?

    Stream recording: https://youtu.be/85d2HFeFnd8

  • Two writing prompts: something small and an affair

    24th September, Berlin, 13:54, it’s time for some creative writing.

    Writing prompt: Write from the point of view of something small. Perhaps it is also something fragile or forgotten but not necessarily. It can’t be a child!

    Suggestions from xella_reads

    • “Seed growing into a tree”
    • “Life of a smartphone”

    Xella, the cat of the house, started making those noises cats make just before they spew out a ball of hair. Then it turned into a constant low cough, and then a whining hum, and then she threw her head back and opened her mouth as big as a yawn, showing all her viciously pointy white teeth and started outright laughing.

    Sam was standing with a cup of coffee in his hand halfway between the kitchen and his laptop on the couch. His eyes and mouth wide open, he said “Wha.. What are you laughing at?”

    “I’m laughing at your belly hanging out of your dirty t-shirt. And Please stop walking around with your underwear Sam, you look pathetic.”

    Sam looked down at his belly and turned to the bedroom to wear his pyjamas, but stopped short by the slack notification. It was standup time and he was late. He rushed to his laptop and joined the meeting.

    Xella jumped on the couch and took a few sips of his coffee with her long tongue making swift motions. Sam pushed her away from the coffee while trying to report yesterday’s work. She gracefully fell on her back and assumed a lying position with her tail moving side to side playfully.

    “Well, at least you make the coffee right.” said Xella. 

    Sam scrambled to mute his microphone but wasn’t fast enough. He glared at Xella with his heart beating in his mouth. His teammates were looking puzzled, waiting for him to continue. Xella was giggling with her soft belly jiggling.

    He took the risk to unmute and continued with his voice trembling and checking Xella with the corner of his eyes. She slowly got up and started moving on to his lap. He was sweating, face white. Some of his colleagues exclaimed “aww” when she entered the screen. Xella brought her face closer to Sam’s face. He was stuttering and wasn’t making sense anymore.

    “Aren’t you forgetting something Sam?”

    Not daring to take his eyes off of her, he first fumbled around the keyboard to mute or close the camera, then he just slammed the laptop shut. 

    “Wha-t What am I I I am mmissing Xella? My dear cat, my my sweet cat, tt-tell me.”

    “Where is my food bitch?”

    Writing prompt: Write about a successful or unsuccessful affair.

    Christopher was a hard rock lovin 17 year-old who was excited about two very important things; one, he just passed the ticket gates and was about to watch his favourite metal band “Corroded Mantra” perform live, two, RockerGirl4298 finally agreed to join him after long hours of conversations, pleading, and after he said he’ll pay for her ticket and drinks.

    They pushed their way towards the front while vehemently discussing Corroded Mantra’s latest album Flower Shower. He was defending the album by his best argument of how the brutal vocals juxtaposed well with the melodic ukulele, while she wasn’t convinced that the lyrics were edgy enough. She was prettier than he imagined with all those black leather straps around her arms and thick eyeliners, so he didn’t push the debate further and conceded.

    Suddenly the crowd roared and they realised the stage crew was gone and the band’s drummer took his position behind a massive setup. He was already attacking the drums and cymbals savagely before Christopher and RockerGirl4298 had time to put on their ear plugs. Then came rushing the rest of the band and the ear feast had started. Soon, a sea of horns were undulating to the fast beat of the metal.

    When he thought he was in rock heaven, she tapped on his shoulder and first pointed to herself and then pointed to the sky. Before he could reply, she was pressing on his shoulders with both hands. It took a second for him to understand that she wanted him to carry her on his shoulders. Why not? he thought. she was a thin-ish girl, he wasn’t exactly a sporty type but he was a healthy young man. 

    He squatted, she mounted his shoulders, and he straightened himself up without too much trouble. “Yeah, she’s light” he thought and smiled with self satisfaction. She was ecstatic in her unobstructed new vantage point. She was rocking him back and forth with both hands in the air headbanging. Her energy was contagious and he decided to give her even more thrill by jumping. She was laughing with joy and she looking down, he looking up, their eyes met sparkling. At that moment she grabbed a fistful of the top of his hair and continued her frenzy. He didn’t care that his hair was hurting bad, his legs started shaking like wet noodles, or being suffocated by her legs squeezing his neck while he kept bumping people around him and being shoved back with sharp elbows. He was happy.

    Then something clicked on his back. He didn’t have enough power in his legs to jump anymore. He realised he missed half of the last song because his attention was diverted by the pain coming from his scalp and from his shoulders. He couldn’t believe it’s only been two songs and she’s already feeling like a ton of bricks slowly crushing him to sweet death. But he didn’t want to let her down.

    Stream recording: https://youtu.be/g9FK2N41PCI