On Winter, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire & Home

Photo by Arefin Shamsul

Ahoj from the snowy and chilly Midwest! It’s been a long time since I posted here. Transitioning from the Fall to the Winter –amongst other things such as dissertating, searching a job, teaching, planning out the future– has kept me busy.

But I’ve still had the time to feel homesick.

I suppose it’s the winter.

Winters in the Midwest have always made me homesick. As the snow piles and temperatures drop, midwesterners rely more and more on their cars. You see less and less people out in the streets. Then all you’re left with is melancholy as “the sounds on a winter’s night” in Woolf’s phrase.

Perhaps, I miss the sunny and mild winters of Istanbul. The city’s chaos, colors, and life that winter cannot take away. Or the evening tea that my parents often have with my sister, niece and nephew, and brother every day after dinner. Am I missing out? The other day, I did reminisce about the days when we used to have a stove and roast chestnuts in our living room. Carkifelek or some other reality competition show in the background. It can’t be the holidays; we don’t celebrate Christmas.

But I digress.

This winter, a call from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire has alleviated my yearly winter blues. You know, the game-show where contestants receive $1 million if they answer 14 questions correctly. I promise, this is not a chicken soup for the soul story. Or maybe it is. Either way, bear with me.

Seven or eight years ago, when my family and I were deeply immersed in an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, I decided to apply to be on the show. I had just finished my first semester of Master’s in Michigan and was visiting my family in Istanbul in the winter. During a commercial break, my brother jokingly said, “Why don’t you apply?”

“Yeah, right?” was my answer. “What are the chances?”

After entertaining the thought, we decided to go ahead and submit an application. Merely for fun. Something to remember. As I was only visiting, I didn’t even have a Turkish number. We used my brother’s phone number instead.

And we’d forgotten about the application.

Until a week later when we received a call from the show, inviting me as a contestant.

I got excited. I made plans. I was ready.

But I never went.

I had my flight back to the U.S. in a few days. I didn’t have time to give it a try. “It’s a bummer; it would have been fun,” we said, and we moved on.

We’d forgotten about the application once again.

Until today. This morning, I woke up to a message by my brother telling me that he’d received a call from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. “They asked if you can participate as a contestant!!! AGAIN!!” he wrote. “8 YEARS LATER?” I messaged back. He said he’d told them that I was in the U.S., and that was it. My brother and I remembered the day when we submitted the application and had a laugh. What were the chances really? How ironic was it that I could not go yet again?

Then I moved on with my day. With a warm fuzz of contentment wrapped around my heart for some strange reason.

But then it hit me why when I was reading an interview with writer Elif Shafak.

When asked whether “London felt like home to you,” she responded:

It does – yet it is also possible to have portable homelands. If you’re in self-imposed exile, it is sad but enriches you intellectually and spiritually. I will always carry Istanbul in my soul.

Elsewhere, Shafak wrote:

I am not claiming that having a dual or multiple sense of home is easy. There are things it takes away from you. But there are things it adds, too, intellectually and spiritually. Instead of anchoring ourselves in one place or one identity, we can connect with the parts of each place that call out the best in us, and perhaps become a walking bridge between cultures that might seem worlds apart to others’ eyes. After all, some of us make homes out of rabbit holes.

Reading about the myriad ways in which others make meaning of home assumes another dimension in the winter. Like Shafak, I’ve always believed that one can have multiple homes, and I do think that it’s a privilege to call multiple places home. But why does it get particularly difficult in the winter?

A little reflection goes a long way. I knew why.

I realized that winter in a small American town often magnifies the things that having multiple homes takes away from me: family time and shenanigans, movie night with best friends, game-show nights on cold winter nights, and so forth.

The call from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire found me on such a day when I was longing for the things that were 5,473 miles away from me.

As strange as this may sound, the call warmed my heart and alleviated my winter blues.

It felt like a call from the past, from 8 years ago, confirming my ties to one of my homes, taking me back to that winter day years ago.

I also thought that the call in itself was symbolic for a “self-imposed exile” like me whose eligibility for anything is almost always questionable.

And so this is how I ended up here, writing this post on a chilly Sunday. My cat is curled up next to me, asleep. Leonard Cohen is playing in the background.

This is home too, from which I’m writing a thank you letter to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, I suppose? Who would have thought?

6 replies

  1. Hi Neri
    This post was what I needed today! You’ve hit the balance of getting your mind to be content with your adopted country and yearning for home, a packet of fish and chips and my mum.
    Istanbul is a lovely place we’ve been twice and we hope to visit again soon ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think when we make a new place our home, or even when we let go of a place where we contemplated making a home, what we are missing is the ‘potential self’ we could have become in that place. An alternate history. As human beings we are forever hungry to expand the scope of our experience. For so many years I wished I could exist in two cities at the same time. Not just my memories but even my pace of life, my outlook, my dreams might have been different. I chose to return to my parental town in my 20s, so this question always niggles at me: what if I had chosen a big city to be my home? How would it have shaped me differently? What would have been my mistakes? My relationships? When I moved to a big city, for months I kept hankering for my ‘other self’ which continued to exist in that town that I had left. Though I keep telling myself, “I belong in both places”, someday I might have to choose one….or maybe find a new place altogether.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Anjali, your reflection certainly resonates with me. I love the idea that when we leave a place, what we miss is an alternate self, an alternate story, an alternate life, really, what could have been if we had stayed. So true. It seems like one always has to reconcile; it must be rare to call a place home (voluntarily or involuntarily) and never look back. -Neri

      Liked by 1 person

      • I grew up envying my friends who had settled lives and had known each other from kindergarten (two of them had even been born in the same hospital on the same day and lived in the same street!) because my father’s work required us to move, till a certain age. After that I did get a settled existence and at times, a change of place brings a much-needed fresh flow of energy into our lives! At least for me, it was life-transforming to move out in my 30s! So I hope this change will bring new tidings for you.
        P.S. Sorry for replying so late. I am waking up only now to check my notifications 😛

        Like

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