The last time I posted a monthly reflection was in January, and I’m here to correct the mishap.
Not that I feel obligated to constantly produce content–perhaps, that’s what makes my page a bit more different than regular blogs. When I transformed this page to a blog, I promised myself that I’d remember the reason I chose to have a platform like RUOT: to publish quality posts and to share and exchange ideas without the pressure of a deadline. Of course, I can’t readily divest myself of the academic mantras drilled into my head all these years: “I should be writing,” “I should be more and more productive,” “I’m wasting time by resting,” and so forth. So, bear with me– when I have these tangential notes in my posts.
In my previous reflection on January, I, like most, had a naively optimistic vision of the Spring. Winter, I wrote, “signals that the Spring is near (so is the end of curfews and lockdowns, hopefully).” Regrettably, not much has changed in terms of restrictions and numbers since January. I don’t wish my monthly posts to be an ode to the coronavirus that has paralyzed the world, but its hold on our lives is so powerful that it is difficult not to mention it.
Last month, all my family–literally every single member of my family including my parents, siblings, my sister’s family– battled the illness. How I got spared, I will never know. It may have been because I’d seen them a day before they began showing symptoms? Who knows.
Since early March, I’ve had to take on the role of an outsider to my own family, watching them suffer and mentally suffering with them, albeit from afar. When my father and sister were hospitalized, I read the WhatsApp messages my brother, who’d gotten significantly better by then, sent me and just sat there.
Well, let me correct that.
After frantically thinking of ways I could be there for them, I gave in and then just sat there–in my apartment that I share with my cats. I knew I couldn’t get inside my parents’ house, but could I maybe go and stay with my grandparents, just to be physically close? Could I maybe go to the hospital parking lot and wait in case they needed anything? FaceTime calls made me physically ill partly because I couldn’t be there for them, and partly because they didn’t look well at all. Nevertheless, every call had to begin with, “Oh, you look better today.” What else was there to say, really? After hanging up, my life had to go on like my father and sister weren’t at the hospital fighting for their lives. Classes in the morning, a committee meeting at noon, yoga in the evening, dinner, and then some more Gilmore Girls before bed. It all felt awfully wrong.
While everyone in my family all have gotten better physically, it will take us all, again like half the world’s population, a while to process and overcome the emotional and mental damage that the whole experience has inflicted on us. I’ve been fortunate enough not to have experienced a major loss in my life thus far. Last month, I was offered a glimpse into the feeling of powerlessness that is at the heart of grief. It was arduous to go through it alone, isolated from my loved ones; it was like free-falling, but I’m glad I’ve gotten back on my feet. For that, I’m thankful to my friend Radka who knows I may emotionally regress at distressing times and sent me messages reminding me she was thinking of my family and was ready to listen if I needed it, as well as to my cousin Aylin who did the same. And to some of my students who made sure I was okay even though they had no idea what was going on–I’d just mentioned once in passing on Zoom that I hadn’t been feeling well. And of course, to my adorable cats and books that kept me company.
Perhaps I’ll soon have the capacity to see the silver lining in my experiences that marked the month of March; for now, I certainly know that March has emphasized the importance of good friends and books, as well as cats of course, yet once again.
Books & Reviews & Updates
Speaking of books bringing comfort and hope, I am still continuing my reading around Asia project. I do digress and read books that are not on my list, but that is me, and that cannot be helped.
In the past two months, I’ve actually read three texts that have helped me feel more grounded in the midst of chaos. Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life and Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh reminded me why I incorporated the practice of mindfulness into my life in the first place.
The third one Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain deserves its own post, which will soon be on RUOT. Here’s a little background on how I’ve found this gem:
There was a moment in one of my classes (I still teach fully on Zoom) where I realized that I was pushing my students too hard to participate in class discussions. By “participate,” I mean “speak up” to the void on Zoom where the only face visible is mine, the instructor’s. I myself didn’t like the fact that I had to speak into the void so why was I pushing my students too much? Certainly, I wanted them to be active in class, but why didn’t I also highlight alternatives like the chat box on Zoom and/or the platform on Blackboard where they can post their opinions after class and still get participation points? It felt unfair to reward extroverted students who feel comfortable speaking up right after I pose a question–especially because I am an introvert myself who as a student felt negatively pressured to talk, just say something, anything even if it meant nothing in class discussions throughout college and graduate school.
Okay, I shouldn’t get into this too much if I still want to write a separate post on Quiet.
Long story short, I started a search for a text that would help me practice inclusive teaching more intensively and more intentionally (I should add that the search never stops, and that’s part of why I love my job), which led me to this wonderful book. Quiet masterfully shifts the cultural perspective on introversion that is often considered a stigma. Moving the focus away from the Extrovert Ideal, the norm in most societies, Susan Cain highlights the overlooked power that underlies introversion as merely a state of being, not shyness and passivity. I will now stop here so that I can actually write that post on Quiet, but if you’re a teacher, manager, and/or a parent, you won’t regret reading the book. Okay, moving on.
As part of my reading around Asia project, in February and March I read The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali, This Way Back by Joanna Eleftheriou, and Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi.
You can read my reflection on Kamali’s novel here, where I discuss how The Stationery Shop is not merely a love story, but it is also part of recorded history.
Instead of working on a reflection on Joanna Eleftheriou’s memoir, I had a wonderful conversation with her about her book and her experiences in Cyprus, Greek, and the U.S. in my post titled “In Conversation with Joanna Eleftheriou”, which you can access here.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Kawaguchi was unfortunately not my cup of tea due to the writing style and the lack of depth in character development, and on RUOT I usually reserve space for books that speak to me on a deeper level so I only posted about the novel on my Instagram page:
In March, I was also invited as a respondent to a literary event hosted by The University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway. The ReadRespond event focused on Leila Aboulela’s hefty novel The Kindness of Enemies (2015) with a discussion led by Yasmine Motawy, a Senior Instructor of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.
At a time when I miss traveling terribly, it felt quite refreshing to connect with people from all over the globe. Aboulela herself attended the event and patiently answered everyone’s questions, which was definitely a plus. You can read my response to the event here.
February-March Selected Readings
Every month, I also share some of the intriguing posts and articles that I read.
Here are some of my favorites this month:
In this article, Wig and Naguib offer an overview of an experiment they conducted with their students in an attempt to bring back, what they call, “deep reading” into student life. Many good ideas for teachers if you’re interested.
In this article, Khan discusses the double standard that still exists when it comes to marriage in South Asian cultures. Quite an interesting read.
On March 9th, The Paris Review published an interview entitled: “Language Once Removed: An Interview with Sara Deniz Akant.” I didn’t know who she was, but the Turkish name caught my attention. As I’m always seeking Turkish American writers, I was intrigued. The interview was delightful and touched on the specific ways in which Akant uses language in her poetry. You can find Lauren Kane’s interview with Akant here.
Eleanor’s The Monthly Booking is one of my favorite translated literature blogs, one that I follow with anticipation. I enjoyed her review on The Blacksmith’s Daughter by Özdoğan, German writer of Turkish origin. Eleanor writes that:
The true strength of The Blacksmith’s Daughter lies in the fact that despite its clearly defined setting, the novel deals with themes that are entirely universal. We all understand the feeling of yearning – perhaps for childhood, perhaps for people now departed, perhaps for something yet to come – and of sometimes seeming like strangers to ourselves: ‘Feelings are like invisible people. They come, they go – they can be very close or you can see them as if from a distance, blurred and unclear . . . they all have a life of their own.’ Özdoğan writes with deep compassion, for his readers as much as for his characters, and the juxtaposition of events both happy and painful results in a reading experience that is bittersweet.
The book is already on my to-read list!
If you’ve come this far, thanks for reading!
I hope that both February and March were kind to you, and that April will even be kinder.
As always, ending with a photo of my cat Venus, with the March snow–
Let me know how you’re doing and/or to post your links to your monthly wrap-ups down below. I’d love to read them.