8/26/11

How to be happy



Left: This is a photo I found after Googling "happiness" but it looks more like what you might get if you Googled "Deranged Chinese Von Trapp Family" (which I now absolutely must Google)

Being happy is very important because it's very hard to find happiness without being happy. Unhappiness is universally considered to be one of the major obstacles to finding happiness. In fact, it's believed that unhappy people are some of the least happy people in the world, which in itself is one of the major causes of unhappiness. The cure? Happiness. So here are some tips on avoiding unhappiness while finding happiness in the process.

1. Remember, happiness is inside you.
That being said, it's hard to reach in and find it, because that would mean either shoving your hand down your throat or jamming it up your own rectal passage, which is gross, and even if you could do it you'd still have to know where to look, but of course you can't see inside you because your eyes would have to be on backwards and it would be very dark anyway, and just generally slimy and disgusting. Come to think of it, happiness might be better found outside you.

2. Find yourself a hobby that will make you want to drink instead.
Because drinking makes you happier than stupid model airplanes.

3. Levitate.
Levitation has been proven to induce happiness by giving you a sense of inner peace and tranquility. Find a quiet place and set aside a few minutes each day to levitate. Levitation will also do wonders for your concentration and, ironically, make you a more down-to-earth kind of person.

4. Imagine that society's expectations of you are actually your expectations of society.
So flip it around and expect society to be pleasant, hard working, productive, conscientious, responsible, fair and well adjusted for a change. You'll then realize that society will never live up those expectations, in which case neither should you. That'll make you happy, because you'll see that society is no better than you, which means that you're probably quite ok the way you are.

5. Drink.
I'm drinking and I feel happy. Theory proved!

6. Believe in a just God and an afterlife.
Unless you're evil, in which case moral relativism is probably the way to go here.

7. Be Zen.
Fuck everyone over for your own self-interest. Oh wait, I'm confusing Zen with Ayn Rand. I always do that.

8. Television.
The bigger the happier!

9. Look at green trees.
Trees make you feel happy because they're green. Or was it that green makes you happy because it reminds you of trees? Something.

10. Tell yourself how awesome you are when you're making love with yourself.
Whisper sweet nothings to yourself when you're having a romantic and intimate moment hunched over your computer in a dark room with a roll of toilet paper at the ready.

11. Don't get cancer.
Cancer is anathema to happiness. Anathema is Greek for "shit". That means cancer is to happiness as shit is to everything else.

12. Don't read books about happiness.
It's very endearing when people try to put feelings into words, fumbling around with adjectives, trying to get it right. But it's also futile because happiness can only be its own reference. Here, let's try: "Happiness is like a... like some... it's sort of... it's the feeling of... well... happiness." See? Don't waste your time reading books like this.

13. Get a job that is rewarding, interesting, meaningful and pays well.
You can find it by following the magic rainbow that will take you to Happy Job Land where rewarding, interesting, meaningful jobs that pay well grow on Happy Job Trees. Ask the Happy Job Fairy to pick the right one for you.

14. Next time you meet someone new, introduce yourself as Baron Horatio Wigglebottom the Third, a wealthy El Salvadorian industrialist and rubber tycoon who is currently building a massive white picket fence around Switzerland.
Trust me, wherever the conversation goes from there, it is guaranteed to end in laughter. Or at least awkward laughter. Or maybe awkward silence. But whatever, it's worth it. For added emphasis, make sure to assume an outrageous accent and a limp (you can ignore that if you already have an outrageous accent and a limp). Eye-patch is optional, but would be AWESOME. Stay in character even after you're asked "seriously, who are you?" for the third time. Sometimes a situation can become so awkward it becomes funny again. I don't know what all this has to do with happiness, but... hm.

15. Get rock hard abs and kick-ass personality!
Crunches and sit-ups are perfect for six-pack abs and a bang-up personality that will endear the shit out of you to others!

16. Feel superior to a different person every day.
Vary it up. One day you can feel superior to someone with a different sexual orientation than yours, another day it could be a foreigner or somebody with different skin color, the next day it could be a person of the opposite sex, or maybe even somebody with a conspicuous disability. Be creative.

17. If the booze is finished, check the cabinets and fridge again, just to be sure, then go buy more booze and a packet of smokes. A bag of chips would also be nice, but first see if the corner store's open, and don't forget your house keys this time.
Ok, done.

18. Remind yourself that you're special.
This sounds wrong, because you're probably not special at all, but I keep seeing this in magazines so I guess there must be something to it.

19. Focus on the present.
The bigger and more expensive the present is, the better. Live in the NOW. As in "I want my present NOW".

20. Be grateful rather than grating.
The first one is good, the second one gets on people's nerves.

21. Do drugs.
Drugs make you very happy, but you have to keep taking them, otherwise they make you very sad. First consult with your doctor and/or dealer and/or shaman.

22. Steal money.
Money makes you happy. Fact. Working for money makes you depressed. Fact. Solution? Money without work = stealing = happiness. Why are you looking at me like I'm an asshole?

23. Have dreams.
The best ones are when you're floating.

24. Be white.
Let's face it, being white helps. When Turks think of happiness they think of Scandinavians. Which is ironic, because from what I hear Scandinavians tend to kill themselves a lot. Not as much as the Japanese though. That's a whole different level of unhappy. Are Japanese white?

25. Be positive.
It's important to be positive, but not HIV-positive. Don't confuse the two. Also, if your blood type is B+, you can make some kind of witty comment about how B+ and "be positive" are homophones.

Also good for happiness: love, friendship, travel, children, art, food, pets, sex, compassion, humor, health, companionship, etc. Oh and fruits, vegetables, nuts and olive oil. And exercise. And sleep. Music too, can't forget music. Dancing? Sure, that's always happy. I think that covers it.

8/24/11

When a Turk meets an Armenian



Have you ever met someone you really like at a cocktail party only to discover that they are your forsworn mortal enemy by birth? Unless you're from the Middle East, Caucasus, Balkans or Africa, probably not. But I'm Turkish, so there's a good chance that will happen to me. And it did.

It's like an epiphany when you have that connection with someone, because it happens so rarely, and yet it seems like such a natural thing to have happened. The conversation somehow just starts up effortlessly and continues perfectly, your sense of humor and intellects match, you both look good all scrubbed up and dolled out for the party, and the hours fly away as the two of you forget about everyone else and create your own little mini-party. Her breasts press into you when she talks, you're funnier and more charming than you've ever been, she's more fascinating than anyone you've met. Life feels good and exciting and fresh and new. The music is great and it's as if it's playing just for you two. This has become your party... but then you realize that one of you is Turkish and the other is Armenian.

Record scratch. Chirping crickets.

Suddenly you're both awkward because whereas before you were thinking only about awesome sex (well I was anyway), you're now both in the uncomfortable position of having to think about genocide. Genocide is a buzz kill. Genocide is a killer of good moods and good vibes. Genocide is also, incidentally, a killer of entire nations. In this case, the Armenian nation. Fucking stupid useless genocide. Suddenly I feel less chirpy. In fact, I now feel guilty, because I'm from the nation that is believed to have committed genocide against her nation. Not that I killed anyone personally with my own two hands. But then neither did Hitler, when you think about it.

And... oh god, that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm thinking about Hitler. Nice.

There are three things that could happen at this point, and unfortunately none of them involves forgetting everything and reverting back to our previous state of flirtatious merriment. That's gone. Instead, we could get over the looking-at-our-shoes-and-nervously-sipping-our-drinks stage to start a cordial and innocuous conversation about the few good things we have in common from our history of mutual butchery, like food or music -- although that could also backfire and devolve into a bitter discussion about whether tarama salata is Turkish or Armenian. Anyway, that's option one, possibly risky but potentially manageable. Options two and three are far worse. Option two is that she can tell me about how her great-grandmother died in a death march to Syria -- which, thankfully, she decided not to do. Option three is that I mention how my friend's father was a diplomat killed by Armenian terrorists. Again, fortunately, I had the good sense to refrain from that. So instead we proceeded with option one, looking around nervously as we tumbled horribly back down that mountain of good connection we'd been climbing, and found ourselves back in the dreadful valley of small talk.

But there was hope yet. We could climb back up from here, we could put this stuff behind us. After all, wasn't it ridiculous that your nationality determine your personal connection with another human being? Sure it was. But just as we were laughing again, there comes my drunk friend to remind us that one of us was Turkish and the other Armenian. This kind of situation is very amusing to other people, drunk or not, because it is ironic to them. It's ironic that a Turk and an Armenian would be standing there drinking and having fun together when everybody knows that "Turks and Armenians hate each other, really really hate each other!", to quote my drunk friend then and there. And it is funny and ironic for others, but for the Turk and Armenian (or, for that matter, for the Israeli and Arab or the Serb and Croat or the Indian and Pakistani or the Korean and Japanese) those situations are just embarrassing and the last thing you want to do is go into that topic at all.

We both had to be very careful now, because someone had started a conversation about the very topic that we'd been trying desperately to tiptoe around for the last few minutes. But now someone had pointed out the stupid fat elephant in the room and we had to carry a conversation about it while remaining diplomatic. Needless to say, by now the buzz kill was well and truly complete; we were just trying not to let this possibly degenerate into a brawl. But that's almost impossible, especially when the next thing out of your stupid "friend's" mouth is "Why don't Armenians and Turks like each other anyway, how did that all start?"

The obvious answer to this question is "FUCK OFF AND LEAVE US ALONE!" But there were others around and this was a cocktail party, so that would not have been a viable reply, as tempting as it was. Actually, the situation is still salvageable if it's only you two and one other person there. But when another person can't help but overhear and join in with an inquisitive look to await a reply, you sort of have to answer that question.

I look at the Armenian girl, she looks at me. We share an expression that betrays a sense of worry that we're about to lose something forever and that we'll never get it back. There's still a connection there we don't want to lose. So I hazard a brave attempt at fending off this danger to a budding love. I think of the perfect thing to say, neutral, unbiased, objective... in a word, flawless. I prepare to speak, she looks at me with fear in her eyes... She thinks... no, she KNOWS, this cannot be done. It's impossible. Nobody can pull this off. But I can do it. I know I can do it.

"Well, the reason there is such animosity between Turks and Armenians is that..." her face was pale, her eyes were piercing, her whole body and being was focused on what was about to come out of my mouth. "... the reason is that, Armenians claim that in 1915..."

"CLAIM?"

FAIL! Two words in, and I'm fucked. I thought I had the perfect explanation, but I only got as far as "Armenians claim" and it was over. Poof. Magic gone.

So I try and salvage what I can, foolishly. But from here on in all you can do is just dig a deeper ditch in which to bury the carcass of new love. Now I'm thinking of carcasses, damn you genocide!

"Well, what I'm saying is that... uh, they say, they state, they, uh..."

"They?"

"Yeah, the Armenians... uh... they um... they aver that... in 1915 the Turks... I mean the Ottomans... or really actually the Young Turks, who were like the dictators of that time... uh, that they carried out a... well, uh, there was a deportation..."

"Deportation? Just a deportation?"

"Uh, yeah, but the Armenians claim is was a... a... a..."

"Genocide? Is that the word you're looking for?"

"Bingo, yes, that... is, yes, that's the, uh... word... that's a word, for sure and the word is geno..."

"Why are you stuttering?" She was looking at me now with a mixture of spite and anger, though not yet hate. Then the obvious question.

"What do YOU think it was?"

"Uh, me? Weeeellll... hmmm..." I was a dithering moron. And just then the worst thing happened. A Turk had overheard us talking and had now joined our circle, which swelled to five. I continued to babble an attempt at an answer with eyes flitting between the Armenian and the other Turk.

"I think it was, well... some people will say that Armenians revolted against the Turks and..."

"Oh, and what? Some Armenians revolted against the Turks so that's an excuse to uproot a million women and children and old men and send them on a death march into the desert? That's an excuse to wipe out a nation? That's an excuse for genocide?"

"Well... no... of course not... but... hm... uh, Turks will say it...uh..."

She knew exactly what was coming and she was waiting for it like a beast about to pounce on her prey.

"They say it wasn't a g... g... genooooociiiide..."

"WHAT?! AND YOU BELIEVE THAT BULLSHIT YOUR STATE HAS BEEN FEEDING YOU? EVERYBODY RECOGNIZES IT WAS GENOCIDE. THE EVIDENCE..."

"Well yes, ok, I was just telling you what Turks believe..."

This time the Turk was looking at me, incredulous that I would not also state unequivocally that it wasn't a genocide.

"So are you saying it COULD'VE been a genocide?" asked the Turk.

"Well... I mean, I guess the Armenians might have a point... I mean, why would you attack and deport women and children and old men if you're fighting armed rebels? And then there's the American missionary reports, reports from German officers, Henry Morgenthau... Uh... and there are no Armenians there left today... so, I guess..."

The Turk was furious arguing that all of that was propaganda, lies, deceit, the attempts at false information, part of the British and French and American attempts to defeat and destroy Turkey. I gave a summary of what he said because he spoke for a while. In any case, I had begun sweating through my shirt.

"I'm just saying that's what they say..." I said meekly.

"So then, I repeat my question: DO YOU BELIEVE IT WAS A GENOCIDE?" asked the Armenian.

"Yes, do you believe it was a genocide?" chimed in the Turk.

Were they now in league against me? I saw the contempt in their eyes, the contempt of those who are so committed to a belief that they would respect someone committed just as passionately to the opposite view more than they would one who felt no commitment to either. It was an alliance of zealotry between the Turk and the Armenian.

Oh no, another Turk joins in, and another! They're my acquaintances, but right now it's as if that acquaintance is irrelevant. I have to pick a side. Was it or wasn't it? Genocide or not genocide? The eyes all around, six pairs of eyes now all looking at me. The lines were all drawn in the sand, and there I was on the fence... or on the line, in this case... fence or line? Focus!

One of the Turks asked me if I was going to fall for Armenian propaganda and lies. The Armenian girl asked me if I was going to believe my government's propaganda and lies. The Turks said "deportation" and "civil war" and "traitors who fought with the Russians" and "they're the ones who massacred us". The Armenian said "genocide" and "massacres" and "systematic slaughter by the fascist Young Turks". They raised their voices at each other. Now everybody at the party was noticing us, wondering what the commotion was all about.

I looked at the Armenian girl. Despite the loathing in her eyes, she still looked at me like there was a faint, dim, glimmer of a hope for us. If only I would say the right thing. Then I looked at the Turks. They were looking at me as if to say "You can't be serious about this, come on man, decide, are you a traitor, a coward?". My drunk friend who started the whole damn thing was excited about it all and just enjoyed watching the spectacle. Others moved in. What do you believe? WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE? So I answered truthfully.

"I don't know."

There was silence. Then there were some sarcastic pffffffs and sideway glances with scrunched up mouths... The Armenian looked at me like I was spineless and ignorant, like I was on their side. "You don't know? YOU DON'T KNOW?" said her face. The Turks gave me exactly the same look, like I was a traitor. Their faces said "What? How could you? How could you even doubt?"

"I just don't know" I repeated, truthfully. "I do not know."

The people around us started to disperse, the Armenian girl said she had to get up early the next day and left the party. The Turks moved away. Their faces were all so bitter, so twisted, so hateful, both the Armenian's and the Turks'. They became ugly. It was as if a giant lemon had been squeezed all over their faces.

All except for my drunk friend who was to blame for this whole mess, funnily enough. He was Australian and obviously couldn't give a shit, so he found the whole thing amusing. Throughout the conversation I'd noticed his face kept the same sense of good humor and amiability right through to the end. I remember admiring it in the back of my mind as I stood there struggling just moments ago. I admired his detachment. It was just us two standing there now.

He smiled at me then offered me a sip of his whiskey.

"I didn't understand anything," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. "But that sounded like the right answer."

8/23/11

Meat eater vs. Meat is Murder-er



The way they met at the picnic was awkward because he had a dead chicken's leg in his mouth and she was wearing a Smiths t-shirt that read "Meat is Murder". They looked at each other as if they already knew what was coming. He was a friend of her boyfriend, with whom she came to the picnic, and her boyfriend duly introduced them to each other. He too seemed aware of what was coming because he immediately tried to start a conversation about something neither the meat eater nor the Meat is Murder-er paid any attention to.

"Excuse me while I dispose of this incriminating evidence," said the meat eater, referring to his plate full of chicken bones. It was a probing attempt at humor, not without the hint of a challenge. He looked for a sign of outrage on the Meat is Murder-er's face, but was disappointed when he saw that she was looking at her phone.

Her boyfriend said something about the weather and then quickly asked the meat eater whether he'd gone to that party on Thursday. The meat eater was about to answer him when the Meat is Murder-er gave a belated response to the meat eater's comment, saying:

"By all means, as long as you're not asking me to be an accessory to the crime."

The meat eater felt the swell of indignation in his chest, the sudden constriction in his throat, the almost instantaneous release of adrenaline as his body unmistakably geared up for a challenge. The fact that she'd said it without even glancing up from her phone made him feel even feistier.

The boyfriend of the Meat is Murder-er gave an expression of passive acceptance, as if it had been foolhardy to hope it wouldn't come to this. This kind of situation was obviously not new to him.

"How exactly is this a crime?" said the meat eater, holding his plate full of bones up for all of them to see.

"It's a crime because you're eating another sentient being that was kept in cruel conditions and butchered for your pleasure. That doesn't sound like a crime to you?"

"Sentient being? A chicken?"

"Yeah, sentient being, with a brain and nervous system."

"How do you know these aren't free range?"

"Gimme a break, all 'free range' means is that they open a door in their concentration camp once a day which the chickens may or may not go through... usually not."

"Ok, I agree their conditions have to be better, same with cows and sheep and pigs, no unnecessary pain, humane treatment and all that, but you seem to be saying that eating meat is murder, full stop."

"Yes, it is."

"But animals all eat meat. How could something that comes natural to carnivores and omnivores - like us - be considered a crime?"

"Because we as humans know better. We have consciences. We also know now that we don't need meat in our diet, we can get every nutrient we need from a vegetarian diet."

"I doubt that's true. Apparently the quality of proteins in red meat can't be found anywhere else. Also I read that the consumption of meat - and the invention of fire to cook it with - might have been a major factor in the evolution of the human species."

"Even if that's true, we've now mastered our environment to the point where science and agriculture enable us to grow and attain all the nutrients we need without having to hunt mammoth or bison or something like we used to."

"So then it's ok to eat plants? Aren't you killing plants just the same way?"

"They're not sentient beings."

"Ha! How do you know?"

"Because they don't have a nervous system."

"Maybe they feel and live and experience pain in a different way? Research seems to show that plants' root ends seem to function in a similar way to neurons. Think of that next time you're gnashing a carrot to death with your teeth."

"Please, a pig knows when it is going to die, a pig feels pain, it feels depression, it experiences fear, it has a body like ours. An eggplant doesn't."

"Again, we don't know how a plant experiences life and death, because it's such a different organism, but regardless of pain, isn't it just as much a killing when you rip a plant out of the ground and eat it?"

"Well, what are you going to do, starve?"

"Why does your ethics only cover beings similar to us and not others? Why not mushrooms? Plants? Just because animals are alive the way we are alive, with movement, with faces and limbs and blood and bones, why does that mean they have more of a right to live?"

"Look, plants aren't kept in cruel conditions, plants aren't stuffed into concentration camps."

"How do you know plants don't feel the same way about being in hothouses? Or pots?"

"Because they don't 'feel', that's why."

"I find you to be taxonomically elitist."

"On the contrary, I believe all beings are one, all beings are equal, all beings must be treated with compassion. That's why I believe killing another being is wrong."

"Except plants."

"Ok, killing another being unnecessarily is wrong."

"I find you to be a hypocrite."

"Me? A hypocrite? Please enlighten me, how am I a hypocrite?"

"You say beings are all equal, and yet you know that other animals do not have the capacity for ethical action the way humans do. Leopards kill gazelle, lions kill zebra, dolphins kill fish. Yet because humans have a developed conscience, they can take ethical action and choose to not eat meat. But as you well know, a leopard and a lion and a crocodile etc. have all evolved to eat meat. Hence their teeth and claws and muscles and jaws and whole organic structure. So obviously nature doesn't have the same such ethical considerations as you. In nature, there is no good or bad, right or wrong. But by taking what is in this case an 'anti-natural' ethical stance, you are assuming that you, the ethical non-meat-eating human, are above nature and above the lowly animals who are too dumb or unevolved to know any better. So in short, your ethics is undermined by the very belief it is founded on, and the belief you found your ethics on is in turn undermined by your ethics."

"Oh come on, I'm not saying a leopard is wrong for eating meat or that humans are better for not eating meat. I'm saying that we as humans have a sense of right and wrong, of ethics. We're responsible for our deeds, because we're the only organisms - as far as we know - that knows that it knows, hence Homo Sapiens Sapiens. We're the only being that is conscious of its existence, the only being for whom Being is an issue, unlike an animal, which just is. That's why, because we have evolved to this point, we have a responsibility to do the right thing. And the right thing is not to unnecessarily harm or kill another being."

"In other words, we're better than animals? We're better than nature? Therefore we take an ethical stand which for some reason no other creature does. We abstain from killing. And yet every other organism has no compunction about killing. Also, we crave and love fat - especially, and above all, animal fat. Why? Because we've evolved as meat eaters. We need it, we love it. The amount and quality of protein a cow provides is priceless. One kill and we have a ton of it. Cook it with fire and you ease its digestion greatly. The brain is provided with the protein it desperately needs, we don't waste all that time and energy digesting raw meat, we have nutrition and time for other things - agriculture even - and BAM, we evolve into what we are today. That's why animal fat tastes so good, that's why red meat tastes so good. Because without it, we wouldn't have become human beings. Yet you now tell us that that which made us what we are is an evil and cruel thing? That ethical stance sounds like the definition of evolutionary degeneration."

"First of all that whole 'red meat made us evolve' hypothesis is just that, a hypothesis."

"Even if I grant you that, it doesn't change the fact that your ethics is hypocritical from a purely logical standpoint. You say killing for meat is cruel because all beings are one and intertwined, and yet only humans can take that ethical stance because they have evolved to the point where they know right and wrong and are thus different and, in a sense, above the other beings. So by mere virtue of that fact that humans can moralize at all discredits your hypothesis that all beings are one or intertwined in anything but a biological sense. It seems that humans and animals inhabit wholly different experiential realms of consciousness."

"I am not saying humans are 'above' other animals, just that they're different!"

"Oh, so then if humans aren't above, they don't have any ethical or moral high ground, in which case whether eating meat is considered right or wrong is irrelevant to nature, and therefore the eating of or abstention from meat makes no difference to anything because it's all morally relative, or rather morally neutral. So whether you abstain or not, a leopard will still have no compunction about ripping a baby gazelle's throat open and eating it alive. What difference does it make whether you do the same thing or not?"

"Because I'm not a leopard, I'm a human being. I, as a human, know I must not do that, that it is cruel, that it is unnecessary, and that it is above all else, WRONG!"

"Ah, so it is 'above' all else!"

"It's a figure of speech."

"A very apt one considering the circumstances. Why are we so squeamish about pain anyway? It seems to be a natural part of life."

"Giving unnecessary pain isn't natural."

"Well then why don't hyenas, say, kill their prey first rather than just start eating their innards even while the animal is still alive and no doubt going through excruciating pain?"

"Whatever, if you don't want to act any better than a hyena, that's your prerogative..."

"Aha, so you admit you ARE better than a hyena! You admit superiority! You admit you do the right thing and all the other animals, nature itself, acts wrongly!"

"No, that's not what I meant, I meant I am not a hyena. That's fine for a hyena, but not for a human being such as myself, and, supposedly, yourself."

"Ok never mind."

"Why don't you just go and throw that plate of bones away."

"I was just about to. I think I'll get a burger. Want one?"

"No."

8/22/11

The writer who had nothing to write about



A writer had nothing to write about so he decided to write about writing about having nothing to write about. The first thing he wrote about was how he had nothing to write about, which didn't make for great writing, because it wasn't really about anything... you know, seeing as he didn't have anything to write. But he wrote nevertheless, and he found himself in the peculiar position of having written something that was about writing nothing. He was, by then, almost three minutes into the writing, about 87 words long in fact, and yet with very little to commend itself to the reader save its heretofore mentioned peculiarity of having expressed an expression of having nothing to express.

It seemed a worthy endeavor. After all, he was a writer, and nothing could be more natural than that a writer keep writing no matter what, even when there was nothing to write about. Come to think of it, he thought, there often isn't anything to write about. How many times had he sat there looking at a blank page trying to think of something to write? Well enough of that, he thought. Why not just write about the experience of having nothing to write about? And so he did, and he wrote it all out, by then 220 words into his piece, and writing like there was no stopping him.

He was amazed at how much there was to write when there was nothing to write about. His fingers were a blur all over that keyboard, typing like he had something very important to say. He'd never typed like this before when he'd had some kind of story or plot or idea in mind, something he felt needed expressing. And yet here he was with nothing to say, and still saying nothing, and yet he'd never found writing so easy, so effortless, so prolific as this. It was like a revelation to him, he thought, that writing was best undertaken when one had nothing to say. Extraordinary! And there he was, 344 words in with nothing to say.

But now he realized he actually had said something. This was peculiar, he thought. Actually he corrected himself and thought instead he would "muse" from now on, as writers tend to "muse". So he mused that just 389 words in, he'd found something to say, and had in fact said it. That was of course that "writers write best when they've nothing to say". There, he'd said something. He'd said something when he'd started with nothing. It was as if it wasn't really he who had something to say but the writing itself -- the act of writing. He thought of all those times he sat there as a "writer" waiting for ideas, inspirations, epiphanies, memories and occasions, yet not actually writing. So he realized then that there really was no excuse for not writing, because the writing spoke for him anyway, and as long as he was willing to let the fingers connect with the keys, there would always be something to say, because a writer is never a writer unless the writer is writing.

8/1/11

Ultimate Survival: Istanbul



How to survive a summer's night in a non air conditioned flat in Asmalimescit during a water and power outage

Left: Plan A

There are some truly hellish places on earth, places where humans do not belong, where you need wits, strength, endurance, fitness and a whole lot of luck just to stay alive. Whether it be negotiating a glacier in Iceland, lost in a jungle in the Congo, or caught in crossfire in some kind of Middle Eastern urban warfare, you would be lucky to survive without shitting your pants. A summer night during a heat wave trying to get some sleep in a non air-conditioned flat situated above two nightclubs in Asmalimescit, Istanbul, is one of those kinds of places. You have to be prepared, you have to know what you're getting yourself into, and you have to use everything at your disposal to get out alive. I don't care if you're Bear Grylls, P.J. O'Rourke or Ernest Shackleton, this is a tough place to be.

For those who don't know, Asmalimescit is entertainment central in downtown Istanbul. It's full of bars, nightclubs and restaurants. The music is loud, the streets are packed, and the revelry goes on till dawn. There are also regular power and water outages. So let me set the scene up for you: it's a heat wave; there is no breeze; power and water come and go; you have a fan in the house that must be on you at all times; the music is very loud; there are mosquitoes; you're on the fourth floor, making it even hotter; there is a hotel next door with a diesel generator that comes on during power cuts, the exhaust pipe of which is a mere six meters from your window, and directly level with it.

Here's the ideal situation in such a precarious set-up: you're done weltering on your couch for the evening, you take a cold shower, take the fan to your bedroom, aim it at you (and, in this case, your girlfriend), and you sleep. You decide whether you would like the windows closed to keep out noise but also deal with the stuffiness that will ensue, or to leave it open and use ear plugs. We do the latter. And so we go to sleep. The only problem is that if one thing goes wrong, the whole thing collapses.

But so far everything's fine. No hitches. Then, just as you're going to bed, the water is out. The water could be out for two reasons, and both reasons will mean it will be out a long time: one, there is work going on out on the street, which means there's one guy with a pick doing the digging and five other guys standing around watching or telling him what to do and possibly arguing with each other, which means the problem will be fixed no time soon. Or it means our building's water counter has run out of credit and water will be cut until paid, which would be by tomorrow noon at the earliest. So now you and all the sweat that has accumulated on your sticky skin have to lie on your bed sheets trying to ignore feeling gross and dirty. It's uncomfortable, but not terrible, and you're sleepy enough to drift off. So you go to bed, sticky, gross, but with the fan on you blowing away.

But then from 11pm onwards, the music downstairs kicks up a notch, a really terrible notch, from tacky pop to horrible house music remixes of stuff like Dr. Alban's "It's My Life", and at double volume. Just truly atrocious shit. You have to close those windows. You go back to bed, your trusty fan is whirring away like your best friend on earth, but then the unthinkable happens. Power cut!

A power cut is disaster. It's a horrible horrible moment when it happens too, because you only know there is a power cut when the fan stops. Suddenly the whirring isn't as strong, you look at it in horror hoping it's not what you think, and then you start seeing the blades of the fan through the blur, and in a second the blur is gone and the fan is out. You start sweating immediately. In two seconds the sheets are wet under you. The air is stuffy and you hear mosquitoes start descending on your head. You're besieged on all sides. You have to open the windows, but just as you do, the hotel's generator purrs into action, sending a big black cloud of exhaust straight into your flat. You close the windows again. The situation is dire. You look at your girlfriend and she's still sleeping -- with a sheet over her! HOW!? Never mind, just save yourself. But there's nothing to do. You are fucked. You move to a plain unpadded chair because the couch and bed are too soft, the mosquitoes attack, the sweating continues, the air is stuffy, you can't take a cold shower, you forgot to put water in the fridge to at least have a long cold drink (that could've been avoided with a little foresight), and you're still sleepy. Something's got to give.

Luckily, the situation, as hellish as it is, is not unsalvageable. You're going to need to be prepared for this, here's what you need:

1) Lap-top computer, battery fully charged, something to watch already downloaded. 2) Five-liter bottles of stored tap water. 3) Alcohol. 4) Ice. 5) Cold drinking water (don't forget this time!). 6) Small towel. 7) Candle(s).

Light candle(s) in bathroom. Bring a stool or some chair and place computer on chair. Open what file you're going to watch, pause it so it's ready to play at the touch of a key. Prepare yourself a drink. Whiskey is preferable to raki, vodka or beer, since they need to be cold, which will be a problem once the power's gone. Empty bottles of tap water into tub, throw in a few ice cubes, wrap rest of ice cubes in small towel. Enter the bath and lay back. Place small towel on your forehead and/or neck. Press key to start whatever it is you're going to watch. Cool off and enjoy.

As you will have noticed, this plan relies completely on the off-chance that you have a bathtub. But there is a Plan B if you don't. Here it is, you will need:

1) Eggs. 2) Baseball bat. 3) Sand. 4) Two one-and-a-half liter bottles of stored tap water. 5) 300 TL. 6) Mace. 7) Panty-hose. 8) Bullhorn. 9) Cigarette. 10) Lighter.

First wait for your initial torrent of loud curses to all that is good and holy come to an end when the water is out. Say "I CAN'T STAND THIS MUSIC ANYMORE", open windows and throw eggs at crowd in front of nightclubs below. Even if the eggs only hit the ground, they will soon stink enough to drive everyone away from there.

Take baseball bat, mace, sand, bullhorn, 300 TL and water bottles with you and exit house in a storm of anger and frustration, descend on nightclub, pull pantyhose over your head to conceal identity, and spray mace into bouncers' eyes. Pass by debilitated bouncers and move toward the sound system. Pour water all over sound system and into electrical wiring, thereby ending all that hideous house music for good. Use baseball bat to smash DJ's turntables and records. If you have time, make an effort to find that Dr. Alban "It's My Life" house remix in particular and plow into it like it's the printer from Office Space.

Repeat with other nightclub.

Here the cops will show up. Take off pantyhose, pull them aside and use 300 TL to bribe them (yes, 300 TL will do). Once they have gone, wait for expected power outage. Once power is out and the hotel generator kicks into action, proceed to hotel. Use baseball bat to make your way through if you should be blocked by anyone. Continue with loud curses, screaming and wild threats at all those around you. Once you climb up to floor with generator, throw sand into exhaust and side ventilation, shutting that goddamn generator up once and for all. Discard baseball bat, take out bullhorn, declare to everyone in neighborhood that even though you will soon be arrested and carted off to the insane asylum, there are millions like you who will not hesitate to act as one-man militias when besieged by an inhuman accumulation of terrible circumstances that result from the mismanagement and indifference of people who have no respect for the rights and dignity of others and will do anything for a buck. Finally, light up a cigarette and enjoy.

But remember, plan B is only for those who don't happen to have a bathtub.


Left: Plan B