Disturbance of Sacred Rituals

“It is getting toward dinner time and people are straggling back to their rooms with that weary, dejected air which comes from earning a living honestly.”
Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

I made an error when I thought I’d be teaching in Beyoglu. The university where I teach does have a location near Taksim, but I’ll be at a different one. I have to catch the metro to another university branch, where I catch a shuttle bus with the other teachers to the school, where lessons begin at 8am. Istiklal is empty at 6:45am, and understandably so. It’s an hour when those who are awake should be drinking coffee in a nice chair, rather than running to the metro. And so during my first full day back teaching, Miller’s words were ringing through my skull. When I left my flat at such a ridiculous hour, riding public transportation with the rest of Istanbul on their way to work, in the classroom, on the way home, and settling down in the evening, I’ve been thinking of that line.

Something is wrong here, I’ve been thinking. These people are all saps, and I’m becoming one of them! I’m trudging along all day like a sap! Another line started ringing in my head, too. “Packed like lemmings into tiny metal boxes / contestants in a suicidal race” : Sting’s sneer on “Synchronicity II”. I fear that I’ll start saying things like: Oh, let me check my schedule. Let’s coordinate schedules. Oh, I’ve been so busy lately. I just can’t find the time, or other things saps say. No! Never! Perhaps I can still battle against the man and all the saps from within. I’ll just pose as a sap.

Here I am, with my own little apartment, and what seems to be a responsible job where I spend regular working hours doing responsible things. I’m not sure how I feel about all of this. At the same time, I recall how just a short time ago, when I had too much idle time, I felt miserable for being a bum. Now I’m going to be upset that I have to work too much and don’t have enough idle time. Just how like when I was living in Prague, all I wanted was an IPA, and when I came home to Michigan, all I wanted was a good pils or lager.

But you see, all of this is in my blood. And if it’s not nature, then it’s at least nurture. We Howards are creatures who enjoy our downtime. We even have a word for it – ambiance time – when we appreciate slowness, relaxing time. It’s like our own little meditation session or communion, a breaking of the bread, if you will. These can be late night discussions, usually over some sort of beverage, while sitting in a good chair. Discussions of literature/philosophy/religion; venting frustrations about people or institutions that upset us; various ponderings or musings concerning finding ourselves in a dark wood, midway through this vagabond journey… such are evenings at the Howard house. Morning ambiance times are equally important. Breakfasts that lead to long coffee/reading sessions in the chair, which lead to second breakfast, or elevenses, which leads to another coffee session back in the chair. It’s the natural habitat of us Howard folk, and it’s the routine we slip into whenever there’s another of us who appreciates ambiance time about. We’re quite good at doing nothing. Thoughtful tumbling tumbleweeds, we are.

Alas, I feel like I’m developing nervous dog syndrome (I think this is probably a Howard trait as well, what happens when one goes through ambiance withdrawal.) I have rushed mornings with unsatisfying breakfasts and rushed coffee, and can only read a few paragraphs in my book before I have to rush to the metro, then rushing to class worrying if I can actually teach what I’m supposed to or are my students going to think I’m incompetent, then rushing to prepare what I’ll worry about teaching again tomorrow, then rushing back home in the traffic, rushing to try to do something productive like go for a run, then rushing to the grocery store and back, rushing to cook my silly little meal, eating, scribbling down a few thoughts before I forget what I was thinking about, and then it’s midnight, and I realize I have to be up in 6 hours, and I didn’t even get to have any ambiance at all today. If the rest of the world has to do this all the time, what a sad lot the rest of the world is.

Ah, but at the same time, when I’m not busy at all I don’t appreciate my idle time. It even frustrates me! It goes back to the work/play dialectic that is another favorite topic of evening ambiance time at the Howard’s. Without work, play ceases to exist as such. Or Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time” poem; the need to make my vacation my vocation.

Early mornings are difficult for me. Trying to fall asleep with the noise from below is difficult enough, but throw in my evening habits of either wandering the avenues of Istanbul or the alleyways of my mind until well past midnight, and you’ve got someone who doesn’t like the hours before 7am. And since one of my main aims in my job is to not get fired, showing up on time, and therefore waking up on time, will be necessary.

Ah, but a Howard is en route. Older brother is traveling and will be here shortly. It’ll be reminiscent of the reunion of the three brothers in Bratislava back in 2009. Sadly, professor Howard will not be making the trek here, but I am looking forward to older brother’s visit. There’s enough time between now and then for me to feel less acutely that I’m turning into a sap, the nervous dog syndrome can simmer down a bit, and the sacred ambiance will be much sweeter. And where to have better Howard ambiance than in Istanbul? Turkish coffee, dried figs, Turkish delight, baklava, and excellent wanders to be had.

Leave a Reply