‘Cause Im Not Beautiful Like You, Im Beautiful Like Me

The Loge of the Empress in the upper enclosure...
The Loge of the Empress in the upper enclosure of the Hagia Sophia. From here the empress and the court ladies watched the proceedings down below the basilica. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Church of the Holy Wisdom, commonly known ...
The Church of the Holy Wisdom, commonly known as Hagia Sophia in English, is a former Greek Orthodox church converted to a mosque, now a museum, in Istanbul. It is universally acknowledged as one of the great buildings of the world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Angry Girl Rock Band: Joydrop.

This is going to be a strange combination of my experience in the Hagia/Aya Sophia and my personal experience of , connected by the thin line of peace. That quiet inner peace you get when youre in tune with the world and yourself. Its a feeling I had in the Hagia Sophia and one that Im developing when looking in the mirror.

Its also about the feelings of beauty when you are so out of place in a culture – every time I see a group of locals on the street and I hear them laugh really really loud as they pass – I “know” they are talking about me and how odd I/my hair/my height/my whatever looks compared to what they are used to and I feel strange. Its not an automatically bad feeling, but after a few days of it – its really hard to feel positive, especially sitting in our new hotel in Izmir where the entire wall seems to be a mirror. And I feel ginormous. Like the bed in comparison behind me seems small – and its a full.

Its hard in a world where most people (from my perspective) seem to fit in to be in a place where you are constantly reminded that you are not the norm. Yesterday, we went to a park where all these elementary children were walking by. Every single one of them wanted to wave and say hi to the obvious foreigner. The friend I am traveling with, everyone keeps speaking to in Turkish. I get the “bye-bye” on the plane and he gets – well – whatever they said in Turkish as we got off.

Im not sure what I want exactly. Its not a bad thing to be different. Part of it means that I dont have to work that hard for people to remember me. At church, at school, apparently around the world, there’s just one me. Except for that girl my best friend saw in France who looked just like me. It also sometimes means people want to talk to me. Especially when Im new in a ward, people love to come “fellowship” me, assuming Im lost or a new convert to the LDS faith. It makes breaking the ice a bit easier, which is always a welcome event. But its also jarring. In my head Im just like them. The world is pretty stable from my perspective, so I think oh hey Im Mormon just like the rest of them, or Im a tourist just like lots of people walking by. And then there’s the wake-up call from my black friends learning Im Mormon saying “You know you’re black right” or the 10th Turk that day calling out “I like your hair” that just makes you think, right not the same, mental readjustment. Sometimes its not just physical traits – its also hearing from someone you trust, that you’re particular about things and people, while you think “I go along to get along all the time!”

The image I have in my head of what I look like and act/think like in comparison to the rest of the world, isnt as stark as it must be to them.  But when I take a beat such as when I was in the Blue Mosque earlier today, or the Aya Sofia earlier this week, I feel in sync with myself and my life again and its like the external forced awareness melts away again. There is something about places of worship – even if they are not currently used as such – that houses that quiet hushed peace that is so hard to find in everyday life. You can be in a room that people made beautiful in an attempt to express their devotion to God and feel the combined prayers of thousands of years of petitioners. You remind yourself that there is a God, and Im doing my best to do the things He wants me to do. It makes you feel a lot less alone and spotlighted when you are so out there on the spectrum.

Right now, doing what I think God wants, involves traveling and going places I have dreamed of going my whole life, while dealing with the truths you learn about yourself when you step outside of your normal routine. Im also grateful to be traveling with a friend who is far more flexible about some things than I am, and is always in a good mood regardless of outside events. Except when there is snoring.

So I may not be the size or look or personality that I think constitutes beauty – although that odd man the other day seemed to be a fan – but there is still a way to feel beautiful and content and at peace in a lonely world; if I can just remember that after each small crack in the foundation.

I’m Just a Girl in the World…That’s All That You’ll Let Me Be

Image representing Sheryl Sandberg as depicted...
Image via CrunchBase

No Doubt’s first album. Yes I know its a bit cliche, but  it fit the point.

A few months ago there was the big debate over whether women could “have it all.” Here are the commentaries from the two major players: Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and  Anne Marie Slaughter, a former State Department official. I thought I would talk about it, as Sandberg is starting to do press for the release of her new book that expands that talk, Lean In. I am sure there are other people we could add to the debate. Marissa Mayer, current Yahoo CEO, who started the job a month or so before she was due, and decided to work through her maternity leave, which drove some people crazy. Also others are throwing her under the bus with the new Yahoo work from home recall.

I’ll admit I heard the Sheryl Sandberg TED talk first and I loved it. Her three points are as follows: 1) Sit at the table. She talks about how too often women literally dont sit at the table. They will often assume the table is for people more important than them. Women also attribute their success to outside factors, while men attribute their success to themselves, which removes women from the table as their circumstances made them good – not them.

2) Make your partner your partner. We should treat our spouses as actual partners, instead of taking on most of the housework and other chores in addition to full-time work. I also read an article that says women often feel uncomfortable with men doing household work as it makes them feel like less of a woman, or failure, and also can emasculate the men in their eyes.

3) Don’t leave before you leave. Women often start acting as if they other responsibilities before they actually have them. They start thinking about what if they have children some day and then start making work decisions NOW about what that someday should look like. This can mean not taking on projects or promotions because it may not leave enough time in the future.

This third point is probably the one I like best. I am often in conversations with women where I find that I am the only one thinking long-term about a full-time career. Im planning on how many years I want to work internationally, and how I can get the experience to rise up within an organization and how can I build up my consulting practice before I start expecting it to be my primary income. And while no one ever asks me about kids or marriage – another odd quirk of being me: you’re exempt from typical life event questions – I also dont have any right now and they arent even a possibility. No one is putting sperm in the uterus. So no Im not making decisions now based on what I may need to adjust when I do finally have the little ones. Im also not tempering my ambition because of a someday. Yes, that means I will be making more money than most men I know – and we all know what the stats are saying about women and men and income disparities. But it also means that I can afford to live the kind of life I want to have without relying on someone else to create it – Ive realized that recently Ive been fulfilling the dreams I had when growing up poor without a real way to accomplish them, and its really a fun road, despite hoeing it alone.

I dont think all women should work. I have no agenda for our gender as a whole, other than this: whatever you choose to do, be the best. If you are choosing to be a stay-at-home mom, then be involved in fighting for your children, educating them and creating an environment where they will grow into great adults – like the one my mother created for us even though she was working.  If you choose to work – then work! Take promotions, be the best, dont shrink to make anyone more comfortable with you and own the growth you can make at work. And if you choose to switch or combine in the myriads of available ways – then lean into those. I just want us not to settle for lives that are below our capabilities in any sense. Lets make real choices for ourselves. Let us know what we are giving up and gaining in whatever role we take, and embrace fully the direction we are choosing. Let us not default to a stereotype that does no one a service, including the men, children and family we may be trying to protect and appease. We do not need to be CEOs to continue to shape the world in a better image, but we do need to be fully conscious wherever we are. That to me is the take home message of Sandberg.

Ill talk about Slaughter’s argument later, as it combines some other interesting issues in the debate.

What Have I Become? Something Soft and Really Quite Dumb

Istanbul from the sky - Topkapi Palace
Istanbul from the sky – Topkapi Palace (Photo credit: CyberMacs)

Ingrid Michaelson. I dont think Ive done her yet.

Its odd to travel right now. I feel like everything is buzzing by me at the speed of light and I cant hold onto anything Im experiencing. In the last week I have been in 4 different countries, and crossed like 4 time zones. Im in Instanbul for another day or so and then its off to the western coast of Turkey, and it just seems like so much so fast. There’s just something so insubstantial about being here. While I can understand that I am no longer in Utah or America, its very hard to accept that Im in Turkey. In addition, Im feeling pushed – like I keep doing things that are out of sync with what I would want/need to be doing. I like going to the touristy spots (to an extent), but Im a people/experience person. I want to interact with my environment, or learn the culture or observe the people. Right now, Im just a photographing fool who keeps getting accosted by sales people. Today one wanted to give me a gift, and then put ice chips in my hand. So weird.

I just realized that this is the most classic me situation ever. Im always getting into conundrums, where I let shoulds dictate my life – especially when it comes to doing things with other people. I feel I owe them something per some unwritten contract and I push myself until Im exhausted and cranky and give up. It becomes hard for me to voice my feelings or needs, except in snarky – bordering on bitchy ways. I end up acting less than and stuffing myself down, which used to work a lot better before all the self-actualizing crap of the last 9 years. 

Its especially difficult, because Im traveling with a friend that I have not really spent significant time with since high school. As far as I know, there are two people that I have actually still kept in constant contact with over the years. We were really good friends in high school, and still are, but being with someone, in a demanding situation like travel after 13+ years is an interesting experience. So the old me was a passive audience member to my incredibly gregarious friends. I mean I was always a talker, but Ive had many friends who are the life of the party for as long as I can remember – and I sort of laughed and clapped at the appropriate times. Ive changed since then. Ive learned to accept a new role in my life – one where Im more often the life of the party, and even when Im not, I dont do passive anymore. My friend and I have also been talking about this blog – and he immediately recognized it for the platform it could maybe be one day. That its a unique perspective I hold, and despite the fact that hes not religious, he understands how important my religion is to me, and what I could do given the social changes facing the LDS church.

I know better what my needs are and have spent copious time learning how to say them, deal with the aftermath of it and keep relationships alive. But the old habits come back hard. Fortunately my extreme jetlag has lowered my tolerance level, so its either accept the increasingly bitchy version of myself or “woman up” and remember who I actually am.

Starting with, this girl likes massages, so Four Seasons it is! (its 30% off at 7am :)). And choosing which relationship to prioritize and then dealing with the aftermath of making big girl decisions about how to handle it. Which in the last 3 hours since this realization is going exceptionally well. Thats the thing I always forget in the initial no-win solution: I know how to handle myself and it usually works out ok. Plus this whole traveling thing is supposed to be fun right? In honor of that, Ive changed my header picture – this is one I took at the Hagia Sofia two days ago. Beautiful place, but I will write about that later.

If I Could Take it All Back Now, I Wouldn’t

English: Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey
English: Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Its not my blog without some Eminem. Ive seen him twice in concert and both times were awesome.

So Im in Turkey and have been for a few days, after a few days in Jordan. I literally have no idea what time zone Im on, what day of the week it is or when Im supposed to be sleeping so its 2am somewhere in the world and Im awake. For a little bit – I used to think the story I told myself about getting back from China and only being awake for 3-4 hours at a time and then sacking out for 8 over a two week period was a ridiculous story. I now recognize it was completely accurate.

Life in Turkey is interesting after 1.5 days in Jordan. In both places, I am a novelty. I am taller than everyone in the country it seems, especially as a woman. I have seen very few Black people in either country, but the ones that are there are usually African and I dont dress or act African. I also have insanely curly hair. How people deal with those differences is the big rub.

In Jordan, I was with my best friend. When we go to restaurants, people do not look at or address me – it would be considered extremely impolite until I ask to be addressed. Although it seems many women in the country would expect the man to be the public face in that situation. Its not that different than in America, where perhaps the man might order for you – but its sometimes considered paternalistic and archaic. Well not in Jordan. People were very kind and willing to help. Its like there are no lines between the in-group and out-group, at least not publicly. A man standing on the side of the road when we are trying to get a suitcase into the car feels extremely comfortable weighing in on how we should position it for best use.

On the streets, there are just large bands of roving boys/men. The few women you see are always accompanied by a man, or you see them in the restaurants or shops, never just out on the streets with friends. When I catch someone staring at me, which happened constantly in the day I was there, they always look away quickly so they do not get caught staring impolitely at a woman. The roles inside the home seemed rather traditional as well. The family we visited – the woman was primarily responsible dealing with the children when they were problematic; but, the father spent just as much time playing with them and attempting to discipline them – they just didnt listen. 🙂 She did not speak much English and I spoke very little Arabic, so most of our interaction was the four adults sitting in the room watching Nick cartoons (which are really weird) and then some BBC programming. While the kids ran in and out with the new toys we had gotten them, that made a ton of noise. Im pretty sure the parents will disown us soon.

Turkey is a whole different world.  We are staying in the extremely touristy section of Istanbul – Sultanahmet. I got off the tram, after three hours of traveling from the airport, and immediately got accosted by a man selling carpets. I am apparently incapable of figuring out how to say no, without feeling guilty and rude, so I followed him around the corner and down the stairs of this building – knowing that I  would be the star of Taken 3 – Im an idiot. Fortunately, they just wanted to give me apple tea and try to sell over priced carpets to me. The next male encounter was on my way back from taking some scenic pictures of Istanbul that night. People just throw random English out to see if you will take the bait, and I did. He eventually showed me a phone full of pictures of random Asian women he had also taken pictures with. And then made me link arms with him as he walked me back to my hotel – I originally just thought he wanted me to eat at his restaurant! Apparently I was wrong, because when I forced him to leave me before he found out where I was staying, a kiss on the lips was requested. I quickly said no, and ran away, taking a detour just in case he tried to follow me. These interactions quickly made me miss the ignoral of Jordan. Here, Im just another American tourist, to sell cheap crap to, and potentially hook up with.

So a novelty in both worlds, but such different interactions. There is something dehumanizing about both styles though. In both, I feel like less of a person – one as an object to be held apart and the other as an object to be exploited  Neither seem to consider me and what I would want, although of course neither is my culture so I probably do not warrant an entire change of style, based on my mere existence. I dont know how I will make friends in either world. Im a third gender in Jordan. Men treat me more like they would other men – they can say things they would never say in front of their wives, sisters, mothers, (mostly consisting of gay jokes and farts), but I am still not a man. They still must treat me far more conciliatory than they would normally, without the strict structure surrounding their interaction with Muslim women. In Turkey, Im a tourist. Im neither gender nor human – Im money. And considering I do want food, and jewelry and maybe even a rug by the end of the trip, it will probably work for them to “Ask me one question” before I go. 

Im sure things will continue to feel unsettled – this is a lot of change for me in a short time, after what seems like a lifetime of same. And I miss my bed and my own bathroom and not traveling while having a period. But so far, I still embrace my decision to leave the known and travel out into the world that I still cannot believe I found. Im sure there will be many more surprising things to encounter during the next two weeks in Turkey, but I will try to post some pictures soon. My new hobby (photography) awaits.