The Moment

Today I was going to write, and then wandered into the storm that is currently Reed College facebook group debates. The whole debate seems to be going around and around and around gender issues – extreme ‘trans’ people demanding more respect and this and that and basically having their ass pampered by the college and lashing out at alum for being ‘transphobic’ when alum step into the conversation to try to tone down th aggression or suggest more moderate, responsible and respectful ways of protest.
Here in Bishkek it all seems absurd (and I’ve decided to ban myself from Facebook for a while, and just check messages from within the message app on my phone). Reading the news in Turkey it seems absurd. Living in a Kyrgyz-Turkish university campus where we literally might be the most liberal people here – out of a staff and family community of 1500 – it seems absurd. I mean, Reed has what? possibly 10 trans students. And they want a gender-neutral bathroom by one lecture hall and didn’t like that the school invited the director of Boys Don’t Cry to speak and want a gender and sexuality therapist in a health center that in my day only had one or two therapists and want extra-special funding for their student club. And this little list has led to flame wars, accusations of every kind, and taken over what seems like the entirety of discussions in the college group, on campus even. Meanwhile, well…you’ve read the news. Politics, bombs, tenets of extreme racism across Europe and the US, still a great deal of discrimination against women (who, last time I checked, make up a good deal of the human population) in the workplace and on the street. It’s a wide, wide world currently undergoing a lot of terrifying phenomenon.
And sitting here, having just put my daughter down to nap after an hour of smiles and screams and fun and battling toys and gnawing on fleecy sheep and sticky little hands diving into banana and small frustrations, thinking about what kind of world she’ll enter in America – it all seems so very, very odd. We’re not going back to Turkey in part because of the turn towards [extreme, not necessarily very Islam-accurate] religiosity in the education system there, state-paid teachers telling young students that they’re inviting rape by not wearing headscarves (headscarves were banned for students and civil servants alike until the AKP’s rise to power, and Turkey was mostly a secular state through my husband’s childhood and adolescence). Of course we don’t want our daughter to be exposed to that kind of culture, to have to ever feel she has to hide her own beliefs, political, religious or otherwise, for her own safety. But recent discussions within the American left (for most people at my Alma Mater are at least moderate, if not quite liberal) seem to have headed for a completely self-isolated sphere. It’s like they’ve dissociated from the rest of the world, so privileged they’ve forgotten it exists, forgotten the far more fundamental struggles that still lie beyond those leafy gates.
I was going to sit down today and write. I don’t have any particular writing project I want to work on now, but I still feel that drive to set down words. So I’ve decided to write scenes, capture the here and now as it is at present. Eight years ago, after spending a summer in Beijing I came back home to Minnesota and was rolling through my 500 photographs with family when I realized that, while I had plenty of photos of ‘sights’ around the city – red walls around the Forbidden City, curling tiled roofs, the quite lily ponds of the Summer Palace – I had barely any shots of the city as I saw it, capturing the energy and raw colors of daily life. When I went back in the fall that was all I captured – I began to stalk the city on foot, camera (Canon G10, the best camera I’ll ever own) in pocket, snapping photos of anything that seemed particularly alive, from tiny transactions between individuals to scenes of a city in transition, looming construction sites and destruction sheltering a fruit stand. And why not, in the eight months we have left in Bishkek, in the last half of my daughter’s first year of life, focus on what is raw and alive around us, capture it in the ephemeral moment knowing that, without writing, it cannot last?

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