12. Oto-manIt was a great day to be sad.
So I arrived in Istanbul yesterday. I was sad yesterday because I had to face the truth that I will mention to you later. I was sad because my great time in Sweden had to end. And I was sad because being sad made me happy, and it’s not even a secret.
Here was where East meets West, so they said. Europe and the Asian side were divided by the Bosphorus Strait. It’s like me and Eliot. And by my saying this, you learn that I had never been there before. I had never been to Constantinople and that you can tell from the way I was just going to describe the city like a virgin. I hadn't a clue about the Ottoman Empire other than its name. In my previous book, I was just saying things in my mind and playing with the illusion to keep me entertained.
So yeah, Eliot, the prince of the Ottoman Empire. I had us here before, in a square, standing under the morning star, but it’s only my imagination and Jolene had known all along. It was pathetic. But whatever, I am here now to find the place where Eliot and I shared a love scene and were funny in a hostel room. I am gonna make reality out of a fiction I had written before, only that, Eliot has died. So maybe I will meet another prince.
When I came it was November and it was supposed to be autumn, the death of president Ataturk was celebrated and at 9.05 am something blared and people were supposed to be having a silent moment. Cars stopped in the street, and some of the shops were closed. I was just yawning on the balcony. It was a great day to be sad. I was staying with this British man who decided to join me after I told him I was visiting Istanbul after my journey to Sweden. He had become some kind of sugar daddy for my adventure in Turkiye. But not because I had asked him.
I was about to work in a hostel and stuff, just for a month where they won’t pay me with money but with a bed and meals, this is the thing that later we would call Workaway—and there’s a website for it. But the English man rented an apartment unit for both of us. Free lodging, what could be better than that? The motivation of that person remained unclear because I just didn’t want to dive too deep into a question that I don’t want to know what the answer to. I was being modest and simple: that he wanted to be with me and want to pay for the bed and feed me. I saw that as a patron thing. You know, some fan wanted to be with his idol. Hosting them while they’re practising their art or making music, they want to witness that, you know what I mean? Not sure he’s my fan but I’d like to think so. Maybe he did enjoy my writing and had been following my career and he took a liking to it so yeah, I let him come. Though this was not the true reason, I believe. I made it all up in my mind. I just didn’t want to know the truth, I say it again.
Anyway, the place where we stayed was on this street not very far from Taksim area, I think it was called Beyoglu. It was very unlike Sweden or Vienna. Old and rustic, three storied building with balconies full of wet clothes hung out to dry. Hilly narrow road with yellow taxis coming and going, they won’t stop for you when you cross. On the night we arrived, the streets were clogged like Jakarta and boy, on the street I saw people, many people. Lots of them were tourists and visitors, but every now and then a man carrying a big sack of empty cans or plastic bottles to be re-sold for some lira passed us, rummaging through the trash. An old man with a big cart struggling like a donkey working his ass off, carrying a heap of cardboard. And every few minutes a homeless lady sat on the floor under an awning of a store, asking for pennies. I walked along the street not far from the Istiklal road and there was this young woman carrying a huge cart of what I thought was garbage and when I got to peek inside there were two little girls in it, and they were just normal. They were five and perhaps seven, and they were just enjoying their trash cart that was probably their only known-concept of a home. I ignored that, of course, just like any other tourist.
It felt sort of nice finally, like it was a holiday without having to think about the thing that I had to write, but really, that’s just not who I am. I was talking bullshit. I read somewhere that if you want to be a good writer you need to take notice of everything. It sounds like hard work but then I realised sometimes I was cursed with that. I was cursed with not enjoying anything. I was incapable of being a normal tourist. Because I need to see and to know things. I didn’t have the power to ignore them.
And living with this British man, though it was free, for me, didn’t feel like a vacation. It wasn’t his fault. I never felt like I was on holiday with anyone. With anyone it's always a job. With anyone it's always a pretence.
So me and the British man, who was in his sixties, he was a big man and his name was Bobby. We were getting along well and he liked museums and seeing art and all that stuff. In other words, he was ‘cultured’. So I just followed along with him because maybe I could like what he liked too. I can like almost anything when I want to pretend.
So he invited me to come to this art museum for an art exhibition he wanted to see. It was supposed to happen in one of the biggest art museums in the city and we had to pay to go in.
Fancy schmancy kind of stuff, the art was supposed to be all about meaning. One of the exhibitions was by this man who spent two fucking years drawing almost the same thing over and over again with slight changes and he called it something poetic and gave it a deeper meaning than what it actually looked like. That just killed me, but not in a good way. I tell you If those pieces of paper had just got blown off up a back alley, it would end up just as a fish and chips wrapper. There was no other meaning beyond using it that way because that's all it was! I was just being mean, I know. That because I was just a madman.
I moved to another floor to see some more strange stuff, which was supposed to symbolise something else. A what if. A concept. A shadow of humanity. A fucking philosophical piece so we could look and think deeper beyond what was actually presented in front of our eyes.
Five floors of fucking nonsense. On every fucking floor there was this weird kind of thing that if we didn’t read the description, we didn’t really know what was going on. It was really sketchy in my opinion. What I was saying is, if you have Van Gogh’s paintings in front of your eyes, and you just see the colours, you know right away it's so good and you can appreciate the beauty of it and you don’t need to have it interpreted for you but you admire the talent and just gawk at the paintings, and it's enough. Because they are great without trying to be. The works speak for themselves and there’s no pretentiousness behind them. Meaning comes later when you want to see in another ways, but the art itself is an immediate feast for your soul. I like Van Gogh all right, he was very lonely and eccentric and perhaps a bit of a madman but he’s a genius and he had this little brother who loved him so much. His name was Theo. I read their letters, all hundreds of them. Theo kept Vincent’s letters but not the other way around. And once I told Eliot about that, about me reading the letters and how much I liked what they had between them. I told Eliot he was my brother and our relationship was just like that between Vincent and Theo and I was a bit crazy too and at the end of the day I would shoot myself in the stomach and die in a barn but he would not be at my side. And Eliot said he would watch that movie called Loving Vincent which I mentioned and which everyone should watch in my opinion, at least three times a month. So yeah, old man Vincent. I really liked him.
Anyway, I went from one floor to another just to see what was going on because I secretly wanted to know too. I mean, I was there already, what do you expect me to do? Throw paint over the artworks because I was protesting about something? No man, I wanted to know what it was all about, really, I didn’t want to make any assumptions. I wanted to know what the art really meant, partly to appreciate the idea but mostly so I could end up making fun of it properly. I swear if you were there and you didn’t read anything in the booklet you'd just want to say that this all was bogus and kids' play. Even if you did read it, looking for the hidden meaning, it would still sound like complete bullshit.
Every now and then I heard a viewer saying something like “oh brilliant”. Words like “This is so thought-provoking.” And believe me with all my ass, that such words are only uttered by the privileged. And that was what made me really mad. I started feeling unwell because I liked some art in a way but I didn’t feel this was the right art for me. Many patrons of art spend a lot of time trying to understand what art is about and what can they say about it. Pondering, wondering. Most of them wouldn't be able to make art at all. But those people have money. Bobby had money.
“What do you think about that?” Bobby came to me. We were looking at an art installation of something hanging. A cymbal hanging from the ceiling that supposed to represent time.
I just pouted mouth and shrugged.
“Don’t you like it?” he asked again.
“I think it’s wonderful.” He was clearly not looking for my opinion, just wanted to state his own.
We continued the tour and I felt like stealing all the catalogues just to make the workers panic a bit, that’d be fun to watch because they'd have to explain everything to the viewers. After a couple of hours, Bobby decided we'd had enough and it was time for lunch. We ate some cheap durum. I told Bobby I needed a new pair of shoes, the ones that could take me to the Sahara.
“What’s wrong with these? Are you going to Sahara?” he asked.
So I told him the boots that I had were old and broken already. They were stupid second hand boots I'd got from the internet and they looked so big like my feet were swollen fifteen times. My boots were nice but they were starting to eat me inside. They were too hot now and the sole was breaking. I needed to let go of them at some point and I thought Istanbul was the perfect place.
“Alright, let’s find new shoes,” he said.
So we walked and walked about the city in the hope of finding new shoes. I was slithering around this crowded touristic road for hours bumping into thousands of people trying to find the right shoes but never succeeding. I even went to another part of the city and checked every shoe store yet nothing grabbed me. I thought I was cursed with these boots. They didn’t want to leave me. It’s like trying to get rid of the past. It was ridiculous, to be honest. We spent the next nine days just walking round the city of Istanbul and going in every shoe shop that we could find. There were plenty of them but really none of them was nice enough. “Gosh, it’s like finding new shoes for Cinderella,” Bobby said. I just chuckled at that. That wore us out every day. We did go on a boat tour of the Bosporus, went to Hagia Sophia to buy some grilled corn, and had Turkish coffee every chance we got, but the main attraction of those days was looking for shoe shops. The city was endless and I was tired of it.
He asked when I was going to write? I said later, I had my mind fixated on the shoes and I couldn’t do anything else for now, I just needed new shoes so stop asking questions! And so I acted a bit crazy, I was screaming at the pillow just to show how mad I was and I thought he might like to see something weird. I bet he was gonna tell his posh colleagues that he'd spent interesting days with this crazy Indonesian writer.
I finally went into an Adidas shoe store and just forced myself to buy the first thing I saw because it was the last day of my stay in Istanbul. Went into an Adidas shoe store making me feel like a chav lad. A young boy getting a new pair of trainers in return of a bareback fuck like in the Chzech Hunter porn videos. I bought a pair of black Terrex hiking shoes that had very strong soles but looked slim at the same time. Not too expensive but they’re good enough. I had hoped Bobby would buy them for me but I would resent the shoes later. I was glad he didn’t. They were the most expensive shoes I had ever had, costing $130.
I put on the shoes there and then at the store and just admired my feet. I threw my old boots into the paper bag and brought them to the Taksim square. It was night time and the square was full of people. I was thinking about eating a genuine Turkish kebab for one last time.
On the way to the food shop, I left the paper bag with my old boots in it next to some big trash cans piled high with garbage.
During those nine days, things happened as well in the room, and on the bed, in the apartment. But not much that I'd want to tell you about because that was just not the point. I was unsure about the situation or what Bobby really wanted but I gave him some sex. He was snoring so badly too, so I gave him some sex. Not sure what the connection was but I think everyone wanted some sex out of me, and so I felt a bit of an obligation to just give some. Sex was not hard, it is not like finding the right shoes. Sex is like a mechanical thing. Shoes are made to go on a journey with you and you can love them. You can not love sex, it’s too dangerous.
It got scary because I was unconsciously training myself to be an empty vessel. I had no appropriate feelings. It was as if the things that I did were just for goddamn survival. Like everything that I was going through was normal for me. Like there were no real boundaries. Nothing that was uncomfortable/comfortless. Everything was just a thing. Was just automatic. A process that I couldn't attach to certain feelings. I think it was not numbness. I just became feelingless. The only time that I can connect or hold on to what is left of my sanity is through writing this. Writing is like looking back on whatever has happened and scrutinizing it from a normal human view: that I should feel a certain way when things happened to me. But at the moment I was writing this, I myself did’t really feel anything. Have I become a sociopath? I don’t know if one can become something like that.
What I meant was, I was looking at everything that had happened as if it was another person and I was the one writing it, the one who inspected each aspect and tried his best to attach appropriate feelings toward certain scenes. For example, when the guy wanted to play with my dick, I just let him play with it, and I didn’t have any feelings about that. I just needed to get hard and maybe I needed to cum after that, just for show. I had no particular feeling about that. But now I’m writing about it, I think I have an obligation to attach that scene to certain normal feelings, for example: the feeling of being used, of being molested, being degraded, being cheap, being stupid. Even now for me, all those feelings are nothing bad, those are just feelings I am attaching it to the action for the form's sake.
I hope this makes some sense.
Anyway, maybe this is good. You know? To be an empty vessel. The story came and the product—my writing—is out of me. And I shouldn’t think too much about my true feelings because everything in this life is just material and I shouldn’t be weak if I want to be a good writer. I should endure life. I should endure scenes in life. I should endure Armageddon. I wanted to be good. I wanted to be out there. I wanted to have money. And I wanted to have a home. And I can’t just rob a bank, because I only like writing.
To close this chapter, in Taksim square that night after leaving my bag of boots, I imagined Eliot was laughing with me, we were walking side by side like brothers. But he’s dead now. Away in a graveyard somewhere in France. And I was thinking about the art that I saw at the exhibition while I smoked. One thing I can understand is: What is art supposed to make me feel? It’s obvious that artists want to make us feel something when we are faced with their work. We, as viewers, get it wrong most of the time. And though perhaps it is not necessarily what the artists meant, what I felt about this whole art exhibition we visited was Injustice. That’s the meaning of their art. They are just giving me a sense of social inequality and class. It means not everyone can access art because some of us are hungry and busy on the street. And this kind of art (including now those fine pieces by Van Gogh) are only available to people with spare time, with a ticket to go inside and view the exhibition. It was sad because some kids only know a cart for their home. Some old ladies asked for pennies under the awning. Some old men gathering a giant sack of empty cans for a few lira. That’s how the art exhibition had make me feel.
Being in Istanbul really depressed me, I felt like drowning myself in the Bosphorus Strait but knew that this place didn’t deserve my body. And I felt like plunging into madness had I not witnessed this dirty old man in Taksim square. The night I had my new shoes, and I left the old ones next to a big pile of trash, this old man came and he ransacked the heap and he found my boots and he was looking at them. And he checked them. He checked both of them carefully. Checking the sole and the insides. The laces and all. And not long after that he took off his own dirty shoes and put on my old boots. He put on them very carefully. He walked in them for a bit till he was satisfied with them. And I was just stood watching it from afar, smoking my cigarette and I cried after that. And I cried writing this.
*sample from my current project