A Few Words on the English Language

I would like to jot down a few words regarding my relationship with my native language. English is my only mother tongue, despite how I desperately wish that I was bilingual from childhood. I always regret that my father’s side of the family did not retain Danish and that my mother’s side abandoned Italian. As it is, English remained my only language at home.

As someone who has devoted a significant portion of my professional and personal life to mastering other languages, English is not a language that I often take pride in. From my study in linguistics I long ago realized that English, as the global lingua franca, possesses a sociopolitical monopoly over other languages, a monopoly that I do not agree with and believe to be unjust.

While my decision to study the languages I do is partly rooted in personal taste, I must also concede that I can pick whatever language I want to study because I can already boast fluency in the most economically viable language. From my privileged position as a native English speaker, I never need to worry that I’m wasting my time with any other language.

That is not true for others. I remember announcing my decision to learn Turkish to my friends in Morocco. Much to my dismay, some were downright discouraging. “Turkish?” they said. “Why on earth would you learn that? Take Spanish or Portuguese.”

At first I was insulted by their lack of support, but upon further reflection I could see how they were coming from a pragmatic, strategic standpoint. For Moroccans, Turkish holds no promise of socioeconomic mobility, therefore they considered the pursuit wasteful and foolish. Non-native speakers of English must choose their foreign languages wisely so they do not devote too much time and energy to a language that will not yield the career results they want.

From the realization of my linguistic privilege I have sought to deemphasize English. In  that way I internalized international students’ perception of English as unromantic and strictly communicative, so much so that I rarely wrote poems in English. Poetry, as a art form celebrating the beauty and rhythm of language,  was originally a literary exercise for my foreign languages like Arabic and Turkish.

But I do love to write, especially fiction. It is through the written form of prose that I can admire the English language as something beyond mere communication, a language that can be beautiful and artistic. When I’m describing a character’s emotions or painting the picture of a scene with words…that is when I truly connect emotionally with English.
Blogging has also increased my appreciation for English within the last few year. From journalistic articles to more personal narratives, I’m using English more often to express my feelings to what in going on around me, both at the macro and micro levels.

I still have a long way to go in fully appreciating the mother language that has been given to me, but hopefully through blogging, creative writing, and more poetry in English, I can see my native tongue as one that has its own charm that shouldn’t necessarily be concealed in my personal life due to wider societal issues with intolerance of linguistic diversity.

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Anna Karenina vs. The Duchess

I find it surprising that no one has thought to compare these two movies before. Both are period dramas starring Keira Knightley retelling the lives of two aristocratic women. Both films were excellent is providing strong, multidimensional female leads, one who finds wisdom after being broken and one who falls from grace and succumbs to madness.

The Duchess is the adaption of Amanda Foreman’s biography of Georgiana Cavendish, the 6th Duchess of Devonshire. Born Lady Georgiana Spencer, she was the great-great-great-great-aunt to the late Princess Diana. She married the duke of Devonshire on her 17th birthday. The duke was an emotionally stunted man who was only concerned with having a son, something Georgiana did not provide him until many years into their marriage. She eventually has an affair with the uprising politician Charles Grey until she is forced to break it off when the duke threatens to take her children away. She is also forced to relinquish her illegitimate daughter to the Grey family and lives the rest of her life as the Duchess of Devonshire.

Anna Karenina is the adaptation of the 1873 novel of the same name by Leo Tolstoy, one of my favorite classics of all time. Anna is the dutiful wife of a high-ranking imperial official who is swept into a passionate love affair by the dashing cavalry officer Count Vronsky. Ultimately the affair is discovered and Anna attempts to live her life as Vronsky’s mistress, only to find that all of society has ostracized her. That combined with her increasing erratic jealousy plunges her into insanity until she commits suicide by stepping in front of a train.

Between the two women, Georgiana is the character that inspires the most sympathy. Her husband had already had his own string of affairs before Georgiana has hers with Charles Grey and it is clear that the duke is not genuinely hurt by her actions, only concerned with his reputation. Anna, on the other hand, has her affair with Vronsky when her husband, albeit not overtly affectionate, was still emotionally devoted to her. Georgiana is also the opposite of Anna where she was willing to sacrifice her personal happiness with Grey to remain in her children’s lives, whereas Anna was prepared to leave her son to be with Vronsky.

In the beginning I had sympathy for Anna. Though her husband was not cruel, they did marry out of convenience, thus Count Vronsky could possibly be considered Anna’s first “real” love. My sympathy for Anna came to an end, however, after she decided to return to Vronsky upon regaining her health from the difficult childbirth of her illegitimate daughter. She thought she was going to die and didn’t want to depart this world without obtaining Karenin’s forgiveness. When she didn’t end up dying, she wanted to go back to Vronsky, illustrating that her husband’s forgiveness meant little to her in actuality. She only wanted it to soothe her own conscience in the face of death.

Any sympathy I had for Anna after that was purely at a societal level. I condemned Anna personally, but could still bear witness to the unjust double standards that the Russian aristocracy had in regards to male and female adultery. Anna’s brother, Oblonsky, is depicted as a benevolent character, even though he himself is notorious for having affair after affair without remorse.

If there is a weakness in Georgiana’s character, it is her naivety and her desire for attention. Since she does not receive affection from her husband, she seeks it superficially by focusing on the public who adores her. Her dissatisfaction with her home life leaves her susceptible to various addictions, her biggest one being gambling. The stark contrast between her image as a public figure and her private life has been compared to other modern celebrities like Marilyn Monroe.

Both films hold a special place in my heart because they show two strong women who reacted very differently to the limitations placed upon their gender during the 18th and 19th centuries. Georgiana was able to gain much political influence in her own right in the Whig Party while delicately maintaining deference to her husband, while Anna Karenina brazenly defied her husband and society’s expectations of her, though that ultimately lead to her downfall when she could no longer rely on Vronsky to remain faithful to her. It was not society that directly crushed her, it was the sense that her relationship with Vronsky was not longer healthy and thus no longer “worth” the scorn she was enduring from society.

I strongly recommend anyone to go watch these two amazing historical dramas. Both films are available on Netflix. You will not be disappointed.

Orumekami

Crystal dew drops cling to her silvery web

Starlight glowing from the silky threads

Each destiny ensnared like a succulent fly

Where free will fades and choice comes to die

None can escape her glossy grasp

No matter how one screams, wails, or rasps

Your future is set; it’s fruitless to defy

She sees all, from her first to eighth eye

She is Orumekami, goddess of fate

Weaver of destinies both humble and great

Spinner of fortunes malevolent and benign

She alone determines when the stars will align

 

© Amy Sophiamehr

Artwork done by the enormously talented Emeline Bafoin: check out her other works on DeviantArt!

For years I’ve had this vision of the goddess of destiny being a sort of geisha spider queen. Maybe one day she’ll show up in one of my novels. The name of Orumekami emerged from the compound of two words: the Turkish word “örümcek” meaning spider and the Japanese word “kami” meaning god.

 

The Crime of Parental Kidnapping

I was inspired to write this poem after watching a documentary about a horrendous example of international child abduction. This is my poem reflecting on such a horrible predicament.

 

The crime that cuts through families

Deeper than any knife into flesh

The crime that keeps wounds fresh

Broken hearts, abundant fatalities

0o0o0

Oceans fill with endless tears

As a child grows without love

Imprisoned like a caged dove

To advance a vendetta lasting for years

0o0o0

A parent who wants to smear

The name of the other for sport

Will not find compassion in court

To whose orders they do not adhere

0o0o0

What does the kidnapper fear?

Not abuse, violence or rage

But to watch their child come of age

With the parent at whom they cannot sneer

0o0o0

The darkness of this crime is boundless

Kara, kara, kara…

Bring forth the candelabra

To shed light on the night so merciless

0o0o0

When a parent stoops to this crime

They lose their heart, their soul

On the child this takes its toll

But on the Day of Judgement

Come will the kidnapper’s time

 

Background

So the woman lied to her Italian ex-husband that she was taking their daughters on a vacation to her home country of Australia. She even presented him with the receipt for the camping tickets. Under this pretense the father signed the paperwork that allowed the mother to obtain passports for their children.

She left Italy with the girls and didn’t return, much to the father’s shock and anguish. He did not give up, however. After two years, the Australian authorities finally caught up with the mother and her family and forced the daughters on a plane back to Italy, a harrowing experience for the girls.

The mother was later interviewed by 60 Minutes after the ordeal and was directly asked if she took any responsibility for and/or regretted putting her daughters in a position to be traumatized by not just one, but TWO drastic relocations. She evaded the question, allowing her mother and grandmother to speak for her. She eventually offered a feeble, vague answer that she’s always blamed herself for things since childhood. It was obvious that she didn’t regret anything and was only bitter that her ex had had the ability to insist upon his parental rights.

 

© Amy Sophiamehr

 

Türk Müsünüz?

This is a poem I wrote to express my feelings regarding everyone’s assumation that just because I speak Turkish, I must automantically BE ethnically Turkish, or at least half-Turkish. English translation can be found below.

“Türk müsünüz?”

Hem Türkler hem Amerikalılar

Hem İranlılar hem Araplar,

bana hep bu soruyu soruyorlar

“Türk müsünüz?”

Belki Türk olabilirim…

çünkü Ürdün’de Turk eşarbı giyiyorum.

Belki Türk olabilirim…

çünkü İstanbuldaki üniversite’de okuyorum.

Belki Türk olabilirim…

çünkü Türkçe konuşuyorum.

Belki Türk olabilirim…

çünkü İranlı bir adamı seviyorum.

Belki Orta Doğulu’ya başka bir Orta Doğulu gerekiyor

“Türk müsünüz?”

Türkçe konuşmak için

neden Türk olmak zorundayım?

Türkiye’yi sevmek için

neden Türk olmaya mecburum?

Türkiye’yi özlemek için

neden Türk olmak zorundayım?

Türkiye’ye önem vermek için

Türkiye’ye endişelenmek için

Türkiye’ye ağlamak için

neden Türk olmaya mecburum?

“Türk müsünüz?”

Evet, tüm kalbimle Türküm

(English Translation)

“Are you a Turk?”

Both Turks and Americans

Both Iranians and Arabs,

they always ask me this question

“Are you a Turk?”

Maybe I could be a Turk …

because I wear Turkish scarves in Jordan.

Maybe I could be a Turk …

because I study at an university in Istanbul.

Maybe I could be a Turk …

because I speak Turkish.

Maybe I could be a Turk …

Because I love an Iranian man.

Maybe an Middle Easterner needs another Middle Easterner

“Are you a Turk?”

Why do I have to be a Turk

To speak Turkish?

Why do I have to be a Turk

To love Turkey?

Why do I have to be a Turk

To miss Turkey?

Why do I have to be Turkish

To give importance to Turkey?

Why do I have to be Turkish

To worry bout Turkey?

To cry for Turkey?

“Are you a Turk?”

Yes, with all my heart I am a Turk

 

© Amy Sophiamehr