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Excerpt for Beyond the Garden by , available in its entirety at Smashwords
















Beyond the Garden

by Fatih Canıtez

Copyright 2019 Fatih Canıtez

Smashwords Edition















PART 1- THE DISTANT PAST

In the Beginning

In the beginning there was the Word. There was harmony. There was beauty. Everything was in its place. Unity was not scattered. The plains, the wilderness, the oceans, the mountains and the birds were truly plains, wilderness, oceans, mountains and birds. Everything was floating in the happiness and tranquility of truly being that exact thing it was supposed to be. In the distance there was a garden. And everything was in that garden. Nothing ever happened outside of that garden. The garden reached into eternity in its splendor, housing everything in its existence. The trees, their leaves and fruits radiated a true light. There was no Sun, everything was illuminated with a natural light. The sky was lost in an eternal blueness. A gentle blueness that surrounded everything.

Yes, in the beginning there was the Word, but it had not divided into words and scattered around the realm. The Word surrounded itself in an eternal happiness, unity, goodness and light. The garden and the Word had not yet been separated, because the serpent had not yet entered the garden. The apple tree was yet to be seen, too. The only things in sight were the tranquil radiance of light, the delightful chirping of birds and a calming gentle breeze. Neither the seer nor the seen, nor the hearer and the heard, nor the feeler and the felt were divided. Everything continued its existence in an eternal unity. The squirrels played with the rabbits, even wild animals seemed tame and peaceful.

It would seem difficult to speak of a beginning. Everything consisted of a moment that neither started nor ended. Birds sang an eternal song, plains spread out over an eternal wilderness, and the trees would reach into the endless depths of the sky. The infinite musical rhythm never tired its listeners, on the contrary it evoked an ecstasy that vibrated and cherished everything, rejuvenating everything. Life, vitality and joy surrounded all that existed.

Separation? That was a word yet to be heard. Even the knower and known were one, the winds sang a song of unity. There was no separation nor sadness, so the song of worry and pain were yet to be heard. Think of the happy ending of a film, don’t you ever wonder what happens after the end? Doesn’t anything ever happen? Don’t people ever go their own ways? Does nobody cry? At the end of fairy tales, when the three apples fall form the sky, when the prince finds his princess, when all the characters in the tale overcome their hardships, there is a deep silence because everything is the way as it should be. They all live happily ever after. The garden was in that sort of state, but this silence carried with its vitality and movement. It had escaped its past and future. Maybe it was some sort of calm before the storm.

In the garden, I saw people on top of a hill. They seemed more real than everything else. You could tell how happy they were just by looking at their faces. They were all happily busy with something. I asked one of them about death, I think at first, he didn’t understand the question, as he stared at me for a long time. Then he just went back to work. Whoever I saw seemed like they were lost in the excitement and joy of an ever-repeating eternal game. Their childish inquisitiveness and sense of victory was written all over their faces. I approached someone else and asked her where her home was and what her job was. She replied that her home was everything I could see, and that her job was the same. Then she started talking to her friends, consumed by a sense of deep joy and cheeriness. It was as though nobody had to explain themselves, that everything they said was understood and were all laughing in utter joy. It felt like there was no separation between the sky and the people. The sky was so close, you could almost reach it and touch it. Every now and then a gentle breeze would entrance the people, renew their sense of joy in their “work” and conversation. It wasn’t just the people that were talking to each other, it felt like everything was in deep conversation. As the people weren’t distant from each other, and the proximity with everything else was close, this deep conversation flowed naturally without any effort. Everything was in a constant state of convergence and unity. Man and woman, lover and beloved were still one.

How and why it happened, I can’t remember but suddenly all hell broke loose. It started with a faint sound of rumbling, that turned into violent shaking. I saw the heavens being ripped from the earth, animals running around, people separated in a state of terror. While everything was becoming separated from its counterpart, the sweet sound of eternal music stopped and turned into an alarming noise. Much later, people were going to say that unity was replaced with multiplicity that day. Everyone was suddenly only accountable of themselves, those peaceful days seemed like a distant memory. Day and night had become separated, the natural radiance of light emitting from the garden had been replaced by something called the Sun, that would show itself at day then disappear at night. Well, what about the garden? Well, the garden had completely disappeared. The storm had ripped all the trees out of the earth, not even one was left to cast a comforting shadow; all the rivers that flowed stopped flowing, too. The rosy pink hue of the realm was replaced by black and white gloominess. Experts still haven’t been able to shed light on what caused this catastrophe, but they suspect two people eating an apple, or something along those lines.

Witnesses saw the people coming down that hill in groups. The sweet talks they had turned into bitter and suspicious discussions, they even started to blame each other for what had happened. It was as though everyone turned into a stranger. The skies were overcast with dark shadows, and the earths bore plants of nettled leaves. The groups started to fight, with sticks and stones and mortal enemies began to sprout here and there. Among the fighting crowds, I saw someone walking down the hill with his head bent down and tears streaming down his face. It was as though this person was dragging his feet and was only walking down because he simply had to. I approached this person and asked: What’s the explanation of all of this? Why did the skies suddenly turn black and why were the people kicked out of the garden? The person responded that he didn’t really know and didn’t want to talk about it. I looked at this person’s face and I could see regret and suffering, which was followed by a deep silence. It was as though this deep silence gave birth to curiosity and hope, replacing regret and suffering. The person then said he wanted to return to the garden no matter what, and that he would find a way up to that garden, and that nobody should doubt that. I was told to leave him alone, that he had plans for the future. It was as though this person was an immigrant forced to leave his home country, a prisoner in exile… and the skies were crying…

Birth and the World

I can barely remember the following days, it felt like centuries had passed. The garden had been long forgotten, and only a vague memory of it was left. I had found myself in a world whose people and nature seemed vastly foreign.

In this foreign land I felt excruciating loneliness. This loneliness was accompanied by an extreme coldness. Then the shaking, and sobbing and crying. I might have cried for hours, only to cry and cry again. When I finally woke up, I found myself in the arms of the woman whom I was to call my mother. It felt as though I could feel the warmth of the garden again. The doctors I talked to, they all told me I calmed down a bit after this. I had drifted off into a deep sleep. I had seen that angel in my dreams, and then a vast whiteness. At first, the angel said welcome, and we hugged and wept. I suddenly saw a feeling of hope and fear on the angel’s face. I asked “What is the meaning of all of this?” the angel replied “You are going to see beautiful things.” and talked about wonderful houses, golden-hearted people, clouds, adventures and successes, that beautiful girl I would see and love, poems, scenes of reunion from old Turkish films, my mother’s meals and interesting people from faraway lands. Then the angel looked away, I patiently waited. The angel turned to me, grabbed my arms and then let go, and said “You look like an intelligent and patient person. Listen to me, and don’t interrupt. I don’t know the meaning of this too, but you’re going to see everything anyway.” and the angel talked about separation, wars, struggles, losses, doubt, of bad people, disappointment, loneliness, illness, poverty, fear and death. The angel smiled every now and then, it was as though it was trying to hide something from me. I was just about to ask the angel why it was smiling when it said “Well, that’s all. Good-bye! I won’t be seeing you for quite a while.” and just disappeared. I was struck aghast. The rain had stopped, and the sun started to shine into the room. I slept a bit more.

The Game

When I had awoken, I found myself in an orchard full of trees, playing games with my friends. Each game seemed like it was preparing us for something. We ran about, aimlessly trying to catch each other, and then learn to chase one another again. While playing this never-ending game, we felt lost and purposeless. Then we’d grow tired of it and switch to another game. Puss-in the corner; probably the game that best describes our lives. Constantly restless in our corners, we learn to try to find a better spot and not feel sorry for those stuck in the middle. We’d learn how to jump over each other while playing leapfrog and understand how important luck and intelligence is while playing backgammon. We’d then grow tired of backgammon and play chess only to find out all we needed was intelligence to beat our opponent. But the endless hours of calculating our next move would bore us too, and we’d all end up playing street football. The weakest among us would be the goalie, and we’d assume to position of striker. We used to think that we’d impress all the girls with the goals we scored, but of course none of those individual goals mattered when our opponents scored against us as a team. That’s how we learned that playing as a team was very important. We, of course, quickly forgot this invaluable lesson; it always seemed more attractive to be in the limelight. Playing card games taught us that, even though we can’t choose the cards we’re dealt, we can choose how to play these cards. As the years went on, I realized how important being born into a rich or poor family is when it comes to wealth, and I always remembered those card games. How the game started was very important, but anything could happen in life. Worse comes to worst, you would just have to wait to be dealt a new hand. Those who could never be satisfied with their hand were the ones that always complained, other who got dealt a joker just knew how to find their way. Some of my friends were quite crafty, and early on figured out the importance of a friend at court thanks to that joker card. Well, what about truth or dare? We’d get anxious when the bottle pointed at us, too afraid to let everyone in on our secrets. We’d surprise ourselves when we said “truth” at how courageous we actually were. Maybe someone would dare us to kiss that girl we had a crush on? Who knows, maybe it would’ve helped us shed our shyness? We learned how to win, how to lose, how to cheat, how to help each other, how to struggle, how to fight and how to make friends with these games. After play time, we’d all run home and eat our sandwiches our mother had prepared and go sound asleep. Life was all about games and fun.

Exams

Later on, I had to enter so many exams it felt as though they would never end, and life was all about exams. All those games we played in the school yard, all those friends we had suddenly became our arch-rivals when it came to exams. When we got our exam results, we’d ask our friend their mark; and if our mark was higher than theirs, our happiness would double. If we ever got a bad mark, we’d seek comfort in someone scoring even lower than ourselves. We’d feel a little less bad about our mark, knowing that we weren’t alone. Each exam felt like a big race, and we’d sink a little more into the game of life. Those days of playful games in the school yard seemed like distant memories.

Sometimes, I’d grow so bored listening to my soulless teachers, I’d look out the window and daydream. It seemed as though somewhere in the world all kinds of exciting things were happening, but we were stuck in this classroom because there wasn’t anything for us to do. I always wanted to ask if all these formulas meant anything, did the laws of physics point to some grand mystery? Was there any meaning in history? Which laws of biology could explain why we fell in love? Could geography tell us why the mountains were so mighty? These questions were of course extra-curricular; what’s the point of learning if they weren’t going to ask them in our exams? While we were trying to figure out if the poet was calling to the flag, the public or a grand leader, we lost all the magic hidden in the poem itself. It took me a long time to realize, that what we learned in those classrooms about life was only but a parody of it.

Books

I’d turn the pages of books so fast as though I was trying to find something I lost, on its pages. Maybe I’d find a few sentences about that garden? When I read about the caliphate in a Thousand and One Nights, walking among the people dressed as commoner, I wondered to myself if he had asked himself “what am I doing here?”. The stories I read in these books were like a labyrinth, they all added themselves onto each other, which one was the one on top? I’m sure even the characters in the books weren’t sure. These stories, who had neither beginning nor end, were much like the book of life. Everything was possible, and everything was strange, everything was surreal just like in these fairy tales and stories. Fate was inescapable, and things had a way of finding you, and not the other way around.

I would finish one book, and open the next one. One long summer, I came across a book called “Robinson Crusoe”. The protagonist and the story were so different than a Thousand and One Nights whose characters were simple and obscure. Robinson could deal with all kinds of unexpected events, he knew how to be the master of his own destiny. He was able to start his life all over again on the island by himself, he was aware that it was him who was writing the story of his life. Characters from a Thousand and One Nights like Aladdin and Sinbad were drifted from left to right by their fates, but Robinson was different; even though he couldn't prevent his ship from sinking in the storm, he was able to start life over again on that desert island and commanded his own fate. Robinson wasn't a part of a fairy tale world where even the most absurd things could happen; he was in a world where he could overcome difficulties using his mind and reason.

I would continue to read many tales, novels, stories but no other two books could better express this ambiguous duality I felt deep inside of me. Most people think that this duality manifests itself as the East and West, and only exists in the outer world; but that summer evening I could feel it in the deepest parts of my mind and soul. Sometimes my “Robinson” side would dominate, as life could only be understood through reason. If I did what I needed to do, everything would eventually work itself out. All I had to do was study if I was at school, take care of business if I was at work; I was in command of my life. The book of life wasn't a pre-written text dictating how I would life; it was an empty book that I was going to write in though how I lived. And both life and the universe have its own laws. If I knew how to make use of these laws, I could be the master of the world. Everything could be explained logically. Why was there so much misery in the world? Why were there so many wars, deaths, starvation, and pain? Well, some people were evil, and others were fools. It was their own fault, and everything was as simple as that. In times like these I would study math, explore the world, plan new things and write scientific papers.

And then I would suddenly feel like I was in the middle of a Thousand and One Nights story; everything felt like a dream. Life was incomprehensible and everything in it was disconnected from each other. It felt as though mysterious forces were ruling the world; and no matter how much your tried to understand it was to no avail. There was no guarantee that good things would find my way simply because I did good. Actually, absolutely nothing was guaranteed. Even though the world and life had their laws, they seemed far away from me. The book of life had already been written and given to me to live my fate and see. The only thing I had to do was let myself go with the flow of things. Everything would end up the way it was meant to be; we were there not to play, but to watch. There was no reason to make plans, everything was either down to luck or fate. Who I was to marry, with whom I was to work with, all of these things happened to me, not things that I did. There was no reason to worry about things. So why were there so many homeless children living on the street shivering in the cold? Why were there so many people whose houses were bombed and destroyed in wars, or people left penniless after working their whole lives, or people who did so many evil things but were never held accountable for their actions, and so many young people getting sick and dying? Nobody was responsible for any of this. Everything was as it was meant to be. It made no sense to question these things. Everything was complicated, ambiguous and dizzying. In these times I would read poetry, get lost in my imagination and try and figure out what that misty place in my dream meant.

The Big Rat Race

What was I going to be when I grew up? What profession was I going to do? What was the biggest responsibility of my life going to be? That troublesome wait that starts at high-school all the way until university. Actually, it was a wonderful time when we weren't labeled by our jobs; we hadn't entered the soul crushing cycle of the so called “business life”. We hadn't chosen the little windows we would view life from yet. I felt like I was watching the world from a high hill, everything was about me and I was about everything. Life felt so free when I didn't have to stick to a daily routine. Daily work was those people's work, and they took and that role with so much enthusiasm. I sometimes wondered if they truly weren't aware that they were playing a role. Later on, I'd find people who couldn't truly adopt their roles to be the most interesting characters because they knew they were playing a role. They viewed their work as though it was some sort of play they were casted in. These people knew how to tolerate things, they never got angry easily and were quite forgiving. I really liked these kinds of people, but there were few of them, and they'd get fewer in number as time went on. They were going to forget that they were a part of an eternal game, how they once lost themselves in pleasant engagement. And to the readers who are easy to forget, I'd suggest reading part one again, to remind them of the heavenly and tale-like days where working was an endless game and adventure.

And of course, there were the others. The ones who were quick to forget who they were. The ones that were quick to adopt their roles, who couldn't take off their masks and who were eager to attend that masked-ball we call the business life. They would first concoct an identity with their CV's, their biggest mistake was to think their titles reflected their true selves. Those who were to succumb to their egos predominantly come from this group of people. These people loved to play a game of faux happiness under the guise of their mortal masks and forgetting their eternal selves. They were quick to take offence and would find it hard to sleep at nights because of constantly fighting off imaginary threats to their titles. Yes, they were very hardworking, but they wouldn't live life for themselves but only for their titles. They had forgotten about their essence, living a life in an empty shell. With time I learned how to leave these people to their own devices. Their little lives seemed cuter when viewed from a distance. The way they'd go red in the face with shyness when they thought they found favor in the eye of their superiors, and how they'd hustle and bustle to climb the corporate ladder was so amusing to me. Yes, “good job, clever boy” but you've forgotten your eternal self, that you matter too, and that you have a real life and that your first duty is to live a life worth living and preserve it and defend it. Go on, run a little more, little child, that'll be your punishment for now. I'm sure we'll have a great time watching your folly as we eat some popcorn and sip on some coke.

Exile and Winter

Sometimes everything would feel terribly foreign. An old friend who was once close enough to use the same toothpick would suddenly become an old acquaintance we hadn't seen for years. The welcoming hand of our lover would suddenly become cold and distant. A colleague we'd bump into every morning would suddenly seem like they dropped down from another planet. It felt as though we didn't have a common past with people, and they were soulless ghosts that would say “hello” and “goodbye”. We hadn't had the faintest idea of where we came from or where we were going. It felt as though we had already forgotten who we were, and we were increasing this sense of distance and alienation by addressing each other with “sir” and “madam”. Maybe we were waiting for a piece of news from some foreign land but weren't certain it was going to ever arrive. Nothing was certain anyway, we'd get lost in the idea that we knew everything, and we had everything under control but this game of pretend would lose its realness and we would be left alone with a sense of boredom. Time that past by so quickly would suddenly slow down, the skyscrapers surrounding us would look like unfriendly giants and to add to the frustration we'd get soaked in mud by a car whizzing by. The endless amount of people walking down the streets, traveling by tram were constantly going to and fro from one place to another. If it were the day of judgment, we would at least have an idea of what was waiting for us. But here, in this crowded city, it felt as though the invisible rhythm in the depths of life was interrupted and nobody could hear its music.

“Exile” whispered a wizened old man, and walked on without saying anything else. I thought I heard a voice say “Far away”, and in pain and terror I looked at the sun. The sun, which we'd draw with a smile and a twinkle in its eye as children, was not smiling and there was no twinkle in its eyes. The sun just went about its business behind those dark, bleary clouds. And the clouds, those clouds we thought looked like elephants, or turtles or some imaginary monster, as we lay on the grass and stared at the sky as children now seemed like lifeless tufts of black smoke drifting along the horizon, almost parodying our meager lives. I started to feel dizzy, I had to sit down on a dirty bench near the sidewalk. I almost couldn't see anything, my body felt cold and I began to shake. I tried lifting my head, but everything was blending into each other, objects were losing their definition and were circling themselves on a frenzy, it was as though I was lost in this hysteria. Then I heard a sharp scream. The whole world rang with it for a while. And then there was a deep silence. Everything slowly found its place again. Then I was told “winter will be felt for a while longer in a distant planet far, far away. The cold winds coming from the Balkans will continue for a while longer, and the wave of cold air will continue in our country for a while yet.” these voices came from a distance but they were very clear, they also said that the winter would continue until a designated time, and that time was determined, even if we didn't know about it. And that was it. The voices stopped. I lifted my head up and saw a feather of black birds were flying towards the sun. I got up, wrapped my scarf around me, but on my cap, buttoned up my coat and started to walk home. “Winter is going to continue” I mumble to myself “it's going to continue yes, yes” as I walked home “winter, yes... yes.”



PART 2- THE PAST

University

I went to university at Bogazici University, department of Industrial Engineering. I had done really well in the university entrance exams and could enroll in any university I wanted. But what did I really want? To be honest, I didn't know. I had attended İstanbul Atatürk Science High School, so I could choose to study engineering or medicine. Even though my family wanted me to study medicine, I knew I wasn't going to pick that option. Having to constantly deal with hospitals, people and illnesses really wasn't suitable for my soul which preferred calm and peace. Yes, doctors did make a lot of money, but I wasn't really thinking about money at the time. I mean, I could always make money, but I really didn't want to be something just because it would make me a lot of money, or just because my parents wanted me to do it, or because people would respect it (another thing that I've never really cared about in life). So, I was left to choose from a selection of engineering degrees. I felt like most of them were very technical (I didn't know at the time- I was just choosing according to the names of the departments) so I thought that I wouldn't choose mechanical, computer, electrical or chemical engineering degrees. I was left with Industrial Engineering, and since it was close to business administration, and it was still difficult to get in to, I thought it would be easy to get a comfortable job if I studied it. I chose Bogazici University because only students who did well in their exams could attend it, it was a popular university, and it had a very nice campus located along the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey.

The first two years of my university life were spent in English prep school. I didn't have a background in the language, so I started from the bottom. I was a good student that attended class regularly and almost always scored the highest in my exams. I started to frequent the library after my second term and started reading history, philosophy, and religious books in English (my trusty Oxford Dictionary never left my side). When our lecturers gave us essays to write, I always tried to model the sentences I read in those books to impress them. The essays I wrote during that year became very popular among the students who wanted to pass their prep year in English. Since we were at the lowest level, our lecturers thought we wouldn't be able to pass the first exam in June and that we would have to stay for summer school. I didn't want to spend my summer holiday at university, so I studied hard and passed the exam with an A. It was almost impossible for a beginner student to pass the English Proficiency Exam, especially with an A. Another reason why I studied so hard was because I had a friend from high school who was in prep school but a level above me, and my friend constantly corrected my pronunciation and constantly pontificated me.

The education language at the university was in English (the lecturers even joked with us in English), so it was good to start the year with a good level of English. Even though I was good at reading and writing in English, I wasn't very good at speaking. There were students who had graduated from Robert College or Galatasaray High School who had learned English much earlier on, they were great at communicating with our lecturers and were very confident in their English-speaking skills. The rest of us were rather shy about speaking, we'd stammer when asking questions to our lecturers and had to study much harder than the others. I had a GPA of 3.89 in my first year of university, which meant I finished first among my peers. As time went on my GPA dropped to 3.35 because I lost interest in my classes. The only reason why I never failed a class was simply because I was in the mindset of finishing what I started. In my last year of university, I kept telling my friends I never wanted to see these classrooms or desks ever again. Feeling alone at university, alongside losing interest in my course was another contributing factor to this.

Even though I have always been a very sociable person, I never made any lasting friends at university. I had made some lasting friendships at high school, but not at university. I'm still surprised that almost all my close friends I've been in contact with over the years are from high-school, I don't even have one friend from university that I'm still in contact with. I think there are two reasons for this: first of all, I came from a more conservative and religious background, which played an important role in not adapting and getting into the more elite and liberal scene of my university. I didn't feel close to either my fellow students or my lecturers in many ways. In our class of 60, only 3 or 4 people would fast during Ramadan. Normally this wouldn't have been an issue for me, but it felt strange to witness my classmates to eat and drink during the day, and consume alcohol at night during Ramadan. When I first met a friend from my department the first question that person asked me was “Do you drink?” and when I responded with “No.” he laughed and said that I would. Another example was when one of our lecturers asked us how important it was whether the person we would marry was a virgin or not, and to raise our hands if we thought “yes, it's important.”. This caused me to feel there was an ideological element to all of this. Many of my friends would drink alcohol at high school, but this never affected our friendship and was never seen as something important. Even though I never felt conservative about these subjects, I tended to distance myself from people I felt obsessed about these ideological things, so I didn't have many close friends at university. The second reason, and I think this is the more important reason, was the competitive atmosphere and career obsessed students. The prevailing culture at one of the best universities in Turkey was a very Americanized, individualist, competitive and careerist one. The first things students would look at after finding out their grade was how much higher they scored from the curve. The only thing people thought about was their GPA and the international companies they were going to work for and earn buckets of money after they graduated from school. It's safe to say we didn't have much in common.

During my 3rd year at university I felt very alienated from my department and lectures as I felt the gap between what I needed to learn and what my lecturers taught us had considerably widened. I think that a real university- and I still think like this- should help prepare its students for life, and lecturers shouldn't just function as “academicians” or “instructors” but as guides and advisors who form actual relationships with their students and help students them develop themselves spiritually. Those years we constantly asked ourselves how what we learned in class was going to help us in life. We had to find our own answers, or the lessons were going to feel nonsensical. I remember one time during his first lesson our Nonlinear Programming lecturer said “Alright, people. I don't want to hear about how and where you're going to use in life what you learn in this lesson. That's entirely up to you, and I don't want to hear any more of it.” Students were worried about where they were going to use the information they learned, but the lecturers didn't care too much about that. The lecturers always hid behind the argument that “students should find their own paths, and that lecturers shouldn't intervene.”. I believe there was a lot of indifference and elitism hidden in this so-called liberal attitude. It was difficult to understand why they expected us to approach our subjects purely in academic terms, as though it was a philosophy course, when one of the most important things for engineering students was “how to use” the information they had learned. Of course, we were all worried about how to find a job after graduating, what information would be useful to us, what we needed to learn etc. Our classes, other than the compulsory Turkish language and Turkish Revolution History classes, were all mathematical. There was nothing that satisfied the soul in these subjects; like differential equations, optimization methods, linear programming etc. These subjects didn't contain anything that would help me in terms of my future profession, nor did they provide any nourishment for the soul. Towards the end of my 3rd year, one time during Engineering Economy exam, I remember looking out the window and wondering if there was a life worth living far away, I was struggling with the idea of if there was something more important than the education I was pursuing and the silly exam I was taking, and then I made my decision. I decided that I would finish my degree and try and find a job so I could muddle along and never have to come back to these classrooms again.

The big library at the northern campus of the university, and the pool there were my favorite places to hangout. In my first year I mainly read poetry and novels. I'd pick a book from the shelves and go down to the music and film room at the bottom floor of the library when I had time from the endless amounts of homework, and I'd put on some headphones and listen to the record collection. My favorite Turkish writers were mainly Sait Faik, Necip Fazıl, Cahit Sıtkı, Peyami Safa, Orhan Pamuk, Ahmet Hamdi, Yahya Kemal and Orhan Veli. I really enjoyed Sait Faik's humane approach to everyday events. Necip Fazıl's poetry drenched in metaphysical quest and suspense left a deep impression on me. Cahit Sıtkı introduced me to lyrical joy, and I've always found something of myself in Peyami Safa's anti-modern fiction. I could have rewritten Safa's Fatih and Harbiye districts as Gaziosmanpaşa and Etiler. Orhan Pamuk's “the Black Book” and “the New Life” were among my favorite books addressing identity and seeking meaning in life. Ahmet Hamdi and Yahya Kemal have transformed my approach to history and Istanbul. The way Orhan Veli made light of everything reminded my me of my own take on life. Maybe it was the beautiful weather that ruined me. I had read Marcel Proust's “In Search of Lost Time” with great interest and had finished “the Brothers Karamazov” by Dostoevsky while sitting at the far back of the classroom. Out of the characters in that book “Alyosha” seemed quite similar to me, with his faith and optimism.

Those years, I would take long walks down Istanbul's historical streets with my high school friend Metin. We would talk about everything from the meaning of life to philosophy, and to the daily issues we had. I didn't have many friends but the few friends I had with whom I could talk about deep things with were enough for me. Everything that had depth pulled me to it, and everything superficial pushed me away from it. It felt as though there was some hidden meaning in life, and if I conformed to the lifestyles of those around me, I would miss this hidden meaning and never find out what life was about. In my last year of university I wasn't thinking about what I would be doing after graduation, but I was thinking about important questions like what we were meant to do here on earth where we came from and where we were going, and if life and death had any meaning, the reason behind everything and what we had to do. These questions could have many different answers, that's not what was important. What was important that we realize that these questions were the most important questions and that we should at least try to answer them. The people around me were too busy trying to land a high paying job, or date some beautiful girl or get married, start a master's or doctorate program, trying to earn more and more money and all kinds of petty things that I decided I wasn't going to play the game they called “life”. These goals might be important in and of themselves, but to base one's life around them without pondering the important questions seemed futile.

With these ideas in my mind, I started to read more philosophical and religious books in my last year of university. I started to read classical western philosophical texts, the Quran, texts of different religions, philosophy and intellectual history those days. The books I read were generally in English, and the more I read the more I needed to read. Finding texts written about real knowledge, where these ideas were discussed; it helped me from succumbing into a total darkness. It was a great relief that other people had thought about these questions, other than myself because it had felt like I would've drowned in a pool of meaninglessness. I was busy making plans about spending the rest of my life in search of knowledge worth knowing, researching and living it. And on the other hand, I was wrestling with endless exams, projects, homework and finals. I especially felt the need to read more during exam periods. I preferred to study by myself in the library than with a group of friends because the constant worry and panic my friends had before exams tired me. When I was studying by myself, I would read 20-30 pages of a book I picked from the shelves, and then quickly skim through the exam topics and then start reading again. This reading process continued with its high pace until the year 2010 when I did my military service. The two weeks before my military service I had read a 1500-page book on the history of philosophy. Reading about the ideas of ancient Greek philosophers, Western philosophers from the Middle Ages, and Modern Islamic Philosophers left me in a dizzy state. How did I not lose my sense of self during such intense reading? I believe the answer lies in my world view deeply attached to the Quran, and how much I had internalized it. That year, what I had read in the Quran about the existence of some scientific expressions and mathematical miracles that I thought could not be said 1400 years ago had convinced my scientific and rational mind. I think this gave me the confidence to start such a big project like reading the entire intellectual history of the world. I was very interested in how people throughout the ages have tried to answer these big questions, so naturally I gravitated towards reading philosophy, religion and intellectual history. It felt like diving into the ocean with an oxygen tank, otherwise it would have been very difficult to overcome nihilist and skeptic philosophical thoughts.

During this time, writers from the existentialist school such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre and Dostoevsky had greatly influenced me. I believe that the sincerest questions regarding the meaning and meaninglessness of life were asked by these thinkers. The idea that there could be no meaning or truth in a world without God or transcendence has tied me to religion more so than any religious book. These authors helped me understand certain basic questions such as freedom, anxiety, absurdity, authenticity, existence, the mortality of man etc. with seriousness and sincerity. Even though it's not a part of existentialist thought, Pascal's “Pensées” was one of the most important books in shaping my thoughts about the finiteness of life, man's role in the universe and God's existence.

The most important experiences in shaping my ideas about work life was the internships I did, and the job interview I had during my last term at university. I had to complete 70 days at an internship to be able to graduate, so I did my first internship in a software company during the winter break of my second year. I had a very hard time finding an internship since the university didn't provide any assistance and I didn't have any contacts. I sent lots of e-mails to the human resources departments of different companies but only a few responded and anyway, they had rejected me. I thought they said that if you went to Bogazici University it would be a piece of cake to get a job! Well, that simply wasn't the case. Regardless, I had sent my CV to a small software company in Perpa, they responded to my e-mail and I was invited for an interview. The interview went well, and I started my internship. I worked for 20 days with 3 computer engineers coding day and night in a tiny office, while I assisted in a minor project. The engineers were writing software for metal-cutting machinery used in large factories. They had asked me to develop an algorithm that would designate cutting points which would produce the least waste. The whole coding thing was very interesting, I even worked on some problems when I went home. The work environment was pretty good, too. Every few days they would have a video call with their boss at Zürich, and the rest of the time they would just huddle over their work. I got to talk a little with the engineers during lunch breaks, it felt strange to work all days in a tiny room without chatting with anyone. My already little excitement vanished towards the end of my first week there. I had already begun to gloomily think about how the next week would pass, then when I went there on Monday I was welcomed with a surprise. A classmate had started their internship at the company, too. It was nice to have someone I could chat with over a cup of coffee. The rest of my internship went by quickly thanks to having a friend there. That's how I completed my first internship, my first impression of work life was “how boring is this?”. At the end of that year I did another internship at a risk and credit rating department at a large bank and had to leave on day 15 out of 20, due to extreme boredom. After that, I decided never to work at a bank again. I couldn't stand such “formal” settings. That summer I did an internship at Turkish Airlines with a classmate. That internship was a breeze, we only had to do minor work for 3 hours and then spent the rest of the day watching films or walking around different departments. It was good to have a friend who I could chat with and have heart-to-heart talks with, it helped pass the time. The next year I did an internship at a Mercedes factory, where I realized that factories are soulless gloomy places and that jumping into the business life was not something to look forward to. But time was passing, and I was going to graduate soon so that meant that I had to find a job and start earning money. On one hand my exams were really bugging me, and on the other hand these anxious thoughts were really stressing me out. Life shouldn't be spent coding day and night, or stuck in formal settings among insincere people, nor should life be wasted in soulless factory offices. The real thing that bothered me was the feeling of being dragged around by life. It felt as though I was living someone else's life, or I was a part of someone else's project. Maybe it was because I came from a large family, where people had their own little shops and worked for themselves, so it felt like working for someone else- no matter how much it payed- was not something to brag about or want to do. That's why I could never understand how my classmates were so anxious to land a job in a big international company.

During the last term of my last year at university, a friend of mine working part-time at Sabancı company told me that they were looking for someone to work part-time like himself, and maybe I could apply, and she could help me out. I only had 3 lessons, so I had lots of free time during the week, and I thought of it as an investment for after graduation. I went to the interview which was held at the twin towers in Levent. After passing through strict security, I began to wait at one of the meeting rooms in one of the top floors. When I looked out the window, I could see the whole of Istanbul beneath me. People looked like tiny ants walking around the streets. Then a man and woman, who were smartly dressed, entered the room. After briefly introducing themselves they asked me which school I went to, and I answered “Bogazici University- Department of Industrial Engineering”. The woman then said that what school I finished didn't really matter when it came to work, and she started to talk about all the training and certificate programs she had finished. Then they asked me a few questions about statistics, what field I specialized in etc. I answered them all and told them I didn't have a lot of work experience but I could quickly learn whatever they showed me. They took a brief look at my CV, then told me that I didn't know how to market myself. I don't know why, but those words hit a nerve: why did I have to “market” myself? To me the phrase had bad connotations, so I couldn't keep my mouth shut and told them I didn't view myself as a commodity to “market”. I guess they didn't like what I had to say, so they told me the chief of Human Resources would like to have a chat with me, too. I was led to a spacious and refreshing room. I briefly introduced myself to the manager, he then asked me some very strange questions. For example, he asked me how many tennis courts there were in Turkey, and I guessed a number. He then asked me if I was sure, and I told him of course I wasn't. He then gave me a marker and said I could try and figure out the answer on the board. I then divided Turkey into different regions, then gave him a different number. He asked me if I was sure or not, again. I told him I wasn't sure, but that was the best guess I could come up with. The meeting had been going on for at least 15 minutes, and the manager hadn't even smiled once. I would smile at the strangeness of the questions, expecting him to smile back to ease the atmosphere, but he had the face of a bulldog chewing a wasp. I felt like a primary school student in front of his teacher, and while I was trying to find an answer to the tennis court question I began to feel at unease. He graciously told me to take all the time I needed. I gave him my answer and he asked me if I was sure, which I responded a little irritatedly by saying how could I be sure of my answer. He then asked me a few more questions, and I answered them quickly since I was anxious to get out. Once the meeting was over, he shook my hand coldly. I felt relieved to leave that room and told myself I hope they didn't call me back. I began to question if the business world was full of people like this, who were so pretentious and condescending. I then decided again, that no matter what I wasn't going to market myself, no matter how much they were willing to pay me.

Graduation day was approaching, and I hadn't anything clear in my mind about what I would do after school. I had discarded the idea of doing a master's degree and joining academia, for the time being at least. I had applied for the Public Personnel Selection Examination, since a friend had suggested it to me. It had never occurred to me to work for the public sector, and it ended up just being an exam I took. I hadn't really studied for it anyway, I thought about doing my compulsory military service, to both get it out of the way and because it would give me more time to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I had to complete my papers until June if I wanted to start my service in August. Since my diploma wasn't going to be prepared in time, I got a certificate of graduation on the last day and went to the recruiting office in Halıcıoğlu. It was around half 3, the officer at the recruiting office said I needed to have a medical examination, so I was transferred to the Kasımpaşa Military Hospital. When I arrived there, I was told that the doctor had just left, and I had to come back on Monday. That means my military service would be postponed for another 4 months, which of course meant thinking about what I was to do during that time. I returned to the recruiting office, where I was told that I could try and see the doctor on Monday, but I probably wouldn't be able to start in August. I went back on Monday, and without even being examined I got my health report and returned to the recruiting office. The clerk there asked me if I want to do my military service as a short-term private for 6 months, or as a third lieutenant for 12 months. I wanted to get it over with as soon as I could, so I said I would like to do it for 6 months as a private. The clerk then asked me if I would like to be a commando or not, I responded with “No”. At the time I thought I'd end up doing office work on some military base for 6 months, which would give me time to think about things. After the clerk finished gathering my documents, I entered the system via a computer, and was told that I had missed the application date by a day, but I should still try my luck. A few seconds past, and the system notified me that my application was accepted. “Congratulations” I was off to join the ranks in August.

Military Service

At the beginning of August 2010, it was clear where I was going to do my military service: I was going to spend the first 3 months at Isparta Eğirdir Mountain Commando School and would do my service as a third-lieutenant commando for 12 months. Even though I had opted to do a short-term service, and I had told them I didn't want to be a commando, I was chosen to be commando third-lieutenant. I remember my father crying when I found out the results online. I, on the other hand, didn't react at all since I had no idea what was waiting for me. 2 days later, my dad, uncle and I took the bus down to Eğirdir. That hot summer day, I said my goodbyes to my father and uncle in front of the barracks I was about to join, and then my life took a different turn.

The next day we were woken up early, and I found myself wearing a military uniform stiff as a board, and boots tight as a drum, in a place they called “the assembly area” with hundreds of my peers. We spent all day squatting and standing, squatting and standing. We would all line up immediately thanks to the commander cursing and barking orders at us. Nobody made a peep. If our commander ordered us to squat, and somebody missed the order by a mere second, he'd be subject to unimaginable verbal abuse. We would have to stand under the burning sun for hours, sometimes not doing anything but stand and run to the water fountains when told the break line. It wasn't much fun, I could tell you that. I didn't know what had hit me, only a couple of days ago I was reading philosophy books day and night, and now I was taking orders to squat, and stand for hours on end. The barracks were full of pictures of soldiers who had died in battle. There were only three destinations after completing basic training: Tunceli, Şırnak and Hakkari. These places are in the Southeast of Turkey, where there was and still is a lot of terrorist activity. Our commanders told us to fear not, that our training would provide us with everything we needed to know when fighting in the mountains. I, who had spent all his life reading books and passing exams, had no idea how I would survive all of this. I believed that, if I just kept to myself and showed respect to others that I could solve all my problems without hassle, but our commanders were expecting us to turn into third-lieutenants who would bark “short, abrupt and vicious” orders at our subordinates while chasing terrorists in the mountains. I had only one hope: to fail the medical check-up in five days and be one of the soldiers deemed “incapable” of being a commando. About 500 soldiers, out of 800 were going to be sent to Tuzla, Istanbul.


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