Says, Elif Şafak. A Turkish author, columnist, speaker and academic (says Wikipedia). For me, she is a sincere and bright intellect who opens the doors of many different realities of this world, invites everybody to get in and explore. With her arguments she brings cultures together and shows how similar we are while thinking to be so different.
Recently, I had chance to listen to her live during ‘Book City Milano’ event. Being the daughter of a diplomat mother, she has lived in many cities around the world: Ankara, Madrid, Amman, Boston, Michigan, Arizona, Istanbul and London. Spending her life being exposed to many different cultures enriched both her life and work with a sense of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. Among many arguments she had on women rights, equality, spirituality and daily life politics, one topic touched me so deeply inside, that is belonging and identity.
I’ve been thinking about my identity and where I belong to since I moved to Italy from Turkey 6 years ago. My feeling is that, I am changing. I am growing in a different culture than mine, trying to put newly discovered pieces on top of a Turkish background. If you ever played Tetris, you can better understand how I feel. I have some pieces on the bottom and new ones are constantly arriving from top. They might be similar to what I already have below, but in a rotated form, or they can be totally new pieces that I am seeing for first the time in my life. In both cases, I have to be agile and fit them successfully on top of what I already have at the base.
Sometimes the pace of the pieces falling into our lives can be slow so, we take our time to fully observe and carefully place them at the right spot. But sometimes the pieces fall like heavy rain, without giving us time even to perceive their form and randomly place themselves in our canvas. And we feel like our game got stuck.
Indeed, it is a never-ending game. What changes is the pace of it. It is up to you to see the picture as getting stuck or getting better at placing the ‘foreign’ pieces into your life. It requires time and patience. But we adapt ourselves to new situations. We are made to do so.
Quoting Darwin would be inevitable here: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but rather, that which is most able to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
Let’s go back to the Tetris motto. The old pieces harmonize with the new ones, go out from the screen to get some drinks together (because they would like to know each other more) and you gain points. How great is that!
Metaphorically, I see it as making space to new pieces which are about to arrive in our lives. Every time we change places, the shapes of the pieces entering to our lives will change, as well. We will first see them as threats to our stability, feel frustrated. Then we will learn how to play the game and continue evolving. I’ve met with a guy named Josh, which changes his name every time he moves to a new place. As I remember he lived in Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland, Italy and now is living in Slovenia. He told me that new culture, new language and new people help him to discover a new version of himself. And what he does is merely welcoming and enjoying this growth.
This can make some of my Turkish friends and family upset but I don’t feel like Turkish anymore. I am not feeling Italian, neither. The fact that I don’t know clearly where I belong to makes me somehow independent. But one thing I know is that I have more than one home. One in Milan, one in Antalya, in Istanbul, in Paris, in London, in Porto Alegre… I have homes where I have friends and family. My closest friends are the ones who doesn’t have one fixed identity. And we have one apparent thing in common: we don’t belong to one place.
So far, I was defining my situation as having an ‘identity crisis’. After listening to Elif Şafak, we stopped to chat with friends about the ideas she was transmitting. It was a mix Italian-Turkish group of people where me and my Turkish friend were frozen up with the intensity and the familiarity of the topics argued by Elif. I told them that I was confused about not feeling neither Turkish nor Italian. And this sometimes makes me feel lost. An Italian friend answered me saying that “You are NOT ONLY Turkish, BUT ALSO Italian, now. This harmony of different cultures makes you unique and richer as a person.”
In that moment, I had an epiphany. Being able to say NOT ONLY, BUT ALSO creates the positive change.
As Elif Şafak said: “Instead of reducing ourselves to the binary opposition of identity politics, we need to do the exact opposite: multiply our attachments and affiliations.”
My cultural struggle is like playing Tetris. It seems that there is not so much to complain about.
Just play the game. And know that the game is not going to be over.
Originally published at medium.com