The Minority Report: “Secrets of Los Angeles–from an Uber Driver”

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I never used to like Los Angeles.  After exploring it day and night as an Uber driver, I find it beautiful.  Beverly Hills has silver-painted fire hydrants on very clean street corners.  Dark green leaves of Banyan trees arch across wide roads, shading the line of secretive mansions set back behind ivy-covered walls.  Some of these multi-million-dollar homes are brave enough to show sun-spattered entrances to their lofty doors and windows.  On other streets, along canyons, Pink-flowered trees line roads for pastel-colored homes with white picket fences and rose gardens.

I used to live in the San Bernardino Mountains–before traveling overseas to teach English for 5 years.  When I came home summers to sell my books at a posh Big Bear coffee shop, most LA people (up for the weekend) would walk past me as if I were invisible.  I asked, “Would you like to buy a book?”  They would not answer.  Wearing their gold and diamond jewelry with name-brand clothes, they would breeze by in their Personal Trainer-sculpted bodies crowned by salon-crafted hair.  They would examine kitchen gadgets or wooden wall signs:  “My Kitchen, My Rules.”  Sometimes they held a small designer dog instead of leaving it in their new Range Rover, BMW, or Tesla parked under a pine tree.  That’s what I thought of them:  materialistic, shallow, not inclined to read books.  But now I see their world closer, and I understand a little how the wealthy seek to preserve their wealth.

I left the mountain because I could not find a good teaching job or sell enough of my books online.  I started driving for Uber Eats.  This new division of the personal car taxi service features ordering food online from many LA restaurants.  A driver like me will get an offer on the Uber smart phone app, navigate to the restaurant via Google Maps, pick up the food, and deliver the trendy taste experience to customers.

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Most of my customers are middle-class workers with cute LA homes downtown.  A few reside in those Beverly Hills or Hollywood mansions.   Continue reading

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Walk with Me in Turkey

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My “Walk with Me in Turkey” eBook came out today after 1.5 years of working on it.  I started by doing photo essays for “Digital Journal” of places I visited and photographed in Turkey (thanks so much to Editor David Silverberg).  One of my photo essays, “Faces of Turkey” even won an award.  Thanks to my friend and editor Jeremy Gotwals of Holon Publishing, who helped design the eBook’s cover using one of my photos, my book is now available in Kindle format.  If you don’t have a Kindle reader, you can download a free one for your computer, smart phone, or tablet.  For only $2.99 you can see the beautiful, historic places of Turkey, read about their culture and food, and enjoy my adventure stories!  What a lot of work (sigh).  Hope I find some readers 🙂

Here’s the official book summary:

Walk with me through ancient temples, churches, castles, mosques, and palaces of Turkey where I spent 2.5 years teaching English and exploring that beautiful country.  I learned the language and culture and even married into a Turkish family.  Stand with me at the spot where key battles defended the land from invaders and where Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was buried.  See archeology opportunities with Greek and Roman columns and tunnels directly at your feet.  Tour Istanbul, a city built on 7 hills and divided by a waterway that separates Europe from Asia.  Get caught in the rain by the Black Sea, feast on shish kabob in Kocaeli, dance the horon at a Turkish wedding, explore Kar Tepe’s mountain forest, and swim in the Mediterranean Sea.  With my vivid photos and stories, you’ll feel as though you walked in Turkey with me.

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Since it costs so much to print so many color photos, my book will probably remain in electronic format (with links to other Internet sites for more information).  Let me know if you enjoy it!  Find it here.

The Photo that Almost Got me Arrested in Turkey

I lived in Turkey for 2.5 years and did photo essays about that beautiful country with its variety of landscapes, historical places, and people.  Then I began to write about the freedom protests that began last spring because of Turkey’s oppressive government.  That led to an article about censorship.  Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country.  As I witnessed the freedom protests close-up, taking videos of peaceful people walking in unison for the right to speak freely in their own country, I felt a close bond with Turkey.

My Turkish husband, who had been tortured by the Turkish police, went with me to meet friends one Sunday afternoon for tea in Istanbul.  We witnessed police attacking tourists with water canon and pepper spray.  As we made our way home, the police chased us, and the pepper spray I was engulfed in made me sick for days.  Ironically, I left Turkey just days before police showed up at my old apartment door to arrest me for a photo I had published.

See the photo here, minus the woman whose image used to be in it (she complained to the police).  It shows the Kocaeli Book Fair building with a banner of Ataturk, founder of the secular, democratic Republic of Turkey next to its current ruler, the Islamist Prime Minister Erdogan, who makes his image as large as Ataturk’s.  Notice the flag poles like bars in the foreground, layers of oppression.

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Coke at the Cafe (2 Ways)

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I was sitting alone at a park cafe near the Marmara Sea in Turkey, missing my daughter Jessica who is far away in California.  We used to sit at cafes together near the Pacific Ocean, and I haven’t seen her in almost 3 years since I’ve been teaching English overseas. Soon she will turn 21, and I would like to raise a glass for her step into adulthood.  I sent her a text on my cellphone, said a prayer, and took another photo, this time with a can of coke next to the lonely glass–for her.

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Sweet Masterpieces

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I taught a group of 9 Turkish children, ages 9-11, for a month this summer.  We learned to speak basic English:  numbers, colors, animals, places, and questions with answers.  For our last day, I printed out a book for them with spaces where they could draw pictures, color, and write things they learned.

“I take photos with my camera.  I write stories.  I mix the words and photos together to make books, and you can do this, too,” I encouraged them.  They looked at me with their sweet, feisty eyes, and I realized,

We are all a masterpiece, like a book of words and pictures.

Benefits of Being Nobody

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The 19th Century American poet Emily Dickinson once wrote:

“I’m nobody—who are you?

Are you nobody too?

Then there’s a pair of us

—don’t tell—

they’d advertise, you know.”

Emily never saw her poems published. Though a newspaper editor once offered to publish her insightful lines, she refused, stating that she enjoyed being nobody.

When I told this story to my Turkish students who were studying English, they exclaimed,

“She had mental problems!”

But maybe Emily had a point. There is great freedom in being unknown. An anonymous person, almost invisible, can walk through a crowd of famous people without being noticed.

There were a lot of professional journalists in Taksim last Sunday. They wore matching colors and had a huge television camera and tripod, a hand-held microphone, real gas masks, and backpacks full of goodies. But Turkish police targeted them, under orders from Prime Minister Erdogan to suppress the news so that Turkey doesn’t look bad to the international community. I saw a four-member team from Germany hanging in the background while I walked, almost unseen, toward the line of police who guarded Taksim Square. They didn’t notice a middle-aged woman, dressed like an English teacher, who carried a small camera.

Of course, the downside of being nobody means that you may operate on a shoestring budget and only with items you can pack into a purse. But you can travel light. That’s extremely handy when running away from police attack vehicles shooting pepper spray at your back.

Maybe someday Erdogan will know my name. That could be a bad thing. I keep waiting for that knock on my humble Turkish apartment door in the middle of the night. Until then, however, I will continue to be the nobody who records what is happening in Turkey.

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Pathways

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My Turkish husband on a motorbike along the road to Alanya Castle

I just finished my new eBook, “Walk with Me in Turkey” and am looking for a publisher.  It has 221 pages of adventure stories and 330 color photos (with hyperlinks).  Walk with me on pathways through historic monuments, by the stormy sea, on castle steps, or along a waterfall.  The journey begins with a single step.

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In the Background

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Notice the customers in the back of this dress shop, watching me take a photo

Sometimes we take photos of objects close to us and don’t even notice things (or people) in the background.  Here in Turkey, I am shy about taking photos of strangers because they may object.  But they can show up in unexpected places in the background!

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The florist, almost hidden in the back of his shop, also watches me

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My Turkish husband stands next to me as I take a photo of this Istanbul glass gallery

My Life is a Mirror

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Can you find me in this picture, standing next to my Turkish husband in Istanbul and taking a photo of a mirror gallery we found in Taksim?  Sometimes my life feels like layers of glass backed by silver–a mirror to reflect life here in Turkey.

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I’ve always loved taking photos through glass and into mirrors.  Here is a shot of me taking my own portrait in a gilded mirror at the Greenpark Hotel on Kar Tepe mountain in Kocaeli.

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Sometimes glass is so clear that you can barely see it.  The treasures it protects appear to be close, as if you could reach out and touch them with your hand.  But they are shielded from us, like a dream, a faint desire, an absent child.  I took this photo of my favorite wedding shop in Izmit, Kocaeli where I have lived for two years.

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Glass works two ways (unlike a mirror), and sometimes people look back at us through it, as in this gown shop in Izmit where the customers inside wonder what I am doing outside with my camera.  How is your life like glass or a mirror?  What do you see–or reflect?  Do you capture images in pictures or in words?

On the Road (Walk with Me)

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It seems I’m always on the road, in some exotic country across the oceans.  I’ve traveled to many continents and cities, but I love to just take walks.  I’ve walked with my children, so much enjoying their wide, surprised eyes and their small hands in mine as we bent to touch a dandelion or stretched up toward the moon.  I walked with my husband and sometimes friends.  I often walk alone, so often not by choice.  Yet, I was not all alone.  Christ walked with me, and though I should follow his footsteps more often, He doesn’t abandon me.

Writing begins in the mind, and when I’m walking, I let my body and mind relax.  Words come to me, and I can outline a novel in one afternoon.  A character, a setting, a desire, an object like an old camera held up to a seeing eye–images drift into my imagination as one foot naturally steps in front of another like the rhythm of poetry or my favorite music.  My eyes drink in all that surrounds me.  Wind washes my face like water, and salt from the sea fills my lungs.  I feel light as sunlight, as air, as a bird’s wing.

In Turkey, I have walked by some of the most beautiful places in the world.  Alanya, Turkey is one of them.  It is a place you should discover outside, not in a car or a building.  I took a path that started on the beach and led to the boat harbor, Red Tower, and the castle walls that line a swimming cove on the calm Mediterranean.  Shady olive groves, stone walls white in the sunlight, the depth of clear blue . . . these marked my way in Alanya.

Come, walk with me on this road atop the walls of a castle by the sea.  Come, explore the vast beauty of Turkey.  Maybe you, too, will write a story about it.