- Born by Eda Gunaydin
Born by Eda Gunaydin
Commissioned as part of FCAC Writes: a collection of new work by writers from Melbourne’s West and beyond, published online. Curated by Bigoa Chuol.
I was supposed to travel to London this June, to take part in a summer school for people interested in theory: which I am, even if I am not interested in London, a city where, I find myself remarking often, every second white person seems, to judge from their facial expression, as if they have just stepped in shit. Instead I remain inside my home, and take part in the classes online. They start at midnight; usually I try to avoid being up at this hour, for the sake of my brain chemistry, which is only normal within a very confined range of lifestyles. I can’t stay too late at night clubs, otherwise I get sad watching the men prepare to assault the women and have to leave. I can’t work more than six hours a day, or what little serotonin I have dries up like water spilled onto hot asphalt. Being up at this hour feels — funny. Makes me repeat certain phrases in my head, like that my mind feels like a scribble; like it is being scribbled on. Makes me type notes into my phone which, in the aftermath, don’t make sense, but make a kind of sense that is restrained only to those moments, as with dreams:
To live as if everything were temporary is how I interact with Australia. It’s also how trauma makes you interact with experiences. You’re just like: ‘sorry, I have to go back to my main memory now. There’s something more important I have to be remembering.’
I feel like we’re always talking about why bad things are good.
During one of the summer school’s live sessions, I fall asleep wholesale on the couch, and only wake up because coming through my headphones is silence and birdsong and not the chatter I have learned to tune out from years of not-listening to podcasts: all the presenters have stopped talking, waiting for me and a few other away-from-keyboard stragglers to leave. Ashamed, I frantically exit. My notes, taken from each lecture, are insubstantial because I am insubstantial while I listen to them. They are wasted on me-at-midnight. All of the presenters have canvassed similar themes. They were each asked to respond to the moment we find ourselves in — something I attempt now to do, although I swore I couldn’t respond to a crisis I was living through (as if we haven’t been responding to neoliberalism or white supremacy for decades) joking that critical or artistic responses to COVID could only take the form of something like a two-hour long handwashing event, or in other words, something banal. My notes amount to something something solidarity and blah blah blah mutual aid. That none of these themes surprise me, though, should tell me something important: we are finally all experiencing the same moment. And within this new form of temporality lies the possibility of the collective.
Franco Birardi feared that capitalism had fully eroded our ability to solidarise. And the late Mark Fisher claimed that capitalism had led to the cancellation of the future, that is, led to a society made stagnant by an inability to imagine alternatives to the present, unable to generate any new cultural forms, and left grasping at nostalgia and kitsch. Unable to conceive of a long-term, a society caught in the present makes no promises to one another and forges no bonds. But, even as my gaunt Australian face stares blankly, haunting these Brits from an advance time they do not yet occupy, I think it is not just the future that has been uncancelled.
It’s me who’s stepped in shit. Twice. If you spot it you got it. I see shit-face in others because I have it myself. The shit-stepping is recent, however, somehow a side effect of COVID, and it has managed to ruin two pairs of my shoes, which, fortunately, I no longer need. Just like each of my days for the past three months, it’s all the same shit. I live in an art deco flat, a set of only four. In an apartment with so few occupants there is no free-riding, or no hiding at least: there is only one cat that lives in the block, and I envy whatever his diet must be because he is a prolific shitter. When I step onto the front lawn to wend my way through bushes to my mailbox, I step in shit. It’s hab-shitual. My shit ritual. First, it ruins a pair of black boots that were handed down to me. The smell is unholy and when I leave the boots in the sun so I can chip away at the shit later on, flies congregate and the shit appears to be self-lubricating because it never dries. I throw out the boots. Second, three days ago, I made it halfway down the street before the smell wafted into my nose and sunk down my throat: my sneakers this time. I can’t even generate a reaction; impassive, I buy another pair.
The fault doesn’t lie with the cat; on paper, it doesn’t even lie with my neighbours, who have an infant and seem to dwell mostly indoors of late. A good neighbour would leave a note and ask if they could use some support: were they struggling to look after their pet and did they need anything? But I’m not a good neighbour. The last time a member of my household, my former housemate and friend, knocked on their door for a favour, the neighbours declined to help. They had just gotten their baby down and my housemate’s voice was overly loud and the neighbours shut the door on her face. Later, when we bump into each other in the yard we have in common, mistaking me for my friend, the neighbour apologises. I pretend not to know what he is talking about, to watch him squirm, to extend out this delicious moment in which he can’t distinguish one brown woman from another.
I refuse to give this country my energy. As if I have some other country. Ghassan Hage remarks on this tendency of the diaspora, particularly second-generation migrants like me, to romanticise, to cling to nostalgia for the homeland.
In Narlidere, 2012. We’d been sleeping on the floor of my uncle and aunt’s living room, on Günaydın Street. My 95 year-old great aunt who everyone calls Fatoş slept vigil over us, checking if we needed anything: fluffing our blankets at night. They knew that, where I’m from, it never gets as cold as it does in İzmir in winter. They showed me photos of my father when he was younger, ones he doesn’t have, one of his mother who died when he was five. Out of shyness, all I could say was, on repeat, çok komik, which they, in turn, thought was funny.
My father’s family is from Gedikbaşı, and back home my mother mocks their frugality. But it’s hard earned. Growing up, my father was shuffled from home to home which couldn’t provide for him, and beaten in lieu of being fed, sometimes by the same aunt whose floor I slept on in 2012. When he recounts these facts to me now, my father bears no ill will, and only holds out his palms and asks, rhetorically, “Ne yapabilirdi? On altı yaşında ve yeni evli. Nasıl bana bakacaktı?”
As a child, some nights he would lay awake on the ground floor of the house in the köy, where no one slept but animals, waiting to hear the sound of an orange falling out of a tree onto the earth in the orchard in the back, so he could creep out to be the first to claim it. My father relishes in explaining to me that the first time he encountered electricity was upon his move to İzmir, part of a large migration of rural Turks to cities which set up gecekondu neighbourhoods on their skirts. My uncle, a stalwart of Turkey’s Alevi community, started a housing cooperative: the street I was on in 2012 bears his name for this reason.
Turkey’s Alevis are said to adhere to principles abstracted out from Islam: not of zakat per se, but mutual aid, and they helped lead the radical leftist and communist surges of the sixties. I don’t know how essentialising this is or isn’t, or how romanticising of Alevi identity this is or isn’t, because I am lamentably part of the nostalgia-prone diaspora. But I do know that my father is a communist. Or, in his own words, he was, until he got here, and all the fight went out of him. He did teach me the word kapitalizm, though, before anyone else. And he has never made much money as a bricklayer, intentionally, choosing instead to trade favours. He’ll build you a retaining wall if he can call upon you to fix his leaking tap some time, or to give him a container of the raw honey that he likes, or tip him off about where to find wild greengages just outside of Sydney.
All of this is to say that the house in Narlidere did not have an internet connection in 2012; they barely sprung for heating, as my mother would say, which is why Fatoş stood guard with the blankets. However, we needed the net to check in for our flights back to Sydney, and without hesitation, our aunt and uncle advised us to go next door. The neighbour’s son’s name was Uzay, which made me laugh, although we were about as nerdy as each other, and he let us use his computer without a word, and his parents served us black tea and we chatted. We flew back to Sydney. Even before the borders closed in March, I knew this was my last trip to Turkey, perhaps in my lifetime.
I’m supposed to find a way to live here, I suppose, to be present here, and not to carry forward an inherited hatred of this country which should not belong to me: the hatred, I mean, although the country also does not belong to me. One can be as Alevi or as left as one wants here, which is to say not that much, but at least you won’t be thrown in prison. Especially now. Now, I need not worry about my parents dying of COVID, despite my mother’s disability which is calcifying her heart, and my father’s pack-a-day perforated lungs. Now, the precepts of mutual assistance are generalising out into the mainstream, where previously they only had traction inside of minoritised communities, those who could not rely on the state. Now, we agree that none of us can rely on the state, and what we have is each other.
Where before I had not, now I feel myself letting myself participate. When my friends start a mutual aid fund, I help to fundraise, and we donate nearly $7,000. When the crisis hits the university sector, and we find out we will not have jobs next semester, and I watch footage of a hundred-metre long queue of international students lining up for free food provided by the community, and I read that 1 in 20 research students are homeless or on the brink of it, I let it radicalise me. This is not an unregenerating austerity. Our union is invigorated: we are articulating alternatives and allowing ourselves to imagine what it could look like if the sector improved, rather than only looking within ourselves to find new fathoms of tolerance that may allow us cope with each time it gets worse. I am fantasising about, but rather also planning, the return of widespread popular education, an initiative which historically has formed a cornerstone of mutual assistance programmes, from the Black Panthers to the Industrial Workers of the World, to communist reading groups in the Global South. Bread and roses kind of shit: feeding bodies, feeding minds.
Agamben says, ‘Students who truly love to study will … constitute themselves in new universitates [sic], only within which, in the face of technological barbarism, the word of the past might remain alive and something like a new culture be born — if it will be born.’
About the Author
Eda Gunaydin is a Turkish-Australian writer and researcher, whose writing explores class, intergenerational trauma and diaspora. You can find her work in the Sydney Review of Books, Meanjin, The Lifted Brow, and others.
FCAC Writes is supported by Malcolm Roberson Foundation.
1- Contains image provided by Eda Gunaydin, and illustration by Nadia Lian.