Tuesday, April 12, 2011

For Heather

Nearly every Turk I've met has asked me the same question. First they politely ask where I'm from, and once I explain where Baltimore is, and they understand, they ask how long I've been here, and I tell them, and then it comes. They lean back, look at me appraisingly, and say, "Why?" and then chuckle.
I mutter something about a horrible job market and having had friends here, but they don't understand why an AMERICAN would want to come to Istanbul.
I'm on the verge of getting a work permit here, which will give me access to all kinds of awesome health care. Free health care. I swear once I get it, I'm going to spend a solid week at the doctors office, just letting the pros take my blood and poke me. (It doesn't take a lot to make me happy.)
When I explain American Health Care to a Turkish person, they're genuinely (and may I say legitimately) baffled.
"Wait- your boss doesn't have to pay for your health care?"
"It's expensive for companies to pay for their employees health care. In my entire adulthood I only ever worked for one company that offered it. At the time, I was in my mid-twenties, and it cost me $80 a week."
"Wait- you had to pay?"
"Yes. It came out of my check."
"$80 a month?"
"A week."
The person looks at me like I'm speaking in tongues.
"The last time I applied for health insurance, I was denied," I say. "Pre-existing conditions."
The person I'm speaking to takes a step back.
"Pre-existing conditions?"
"I had pneumonia twice and I have an ovarian cyst. Denied."
The person looks at me like I'm speaking in tongues.
I go on to explain that I had pneumonia when I was uninsured. That the bill came to $27,000. That the hospital wouldn't work out a reasonable payment with me and I walked away from the debt, credit ruined, even beyond what I'd already done to my own poor credit rating on my own.
That story has a hallucinatory, dream-like quality here. Sometimes I find myself wondering if it went down like that, even though I know for a fact that it did and that all the paper-work is safely housed (thanks mom) in a storage facility in Baltimore.
"So the government doesn't pay for your health insurance?" the person might ask.
I shake my head ruefully.
"People are in the streets, protesting violently against the government providing health care."
They look at me like I've just told them I might look like a woman but I have three penises.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On writers block

Lou's advice through my months and months of writers block was pretty consistently:
"Oh, stop whining and just write. Don't even worry if it's good or not, just sit down and start writing."
I don't know about you but that never worked for me. On writers block days, (or in my case months) trying to write was just a pointless exercise in frustration. It just didn't work, period.
Lou called me in the middle of one of his first grad school papers to say he was totally stuck, and couldn't seem to continue, and did I have any advice?
"Oh bud, yeah. Print out what you have so far, and just start re-typing it. You'll catch mistakes you didn't catch the first time, and you'll jumpstart whatever part of your brain is in charge of writing. If that doesn't work write some long e-mails you've been meaning to write, or just write what happened to you yesterday. Anything to get your fingers used to typing and your brain to start thinking in paragraphs. If THAT doesn't work, give up for the night, cause nothing will. Go for a walk. Sleep on it."

I don't know why sometimes it's easy to write and sometimes it's so very hard. Iknow that I struggled over the same 20 pages for something like 6 months, and when I came here it was exactly like a switch got flipped in my brain. Suddenly it was very clear to me that writing this book would be very easy- the story already happened! All I have to do is write it down!- and suddenly, (knock on wood) it's easy, even enjoyable to write again.

How bout you guys? Any advice for/insights into writers block?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On Regaining My Sense of Humor

I had dinner with Erin before I left for Istanbul. We split a bottle of wine and some small plates at Tapas Teatro, sitting outside on what was probably one of the last nice nights in Baltimore. Erin's writing a novel, and we were talking shop.
"I'm envious of my friend Brigid," I said.
"How so?"
"Well, she really, really enjoys writing. She's excited to do it, she thinks about it all the time. Her facebook posts are full of it. But the thing is, I was thinking about it, she's a genre writer, you know? Paranormal romance. So when she's done with work or whatever, she gets to go home and make up stories. And I was thinking how lovely that must be, how much I would love to go home and just make shit up. Because my big block is that when I come home from work, and I'm tired or whatever and I sit down at my computer, I have to try to convince myself to re-hash what was really one of the most unpleasant times of my life. It's a time of my life I feel very badly about, and that I have a lot of guilt about, and that I really don't like thinking about, much less writing about and trying to be funny about."
"But it is a funny story, Sarah. The characters are just- larger than life, and ridiculous and it's funny. You shouldn't feel bad. They were ridiculous, and they treated you badly."
"Oh, I know it. But that blog really was not meant for their eyes. It was an extension of me talking to my buds, it was me channeling how much I hated that job into a way to make my friends laugh. And I would just come home after work and write it and it just flowed. I was hopped up on righteous indignation and I saw absurdity everywhere and the blogs just kind of came out and it was fun. Now when i try to write I just feel dreadful that they saw it, that they read it. I know it's funny, intellectually, but it isn't funny to me anymore. And when I do sit down and get a chunk done, I know I'm going to have bad dreams for a week."
"You have to find a way to find it funny again," she said sympathetically.
"And the thing is, I can't get away from it," I said. "I was at a fund raiser the other night and there was this woman there, and we recognized each other but couldn't figure out from where. Well I finally placed it and I said, 'Oh my God I used to give you facials at Hair by Nelson!' and her face just kind of froze, and she just looked at me like I was this horrible person. So I KNOW they've been telling everyone who'll listen that they fired me for, like, murdering kittens or something. Because everyone I run into who used to be a client or whatever, has the same reaction."
"Of course they did," Erin said. "Because they're ridiculous, petty drama queens. So of course they made a huge, huge deal out of it."
"Yeah," I said. We sat there in silence a moment and then talked about something else.

I've been in Istanbul for ten days now. (If you aren't already, please follow my adventures at http://www.wasconstantinople.blogspot.com) I'm hopelessly out of my depth here, I'm constantly on the verge of getting lost, I'm thwarted every time I leave the apartment by the language barrier, but damn it, I never run into anyone that I ever blogged about here. I never walk into a restaurant only to realize after being seated that Nelson's pet client is sitting with her family across the restaurant, shooting dirty looks at me periodically. (That happened in September.) I never turn my head to the side and walk faster because I recognize the client whose life I supposedly ruined with my blog, the one who got me fired and threatened to sue, getting out of his jeep on the opposite side of the street. (June.)

I started over yesterday.

Chapter 1. Before i could turn the knob, the front door of Hair by Nelson whooshed open and Nelson stood on the step, the bell above him jangling...

As of press time, 3000 words in and if I do say so myself, it's pretty damned funny.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Those of you who read "Confessions of a Bikini Waxer" the first time around in the myspace blog: do you remember the character of the Bat-shit Crazy Nail-tech? She's called Janice in the book. As a refresher for those of you who read the original, and to catch the rest of you up to date, during her tenure at "Hair by Nelson," "Janice:"
1. Told the creepiest lie to get out of work, ever.
2. Called a client from the reception desk and screamed "Oh yeah? Well you're nothing but a fat white bitch!" into the phone. In front of other clients.
3. Crashed several cars, not all of them her own.
4. Had a possibly fictional surgery for a possibly fictional brain aneurysm.
5. Became hooked on pills.
6. Developed a habit of wandering around the salon in a loose, white lab coat, ill-fitting slippers, with her hair in a wrap.
7. Developed a cyst in her breast which she tried to pass off as a tumor, and...
8. In general drove away clients, crossed boundaries, and annoyed pestered and infuriated her co-workers until she was finally, months and months after she should have been, fired. At which point my faith in my bosses to protect their clients and employees from people as chaotic and disruptive as Janice was irrevocably shattered.

So that's Janice.
Afterwards she was hired by Red Door Salon in Cross Keys, (largely acknowledged as the worst Red Door Salon in the chain). Oh, and she was at one point way back in the seventies crowned Ms. Black Maryland. You need to know that for when you read this craigslist ad.

In the way that some people read the real estate section for leisure, and others read the obits, I read the wanted section. I follow the salons that have chronic staff problems with a not-particularly-nice relish. There was a salon in Bolton Hill that we'll call "Sasha's." For the better part of a year they were desperately trying to hire estheticians and massage therapists at ridiculously high commission rates. There are so many estheticians and massage therapists desperate for work right now, and the terms so good I knew something was wrong with the management. After six months or so a war started on craigslist: every time "Sasha's" advertised for staff a few people would post "Don't work for Sasha's!" right afer it and list their grievances. The posts got nastier and nastier until "Sasha's" finally gave up. I don't know where they source their staff now.
Later I befriended a massage therapist who used to work for them and she told me the whole long horror-story of their management policies, but that's another blog entirely.
So that's my hobby: identifying nightmare employers from their craigslist postings. And most of the time as I read it I find myself fantasizing about posting warnings in the manner of the disgruntled ex-employees of "Sasha's." A former employer of mine is looking for another esthetician after six months, and (sour grapes alert) I'm itching to post,
"Ladies. Do you really want to work for a woman, who, despite 20+ years' experience in high end spas, still thinks estheticians are called 'waxists?' Do you think that's a good foundation for clear communication and reasonable expectations?"
Other times I've known people who worked at salons, or have just flagged them in my mind as repeat offenders from the frequency or pattern of their posts.

This is the FIRST time in 10 years of classifieds-lurking that I have ever wanted to write a salon,

Friday, September 10, 2010

More Sports Talk with Sarah

I was in Annapolis a few weeks ago for my friend Angela'a wedding. I stayed in the same B&B as my dear pals Erin and Max, and the morning after the wedding the three of us were wandering around, waiting for news of whether anyone at all was up for the planned wedding brunch, when Max casually mentioned that he was having a tail-gating party at his house before the big Maryland/Navy game.
"I know sports aren't your thing," he said, "but it'll be a fun party. And, you know. You and Erin can gab."
"Fantastic!" I said. "Sounds like fun! I'm rooting for Navy!"
Max sighed, and said in a voice you might use for talking to a toddler mid-tantrum, "No, Sarah. You're rooting for Maryland."
"No way," I said. "Navy! All the way!"
"Maryland," he said, firmly.
"Navy! Navy! Navy!"
"Not in my house."
"You might as well get used to it, bud," I said blithely. "I'm rooting for Navy in your house."
"Then you're disinvited."
"Your wife is just going to re-invite me," I said. "Don't fight it Max! I'm going to be in your house rooting for Navy! Navy! Navy!"
And it escalated, as it will, until I ran into a souvenir shop and bought a bright pink, shrunken-style Navy tee shirt and pulled it on right then and there over my Lacoste brunch dress.
Later, when Max was out of earshot, I turned to Erin and said in a low voice, "Are we talking about football or basketball?"

The Real Housewives series on Bravo is pretty dreadful, really. I get a certain thrill out of watching it because all those women make me feel much better about myself. I may be thirty-one, single, and professionally adrift, but at least my values aren't that screwed up. My friendships may hit rocky patches, but thank the dear LORD that none of us ever talk about each other behind our backs- or to our faces!- that way.
I still catch it on tv, sometimes, but it's getting harder and harder for me to sit through a whole episode. When I worked in salons, I would devour whole marathons in one sitting. Real Housewives was a great equalizer- nearly everyone I ran into on a work-day watched it regularly, or had seen a few episodes, or hadn't but was curious about the whole phenomenon. I had very little in common, culturally, with anyone I ever worked with, and very few people who were my clients. But "Oh my God did you see Jill's freak-out on Bethany last week?" was almost always guaranteed to start a passionate conversation. It was fun.
"Tamara is such a mean girl!"
"Alex is such a pretentious stuck-up twit!"
"Alex is the only sane one!"
"I think Kelly's on pills. Seriously- her behavior is exactly that of someone with a pill problem."

I went to Max's tail gate party in my Navy tee-shirt, spouting things I'd learned in the past few weeks.
"Oh, I'm sorry. You think you can beat Navy's triple option offense? What were you last year? 2 and 10?"
Somehow, I got invited to take the extra ticket to the game anyway. So me and fifteen or so (mostly married) men (median age: 20 years my senior) went to Ravens stadium and I had more fun than I have a right to.
"Your defense is built like a sieve!"
"If that was an interception I'm your fucking aunt!"
"Who wrote your play book, David Foster Wallace?! Quit talking and start playing!"

Navy lost.

Last night I found myself sitting in a bar with Arthur, my friend Annie's husband. His eyes were glued to the teevee at the end of the bar.
"Who's playing?" I asked. He told me and I asked what he thought the outcome would be and we discussed that for a minute.
"I went to the Maryland/Navy game last week," I said.
"We lost, right?" he said. "But it was close?"
"It was real close," I said, "but yeah. Maryland won in the last quarter. I wasn't expecting them to beat the triple option"
"Why," he said drolly. "Cause no other team has a triple option?"
"No," I said. "But b/c Navy's particularly good at it. I didn't think Maryland could break it."
"Although I heard when Maryland was practicing for the game, Friedgan had them practice without a ball. They just practiced tackling."
"If it moves, squash it," he said. "Good strategy."
"Still," I said. "It was close. I think if Navy had decided to kick at the end, it would have been different."
Arthur nodded. We sipped our beers.

The only thing I really miss most about being an esthetician is the constant contact with people. I like chit-chat, and I sorely miss chit-chatting. I miss connecting with people I have very little in common with over a shared experience, a common interest in something fundamentally silly.
Sports fills that gap, that ache.
Watch out, world. Sarah Perrich, ex-esthetician/future author, is becoming a sports nut.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Oh, Honey. You don't have to read while I'm here!

Last night I was sitting at the bar at The Diz, reading. I know it's a little obnoxious to read in a bar, but I was a little over half an hour early to meet a friend, and I'd been wanting to pick up my book again all day and hadn't had a chance.
There was a tail-end-of-middle-aged woman to my left drinking Pina Coladas with her husband. Suddenly she leaned over my shoulder and examined my page. I ignored her.
"Oh," she said loudly. "I was just wondering what you were reading."
"A Distant Mirror," I said. "It's a history book. 14th Century."
"Who's the author?" she asked eagerly.
"Tuchman," I said, and showed her the spine.
"I've never heard of her."
"She's a historian. An academic." I turned back to my book.
"Do you like Nora Roberts?" she asked.
"Ya know," I said, "I don't believe I've ever read anything by her."
"Oh, she's great!" and the woman proceded to rattle on about Ms. Robert's last mystery novel. I nodded, and returned to my book, angling my body slightly away from her.
"So are you a grad student at Hopkins?"
"No," I said without lifting my eyes from the page.
I re-read the last paragraph and the one before.
"So do you ever go into Hampden?"
"I live in Hampden," I said without looking up.
"Oh! Where?"
I said the name of my street.
"Oh. We live at the bottom of Elm."
"That's nice."
I looked back down at my book.
"Do you ever have lunch on the Avenue?"
I sighed.
"Not often."
"Oh," she brightened. "You know Fraziers? They have a lunch special every day- every day it's something different, and it's only five-"
"I know," I said firmly. "I walk by it every day. I see the sign out front."
I looked around for another seat but there wasn't one. I turned back to the fourteenth century.
"So have you been to the Hon bar?"

When I was a little girl A Little Princess was my favorite ever book- the one I read and re-read until my paper-back copy fell apart. Sara Crewe had me when she became enraged upon being interrupted reading.

"Yes," I said without looking up.
'It's fun, isn't it?"
"And do you ever go to David's? The furniture place?"
"I did when I needed furniture."
"You know, David doesn't own it anymore."
"Some young guy does. I mean, David still comes in sometimes but he's supposed to be helping his friend, who's in catering."

I got up and left.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Off to Fight Infidels

So I'm not going to lie. Writing hasn't been going well. It's been going really, really sucky, actually.
The most of it is it's kind of hard to concentrate on it when I'm not particularly happy. I'm under-employed, constantly short on bills, and the hustle for just a smidge more money sucks up a lot of not only time, but mental energy. Constant worry does not a manuscript make. Then there's the heat. This has been a relentlessly brutal summer of oppressive heatwave after oppressive heat wave. I fell like the dahlias in my backyard look: drooping, brittley curling at the edges. I feel thwarted in Baltimore, thwarted by Baltimore. I'm not thriving.

So what's a girl to do?

Move to Turkey, of course.

My dear friend, the remarkable Ellyn Stokes, got a Fulbright for- what else?- Turkish Language and Shadow Puppetry and has a lovely apartment in the Asian half of Istanbul. Where it should be fairly easy to teach English part time and write, finally WRITE the rest of the time. That's the plan, anyway.

So how does a girl with exactly twenty four dollars and seventy eight cents in her checking account get to Istanbul before Christmas?

Excellent question.

That and all further inquiries should be directed to the new blog, the Sarah Tries to Get Herself to Turkey and Hilarity Inevitably Ensues blog, Was Constantinople, also found in the blogroll.