We had the good fortune of connecting with Melis Aker and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Melis, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
My introduction to the world of storytelling was thanks to my grandmother and her dining room table in Ankara, Turkey. At age ten, I would hide under her tablecloth and watch shadows of my family members drift by, trying to determine who it was based on their shape and speed. Much to my dismay, my father found me one day (challenging the assumption that I was invisible), and told me about my great grandfather, who, unbeknownst to me, was a shadow puppeteer. After my father showed me the shadow puppets he had stashed away in some hat box, I was convinced that these ancestral shadows would become my best friends. Sure enough, ever since I left home and these shadows behind, I have been pleasantly surprised to find them reemerging in my work.

As a bilingual writer, actor, musician, I strive to create content based around cultural identity informed, haunted, plagued by nostalgia and memory — individual, collective, fabricated. I am interested in the intersection between geography, mythology, nation and personhood, and in merging classically epic narrative structures with contemporary tales from my native land to investigate homesickness, specifically for diaspora communities with liminal or reflexive identities much like my own. In other words, I am fascinated by the experience of cultural dysmorphia.

But what has driven me to writing in a more macro sense, is the ability to archive experience. Having grown up in a culture that relies heavily on aural storytelling, I consider the written and spoken word innately political. Writing is a form of archiving, and an act of preservation. And I do believe this act can be impactful, though I don’t think the title of an “artist” should be interchangeable with that of an “activist,” by any stretch. I don’t think I’m qualified to call myself an activist at all. I suppose what I mean by impact, especially when it comes to the role of an artist, is to accept that it can occur in an incredibly micro, interpersonal scale. Your work cannot exist or thrive in a vacuum, but we also are not policy-makers. Accepting that my writing, or my work may not have macro impact has honestly set me free. A single response from a single audience member has value. And I suppose this kind of acceptance in and of itself could suffice to deem your work meaningful in some way… apart from being something that is self-fulfilling and (hopefully) enjoyable!

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I like to call myself a jovial cynic. That’s the shop you’ll be entering with me and my writing. That’s the only shop in which I feel at home, so it’s the only kind of shop I can talk about: a deeply absurd pessimism, with a toothy grin. I’ve been told that my writing straddles the line between the naturalist and the surreal– a sort of liminal grey zone, in which you can’t quite tell if you’re meant to sink into tears, or laugh right through it. I truly take that as a compliment! There’s nothing like being surprised by your own uncertain reactions to storytelling. I find that laughter is usually right around the corner from any impending feeling of doom, or some intellectual choke-hold of existential despair. This quality has certainly kept me afloat and paddling ahead in both my personal and professional pursuits. I think I am most proud of this laughter, and my friends and family who invite this levity and absurdity in our darkest hours. If I’ve been continually reminded of anything throughout this earlier chapter of my career, it’s that I absolutely cannot take myself or my work too seriously. By that I don’t mean to encourage nonchalance. I do care about what I choose to do or say every day. I simply mean that I think it is important to recognize that our work does not have to be the *only* aspect of our personhood, or our measure of success. I also want to recognize that we, at least within my industry, are bred to function, and are expected to thrive within a culture of scarcity; that there is one single, shiny position available or accessible, and it’s either you or me, baby. This simply isn’t real. If we only knew the number of people, the amount of names involved in the copious amounts of content being created in the world over a long, long period of time… The reason most of us (I include myself here) have felt this way (insecure, insatiable) is because we usually have a singular visual of what “making it” looks like. We are sold the pipeline story, and if our lives and careers don’t follow suit, then we’re simply not good enough, or are wronged, or the world just doesn’t get it, etc., etc. I think the mentality of abundance comes from knowing that being “your best self” for your work or your community is what will make you thrive in return anyway. Your “best self” could be writing once a week. Or once a month. Whatever that is, to each their own. The conscious decision to shift judgements into curiosities, competitors into collaborators, shame or envy into accountability… and to really believe it when they say your friends’ successes are yours too. Because it takes an absolute village, and the fame overnight story is insular, overrated and so very flawed (if it’s fame you’re after, of course.) I think we’ve forgotten that craft takes time, intentions take time, and the next best thing can sometimes be an excuse for impatience. And abundance is a practice. It really is. And it’s a difficult one in a world that will not let you believe in it. How to not hog your resources when a pandemic has taught you that clearly the best way to survive is to buy out all the toilet paper… (*sigh*) … Alas, the power of the mind, as they say. I think we can change (some) of our ways. At least that’s what I’d like to believe, and I have to keep these sentiments very close… So yes, this is me talking shop.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If we were in Brooklyn, New York, I’d probably take you over to Bakeri for an apple cider pastry, or to Cafe Alula for a moment of bliss in their backyard.

If we were in Bodrum, Turkey, we’d be heading off to Limon, Suzika, or Bagarasi.

And if we were in London… I’ll have to report back as I discover its nooks and crannies!

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are so many folks to which I’d like to extend my gratitude… My mother and father, my grandmother, grandfather, my mentors and professors David Henry Hwang, Lynn Nottage, Ayad Akhtar, Sheriden Thomas, Liam Browne, absolute team-players Dakota DeBellis, Kevin Lin, Katie Laner, Brad Petrigala, Julien Tacchini, and so very many incredible friends who have been my blood and bones through thick and thin… from homebodies in Turkey and around the globe, to the friend-family tribe I so luckily stumbled into and have been cared for and enriched by in New York. What with a somewhat nomadic existence, I feel undeniably lucky to have gotten to cultivate a sense of home with these loved ones around me– I carry them along wherever I go.

Website: www.melisaker.com

Instagram: @melvishmelvin

Facebook: @melisakerofficial

Youtube: Melis Aker

Image Credits
Photography: Lauren Desberg & NYTW 2019 Gala @ Capitale

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