Chimayó, New Mexico

30 minutes north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, lies the tiny community of Chimayó. This morning, on yet another cloudy day in Oxford, I woke up thinking about chile!

When Jamie and I were in the early stages of love, I did not, could not, understand his obsession with “chile”. It mattered not how spicy the briyani or kebabs (both foods he loves very much), it was never the same, even while as hot as New Mexican Chile. I would often say, “Spicy is spicy, I don’t understand.” I didn’t get it despite really enjoying New Mexican cuisine whenever we would go out to eat (which I quickly learned was different than Mexican food which is, as everyone knows, different than Tex-Mex).  However, slowly, I started being able to tell the difference between the chiles. Sometimes it was not as red as other times; sometimes it was a “flat” green taste and other times it was a “fresh” green taste. Not all restaurants did theirs the same. Each time even at the same venue it couldn’t be the same because it depended on the batch.

Well, now I understand completely. Here is more if you want to read and see beautiful photos about it.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, a South African friend of mine who is a healer told me, “You will marry a man from the desert. He will take you to a place that reminds you of your childhood.” I laughed at her and told her that was impossible–I was never ever moving to the desert. And no force of love could ever make me leave New York City, my home of so many years. Two years later, I met Jamie. Of course, leaving New York City was easy because it was no longer the city I had loved for so long, but I left knowing it was not possible to feel “at home” anywhere else. I have never been more wrong.

New Mexico is high desert, meaning it has all the seasons, including snow. It has mountains, sky, green, rain, pinon, monsoons, real diversity, and wonderful people.

Love, real love, shatters preconceived ideas about so many things: where you can or can never live, what the word “desert” means, and where you call home.

 

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Update and Photos From A Sunday Walk In Oxford

I am in Oxford, England as part of the Bread Loaf School of English program offered at Oxford. Last summer, as some of you may recall, I was at the Santa Fe, New Mexico campus and that was an “interesting” experience to say the least. I wrote a very little bit about that summer here.  I wouldn’t be here this summer without Middlebury College’s insanely generous funding for educators. It’s a true privilege and I am grateful beyond words.

I really like the Oxford experience so far. I am enrolled in the James Joyce course taught by Jeri Johnson who is a Joyce expert; she is also brilliant. I really like that the classes are more like seminars, only 6 of us in there, and we don’t meet in a “class” but in her lovely office which is covered, wall to wall (literally), with books. I also like that it is understood that there is no way we could ever know as much as she does about Joyce and so she is not there to coddle our opinions and feelings. She is like a floating bowl of knowledge and I actually feel inspired to listen to her. The Santa Fe experience was a bit awkward for a variety of reasons, the primary one being that Jamie’s family is from there so it was strange to pretend to be a visitor in a town that is already familiar. Sometimes I felt like a spy listening in on others’ conversations about Santa Fe or New Mexico and some of these chats were annoying. The Oxford experience definitely feels more independent and “graduate”-school-like as compared to the Santa Fe experience at St. John’s College. This had a lot to do with very childish behaviors by some of the New England students who came to Santa Fe to get a “spiritual spring break” fix and felt disappointed when the mountains didn’t speak to them.

 

My last post was in March. It feels like ages between March and July. I actually forgot the password to this website log in! True.

Since March, Jamie and I hosted my parents in Albuquerque for my birthday. We had a wonderful time with both of our families. What a gift to hang out with your parents as friends in  your adult years! Then, we found a house. Then, we got approved for a loan. Then, we closed on a gorgeous house that’s exactly what we wanted! Then we packed! Then we moved! Then we set up house! All while everything else was going on at the same time since life doesn’t really stop when you are buying a house. Allow me to say just this much: buying a house is unlike any other thing I have ever gone through. It is an excruciatingly intense process that has you on your toes the entire time. We got very lucky; as in “angels competing to help you” kind of lucky. Every single person we worked with, from our realtor Theresa at the Ingles Company, to Bob at Bank of Albuquerque, to many, many others in between, was a ray of light guiding us through this very complex process.  We are so blessed to call these people are close acquaintances and friends now.

There is much to say about being here after Brexit, much to say about how the writing process is similar to the home buying process, there is much to say about what I have been reading in the last six months, much to say about Joyce and Ireland and how it relates to the British colonization of Pakistan and India, much to say about not writing enough, much to say about growing as a writer and reader, much to say about outgrowing blogging but still wanting to post some thoughts in this space, there is much to say about much, and when there is so much to say, it’s hard to know where to start.

But I do know where to end this post. I received some photos from Shayne which he shared from his walk somewhere in the countryside of North Carolina. And he sent those while I was on my walk to Port Meadow in Oxford. And what struck me about his photos was that, if I didn’t know any better, they could have been from a city in some country in Africa, a village in Pakistan, or right here in Oxford. The earth doesn’t care where we are, the color green doesn’t care which latitude and longitude defines borders. As the poem below says, “It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much/ and too little.”

 

 

“The World Has Need of You” by Ellen Bass from Like a Beggar discovered thanks to Writer’s Almanac.

 everything here
                  seems to need us
Rainer Maria Rilke

 

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.

 

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“Fifty springs are little room…”

It’s certainly spring. These were taken at the Veteran’s Memorial Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I shared them with my father and he shared a poem he recalled from his childhood.

 

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A Shropshire Lad 2: Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
By A. E. Housman
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

 

 

 

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“as if between countries or parts of my life”

If there was ever a poem that describes New Mexico skies….and how I feel here… Photos taken around the Los Ranchos area in North Valley of Albuquerque while we discovered wonderful jazz at a spot called Vernons’ Speakeasy (yes, you really have to know the password to get in!).

CENTER
by Billy Collins

At the first chink of sunrise,
the windows on one side of the house
are frosted with stark orange light,

and in every pale blue window
on the other side
a full moon hangs, a round, white blaze.

I look out one side, then the other,
moving from room to room
as if between countries or parts of my life.

Then I stop and stand in the middle,
extend both arms
like Leonardo’s man, naked in a perfect circle.

And when I begin to turn slowly
I can feel the whole house turning with me,
rotating free of the earth.

The sun and the moon in all the windows
move, too, with the tips of my fingers,
the solar system turning by degrees

with me, morning’s egomaniac,
turning on the hallway carpet in my slippers,
taking the cold orange, blue, and white

for a quiet, unhurried spin,
all wheel and compass, axis and reel,
as wide awake as I will ever be.

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Thoughts about Albuquerque & a place called The Open Gym

As strange as it may sound, I have been avoiding writing about Albuquerque and New Mexico so as to prevent anyone learning more about it. This is very unlike me. When I like or love or find something curious, I share it with the entire world. It matters not if that world consists of one person or one hundred people. In this instance I have been very childlike. You know how a young child can sometimes pretend that if he or she closes his eyes, the object before him would simply go poof and disappear? Of course at the particular age of development a child isn’t aware that this is not plausible. So I have been childish lately, thinking that if I don’t talk much about it, I won’t jinx it by inviting unappreciative energy. That somehow as if I stay quiet, no one will know how great it is here. This is because I am protective. I am protective of this city and state as I was once about my New York that no longer is. I am protective as one might be about a new love. You want to scream at the top of your lungs that you are somehow living a dream you dared never even bother dreaming and yet at the same time you don’t want to invite envy or jealousy. I want to protect it from what is happening to cities all over. I don’t want to draw attention to the city in the fears that it will become the next “cool” or “hip” city. “Cleaning up a city” shouldn’t mean making sure locals can’t afford to live there.

Locals assure me not to fear given the high poverty level and significant small and big gang related crimes (robberies and car break-ins etc.). Locals remind me of the poor job market. Locals assure me that the DWI levels alone will keep people away. Others confidently state that most folks just go to the ritzy Santa Fe or Taos either becoming, or chasing, caricatures of art, missing the spiritual essence of the land despite it being right under their nose, bypassing this quirky, sometimes gritty, city as soon as they land. People in the Hollywood industry know Albuquerque well given so many movies and shows are filmed in New Mexico. Yet this influx never changes things permanently. No one wants to stay. It comes on and off the map like cheap lip gloss. It is and isn’t part of the United Sates’ psyche. Most people hear “New Mexico” and think you mean “northern” Mexico.  People sort of  know about Arizona but there is so much misinformation about New Mexico (if there is any prior knowledge at all) that her identity remains a mystery.

I must disclose the following: I don’t know how I would feel about the city if I were a kid who grew up here. Maybe I would leave and never look back. Maybe I would leave and then come back in my middle years or to retire (many miss the weather and seasons, not to mention the 300 days of sunshine). So, my perspective is based on being married to someone who is from here and proud to be from here and my having lived in many states and continents. I no longer need to be in a city that must entertain me every time I step out. Or perhaps, better put, what entertains me is very different now.  Actually, that’s not entirely correct either. While I lived in NYC I would live off of strangers’ tall tales and true stories but they became harder and harder to hear as the city started resembling more like Ray Bradbury’s nightmare than a cool science-fiction graphic novel. I mention this to assert that even in NYC what entertained me was not the clubs, the shopping, or any “scene”. Very few people truly understand what I loved about the city, especially my neighborhood.

There is one major university here, University of New Mexico, and yet Albuquerque is not a college town like Boulder, Lawrence or Des Moines. I like that about it. Jobs are hard to come by unless you work for the state or local government in some capacity. I had a college friend who lived here some years ago, long before I even met my husband, who said it is hard to meet people if you are not from here. Others have confirmed this; however, it hasn’t deterred me from making stranger-friends. Public schools are not the best (except the ones like mine!) but the private ones are, of course, bar none. Other than Nob Hill and Downtown (the city is trying to clean up Downtown and has done an amazing job to make it more inviting without gentrification) there really aren’t any designated strips like in Berkeley, Austin or the likes. You have to scratch the surface to find gems. In some ways it reminds me of Philly from fifteen years ago. That being said, people are genuinely nice and real. And they are filled with generations of stories and a product of at least three different cultures who have been living side-by-side for 100 years or more, including decades without recorded bloodshed. There are many breweries, coffee shops, several locally owned stores that are able to survive next to the big chains, housing is affordable, and the sky is a lucid dream.

The Indigenous/ Native American communities were here for tens of thousands of years. Then the Spanish were here for a couple of centuries. Then it became Mexican territory for a couple of decades. Thereafter it has been part of the United States ever since. Santa Fe is the oldest state capital city in the United States. The United States didn’t exist when Santa Fe was founded. Perhaps because it has always been a cultural meeting place despite people’s diverse backgrounds, the food is some of the best I have had in the world!

 

My silence has been about protecting this city from a Silicon Valley invasion or even a remote infection (pun intended). I know this sounds silly but the arrogant take over by young people in charge of decisions that impact so many when they don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions is not only dangerous, it is not sustainable. It isn’t that young people haven’t existed before; it’s just that we treated them as inexperienced no matter how brilliant or talented. Somehow we have started equating “page hits”, “likes” and “retweets” with experience, maturity, intelligence, and compassion.

Then I realized that silence could be perceived as permission. I am going to be writing about Albuquerque, starting with this post, in the hopes that my words will attract more people who genuinely appreciate this city and state and less who want to move here and change it into whatever hip place they left. I met one young lad at a local bookstore here who had the audacity to remark, “Yeah, New Mexico would be perfect if there was a beach!” It’s a land-locked state! There is no beach! If you want to be near a beach, live there! Don’t dig a puddle with your money and “try to bring the beach” with you. That’s what I am talking about.

If you love where you live (realizing no place is perfect per se) and enjoy your neighbors and the community, then you know how I feel.

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After first freeze. November, 2015. Albuquerque, NM.

 

Today’s Albuquerque local story is about Bill. Bill owns a medium sized gym called The Open Gym. I have only talked to Bill twice. In fact, prior to talking to Bill the second time, which prompted this post, I had only seen Bill around the gym a few times without even knowing he is the owner. Let’s back track as to what in the world could I possibly be doing at a placed called a gym?

I hate gyms. Gyms remind me of hamster cages. Somehow I have never been able to convince myself that being at a gym is fun. In California I tried so many gyms to maintain my functional health and physical condition, that I lost count after four. Everyone was a fitness coach or trainer (once again, young and lacking experience). Apparently being able to walk upright made a person qualified to be a trainer or an instructor. If it hadn’t been for Francine’s yoga classes or the yoga teachers who would come and teach at Yoga Space in Bakersfield, I would have been in an even worse physical and mental health than when I left. When I left my home in NYC in 2012, I was in the best shape of my life. This is saying a lot given I had always been active. After college this became challenging due to multiple factors but in 2007 I found Marco Rojas and his yoga classes were an emotional, mental, and spiritual challenge that relied on physical alignment and strength. In California, this last year, before it was apparent that I was losing my strength, I went on walks, I tried yoga, and I even bought into that cross-fit idiocracy (no offence to anyone—but it is NOT, repeat NOT, good for your joints. Maybe if you are 18 and can jump around, it won’t hurt you right away, but given how it is executed most places, it is a disaster). Anyway, upon moving to Albuquerque we have been literally doing something or other since we settled into our beautiful space.

About four weeks ago I decided although I love both of the yoga studios I attend, I was not getting stronger. Unlike my husband who is a disciplined fitness aficionado and incredibly nutritionally aware (and a phenomenal cook!), I am not. Jamie doesn’t need to go to a gym or take group classes or have a coach. He can do it all by himself right at home. Most gyms are designed as a place for people to feel good about themselves for attending, regardless of any results. They can be isolating yet serve as a pick-up joint both for men and women. People are competitive and rude. I am happy if this has not been your experience. In fact, I have a friend in NYC who is a gym rat and goes to a really big gym and loves it. However, most gyms are trying to be like this absurdity and no thank you.

 

I can’t really recall how I found Bill’s gym. I think I was looking for strength training classes and something in my search led me to information about a trainer named Adelaide Mcmillan. Upon joining the gym (which is so affordable!) I decided to work with her because I wanted to learn more about rock climbing and hiking. I am in New Mexico, after all. In order to be able to join her and others who regularly go rock climbing with her, I needed to become stronger. So, once a week, I train with her and follow her plan on my own four times for the rest of the week. I am continuing with my yoga three times a week. It hasn’t even been four full weeks and I already feel so much stronger.

Adelaide has a wonderful sense of humor and the best part is that she is neither a ditzy Barbie doll nor a woman who feels compelled to be aggressive and macho. She is not trying to be permanently 20; she is beautiful and extremely strong. She also loves to travel and really likes Albuquerque. I hope I can share a photo of her and her story here later.

I love this gym because the people who go there are regulars. I see the same faces even if I haven’t talked to many of them. It feels safe and as a woman I am not disgusted or annoyed by men on a testosterone high. Women actually smile at one another and everyone is so courteous. It doesn’t have a spa bathroom but the changing rooms are always squeaky clean and have showers if one so desires. And this is the most important part for me: most dumbbells and weights are made of this metal which leaves a residue that smells like burnt iron. I have an idiosyncratic disdain for that smell. I can’t stand it. I have to hold things that smell like that with a glove or a towel. None of the weights at The Open Gym have that metallic stench! It’s amazing! I don’t know what material they are made of but it sure isn’t metallic or if it is, it is covered.

This Saturday when I walked into the gym, I was so moved by this image. There was Bill fixing the hardwood floor. This is what local looks like, was my first thought.

Bill

 

 

I introduced my self and thanked him for this space. I told him why it was important to me. It wasn’t just about fitness, it was also about writing. The time I was writing full time in New York, I was also on top of my physical health. If a writer, coach, teacher, artist, poet, is a vessel through which creativity flows, then the vessel needs to be strong enough to process all that comes. I haven’t been able to write since June. Yes, it has been because of settling into a new place and all sorts of relaxing-ness and busy-ness, but it has also been because I have not been able to take care of my joints and muscles. I wanted to express my gratitude to him for this place that I look forward to going.

While I was chatting with him, I learned that Bill is also an attorney! We discussed schools and law and owning one’s own business. Yes, Albuquerque may not have a lot of typical corporate jobs, but it is great if you want to run your own business.

 

My mother always says that wherever one lives, one must literally appreciate the dirt of that land. This means giving back to the community in ways no one may ever notice. This means taking care of the city. This means loving the city with all your mighty heart, unafraid.

I never imagined I would get a chance to call another place home after New York. But then again, I never thought I would actually like a gym. So much for knowing oneself entirely despite the many experiences that reveal to us how and who we really are.

Merry and Bright 

Sister (in-law No. 2) loves the Santa Fe Aspen Ballet Nutcracker: “It’s not Christmas without it.” So we were gifted tickets too. Lucky us.

Santa Fe looks like a Christmas postcard, the annoying Invaders are not easily visible this time. Perhaps that’s why. Who knows?

Sister (in-law No. 1) keeps making Fresh pomegranate juice, the rosy froth satisfies nostalgia of Lahore, a city that no longer exists, another time. The last glass was with my aunt in 2002, when she was still alive. She loved to love, just like me. She couldn’t be free unlike me who continues to fly. Sometimes it’s Living that kills, not Death.

Piñon nuts from brother (in-law No. 2), handpicked from all over Pecos, New Mexico keep crackling in California. The delicious middle pops imperfectly.

Yoga with my brother Z is an energy exchange; align and don’t define. His intuition is outstanding.

My other brother makes fun of me for being out of breath on a small and short hike in Santa Clarita but gives me olives to warm up.

Small gifts exchanged offer big feelings.

My brother (in-law No. 1) makes such wonderful coffee. Keep it coming!

There is no gift like sharing a blanket on a couch with my sister as I reach to hug my mother, to take in that scent that can only belong to a mother.

My father’s knowledge is a sky that makes sense without a meteorologist’s interpretations.

My mother-in-law’s faith needs no translation.

The world has been falling apart for some time now. Hard to get real news anymore. That’s news that doesn’t get old. I hope it never does.

Yet we love as if we are stars that will never burn out.
Or at least we should.
Having Jamie near makes everything just right.
We can always celebrate love.

Happy Winter Solstice.

 

 

Snow flakes. (45)” by Emily Dickinson

I counted till they danced so

Their slippers leaped the town –

And then I took a pencil

To note the rebels down –

And then they grew so jolly

I did resign the prig –

And ten of my once stately toes

Are marshalled for a jig!

“How the heck does one become radicalized?”

December 6th, 2015.

Note for former students I have taught:  I know (and appreciate) that some of you read everything I write. I want to let you know that there are some things in this post that might be too complex for you to understand. I have never censored complicated topics from any of you before, no matter your age, and I have always encouraged questions. It’s okay if you don’t understand everything I have written.

 

My mother says I should write something. I tell her there are many others who have already written something on this topic and written it well and their voice carries a lot farther than mine. Farther is important right now, I tell her.

She is convinced that somehow my voice is stronger.

“Their voice may get 15,000 page hits. Your voice changes people. Your voice is not an alternative opinion. Your voice illuminates.”

The power of a mother’s love: the perpetual audacity to see her child as unique.

“No,” she says, “That’s not why. Every voice counts right now. Every.”

So, I am writing for her.

This is for you, mama.

 

 

My mother says I should write something about “this mess.”

This “mess” would be the acts of terrorism in San Bernardino, California.

“I am so relieved the ‘face of confusion and self-hate’ is available to all,” my mother said the other day.

The “face of confusion and self-hate” is the photo of the female wearing the hijab who was one of the terrorists.

“This ought to give every hijabi a pause,” she adds sadly.

This sounds judgmental. It’s not.

 

For the majority of Pakistani people, especially those live in Pakistan, Pakistani women wearing the “hijab” is odd.

In Pakistan most women don’t wear the hijab. Some women wear something called a “dupatta”, a colorful light veil, and that too, seldom over their heads. It usually stays around one shoulder or both, depending on the style and comfort level. The women who do wear a full burka (the beekeeper suit where only your eyes show) are considered “paindoos”—which translates to uneducated, illiterate, villagers. This is not my opinion but a general understanding. The “hijab”, the headscarf, is a Middle Eastern, Iranian, Turkish accessory, with the exception of Saudi Arabia where women are forced to wear something called an abaya, the same as the beekeeper suit.

Moreover, any reference in the Quran to “cover yourself” is for the benefit of women, not just in those times, but even today in our current times, where women have to protect themselves from the perversions of men in very patriarchal countries where they get molested and raped if they show “too much of themselves.”

This is clearly not necessary in Western countries. In fact, in Western countries, it has quite the opposite effect: it draws attention to oneself as opposed to deflecting attention. Moreover, many of the women who do cover their heads, their make-up is impeccable and alluring to the point of leaving one mesmerized. This is especially true if you have an attractive well-proportioned face with good skin: there is no visible hair and all you see is the perfection that is your face. Quite the opposite of humility.

When I was in Morocco in 2006, I was surprised to learn why some women there wore the hijab and some didn’t.

“I cover my head when my hair is not washed.”

“I cover my head on the way to the hamam.” The hamam is the place of communal bathing, segregated by gender, akin to a spa without the bells and whistles; there are fancy ones for tourists and then there are the real ones for the locals. By the way, to this day, the cleanest I have ever felt was after bathing in a local hamam in Morocco.

“I wear it for style, like the French.”

“I wear it because I am an old granny. It gets you respect.”

Not one woman there told me that it was in the name of being a Muslim.

Yet, in the United States of America, women from South East Asia, Pakistan included, cover their heads as if they are Middle Eastern.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have anything to say about this, if they were indeed following some stupid trend, like Madonna putting in “mouth grillz” or the “Rachel Dolezal” complex but these women are doing it because they believe it makes them a “better Muslim.”

 

Part of the reason I have not written anything on this topic is because I don’t identify myself as a Muslim. If you are interested in alternative Muslim-American perspectives, here are links to read: “Bad Muslim?”  “Sex and Islam Do Mix, But Not In America.” and on this highly visited blog, you will find many Muslims voicing their clarity through their confusion. Here is an excellent analysis on YouTube of Radical Muslims, Fundamentalist Muslims, and Moderate Muslims.

 

This is not to say I was not brought up with values of the Quran. I am lucky because my father is a scholar of Arabic—many of the people preaching Islam can pronounce the Arabic words but do not know what they mean—and in addition to the Quran, deeply familiar with the Bible and the Torah. I grew up in a home with literature from every country and perspective.

While growing up in NYC, my first best friend, Hila Bakal, was Jewish. We didn’t know any differences. We liked Paula Abdul, reading and jokes. One Saturday we were supposed to hang out but she had to go to the Synagogue first. Our parents’ schedules allowed the dropping-off-and-picking-up routine only if I initially went to the Synagogue with her and then to the park near her home. I recall asking my father, later in the week, as a 12-year-old, “Do you think it is okay for me to go to a Synagogue?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Well, it’s a Jewish place.”

“So?” he replied.

“Well, I didn’t think we were Jewish. I thought everyone goes to their respective place of worship depending on what religion they are. No?”

“You can’t be a good Muslim if you aren’t a good Jew or a good Christian,” he replied.

This confused me. “But we don’t even go to a Mosque!”

“Yes, I have kept you all safe from the mosques this long and I continue to keep doing that.”

Hila and I never discussed religion because it was a non-issue. Growing up in Stuyvesant Town in New York City, most of my friends were Jewish. The differences among them were many. I had another friend whose name I forget now who was Jewish but an immigrant from Russia. I had another friend who was Catholic from Romania. Her family was a very different type of Catholic than our other friend who was also Catholic but from Greece.

That is the New York I grew up in, that’s what America was to me. It wasn’t just “diverse”; it was politically incorrect and we figured out how to get along despite it. I didn’t have any Pakistani friends because they were all very confused about being Muslim or Pakistani. I was too young to know why other than that I didn’t have anything in common with them. I was “allowed” to have crushes on boys, have photos of New Kidz on the Block and Boys II Men on my walls (this fact has to be admitted at some point!). These were things the Muslim girls weren’t allowed and you weren’t allowed to talk to boys and I liked engaging in debates with boys to show them girls were smarter. I was 12 and there was no PC police back then.

Once again, when I would ask my parents, were we really Muslim, their answer was, “There is something wrong with their parents. Don’t worry about it.”

As I grew up and went through high school in Kansas City, I encountered other Muslims who came from very wealthy families, and they considered themselves to be “modern Muslims”—meaning, they engaged in drinking, having sex, listening to hip hop, pretending to be either white or black. My best friend in high school (we are still the closest of friends) was black and yet I never thought I was black nor did we ever confuse our issues with the others’ while growing up in a very white suburban part of Kansas. Most importantly, both of us also had white friends. No cultural issues came up because both my black and white friends had curfews, couldn’t date, and we all thought our parents were trying to imprison us. Essentially, we were all kids who had parents who worried about us.

So, right at the time, when a second/first-generation person is naturally confused and decides to “turn to hijab” or “religion” (no different than anyone who decides to become a born-again Christian), I once again inquired, “If we are not like those Muslims who go to Islamic Centers and Mosques and we are not like those Muslims who can engage in promiscuous behaviors, then who are we?”

“We are Americans,” my father replied. “We are Americans.”

This meant we explored religion. My brother Zain and I explored being an atheist to Buddhist to various aspects of Christianity to questioning everything Islam had to offer. We questioned dogma, authority, institutions, our parents, without fear of political or religious persecution which my father had endured majority of his life.

This is what being an American means: you value freedom, yours and others. You disagree with your government and have the option to run yourself. (I understand things are very different in the United States now given corporations are governing everything, from judicial branches to legislature to Congress to education but there are still enough of us who remember how America used to be).

 

So, how do you become radicalized? It’s done in the name of becoming a better Muslim. In order to become a better Muslim, you go to mosques or Islamic Centers.

The Islamic Centers everywhere in the United States are a very big part of the problem.

While every Muslim in America collapses with anxiety after yet another tragic incident for which a “radical” Muslim is responsible, I find myself wishing that for once it will be realized what happens in these Islamic Centers.

Extremist. Radical. Fundamentalist. Moderate. Modern. Non-practicing.

These words are offered like varying shades of blue for repainting your living room.

“We are not them.”

“Islam is a religion of peace.”

“We don’t call white people Christians when they bomb Planned Parenthood.”

“#MyMuslimApartment” was the hashtag response on Twitter in response to the analysis by Western media of the terrorists’ “Muslim apartment” in San Bernardino.

These sentences are supposed to serve as shields against the reality of that which is “moderate” Islam.

 

We are no longer dealing with Western philosophies clashing against Eastern philosophies. East is West is East now.

I have never identified as a Muslim yet the best of me comes from values our father instilled in us which came through Islam, which the Quran refers to as a system of governance, akin to the United States’ constitution, not a religion. (Disclaimer, having studied the law, I prefer the South African constitution, it is very explicit in ways the United States’ constitution isn’t which has often been interpreted politically and not legally and ethically).

Their rationale  for the extremists’ behaviors in Islamic Centers pendulums between anger towards US Foreign Policies to American television being the pinnacle of Pamela Anderson.

The jihad is against freedom, not in the way Americans view freedom, but the responsibility which comes with freedom, the burden of consequences of your choices, the paradoxes that surround us as human beings.

If the FBI and Counter-Terrorism agencies understand the intricacies of gangs, the psychology behind joining a mob or a gang, then they too must understand the pathology of “turning” to an Islamic Center once in a Western country. I admire the principle of freedom of religion, but what if that which is being preached is not religion but “How to be a better Muslim while living in America?” or “How to be a better Muslim while everyone around you is dressing in mini-skirts?” or “How to ignore peers who are dating and having sex?”

It’s not Islam but how to shut yourself out from being an American.

If I had any influence over authorities about how to proceed, I would put any and everyone who visits Saudi Arabia by choice on the terrorism radar. I would take people who don’t attend mosques or Islamic Centers, and place them in Islamic Centers to report on what is being preached there. It’s not hate but it is definitely an us-against-them mentality, highlighting the differences as a “good Muslim” versus those who are Americans. Sure, if you go to a fundamentalist church, they too are preaching “Jesus is the way, the only way…” but they aren’t doing so in the name of being an American or un-American. They are Americans and they are religious or orthodox.

The worst judgment and prejudice I have ever experienced  is not by white Americans (sure, I too have been subjected to comments and questions that are ethnocentric and ignorant but I am speaking of spite) but by those who wear the hijab and go to Islamic Centers.

 

I asked my mother, “These pseudo-Muslims have made it impossible to live anywhere. Where does one go from here?”

Unlike other Muslims who come here with money so as to make more money so they can live like royalty in their countries of origin, my parents came here because of American values. For freedom. 

“No where,” my mother replied. “We have lived in United States of America a lot longer than any other place; you fight for the land that has offered you so much. This is home.”

And if it is at all possible to sum any of this up, I would just say, the biggest problem with hyphenated immigrants is they don’t see that Muslim-American or Pakistani-American or Arab-American gives you the privilege of being whoever and however you want to be, not the burden of rejecting one home for another.  I don’t agree with many acts by the United States government and I believe many of the policies are detrimental and myopic. But I have the privilege of disagreeing and going anywhere in the world where these policies impact the local people and participating in initiatives that are contrary to the government’s policies precisely because I am an American.

People who don’t see themselves as American are always going to rationalize acts of domestic terrorism against Americans. These are the view points that get nurtured in Islamic Centers and mosques. No doubt, most people just go to pray or for bonding with a community but those who are confused, weak, and feel guilty for their thoughts are prime targets who can be radicalized.

Hello, Winter. And hello to you too…

I haven’t visited this place in awhile. When people don’t post/share as often as they usually have it is assumed that somehow the person is too busy and that too in some negative way that resembles intense overwhelm and chaos which in many ways is preventing the individual from posting on a blog etc.

This has not been the case for me at all.

I now actually have work that allows me plenty of breathing room. So, that’s what I have been doing: breathing. Beyond catching my breath, now I am getting used to what regular breathing is supposed to feel like.

I finished reading Charles Baxter’s latest short stories. I enjoyed them more than I thought I would. That being said, I am in awe of the stories I have read in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology. They are absolutely original and do not follow a formula as can be expected in the contemporary American short stories.

The Thinking Tree website  is ready. I haven’t posted any of the strategies for educators yet (primarily focusing on how I can get even the most reluctant young learners to write so much and with their authentic voice). I just wanted the forum available already to my former students whom I miss dearly. Here is an essay by one of my even more former students who is a young woman now!

One of Jamie’s latest work happened to be  ready upon serendipitous timing and was included in a show here in Albuquerque in October. That was a lot of fun and it was a sight to observe others as mesmerized by it as I remain.

Yesterday I spent most of the day thinking about current events (Missouri to Japan to Beiruit to Paris)  and began working on an essay about the so called “Moderate Muslims”.  Although they disapprove of fundamentalist practices in the name of their religion, they too must answer for their hypocrisy when they continue to live in Western countries yet refuse to consider these countries home. But then I stopped writing. I recalled reading this article, “Removing Hijab, Finding Myself“, not too long ago. I applaud this woman for stepping out of her comfort zone and exploring what is the real reason she once wore the hijab and the privilege of being in a country that allows her to dress however she wants where as in many Muslim countries this practice is imposed on women. I thought about this article and thought about what I was writing and all I could think was: if this is what “moderate” Muslims are battling—should I cover my head or not?—I can’t even imagine how lost the others feel and reserved my judgmental tone in that essay I had begun and never finished it.

What a mess! All of it. Not to mention the hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia, the breeding grounds for fundamentalism, and that country’s relationship with the United States. Here is a recent prime example of this: Saudi Arabia Sentences Poet to Death.

Often I feel like I am in some suspended state on a merry-go-round where my brain can’t keep up with the misinformation being circulated on the Internet and the idiocracy no one will question. Surely, this is some experiment or joke by the Universe. Humanity can’t be devolving this rapidly, or can it? Or is it all just part of the evolution? Part of some Grand U-Turn?

There is so much to say about so much that it all sounds the same as what’s already out there, even if the alternative voices don’t get the deserving loud speakers. So, I am listening, quietly and patiently, until I have something different to say here. Until then, I am writing on my own.

Anyway, it is winter and it is beautiful. I had missed the intensity of seasons during our time in California.

I love Albuquerque and continue to guard why (and hence my silence about it which can’t stay contained) so as to somehow protect it from becoming the next “it” city.

I am writing again (nonfiction), although not sharing here as regularly. I am excited about this book.

When I am not writing, I am observing, reading, thinking, literally slow-dancing with life and being grateful for our families and so much love and being able to live madly in love.

 

I wish you all a wonderful and safe season of gratitude. Thank you for still hanging around despite my lack of regular posting.

 

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Blue bench + “Keep The Channel Open” 

I came across this lovely blue bench in Nob Hill, Albuquerque. It was outside a dance studio. Inside…I found these words and felt quite inspired. Thought I would pass it on.

 

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that activate you. Keep the channel open.” –Martha Graham

 

Postscript: After sharing this I vaguely recalled that some time ago, ages in digital times I suppose, I had posted something by Martha Graham on my blog before. I couldn’t recall what exactly. So, naturally, I searched for it. And it was the exact same quote. At first I thought of deleting this post or that one from 2011 but then decided to keep both. Words come to us to remind us that which we think we have forgotten. Inspiration is inspiration even if our digital posting mocks it from time to time.