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.

Vallecito

Four hours north of Albuquerque, past Aztec, New Mexico and Durango, Colorado, exists this magical place called Vallecito. Our neighbors have a cabin there and they kept nudging us to go check it out. We didn’t believe them given people have a tendency to say many things to sound generous and this is the Air B&B age where people charge as much money as they can only to have another stay in a closet, so no we didn’t believe them. But they were serious! So we decided to go explore.

It was a beautiful drive–all of New Mexico is just breathtakingly beautiful–and a wonderful stay. We soaked ourselves in stillness. This was much needed. So much has happened, mostly all good but just so fast, since March. Not to mention this September marks my 3 year anniversary away from New York, New York. Of course I have been back in between (which will continue) but still…

What do I miss the most? My yoga practice with Marco Rojas. It wasn’t yoga, it was some kind of dance akin to Bharata Natyam. I miss my friends, naturally, who are like a second family. I miss my neighborhood before it was completely gentrified to the extent it can hardly be recognized.  But there is so much I don’t miss. I don’t miss what it was becoming and has become. I don’t miss not being able to afford it and write too. My sister and her husband are there now for their medical school rotations and I hear their experiences and I am reminded that to every person the New York they know is the New York they are in now. They don’t know about the bodega that doesn’t exist. They don’t know about the barber shop that disappeared. They don’t know about the restaurant that got swallowed to build a new office. And so it goes…

 

Redefining or rather defining what is my relationship with this blog and its generous readers/supporters has been another reflection that I didn’t or rather couldn’t tend to till this weekend away. When I started this, I didn’t have former or current students who were subscribed or who would stop by to read my thoughts. I certainly didn’t have their parents keeping up with it every now and then. Although I have always been very conscious about what I share, this has added another dimension of filtering that I am still navigating my way around. Moreover, social media has morphed into something I can’t really relate to like I once did so what I share here and any links I share on Twitter have begun diverging in ways I didn’t anticipate. I suppose all of this is good in the sense that the writing that needs to happen will happen as drafts that lead to something beyond here.

That being said, I do enjoy sharing whenever I can and I am grateful for those who continue to keep up. Enough said.  Here are some photos to mark the beginning of Fall.

And here is to people like our neighbors who are lighting up the world with their generosity and love despite the world falling apart in so many ways all at once.

 

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2014: Sublime Flux

I wish Isaac Asimov were still alive.  He is not but I am.

He predicted robots and computers in 2014. I predict we won’t even be able to decipher humans from robots by the end of 2020 if we continue to teach according to the current education “reform” movement.

I have a favorite gift from the holidays. I was given this very comfortable sweatshirt that says the following in the front: “Those who can, TEACH. Those who can’t, pass laws about education.”

I will wear it on those days I think I can do more with my law degree.

 

I saw the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Besides the blatant advertising throughout the movie, I enjoyed it very much. I wish Roger Ebert were still alive. I wanted to read his take on the movie, to give us more than the movie ever intended and the movie would be even better for it.  I wonder what he would have written about the scene when the photographer, character played by Sean Penn, says to Walter Mitty, something along the lines, If I really like a moment, I won’t capture it.

How many photos of our sky, our food, and our selves can we take?

I feel like the advent of social media was a bad prank by bored kids (which it was) and despite resisting Fakebook, I fell for the rest of it. I feel dirty. I just want to hit refresh, restart, and delete everything. Most of the articles I read online all sound as if the writers/bloggers are working in the same room with the same words and the their brains are networked to think alike. Every “alternative” opinion is in reference to something in the vacuum of the Internet at large. I have renewed my subscriptions to several magazines.  Hopefully, people will catch on by 2016.

 

I read an article in The Atlantic titled “Make Time for Awe.” I don’t really remember the content. No awe in that. I predict I will read a 100 more such articles before the year is over.

If you have to “make” time for awe then the awe train swished by you. When I have been awed I have pulled over on the side of the road, I have reached out to a complete stranger without thinking twice about it, I have grabbed my phone to call someone and tell him or her to “watch/read/see this now!”  Maybe now our threshold of awe requires more thanks to immunity developed through various digital vitamins, so not much awes us like it once did and we must indeed make time for it.

Usually when my core spins in awe, I have not been able to “do” or “say” anything: no words, no sharing, nothing. Just a big, silent mouth created with the crayon of my imagination that gets filed inside the unorganized library of humility.

 

2010 is when I began writing and sharing here quite regularly. Here is my reflection of the year 2009.  What can I say that hasn’t already been said? 2013 felt like a boxing match. Is it still winning if you are smiling, holding your hands up high inside the boxing gloves, with all teeth missing?

I had three weeks of vacation. Yes, it’s true. In this day and age, solid three weeks of lots of jolly-nothing. It was one of the best vacations I have had and most wonderful time with family. These three weeks, which are almost over, were earned after NINE months of working 12-hour days, 6 days a week. Everyone tells me this is just how it is. I continue to refuse to believe that. I will carve another way.

 

The other night I had a dream I was sitting on a wall like Humpty Dumpty except I had a less oval shape and my legs could touch the ground. I wore an ugly crown,  made of cardboard, which didn’t fit me quite right, that had written on it, “Literary Dumpling.” I know this dream was weaved after having had a conversation earlier that day where I had retorted, “And how exactly does one go about becoming a ‘literary darling’?” and then I had added, “I never hated the word darling more than when placed next to the word ‘literary’.”

Words can be so disappointing.

So, in my dream, I thought dumpling meant fat and I didn’t want to gather “high literary cholesterol” and I was trying to take that crown off of myself and make myself fall like humpty dumpty so I would wake up or at least break the crown but I couldn’t fall because my feet touched the ground.

I woke up thinking: why can’t I fall when I can put myself together again?!

 

2009 marked a year of losses.

And beginnings.

Small ones.

 

2013 marked a year of challenges.

And opportunities.

Small ones.

 

I don’t really know what to say about 2013 other than the fact that I had only one goal and it was to make my collection of stories available for purchase. It is said to define what constitutes as success as early as possible at the onset of any project. I succeeded: you can now even buy it on Amazon. Considering everything that stood in the way, I will recall 2013 as having triumphed despite it all. The cherry limeade at the end of the boxing match is this review by Lucy Pollard-Gott. I have received two wonderful emails about this review and I am so grateful for her finely crafted thoughts and inviting new readers’ energies that reverberated because of it. I couldn’t ask for more.

Except…

That collection happened because I did nothing but write for two years, which would not have been possible without my family’s support, akin to folks who go get an MFA or writing residency. 2013 taught me that I have absolutely no idea how to carve time for writing— which is a full time discipline, there existed a method despite my wildly random days— and working in a very demanding education sector that I left once upon a time because it felt counter-productive to actually educating.

The psychologist Edward B. Titchener in his book 1928 A Textbook of Psychology, explained déjà vu as caused by a person having a brief glimpse of an object or situation, before the brain has completed “constructing” a full conscious perception of the experience. Such a “partial perception” then results in a false sense of familiarity.

Here is to hoping 2014 is actually new, not some counterfeit version of years gone by. And if it is going to be as challenging—which is fine, for such is the nature of life—-I would like to be navigating unfamiliar terrain so it transforms into an adventure instead of a boxing match.

I leave you with John Steinbeck’s words from East of Eden: “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

I am excited about embracing and being simply good.

Lessons from a Chinese Lantern

A few weeks ago my mother and I attended a yoga restorative workshop. The woman who put it together is named Francine and in her other life she must have been a human being because in this life she is definitely some angel. It was no ordinary restorative workshop. A year ago Francine began a tradition where she, with the help of her very extra-Greek parents, offers a multiple-course, traditional, home-cooked Greek meal, prepared with imported oils and ingredients from her hometown in Crete. After dessert she shows all the participants how to light a paper lantern, also known as a “Chinese Lantern”, and send wishes up to the sky. Later, I inquired about the history of Chinese Lanterns with a close friend in New York City, who happens to also be Chinese-American, she said she didn’t have any personal knowledge about them “but that depends on which part of China one is from.” Of course she was familiar with the decorative lanterns that are now common place but nothing more.

Regardless, that night, it was all new for me and I was like a kid inside some story that I wish I had written but instead, equally as well, I was living it.

My mother and I were both quite excited. Lighting the paper lantern is a two person endeavor; naturally, my mother and I partnered up. This also meant that in the moment of actually doing it, we couldn’t take photos or videos. Of course, we could ask others, as we did do, and once the lantern was finally lit up, we were able to snap a photo or two, but these were mostly blurry and sloppy since if one really wanted to enjoy the experience he or she would have to not be doing something else at that exact moment nor even thinking about sharing it. It was literally: stop, drop, and roll-into-the-moment. It is human nature to want to share—but the digital age has now brought forth the following questions: with how many? and why? I was sharing: with my mother, Francine, her family, and others who were present.

The way these paper lanterns work is that after you light up the inside, you have to hold it just right so the paper doesn’t catch on fire, and once it starts filling up with air, it automatically takes off, defying gravity.

That special night has stayed with me and here are some lessons I learned from lighting a Chinese paper lantern.

  • Lesson 1It takes two.  One person has to hold the lantern sideways and the other has to to light the inside. Although it can be done by yourself, it is not that easy do it alone and it can be a little dangerous.

This is certainly true when it comes to creating things in life. We will always need each other to launch new ideas, ignite new projects, and tilt reality sideways to create a more fulfilling life.

  • Lesson 2:   You have to make sure you hold the lantern just right so the paper doesn’t catch on fire.

If you are in a hurry to get things done, sometimes you burn out even if it doesn’t burn the project entirely.

  • Lesson 3Once it is lit you have to wait till the insides fill up and until they do you have to hold it just right so it doesn’t plop and fall on the ground.

It is quite something to hold an open flame. The longer you hold a flame that can lift something, the deeper the awe. Awe at the principles that govern, the very principles that transcend hype and man-made injustices. Awe at the attention that is demanded to focus on what matters or else it will crash.

  • Lesson 4:   You can’t push the Chinese lantern up;  you have to let go just at the right time when it automatically starts moving up, precisely when it is ready and not a second sooner.

You can prepare as much as you want, but some things happen just when the time is right and no sooner and to witness this principle in action was quite reassuring. And exhilarating.

  • Lesson 5: When it is ready to lift, lift, lift, you have to let the paper lantern go without fearing it will fall back down.

Some things, most things, are just bigger than you can imagine, and you have to trust. That which feels like a letting go may just be a step on the next rung of your evolution. The world is falling apart in so many ways, but who says this deep cleansing is not in order given how we have been giving value to the wrong things and looked the other way when the very people who are supposed to be in charge of solutions are creating more problems due to their lack of vision or greed.

  • Lesson 6:  Some lanterns go up slowly and for others the lanterns just shoot up; some lanterns can be seen for a very long time once in the sky and other just disappear into a dot.

I asked mama about her lantern taking longer than others to take off. In fact, my mother’s paper lantern, almost didn’t take off! We had some technical difficulties to launch it.  I joked, “Maybe you put too many wishes on it!” My mother replied, “Or maybe they have very far to go so they took their time.”

I don’t remember my wish that I whispered to my lantern that night. This is nothing new. I am often like a deer-caught-in-headlights when it comes to making wishes on the spot. I am usually so overcome with gratitude that I forget about all that I wish was different, at least in that moment.

California is not the final destination; I still miss my family of friends in the East Coast, and I have learned to miss New York City in a different way, one without longing. Meanwhile, during these in-between days I am grateful for this abundance of love and the close proximity to my family.

“This kind of knowledge is a thing that comes in a moment like a light kindled from a leaping spark, which, once it has reached the soul, finds its own fuel.” ~ Plato

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#Art in the Social Age of Digital Media

“A brilliant young writer, William Styron, recently remarked in effect

that this is not the lost Generation, but the subsidized one.

(There was never a lost generation of artists—that is only a cheerful myth, by the way).”

  “Writing Cannot be Taught…” (1954). Katherine Anne Porter, Collected Stories and Other Writings.

 

I have been working on this essay about the state of the arts in our world for quite some time. Months. I have wanted to come up with one sentence that sums it all up, the one conclusion for which other sentences are created. I finally have it. It is this: social media has bent any possibility for anything actually innovative so out of shape that we can’t even recall the original shape pre-social-media to which social media was supposed to be the alternative.

 

I can’t believe the following words, “social media artist,” are real and maybe even something altogether separate from an actual artist.  I suppose it should not come as a surprise since the term blogger replaced writers despite the fact that a lot of people blogging are not writers and a lot of writers don’t per se blog.  The “twitter/social media artist” does not exist or so he or she believes without social media platforms which is no different than times before internet when a contemporary artist “did not exist” unless represented by a mainstream gallery or agency.

 

For some the extent of evolution has been as simple as consolidating several social media platforms into one space (not giving any credit to those who inspired them to do this or finally made it ‘click’ in their brain that something was not working), for others (the wiser of them) growing looks like finally no longer using these social media outlets for blasting information about their latest line drawing or photos of newly painted toe nails that may go unnoticed by loved ones in real life and instead actually providing some value to the social media swamp of curated information. Others have remained steadfast to why they signed on to social media in the first place, another way to have water cooler conversations and call them friendships. (Yet they just can’t figure out why is it then that they can’t sell anything? Irony alert: your audience is primarily other artists who also do not know what they are doing, at least in terms of business strategies which comes AFTER having a vision for your work BEYOND social media which even more ironically develops outside the confines of social media).

 

But what is this “artist” who went to art school or writing school to do? What about the ones who didn’t and feel insecure? He or she too just wants support, friendship, exposure and sales. He or she just can’t connect that the social media outlets are no different than the “real life” rejections and cliques they have encountered. Most importantly, that if he or she is actually going to do something different and if he or she has any real talent there may not be any real support by the so called “twitter writers and artists” (unless of course you are spending most of your time “liking” others’ developments to ensure reciprocity and that you can only do for so many and there goes the clique you didn’t want to be part of but you are and your world just got that much smaller).

 

Social media is not a short cut to achieve desired results, sales or exposure. Social media is a tool to expand and share what you are doing off line as an artist. No one but perhaps another beginner is interested in how far along you came today in your process or your own thoughts about your process. Viewers and collectors just want to buy. And most people like to see before buying, especially art because it is so personal. Art is to be experienced. If you have to tell me what it is that you are trying to do, you really need to go back to art school, this time the real one, called LIVING. Art takes time. Learning takes time. A lot of it can’t happen when you are on the stage focused on performing. Majority of the artists and writers online are beginners—this includes people who have been creating for 10 years, including myself! (I have been writing since I was eight, but I have been writing full time since 2009 regardless of full time or part time work and what I share here is a very small spectrum albeit it the most organized one).

What were you doing BEFORE social media to create and promote your art and writing? You were writing/making art before then right? Just making sure, because an artist is not dependent on an audience although he or she certainly appreciates a sincere one. Did you talk about your art everywhere you went? How did that turn out for you? This is no different.

In the words of others since I am no “guru”:

It is important to keep in mind that because art is such a broad subject, it is difficult to offer sweeping advice that all artists should take to heart.

Is it valuable to others, or only you?

Here is why social media isn’t the magic bullet for self-epublished authors.

You will never be able to get everything done that you want to do. Get that straight and get on with things. Give up whining about not having enough time and, instead, spend your time getting stuff done.

Here is a nice reminder of typical social media start up archetypes and how so many people think doing anything but the actual work will get them somewhere.

And finally this, professionalism.

It’s okay if you as an artist or a writer  desire wider exposure or better sales.

But that comes AFTER focusing your time and energy on the craft.

Remember, the turtle wins the race.

Except when it comes to actually being an artist, a real one, there is no race except against Father Time.

 

 

I have been utilizing this website since 2009. I have used it as a writing portfolio which has led to a collection of stories and now I feel it is best to use it as a blog perhaps. I am still contemplating this. The most important thing is to ask yourself, what is it that you are trying to do? And it is okay if you don’t know yet or once knew and it changed. But act like it changed, sit in the space of I-don’t-know-yet without some self-made urgency. Unfollow the hags who claim to be artists who take up all your emotional energy in self-serving ways. Have the guts to move forward with what you actually like instead of feeling pressured to stay connected to people you will never meet and even if you did it would just be one time and even in that one time you can’t possibly know them or may outgrow what they are trying to do but you still have to waste your time to “like” their art which is nothing new from what they were making a year ago on social media.

Supporting another in their process is not the same as encouraging mediocrity. What is it that you really like and why? What grips you?  What no longer grips you? What value are you deriving by the connections you have yourself convinced that you need via another’s creativity.

Most importantly if anyone tells you that you have to join this or that or lick their art to have yours licked, give them a finger of compassion and know you are better than the darkness that is only in the head. Then go make your art. There are many ways to share it. If you are shy or feel inadequate in real life or any other legit reason but feel you can make “friends” online yet it isn’t helping your writing or art, see this as an opportunity to finally grow and push yourself beyond your limits by stepping off the grid and into whatever community is available to you. If you live in a really remote area, like I once did, then save up and drive from time to time.  Create what you want to create. Use the social networks as you want. But stop whining when doing the same thing doesn’t lead to different results.

 

I do my best to not just curate others’ thoughts on writing (or anything!)  on this web address of mine and instead think for myself, do my best to use my own imagination, and humbly offer something in my own words.

I don’t do this this as an attempt to place myself on the same pedestal made of Time as those who have carved the way for humanity thus far but because I understand the gift/burden/power/responsibility of words that comes through me, an insignificant yet powerful individual in the pool of an ever-growing population. Unless I feel helplessly compelled to borrow another’s words, which by the way is something anyone can do and does, including me, I work very hard to think for myself. After having spent days, if not weeks, struggling with the “right words” for the “right ideas” for “the right purpose,” I am offered a talisman from those before me just before I am about to give up altogether. Then I quote. After I have tried my best. This trying my best can’t happen if there is an imaginary urgency created by some network.

Many of my Sundays’ essays remarked on art and writing on several occasions because I have been astonished to discover how many so called artists are only familiar with quotes available via Goodreads and nothing beyond that or the other extreme where they share what they have read to show they know art via quoting famous artists ad infinitum without actually creating too. It’s exhausting for the viewer who is genuienly interested in creativity. I have nothing more to say on this subject.

I close my thoughts and the links with others’ thoughts with the following quote that predates the Internet.

 

Writing, in any sense that matters, cannot be taught. It can only be learned and learned by each separate one of us in his own way, by the use of his own powers of imagination and perception, the ability to learn the lessons he has set for himself. That is, if your intention is to try yourself out, to find whether or not you have the makings of an artist.

Since then [18 years ago in Michigan in 1936], the Writer’s Conference has become a thriving domestic industry: sure enough, there have been no miracles. The effect has been to increase by the thousands the number of those who write, and there is almost no writer so bad (or so good!) that he cannot find a publisher. […] Processions of publishers’ scouts visit the “creative writing” courses in hundreds of universities and colleges. Strolling bands of older critics, poets, novelists yearly ride circuit on writers’ conferences in dozens of colleges and universities. I dare say prizes, grants, fellowships for every kind of writing there is number yearly into hundreds. A brilliant young writer, William Styron, recently remarked in effect that this is not the lost Generation, but the subsidized one. (There was never a lost generation of artists—that is only a cheerful myth, by the way.)

[…]

And don’t worry, he will come, he always does. Usually only one or two in a century, now and then in a cluster or galaxy, in a well spring of richness, but he does not fail. In the present fevered rush to publish just anything and anybody, and all the critics hailing all writing on his own level of understanding as great, with books and poets of the year, of the month, of the hour, of the minute, we can get a little confused. Be calm. The real poet, the real novelist, [the real artist], will emerge out of the uproar. He will be here, he is even now on this way.

The history of literature, musical composition, painting shows there has never been a living in art, except by flukes of fortune; by weight of long, cumulative reputation, or generosity of a patron; a prize, a subsidy, a commission of some kind; or (in the American style) anonymous and shamefaced hackwork; in the English style, a tradition of hackwork, openly acknowledged if deplored.

[…]

There never has been, in any system, any guarantee of economic security for the artist, unless he took a job and worked under orders as other men do for a steady living. In the arts, you simply cannot secure your bread and your freedom of action too. You cannot be a hostile critic of society and expect society to feed you regularly. The artist of the present day is demanding (I think childishly) that he be given, free, a great many irreconcilable rights and privileges. He wants as a right freedoms which the great spirits of all time have had to fight and often do die for. If he wants freedom, let him fight and die for it too, if he must, and not expect it to be handed to him on a silver plate.

~ Katherine Anne Porter, from Collected Stories and Other Writings.

 

Social Media, a tool that has allowed us all to share how very creative human beings can be, is nothing but a tool. Even on a silver plate you have to put something regardless of how many come over for dinner.

b.s. advice on social media & the emotional state of our economy

 

Earlier this week I came across a rather childish social media article that made a few good points. The lack of accountability more so than the level of mediocrity has risen so much since 2009 when I first began exploring the interwebs via a “social media vehicle”  that now I have to distinguish between an article and a social media article, art and social media art, a coach and social media coach and so and and so forth.

Upon first reading this article, 8 Signs You have Found Your Life’s Work, I exclaimed, “Yes! So true! That’s me right now!” (Feel free to go ahead and read it before continuing; it won’t take long; just like most social media quickies the substance melts in your mouth, not your brain). Now if I was someone who can’t really think for herself I would have clapped my hands and felt the surge of instant dopamine and tweeted or face-licked it. But I can and do think for myself. Moreover, I don’t care to feel the instant rush to share everything I come across so as to get a boredom “fix”. I share when I am truly compelled it must be shared; this “mindfulness” is not unique to me, we are all capable.

What struck me is the lack of depth. This is not the writer’s fault per se given that social media has become more and more mainstream instead of an alternative to the noise available everywhere, she had to offer something within the formula of quick consumption.

I didn’t think much of it other than the following:

Social Media Blogger’s Point #1: It doesn’t feel like work.

Me: I know that she means that one enjoys what he or she is doing so much that it doesn’t feel like work but I am also aware that for me, it IS work. It is a lot of diligent effort. Maybe she was intentionally ambiguous so as to generate conflicting comments and so called traffic.

Who likes traffic? Don’t we try to avoid traffic?

Yeah, that can’t be it, you are giving it all too much thinking credit, self. 

Social Media Blogger’s Point #2: You are aligned with your core values.

Me: Yes, indeed. Okay, she is onto something. That is how I feel about my work. I will continue reading

Social Media Blogger’s Point #3: You are willing to suffer.

Me: Is she in her early 20’s? No, thank you, I have suffered enough. I have given my all and over-extended myself to no avail. I like being challenged, I can and do work very hard, I welcome being pushed beyond my comfort zone, but I will not tolerate suffering.

At the aforementioned thought, I decided there was no point in continuing to read something written by someone with the best of intentions yet still lacking some substantial experience. But then I saw the next point.

Social Media Blogger’s Point #4: You experience frequent flow.

Me: Oh no! Such a horrid use of the concept called “flow.” Besides, who says you can’t experience this zen like state in washing dishes, vacuuming, taking a walk with your significant other. I know what she is trying to articulate and I agree with her but why did she not elaborate. Why did she not go deeper?

Social Media Blogger’s Point #5: something something.

Me: Skip.

Social Media Blogger’s Point #6: Commitment is an honor.

“There is no hestitation or analyzation as to whether or not the work is right for you. Your heart says yes. Your mind says yes. Your body says yes. Commitment to your work feels like breahting. You cannot imagine spending your time dedicated to any other purpose.”

Me: There are two typos in that sentence but that’s okay. It happens. It’s “Fast Company” blogging. But wait, what?  There is no analyzing? Even during yoga there are moments when my mind says I can’t do this and my body is full of surprises and my heart just expands open despite so many fears. No, this is not ringing true. I have made commitments and walked right out the door when my spirit was suffocated. Maybe she means when one’s spirit is not suffocating in work. But then why did she not elaborate? What kind of service does her company provide (which is apparently in helping people connect to their purpose and passion and all other buzzwords) if she can’t even go deep in one article? Who only has one “purpose”? Why can’t your purpose evolve?

Social Media Blogger’s Point #7: The people who matter notice.

Me: How old is she? To me even a custodian matters.

 

I stopped reading.

 

Then I glanced through the comments. Some people were enraged at her childish approach to life, accusing her of never having worked a day in her life. Others were giddy that she had just tapped into exactly what they experience every day or were trying to find when they grow up and others felt her generation can only do this because those before her worked so very hard so she could now do whatever. And then the typical commentators being nasty to each other.

What value and service have so many comments generated?

 

My frustration quickly turned to sympathy. This young woman was doing what she loved and believed—my personal opinion is irrelevant given I am happy doing what I am doing—and all she wanted to do was help other people do the same. This is no different than majority of the yoga teachers now a days: I just want you to feel good too. Not many of them are willing to go deep like Marco Rojas (and a few others) and of those who do they equate going deeper with giving pain.

I then came across a response to this post in the form of another post in the Financial Times titled, “Marriages and jobs require work and love.”  I was excited. Aha! Someone did decide to address everything I was thinking.

But they didn’t. They made some better points but I lost heart when the writer of that post/article began as follows: both marriage and work “involve a selection process for which you dress up smartly and try to look brighter or prettier than you really are.”

Why would you do that? Don’t you intuitively feel you are more than all that “stuff” on the outside? I know for a fact that even the most superficial people have an inkling there is more to them than they let on.

The writer continued with her ideas about what finding work that feels like “the one” looks like and then openly stated she doesn’t know her core values and if this means that then she means this.

I was truly disheartened. This was in the Financial Times.

 

I filed it under “not my problem”. Whatever. I am grateful for what I am doing right now, full time, which also allows me time for creative writing, my family, love, health etc. It requires discipline and effort but it can be done and I am grateful. I have not forgotten what it has been like trying to get here.

And then I received the following email in my inbox. And I knew serendipity had generated enough signs for me to write something.

I didn’t get where I am overnight. I don’t think anyone does.  This ‘here’ will eventually change too which leads to the ancient wisdom familiar to all in one form or another: there is no ‘there’ to get to. Yet this doesn’t mean one doesn’t have goals and plans.

 

Not all of us can go start our own company, not just because it is a financial risk or one doesn’t know what he or she is doing but simply because there is no real passion for that. It is possible to work for another person or a very small firm or company or school and be respected and compensated fairly.

Moreover, people who do go out on their own often have substantial years in a field and they take a lot of their old clients with them. Once I attended a woman’s networking event where all these women worked for themselves. They were also coaches. They gave you the feeling that you too could do what they were doing and they could help you get there for a variety of fees. The one thing they didn’t mention though was that they all got started after 10 to 20 years of working hard for someone else. So when they did go on their own, they often took a lot of the clients with them. If you are starting out with no clients you have to have a very specific service you are offering and extremely reliable networking circles. There are many others with much more experience who have written about this topic in much more detail so I will not elaborate further, although you may not find them hanging out on social media as often.

The email below is the reality for most people I know. This person is not expecting someone to just hand them an ideal job. This person is not being a victim. This person is taking initiatives to change their circumstances. This person is intelligent,  talented, and hardworking.

I am sharing it with permission and promise of anonymity.

I’m actually actively looking for other jobs right now.  The job I have right now is okay but there is just no room for growth and the stress/demand is getting silly.  Work isn’t supposed to be fun but it’s not supposed to be something you dread either.  The only thing that keeps me sane at work are two friends I’ve made. The company I work for is owned by a major corporation so the demand is just ludicrous, especially at the end of each quarter.  They do whatever they can, no matter what, to meet their numbers at the end of the quarter.  Then they act like it’s such an accomplishment to meet their numbers after they work everybody to the bone.

Also, they just promote upper management to higher upper management positions and make up positions to fit them.  My former manager left the company in July and around that time I applied for her position.  I knew HR was looking to replace her with a purchasing manager.  So I applied; I sent my resume to the HR director, Controller and President.  None of them even acknowledged my application.  I knew I wouldn’t get it just because I had a feeling but I wanted to at least try.  I thought at least they’d interview me or acknowledge me applying but nope, none of that.  The fact that they didn’t even acknowledge my application and didn’t think twice about considering me, totally turned me off of this company.  It told me that there is no room to grow at all and I’ll be stuck doing what I’m doing.  They eventually hired a new purchasing manager who is [omit], at least I think she is.  She sure looks like it.  [omit]. She makes the team do all the work, while she goes home right at 4:00 every day, no matter what.  As you can tell, work is frustrating, so like I said I’m looking for other jobs.  I did have an interview last week so I’ll have to see how that turns out.  There is another option that a recruiter presented to me the other day so we’ll see.

 

Over the weekend I had a chance to talk to the manager of a big chain grocery store. While paying for the orchids I quickly commented that I was new to the area and this was such a lovely supermarket, I loved how it was organized, clean, and the workers seemed so happy. He replied, “We certainly try.” This manager is also someone who used to work for a big company and lost his job two years ago. Things have not been easy but they are making the best out of very trying circumstances. This individual is also a father whose son was going on a date that night with a young woman who was of “questionable character” in the parents’ assessment.

What is his purpose? To provide the best customer service, to make sure his employees are happy to show up to work so as to create an amenable environment, to make sure he has a replacement for the girl bagging the groceries who has to leave a little early to go to her second job because one is not enough, create time to check up on his son’s date with a new girl, and much more than a list can ever cover.

Is this his life’s goal? Probably not. Does he have other ideas about what he wants to do? Perhaps.

But for now, he would have you convinced that this is indeed his life’s passion.

 

I don’t have any how-tos for anyone. I believe all of us carve our own way and it takes a different amount of time for everyone.

I do know the following, in the words of my yoga instructor, “We all want the freedom to BE.” That “be” can vary from person to person and even year to year and requires responsibility and may or may not have anything to do with your job regardless of how much you enjoy or hate your work.

I don’t know why people offer these lists for relationships and jobs as if a quick reading will change things over night or even in over a year. Social media  in some ways is constantly perpetuating a sense of reality that doesn’t exist even when the intentions are good.

Here are my there simple guiding principles. Thanks to my yoga instructor Marco Rojas the idea of integration is deeply imbedded in my practice beyond the mat. These three principles govern my creative writing, work, friendships, and relationship:

1) respect, 2) commitment to growth for all involved, 3) compassion with a vision.

 

Most of us are happy, all things considered. Challenges are not always an adventure but they don’t have to mean suffering. If you are not happy with your work or relationship, do the best you can each day to change your circumstances but also know that there are many things not in your control. There are companies that will continue to do things the old way and the time is coming where they just can’t exist anymore because we can no longer afford to devalue one another to that extent.

 

 

Good things are possible but they do take time. Cycles come and go. Visions change. Creating lists is helpful for yourself and others similarly situated, not someone who just lost his or her job and has more responsibilities than an average start-up-kid can ever imagine.

Social media was a tool that placed individuals in charge of offering alternative perspectives. It was not selling others’ ideas on what and how things should be. We already had something like that. It was called television broadcasting network owned by various corporations.

 

Here is a great piece I came across by someone who was a coach long before social media. The Paradox of No Choice.

And this via Chris Guillebeau: The Audience is Listening (hopefully).

From a Letter to My Father

June 17, 2012.

Still Sundays.

 

I woke up this Sunday morning thinking how we forgive mothers so easily and yet continue to host a life long resentment for a father’s short comings.

I thought about my father’s relationship with his father: a tapestry of intense love, disapproval, unmet expectations, unexpressed gratitude and when articulated always muddled by unresolved differences.

Once I told my father, “Yes, although your father was the most amazing grandfather to us, he didn’t support you like he should have and what a difference that would have made. You have done so much for us.”

And my father replied, “At some point we must accept that our fathers did the best they could and whatever they couldn’t they just couldn’t. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have been more aware, more mindful of their actions and their impact, but they either didn’t have the guidance, were afraid to take risks, didn’t have support from a partner, or whatever the case, they just didn’t.”

My father then added, “You don’t have to wait to be 60 to accept that a parent only wants what is best for his children.  A man has to become a man himself no matter how great—or not so great—his father.”

 

I have always remained conflicted about the love I have felt for my grandfather (now no longer with us) and the lack of support my father felt while growing up despite the love he had for his son, my father. Love between fathers and sons is never simple.

I have tremendous respect for men like my father (yes far and few) who even at their weakest have never wavered on integrity in their personal relationships and have created a life for themselves with whatever was available to them.

 

This is from a letter to my father on father’s day some years ago, before having met a Wizard of a man who has been in my life as a friend and more (I am grateful).

Be it at a conscious or an unconscious level, women are either trying to make sure they do not marry someone like their father or marry someone pretty close to the likes of their father.  The wisest of these women pick and choose, bartering with conscious childhood memories and the reality of experiences offered by the men they meet. Those who make a commitment based on either conviction eventually realize and accept that neither will a man ever love you like your own father, or on the contrary, neither will a man ever fail you like your own father.

I write to thank you for being the man you are—as a father, husband to mama, friend to many, and human being. That being said, I also can not help but feel an aversion to my own sentiments that lie beyond the edge of this affectionate firmament. This uncomfortable paradox is borne out of the attributes I thank you for, but all the same, the qualities that make you so great make my life, and possibly certain other women’s lives as well, that much more challenging.

Human evolution is stagnated because of men who have not ‘manned’ up to love, care, critically think beyond the paradigms of religion (without incorporating it in their daily lives), culture (using it as an excuse for every act of cowardice), and society (preconceived ideas of what they can or can not express and communicate). The worst of it is that the best of the men associate their financial stability with “responsibility” and sexual monogamy with a “commitment.”

This is not to take responsibility away from women. After all, it does take two, and women can stand and do stand in their own way of love and growth.

 

I have never been impressed with a man who expresses his affection through lavish gifts: you provided above and beyond your ability for any comfort I could ask for as a young adult even when you thought you could not. I have never been star-struck by any performer or artist, no matter how talented or handsome—perhaps occasionally impressed because of my exposure to arts, music, and literature given your talents and knowledge—but never awestruck given I grew up with a performer and artist in the house who can still charm crowds. Men’s flattery has a minimal effect on me; at best I watch my amused ego entertained as I detach myself from the performance given the acknowledgments I have received from you. I have lost many a friend because I speak my truth, like air that will neither be contained nor defined, because you taught us the concept of “roh/ maain/ the deep self/the seed/the spirit” when Zain and I were eight, carving room for a colossal thumbprint of values to follow. It is these values that have governed how I have remained comfortable being “me” even when perplexed in my surroundings because you taught me that the utmost defining characteristic of any human being is his or her relationship with “God’s” words manifested through his or her intentions and actions.

 

Yet you are not perfect, no one is. But after all is said and done, two things I have never had to question: 1) your love for mama despite all the arguments and fights you both have had and certain actions that have not won you any favors by us and 2) that you will be there no matter what I did or did not do, whatever went right or wrong, however I may have disappointed or did make you proud. There is no greater definition of what makes a man a man:  his ability to provide that security. It is a tragedy that men (and women too!) associate security with finances alone and women associate desiring security beyond money as ‘anti-feminist.’ It is human nature to desire connecting with another on whom one can count.

Despite my best efforts I must accept that I remain part of the societal conditioning that associates the best expression of gratitude and affection through some form of consumerism, but I am not in a financial position to buy you something grand to convey my appreciation (not that you or mama ever wanted any material gestures, big or small, to satisfy either of you) so my words will have to suffice. I love you very much and I write the above words cognizant that no words will ever adequately express my gratitude for having you as a father and a friend despite the number of fights we have survived. Larry King is famous throughout the world—he has been married 7 times and has nothing to show for himself but CNN.  I realize you are not world renowned (yet!) but in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “We all can not be famous, but we all can be great.” You are more than great; you are the breeze of life.

I once met this man who told me, “Whoever you ‘settle down’ with will have huge shoes to fill given your father sounds larger than life.” I told him that is where he is wrong—I would halt evolution and the impact for future generations if I decided to ‘create’ with someone who simply had my father’s positive traits. The blueprint that you serve is not to compare another man to you but to simply know what a real man is: someone who knows commitment is more than monogamy and responsibility is more than providing financially. For many years I have told you given how you raised me that I would have made a better man than a woman given the kind of men I come across and the plight of spiritually grounded, intelligent, beautiful women. However, now I completely understand why you nurtured me to become the woman I am. I will never settle for less than a man who understands real responsibility is that of one’s personal development.

 

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It is only now that I am coming to understand that when our parents want the best of us it often involves evolving beyond their unawareness. In order to do that we have to bring ourselves to awareness and that demands much forgiveness for another’s lack of awareness. My father is the most forgiving man I know, maybe that is why he appears larger than life to all who meet him because life too is forgiving if we so allow for new imprints.

I am forever indebted to my father for giving so much of himself to us when we were little. Despite adolescent conflicts the impact of his efforts when we were younger is part of my life now. I am grateful for him to allow us to grow and one can only do that if he or she is growing oneself. So I am grateful to him for showing by example: we must grow.

 

Below I share a photo of some bookmarks my father made for me when I was seven years old. Everything he did was art. Art was not separate from being the most creative father. I feel for those people who believe art is something you do on a canvas or paper or digital box. How much they must be missing out on life, which ironically, is the very thing that feeds our art.