“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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It’s about time. It’s about Time.

Still Sundays.

March 29, 2013.

It’s about time. It’s about Time.

My mother tells me the weeks before my birth she had her fingers crossed and continuously prayed that I not come into this world the same day as Pakistan would hang Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.  “That would be so tragic. I didn’t want you to be born on a tragic day,” she says. I wasn’t born on April 4th but it would turn out to be a tragic year. Pakistan, barely thirty-two years into freedom from India and the British, would begin its downward spiral to the dust it is today due to religious fundamentalism and politicians who take western bribes as vitamins.

In a different part of the world the Iranian “Revolution” would take place that year creating the movement for Islamic Fundamentalism as a political force.

In 1998 at the University of Kansas I befriended two twin brothers from Iran who shared the same birthday as me and I would become their de facto twin sister.

1979 would be the worst year for industrial disputes in Ireland involving the Army during a nationwide bus strike, also including a national postal strike which would last for months while my father was in Ireland unable to communicate with my mother about me.

In 2003 for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary while others might have preferred Hawaii or Bali my father took my mother to Dublin and parts of Ireland. He even introduced her to the people (we don’t know how he found them since this is pre-Social Media) who provided him room and board, or more accurately “a room without a wall”, to show her the bike that still sits locked against time, the streets where he drew art to make extra money while he waited to sort the paperwork to pursue medicine as a physician, the Irish people who welcomed him despite him being a foreigner, the post office that never opened again, the cobblestones that received his tears. My father is a very humble and frugal man, and usually you have to convince him to spend money on himself, but this visit he stayed in the most expensive room and hotel in Dublin to note his triumph against fate.

In 1979 U2 would release their first EP album with three songs.

The year would end with the beginning of the Soviet War in Afghanistan that history books would note as having lasted nine years, but as we all know, it continues to this day in one form or another.

I would come into this world 6 years after the United States Supreme Court would decide the landmark decision about a woman’s right to have an abortion balanced against the state’s two legitimate interests in protecting pre-natal life and protecting a woman’s health.

A year before I would be born another controversial landmark decision would set the stage for a series of “affirmative action” cases to further complicate race relations in the United States. In 1978 the Supreme Court would hear Regents of the U. of California v. Bakke and decide for Bakke, a white medical school applicant who was denied admission under the “regular” program while minority applicants with lesser scores and grades were admitted under another review system established to promote minority students. The Supreme Court held against rigid quotas but concluded that race was a permissible factor to consider, among other factors, for purposes of admissions.

Years later, because of the privilege of hard won cases, I would have an equal opportunity to attend law school. Moreover, in 2005, in New York City, I would find myself in a Constitutional Law Seminar course taught by the man who was one of the attorneys who was part of the team that had filed amicus briefs in three landmark affirmative action cases, including Bakke. This professor would become one of the most influential people in my life. In 2015 I would discuss with him the the law as it pertains to the mess that is our education system.

 

Part of the last cohort of Generation X, I came into a very divided world, as if one foot in heaven and another in hell.

 

The last two and a half years in California have pushed me so far deep inside myself that whatever I am to write for the next five years is going to crack a universal bell. My words will be the clapper and you will be the waist of the bell and the sound will be justice.

Henry Miller in his essay “My Life as an Echo” in Stand Still Like The Hummingbird writes about the time he was a personnel director in the Western Union Telegraph Company in New York.

“The four years I spent hiring and firing the miserable creatures who made up the fluctuating force of messengers of this organization were the most important years of my life, from the standpoint of my future role as a writer. It was here that I was in constant touch with Heaven and Hell. It was for me what Siberia was for Dostoevsky. And it was while serving as personnel director that I made my first attempts at writing. It was high time. I was already thirty-three years old and, as the title of my trilogy indicates, it was a rosy crucifixion which I was about to experience.

[…]

What a tremendous relief it was to cease blaming society, or my parents, or my country.

Suffering belongs, just as much as laughter, joy, treachery, or what have you. When one perceives its function, its value, its usefulness, one no longer dreads it, this endless suffering which all the world is so eager to dodge. When it is regarded in the light of understanding it becomes something else.

[…]

To become a writer! Little did I dream, in begging the Creator to grant me this boon, what a price I would have to pay for the privilege.”

 

The last two and a half years have offered me an understanding without which I can not imagine continuing as a writer or an educator.

 

I am getting ready to place another birthday card given to me by my parents on the wall above my desk. The one from the year before sits there too. Held open by thumbtacks, like a bird’s wings, so I can see their words, so I don’t forget their love, support, and faith in me. Also, to have their faith in a God/ Universe visible to me when on most days I feel like inviting God to a boxing ring made of humanity’s bruises. I demand a solution for the mess created by people everywhere! Help me pick it up!  My parents are people who continue to believe despite everything; I on the other hand have to roll the dice on some days to understand all that probably can’t be understood.

The ‘Greatest Power’ is a prayer you can hear yourself. Must hear words out loud.”  A different part of the same card from last year, in my father’s bold, lavish script, reads, “He gives to all those who ask of Him.

It’s not a surprise I would end up marrying a man whose mother believes the same as my father. When we doubt so much we tend to draw towards us those whose faith can see beyond one’s own eyes.

 

As I reflect on the last two and a half years in California and our time here comes to a close, it’s hard not to note a myriad of tiny and huge things that tested every fiber within me that makes me ‘me’.  And somehow I kept going. I kept writing. I kept teaching. I kept dreaming. I kept inspiring. I kept being inspired. What is this “somehow” made of? I was always surrounded by immense love, provided by Jamie, his family, and my family. This love provided the buoyancy needed each day of each week of each month to make it past all the razor-edged bumps hitting against the surface of my essence. Yes, there are bruises, but nothing that love and time can’t heal. That “somehow” has to be love then.

What do I most want this year? Who can keep track of a Universe that gives and takes as it pleases?  I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as there is love and I can be me.

Always hold strong to your faith in the Higher Power who brought you to life…and always be True to Yourself.” That’s what this year’s card says.

Oh the price to be True!
The price to be Yourself!

I am back.

It’s about time. It’s about Time.

There is much to celebrate. We are the ones who save ourselves and we are never alone.

When was your “Malala Moment”?

Still Sundays.

November 16, 2014.

 

1. ISIS continues with their cowardice by perpetuating barbaric violence.

2. Pakistan’s elite, the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation (APPSF), have just called to ban Malala Yousafzai’s memoir and because that alone is not disgraceful, they have proclaimed an “I-Am-Not-Malala-Day” to dehumanize a brave survivor of terrorism.

3. Jon Stewart’s conscientious efforts to adapt the memoir And Then They Came For Me by Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari into the film Rosewater is being reviewed as Jon Stewart’s attempt to break into film-making instead of giving it the attention it deserves, specifically, how social media is making tyrants more—not less—dangerous.

4. Apparently no one has ever seen a single issue of Playboy (not even in their imaginations if they have indeed led such a sheltered life) and hence the recent, almost comedic, Internet obsession over  Kim Kardashian’s (who is only famous, in her own words, because of social media) nude photos which she claims weren’t photoshopped.

 

I wish people were obsessing over any of the above except the last one. But that is not what social media is for. Yes, it can be used for good, but mostly it is useless. For every useful article, there are 1 million more that are useless. For every good book review, there are 1000 unhelpful personal opinions on Goodreads.

In a world where we are celebrating a narcissist (and I mean this word in a very clinical sense) who has done absolutely nothing to advance our fractured humanity and yet dehumanizing a young girl who was shot in the head for speaking Truth, I feel quite helpless sitting here trying to make sense of any of it. But words are the only tool I know which help me make sense of this very deranged planet.

 

Tonight I finished reading The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan. When I began reading it due to a random recommendation by an 11-year-old (these days some of the most magical things that are carving the trajectory of my next creative steps are in the form of “serendipitous nudges,” as I have started to call them, by a very special group of young writers and artists), I didn’t know it was a work of fiction based on the younger life of Pablo Neruda.  Despite having read many of his poems, I didn’t know that the famous Chilean poet was born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. The main character’s name is simply Neftali Reyes and the back of the book didn’t hint at any connection. As a writer, I found inspiration in the work because although written for a younger audience it still uses magical realism in its narration. As an educator, I felt it’s a great text to teach writing, historical research, historical fiction and poetry (although this is too abstract a concept for the makers of the Common Core national standards who can’t seem to grasp that rigorous learning and curiosity can’t be broken down into neat genres, and innovative critical thinking can’t be tested by a simple (or complex) standardized test.  As a reader, I was moved to tears. The author had ever so delicately presented the painful experiences of a child from a child’s perspective who had no idea he could continue writing under his father and country’s authoritarian regimes let alone go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 and become one of the most widely read poets of all time.

“Grief, uncertainty, and disappointment assaulted Neftali. How could a government arrest someone for writing what he knew, in his own heart, to be true? Should all writers pass along only the beliefs of their government? How could a writer be considered treasonous when all he did was present another view? Were not two views better than one? Was it not better to ask questions of readers and allow them to make up their own minds? He stood and paced, filled with an urgency to respond, to defend, to fight” (332-333).

 

Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions is not far from me tonight; I want to know what he would ask.

Whom can I ask what I came
to  make happen in this world? 

 

There is so much I want to ask. I want to ask: Is the smell of a pop culture icon’s flatulence directly proportional to the size of their posterior? I want to ask: Will the government of Pakistan ever stop being an embarrassment to those who now live in exile? Does exile have a taste that the tongue gets used to? Because words certainly have an aftertaste.

 

Speaking of questions, my father who was a keynote speaker at an event honoring Malala, had some answers. My brave father who, as a neurologist, tried to explain fundamentalism as a disease of the mind, a neurological disorder, long before terrorism became a common subject offered this.  My father said there is a Malala inside each individual. His earliest Malala Moment was when he had to learn the Quran as a young boy and he didn’t understand why would the Quran’s first sentence begin with “in the name of God”—if this was the “word of God” was God beginning with another God? he asked. Who was the narrator?  His other Malala Moment was when he didn’t understand how power as  universal as a God punish a young kid for not fasting? He said inside all of us, when we are children, we have these divine “Malala Moments” where we are blind to fear and question dogma, control, hypocrisy presented by adults or institutions. Most of us get slapped or spanked for our “Malala Moments” but Malala Yousefzai got shot in the head. And the best way to honor her commitment to Truth is for all of us to speak up about Truth. He joked that if Jesus was on Social Media he would probably only have 12 real followers.

Truth is not a dish prepared by counting the number of servings.

 

I leave you with this inspiring video of my brother doing headstand variations  because what is most needed right now is our ability to stand on our heads with grace.

 

Who can convince the sea to be reasonable?

(Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions)

 

I don’t for a second believe there doesn’t exist some system of checks and balances despite all the injustices. With or without religion, the Universe has never hesitated to auto-correct.

Update from Prague

July 7, 2014.

The last time I wrote here I shared about “thin places“. In short I had written, “Although my current geographic location is as far away as possible from “thin places” I am grateful for the opportunity to be traveling soon to such places: New Mexico (again), Prague (again), and Paris (again).  Although New York City’s every bench and corner served as a “thin place” for me, I am beginning to find value in being away from “thin places”.

So, here I am.

In Prague. Waiting for laundry to dry.

Actually, I have been traveling with family for one week now.

Prague-Vienna-Budapest-Prague. Today is our last day in Prague. Tomorrow I am off to another one of my favorite places, Paris.

I have been to all these places before. The last time I was in Prague was in 2011 for 4 weeks for my first “writer’s workshop. And to this day, at least for now, last, unless something drastically new about writing workshops is revealed. The first two weeks with author Charles Baxter were very helpful, kind of like an intermittent apprenticeship, quite an alien concept in the Arts today, but the rest of the time was spent dealing with writers’ neurosis about their preconceived ideas about who a writer is and what a writer writes and overall an unnecessary engagement for purposes of actually producing work. I spent the other two weeks writing on my own instead.

Prior to that, I was in Prague for the first time in 2010 with my mother. During that trip we visited Vienna and Budapest for the first time as well. And to this day, words fail me to describe that experience.  I wrote about my “trajectory to Prague” here which took me back to one of my Still Sundays essay where a Greek woman schooled me about the purpose of a greeting and made me promise her that I would visit Vienna. I think that’s where it all began, at least consciously. A random promise I didn’t think I would fulfill so soon. It wasn’t very long after that that we took our first trip to Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Although this current trip was by no means an attempt to recreate the same experiences, I can’t help but note how different it has been. For one, I am with my sister and her husband who will be staying behind in Prague for a medical school summer elective and part of the trip was the welcome catching up with them and not the cities. Second, the trip in 2010 was during Fall, a season when the dizzying lush colors shift like dreams, turns on cobblestone streets serve as time portals, and all of Budapest is focused on Day of the Dead around Halloween. In fact, one of my stories is about a character named Arpad and it was born then and there in Budapest. Instantaneous. Looking back on it, so much of what is in Collection of Auguries feels like a creative spontaneous combustion of sorts. I was a volcano of stories decades in the making and then boom! And finally, this trip, unlike the others, I have not shared photos via social media, only with a handful of friends and family via instant messaging thanks to Wifi. The weird bit is that compared to 2010 Internet “cafes” feel like a thing of the past given availability of free Wifi in every hotel and restaurant and yet no sharing with others. I did enjoy the sharing in 2010 but find it intrusive and an interruption now. I will leave that for a separate essay.

 

 

If there are “thin places”, described by Eric Weiner in the New York Times article which I have shared previously, as “locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever” then there too is a “thin time”. Perhaps the use of this idiomatic expression is inappropriate since “thin time” generally refers to a tough or demanding time. Here is another take on “thin places” in this blog post where the writer shares her take on them, “The place itself calls you, draws you into itself, transports you into the presence of the world beyond this world.”  Weiner is correct when he asks, “The question, of course is which places? And how do we get there? You don’t plan a trip to a thin place; you stumble upon one. But there are steps you can take to increase the odds of an encounter with thinness. For starters, have no expectation.”

It didn’t take me long to realize that even if one is roaming about in a “thin place” it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she can penetrate the veil between our lives here and some Grand Mystery that connects us all, the Grand Mystery that confounds as  It reveals. But so much is available if we remain a beginner. I accepted that there is a “thin time” too. A time of  auspicious alignment, alignment of too many things to account for which makes a place “thin” for us to begin with. So, I collected the messages regardless of time and place, which we must do until they are decoded to mean more.

 

 

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Statute on bench in Prague.

 

 

 

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Outside a film museum in Vienna: “It is a misconception that the dead are dead.” ~ Henry Miller.

 

Usually, I find museums boring, but the Albertina in Vienna never disappoints. They had works of Joan Miro and a few permanent Picasso pieces in their collection that I actually liked. I also discovered an artist who is new to me, Alex Katz, and I enjoyed learning about his work. The best part was finding this little card. I think in many ways it sums up my life since 2011.

 

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“The love always finds its way.” or Where there is love there is a way. A card in Albertina museum of art in Vienna.

 

 

It doesn’t take long to note when one has crossed the Pond to Europe: great coffee and wine.

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Budapest, 2014.

 

 

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Restaurant Pest Buda in Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014. The Vajdahunyad Castle just isn’t the same in summer as in the Fall/Winter but it was beautiful nonetheless.

 

I guess this time I felt compelled to take more photos of Budapest.

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

My mother spotted this apple tree while we were walking in Buda. And I felt it was truly inspiring given all that is going on in the world right now.

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“If the world were going under tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree.” – Martin Luther

 

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Budapest, 2014.

 

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A French bakery in Prague.

 

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At the only self-serve laundry in Prague where they offer you free, great coffee.

 

It’s amazing the peace of mind clean laundry brings! Perhaps the same peace as planting an apple tree as the world seemingly falls apart due to greed, pollution, corruption, and wars for money. So it is with writing new stories or creating new art or living one’s life to the fullest. You just have to keep going regardless if this world is actually ending or the world you once knew cracks away into fragments of memories.  I have begun several new stories and haven’t found the time to finish a single one. I think that is okay, when the time is right some Auspicious Alignment of thin place and space will command completion and I will stand aside to watch the big boom in awe that I even had anything to do with any of it…

More from Paris, perhaps.

~a.q.s.

Still Sundays: “mechanics of understanding”

March 2, 2014.

I recently read an article about Carl Sagan, “Star Power”, by Joel Achenbach in the March issue of the Smithsonian magazine.  The article discusses the revival of the show “Cosmos” as it coincides with availability of all of Carl Sagan’s papers—all 798 boxes—at the Library of Congress. The show “Cosmos” is back much in part to Seth MacFarlane, creator of the television show “Family Guy” because he believes most of the science available on mainstream television, if any, is “fluff”.

The article quotes a note from Carl Sagan’s 1981 file after “Cosmos” was a big hit, “I think I’m able to explain things because understanding wasn’t entirely easy for me. Some things that the most brilliant students were able to see instantly I had to work to understand. I can remember what I  had to do to figure it out. The very brilliant ones figure it out so fast they never see the mechanics of understanding”  (Achenbach, Joel.  “Star Power”, Smithsonian. March 2014: 68. Print.).

This part from the article took me to the vast universe within myself. When it comes to certain things, especially people, time, and cities, there is so much I understand so quickly, that it makes no sense to others. This, trying to translate what I understand, has been a struggle for me ever since I was little. As I grew older, I realized it was better to allow the natural course of events “show” at the mercy of Time instead of “tell” based on my understanding. I don’t think it makes me or others like me “brilliant” per se, when it comes to higher math, I have to show my work to understand it. Moreover, some of us who do figure things out faster, regardless of previous experiences, do see the “mechanics of understanding”, it is just that there is no medium to per se communicate these mechanics. That being said, there are times when I am so convinced of the merits of what I understand that I am compelled to translate it all, step-by-step, to others.

Perhaps that is why music is a phenomenon. It transports us to the “mechanics of understanding”.

Despite not being an opera aficionado, I recently learned that Italian composer Giacomo Puccini of “Madama Butterfly” wrote, “The conscious, purposeful appropriation of one’s own soul forces is the supreme secret.” Puccini believed that he “would not have been given desire without also being given the ability to create whatever it was that would come forth” through him.  

 

I shared this article, “Ten States Where Income Equality Has Soared” about the impact of gentrification with some friends. One friend replied, “Class division hurts my heart. This is NOT the land of the free.”   This is where my “mechanics of understanding” fail me. I don’t understand why there are people who can only feel good about themselves at the expense of others not having enough. How do we fix this? Can we? It’s existed as long as we can trace back recorded history. Then I reflect about what is going on in Ukraine and Pakistan and I feel justified to say, “At least it is not that bad in the United States. Not yet, anyway.” Is that the new standard of freedom?

 

A fascinating article in The New Yorker titled “In the Sontag Archives” by biographer Benjamin Moser states that his recent research led him to discover that “Susan Sontag wrote seventeen thousand one hundred and ninety-eight e-mails, which will soon be available for consultation on a special laptop. I was given a special viewing at the library, and the experience gave me a queasiness that I have never felt during the years I have conducted historical research. […] To read someone’s e-mail is to see her thinking and talking in real time.”

17,198 emails. That is nothing for most of us given the internet is only 20 years old. Most of us have many accounts and many more emails than that.

I think about this a lot. After I am gone, what of my emails? They are just a record of passing moments. What can a moment tell us? I was thinking about leaving California on February 9th and on February 15th I found a new sense of purpose here. All of a sudden I am invigorated by unprecedented opportunity for reforming education and closing the literacy gap. The emails before February 14th will give you a bleak picture that will make you question everything you knew about me. The emails since might reflect I am high on rosebuds. I think the more we digitally share, the less others really know us. I once wanted to tweet: “I am so spoiled by love.” I didn’t. That means so many different things to so many. I prefer communicating over explaining. Social media is no longer a platform for communicating authentically, even with the best of intentions.

The article continues, “Sontag wrote that photographs are as much about what they don’t show as what they do, that what we see depends on where the photographer places the frame. Her journals reveal a love of statistics and astonishing facts, but the moral center of her writing (about photography, about war, about politics) is an insistence that what we see is not always what we get.”

Benjamin Moser ends the article with this poignant thought which sums up our digital age:

“Now our lives are increasingly lived on the computer. The amount of data on our smartphones is far more than she could have imagined in her lifetime, though she died less than a decade ago. For anyone who believes in the value of historical research, hard drives, like those preserved at U.C.L.A., will be the locus of that research. Will they end up revealing more about our lives—or, by revealing too much, ultimately reveal less?”

I think they will reveal much less as we continue. 

We do all sorts of things, and say all sorts of things, and listen to all sorts of things, for all sorts of reasons. We remain unpredictable. I never thought I would but I deleted my What’s App account after Fakebook bought it. This saddened me given it was my primary way of keeping in touch with friends overseas but it had to be done.

 

I don’t believe in seasons. I think a winter can last one whole year and there can be three summers in 365 days. March 2013 to yesterday was one such winter. I will just borrow Lemony Snicket’s series title to sum up the longest winter which lasted March to March: a series of unfortunate events. This past year, despite all the wonderful things that came my way, demanded so much out of me due to work. This will no longer be the case. It finally feels like a new year.

Despite everything, I still managed to finish Collection of Auguries. Not just that, also around February 14th, I learned that Publisher’s Weekly decided to review my book and gave me a review that made me feel like I had finally reached the shore. This is not just because it was a review from PW, it is because I could feel that whoever read it felt the life-force in the stories. It was an affirmation for me: stories are living things.

 

When the topography of the land of the free no longer feels familiar no matter where you go, freedom becomes a moment-to-moment undertaking. Freedom becomes standing up for truth in meetings; freedom becomes refusing work without compensation, freedom becomes sticking to your values in a digital age where “selfie” is part of the value-system. Freedom becomes praying for rain because geologists have given up on a solution to the drought-like conditions in parts of the southwest.

After a year of feeling that stillness may not exist in equal parts throughout the world, you finally land on the shore, bone-dry from being tossed in the ocean, ready to redefine stillness. You are humbled that all your previous definitions were such mechanical understandings and the very reason you made it, as you complained there is no stillness, is because of an infinite reservoir from where Stillness pours. You understand that the very reason you, or anyone, makes it through winter, is love. When we are grounded, we sense that love as stillness, quietude even. When we are not, it is always love that which carries us back to our human interpretation of stillness.

The horizon looks promising despite the uncertainty, bad news around the world, and empty-calories in most internet content. As long as there are those who want something more, the way will be carved by a love for something more than oneself, the very love that carries us to the shore.

If you have a desire to change the world, you also have the ability.

I leave you with “How to Be a Poet” by Wendell Berry:

Communicate slowly. Live/ a three-dimensional life;/ stay away from screen.  

And words fromHow to Write Poetryby my good friend, poet, singer, artist, and kindred spirit, V. Shayne Fredrick:

live and give others the freedom of life.

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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Still Sundays

August 11, 2013

Now I can’t find this very short essay that I was going to share here and pass it off as if it was written today. Something brand new must do even if I don’t have much time. Sunday doesn’t accept counterfeit stillness. If you want to swim in the lake of stillness your Sunday bathing suit must be made of the purest silk of silence, the kind that puts you to sleep and wakes you up simultaneously.

What I was going to type from this essay that can’t be located made a good point about why I am still in California. It offered an explanation; it provided an update. Upon not finding it and just having to dig in the over-sized purse of stillness I discovered explanations are unnecessary anyway. You don’t need one for yourself by the time you offer one to others, and others don’t need one because they have come up with their own by the time you do offer one.

I have been adjusting to my new eyes for the last month. Instead of the California smog, now they see what is before it—since it is really not possible to see beyond the California smog!—an opportunity to understand myself in a new way and explore my writing in an unaccustomed way. I have also been reading a lot when I am not busy being creative at work. Reading beyond the equivalent of an M.F.A. in fact. And I don’t have to write unnecessarily or participate in discussions explaining the why or how for any of my understandings, questions, ‘symbolisms’. I can skip all that and sit with my light hands on a Buddha-belly made of others’ stories, words, essays and my fragmented thoughts which unveil themselves when I take a pen and softly brush it across an empty page. Thoughts like: In order to be truly independent you have to do a lot of work in a mainstream culture. Thoughts like: Los Angeles is a sphincter filled with possibilities through which you must pass in order to get back to New York City. Thoughts like: I wish the impermanent wasn’t so easily possible; some possibilities need to last forever. Thoughts like: There are more shades of surrender than there are of the color blue.

 

What I was going to originally share had something to do with what my mother said to me…something about learning from pistachio trees and how once planted they don’t give fruit for eight years or something and how dumping more fertilizer on one is not going to make it grow any faster…something about being kind to myself and just going with the flow of some cosmic cycle that will guide me just right….

I shared that free-write entry with the woman leading the writing workshop about how to teach creative writing to younger students. She asked an “authentic question” to model how the students ought to eventually interact and participate in a “writing workshop.” She offered that the imagery of pistachio trees stood out. Her “authentic question,” which needn’t be answered, was, “How do you feel about your mother being so involved in your life despite you being an adult?”

I was taken aback. I didn’t have an answer. I had never felt that way about my mother. Did the anecdotal conversations with my mother come across as such? I considered silently. I replied, “Well, she is a friend whose voice really re-charges me. That’s all.”  Or maybe I don’t like the contemporary definitions of being an adult.

Then it was her turn as my partner. She too had written about her mother. It was an account about her last visit with her mother before her mother’s death. It was a beautiful sharing. I was quiet and then said, “I really liked the imagery of scent and perfumes in your writing.” I continued, “My ‘authentic question’—which of course you don’t have to answer and is for what next you want to do with the written piece—is, ‘Do you wish you had spend more time with your mother before she passed on?’” She looked at me and said, “Yes. Yes, I do. But I was living in another state for so long and…”

She didn’t have to finish the ‘and’; I understood. Our ‘sharing time’ was up anyway. The ‘and’ of course is how two plus life equals twenty years passing too quickly.

Before walking out I told her, “Thank you for your ‘authentic question’ that made me uncomfortable. I have a better answer now.”

I am in California to enjoy the small moments with my mother as our schedules allow although we visited sporadically throughout every year when I lived in New York City. So, no, I don’t think she is too involved at all. Every moment with her I am grateful and cognizant that life is a short gift through which we can glimpse what matters eternally. Love.”

 

Some question the point of teaching creative writing to young children who are still struggling with spelling. Some question writing in general because not everyone is meant to be an author so why polish a craft that will lead neither to fame, nor glory, nor money.

There is something about holding words through our very own hands that makes us honest. We need more people who are at peace with their choices in this very broken world no matter what their vocations. We need more people to visit stillness so we always know what’s real when we interact with one another.

stillness is a manji…or charpai…

March 31, 2013

Still Sundays.

I am still convinced yesterday was Sunday. I should have written yesterday. I felt stillness bow from the edge of the horizon to the fingertips of the wind. I should have written yesterday. Today is not yesterday. Today has clouds and nostalgia is not as sweet; the aftertaste of memories has a vengeance. The best stillness is in which you are aware of the only truth that is real: there is only now.

 

Today I will share about a manji. Also known as manjaa, charpai, charpaya, and charpoy.

 

Here is the Wikipedia definition thanks to the internet: char “four” + paya “footed” is a traditional woven bed in the subcontinent of southeast Asia.

Dictionary.com offers that it is a noun that is a light bedstead used in India, consisting of a web of rope or tape netting.

Of course, also thanks to the Internet, we can charge $500 (or more, depends how much you can afford in your efforts to impress imaginary people who don’t really matter to you) for something that actually costs $2.00 to make in the country of origin.  Owning these as decor—not actual use, heavens forbid!— also serves as novelty for the plutocrats. Ironically, often the people who use these cots are villagers who can’t afford anything better.
Digression:
The other day while passing through Los Angeles, I overheard a group of men (producers?) discussing their possible pitches to the funding gods in the entertainment industry. Their topics included: a “reality television” series where plastic surgeons compete for make-overs; a “reality television” series where people buy houses without seeing the neighborhood; and one other asinine idea which I am now forgetting. I was shocked by two things: 1) Their unawareness about the privilege to quite possibly bring their ill conceived ideas to something quite real which the general public will end up watching and 2) One of the middle-aged men was wearing a shirt that had one word on it, ‘unemployed’.
I watched them finish their $12.00 sandwiches and then saw the “unemployed” man drive away in his  very new B.M.W.  I don’t doubt he has never worked a day in his life. I know this with certainty because his idea wouldn’t be so trite if he had.

 

Here is an example of a writer talking about a manji in a blogpost:
I bought this cot from an Indian store. It was too expensive I thought but my mother said it is great quality, very durable. The colors are simple and it really is strong. It brings me such joy. I can feel the cool breeze when I just rest on it. I love drinking my coffee on it. That is so divine. I find it so interesting that the very people who look down upon those who consider this their bed in villages in the Subcontinent of Asia are the ones who like to have one in their houses but not to use—only to show!

 

Here is an example of a poet talking about a manji in a post:
“Manji”
the knots that hold me/I can feel the hands who made them/ like earth/ I understand the sky.

 

Here is an example of an aspiring author writing about a manji and it might have taken him or her three hours to put it all together, and yet these words may never be seen by anyone even if they did find context to breathe in a proper, finished form:

 

Neelo hadn’t seen a manji since she stood on the balcony of the haveli and accidentally saw her father kiss the forehead of the young girl who was brought over the night before as a possible bride for her brother. The manji sat in the center of the brick veranda as two peacocks trod around it, almost knocking the bowl with water in which almonds had been resting overnight. She could hear the fan moving as fast as a spinning top, the blades indistinguishable. The adage “if these walls could talk” is not applicable in some parts of the world; some structures are built so there is no need for secrets.
What would I write or say about a manji?

 

Stillness is a manji, made of the same material I feel on 108th and Broadway.
mangi
I leave you with some words I was playing with earlier this week:

 

Coffee With Jesus

 

I would like to take Jesus out
for coffee.
Who else would he invite?
He would probably laugh at my prayers.
I don’t want to save the planet;
Just myself would suffice.
We would talk about plagiarism:
“Look at the damage it can create!”
Jesus would exclaim.
I would laugh at his aggravation.
I have bigger problems, I’d say.

 

 

This Easter Sunday I am grateful to my father who protected us from religions, taught us to question all books, including his words, so we would grow up to still believe in One Law—called by various names all over the world—as we continue to shine our doubts.

 

A joyful Easter Sunday to all.