“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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“Death shall have no dominion…” ~ Dylan Thomas

January, 18, 2015.

I will be reading parts from this today at my grandfather’s memorial service.

 

Over the holiday season, Jamie’s mother, my mother-in-law (if you are subscribed you received my occasional newsletter which included a photo of an enchanted Jamie and me getting married in November in NYC and I do plan on writing more about that another time), Patty shared that she was exploring a practice about self-awareness which involves no complaining. This surprised me since Patty, definitely some saint reincarnated, seldom complains about anything and is a very happy-go-lucky woman. Part of the practice involved wearing a rubber bracelet as a reminder not to complain and that every time you complained about something you would snap the bracelet on your wrist and then switch it to the other hand and start all over again. She boasted that she had gone on five consecutive days without complaining at one point! The object of wearing the bracelet was to eventually get to a state of mind that didn’t mention the trivial things we complain about as a manner of conversation.

If that bracelet had been placed on my grandfather’s wrist the day he was born, Nana g probably would have never switched that bracelet from one wrist to another till his last breath which he took on Thursday, January 8th, 2015 at the age of 95. I can’t ever recall hearing him complain about anything despite life’s many challenges that he faced throughout his life even as he got sick and weak towards his last days on earth.  Yet despite all the challenges, the sum total of his life seems like a collection of social gatherings with friends, gatherings that seem like a myth to people now, gatherings involving good conversations with good food and authentic company that appreciates the moment, and his attention to his grandchildren.

When I visited him in the hospital a few weeks ago, I was struck by how indeed true this statement is: it is not death that which scares us but life. Yet here was this frail man, agitated like a baby who just wanted to rest, who wasn’t afraid of what was next because he had lived his life to the fullest.

 

Grieving doesn’t have a time table. Sometimes I feel such a profound sense of loss that it seems akin to floating through star dust all by myself where I can barely hear my own heartbeat. Other times, I rejoice with happy tears for the ways he influenced me. And then there are times, I am fine. Just fine. Then it begins all over again. I also can’t help but note what this loss means for my mother and her siblings (and even my father since he was very close to him too), which leads me to panic at the untimely and selfish fear of one day having to live without my parents instead of focusing on what my  mother is going through. Then the tears come back but they are about something else instead of his loss. They become about living my life in a manner which honors who I am, who I really am, just like he did.

My grandfather was a very social person but by no means did he desire to be the center of attention. In fact, he was a man who minded his own business and I don’t recall him being too verbose. Yet his influence is far reaching to say the least.

 

Everyone can recall some of their favorite childhood memories. It doesn’t matter whether these recollections are wrapped in precision or even entail accurate facts. It matters not whether these memories are based on confabulations as narrated to you by the adults who are supposed to be the guardians of the Exact Past. The significance of these memories is that as you grow up and continue to dip your adult awareness in that vast river which began long before you could actually recall much of anything, shapes your essence as a human being regardless of what you end up doing with your life or what you have to show for it. At least such has been the case for me and who I continue to become. This is due much in part to the memories I have attached to my grandfather, my mother’s father, my nana.

As a ten year-old I grew up knowing with charged conviction that I knew something extra special about the power and meaning of words because “they” say my nana taught me the entire alphabet and basic vocabulary that went along with the alphabet by the time I was two or three years old. This wasn’t done with the intent to get me into some top kindergarten program or win a prize for young babies. This was done out of love. How could I not grow up to love reading and writing?

There are other stories too that have been transformed into memories. Memories of him taking me on walks with him and his love of talking to strangers and listening to others’ tales which created a blueprint for my desire to explore and understand others. The truth is that I don’t have a clear recollection about a lot of my time with him. He was part of shaping my consciousness at an age when a child is too young to remember everything and yet never forgets those moments either.  The past that continues to shape my truest and highest self comes to me in flashes: tenderness upon seeing a Bhaad-Gaaule black cap or better known as a “topi”, any elderly feeding pigeons, laughing as a form of wisdom, and the power of unconditional faith.

My young adult years provide for less hazier memories. I recall he was always reading, he was always quoting poetry, and he was always quizzing us on historical information. I also remember he was fond of writing letters which is something I too still continue to this day. The greatest gift he gave to me is to show me by example that reading, writing, traveling, exploring, keeping in touch with friends through letters, and finding contentment beyond the material world,  are not done to prove something to someone or because of a lack of anything, but are cultivated because, as author and educator Tom Romano stated, this is how we “bring ourselves to realization.”

His most deep-rooted influence in my life is his love for his wife, my naani, who passed on before I was even born. He was a widower for a good portion of his life. His love for her and his commitment to continue to live his life for his children despite missing her created a lasting impression about “true love” in my mind and for that I will be eternally grateful. His love for her embodied the line from Dylan Thomas’ poem: “though lovers be lost love shall not”.  Whenever I would ask him about her he would have wonderful stories to share about her and he never seemed to forget to add how beautiful she was. His love for her left a permanent impression about what constitutes love in my mind and probably served as one of the reasons for my delayed nuptials, relatively speaking. I wanted something “more” than getting married.

 

Finally, if there is anything I desire out of life after reflecting about his life it is simply this: I want to be content. I want to be a happy person. He was able to influence so many because he was content. I see this contentment in my mother and her brothers and for me it would be the highest achievement. He lived his days fully engaged with life and didn’t let life’s challenges stop him from enjoying what really mattered.

 

Grateful to Jamie for reminding me of this Dylan Thomas poem which is most appropriate.

 

Death Shall Have No Dominion” By Dylan Thomas

And death shall have no dominion.

Dead man naked they shall be one

With the man in the wind and the west moon;

When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,

They shall have stars at elbow and foot;

Though they go mad they shall be sane,

Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;

Though lovers be lost love shall not;

And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.

Under the windings of the sea

They lying long shall not die windily;

Twisting on racks when sinews give way,

Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;

Faith in their hands shall snap in two,

And the unicorn evils run them through;

Split all ends up they shan’t crack;

And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.

No more may gulls cry at their ears

Or waves break loud on the seashores;

Where blew a flower may a flower no more

Lift its head to the blows of the rain;

Though they be mad and dead as nails,

Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;

Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,

And death shall have no dominion.

“small diagnostic truths”

November 2, 2014.

Still Sundays.

 

 

“My plan was clear, concise, and reasonable, I think. For many years I have traveled in many parts of the world. In America I live in New York, or dip into Chicago or San Francisco. But New York is no more America than Paris is France or London is England. Thus I discovered that I did not know my own country.  I, an American writer, writing about America, was working from memory, and the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir. I had not heard the speech of America, smelled the grass and trees and sewage, seen its hills and water, its color and quality of light.  I knew the changes only from books and newspapers. But more than this, I had not felt the country for twenty-five years. In short, I was writing of something I did not know about, and it seems to me that in a so-called writer this is criminal. My memories were distorted by twenty-five intervening years.  […] So it was that I determined to look again, to try to rediscover this monster land. Otherwise, in writing, I could not tell the small diagnostic truths which are the foundations of the larger truth.”

 

The aforementioned passage is from John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley: In Search of America. I happened to come by an 8th edition at an antique shop which I readily purchased. No regrets about that buy. On the contrary, several months prior to that, I bought—my curiosity had led me to get caught up in the Colbert-Amazon-Hachette controversy—California the debut novel by Edan Lepucki. It attempts at the dystopian genre which describes post-apocalyptic California. I was really hopeful to read something insightful. It didn’t take me very long to realize that the story read as if following a creative writing workshop formula. The characters were two-dimensional at best and the plot lacked the depth I was expecting. I read some reviews and they echoed my thoughts and feelings much more aptly than I cared to explore in writing a review myself. You can read two here: “Lepucki’s cautious dystopia never quite asks the right questions of us, ultimately to the detriment of the novel” and “mediocre characters plodding along in a meandering plot.”

I unsuccessfully tried to return my disappointment at the local Barnes and Noble. For months now it has been sitting on a small shelf where it is not visible. No one knows it is in this house but I know. I haven’t given it to recycling yet or donated it to a used bookstore. It sits there as a reminder about how not to write, how to contain your excitement about an “idea” as you work on the craft instead of just telling the idea as a story.  More importantly, I think I have allowed it to fester in my space because I haven’t figured out my own reasons for disliking it so much other than the obvious ones in the reviews.

 

It was only this morning while reading that excerpt by Steinbeck that the profoundness of my dislike for that book became clear. A sentence formed to provide clarity: I am offended. Yes, that was the word! I was offended! I was offended by Lepucki’s treatment of the post-apocalyptic California (her attempt was to shed light on current California) because she failed to tell “small diagnostic truths which are the foundations of the larger truth.” And she failed to do so because, like many from California or those visiting here, have only been exposed to one version of California. California is a huge state that has endured many transitions and consists of so many middle-America towns that it can take a life-time “getting the story” right. Moreover, unlike New York City which the entire state of New York treats as a separate entity, here everyone carries on as if life begins/ends in one corner of the state in one prominent city and ends/begins in another well-known city. There is no delusion of “oneness” in New York City; New York City is that weird mole on the face of the state which just happens to belong there and there isn’t anything that can be done about it even if not all view it as a beauty mark. Austin is another example that comes to mind: it is an anomaly city. Even within anomalies there exist exceptions that originally make them an anomaly and without a deeper exploring, even if not physically, of the land itself, I think one would be hard pressed to write a story that offers “larger truths.”

 

Other than celebrating that clarity, I have been exploring “small diagnostic truths” this Sunday morning where the day offered an extra hour thanks to Day Light Savings Time. Things are certainly shifting. It is November! The Day of the Dead just passed and we should all be more concerned about the ghosts we may become than the ghosts that may haunt us.

2014 is almost over. What a year it has been. In many ways I have felt the entire year can be defined as if someone accidentally hit “freeze” in a game filled with more tricks than treats. This is not to imply lack of momentum but more akin to holding large blocks of ice and putting them in an order that doesn’t really exist. So you finally give up and the ice starts melting and you realize there was nothing to put together in the first place. Except the giving up required hitting an  “unfreeze” and that was up to Time.  So, it’s time. We only view it as end of the year because of the calendar we have created, for all we know November 1, 2014 might very well be the beginning of everything.  It sure feels like it.

Another “small diagnostic truth” is the work I am doing in the field of literacy. I am beyond elated about putting together evidence in the form of a book. I didn’t know my first book would be a collection of stories and I didn’t expect my second one to be about students writing and third one to possibly be children’s fiction. I have considered starting a separate blog that pertains to education but a “small truth” of the matter is that all of that too is my life. I never imagined sitting and writing stories here or elsewhere in some ivory tower sipping on my tea and looking out the window at a world in which I didn’t participate. And so it is: all of my living which I choose to share belongs in this space, my cares about legal reforms and how they are shaping the American landscape to what is going on in the classrooms. After all, what good is writing if there are no adults who can read? I attended a recent conference where phenomenal educator, author, speaker, consultant, Kelly Gallagher, mentioned an article from the Washington Post, “Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researches say“.  The author of  Proust and the Squid calls this an “eye byte” culture. I feel compelled to share my findings that show if reading is taught by those who love to read, the current students who are in elementary schools, even English Language Learners, actually prefer to read print although they enjoy the digital world as a tool to extend their reading.

 

All these “small diagnostic truths” this year have led me to the foundations of a larger truth: the larger Universe opens up to us to the extent we let go of our reigns over our smaller universe.

“Bloom where planted” feels only glorious in theory and not in actuality because in reality you can’t always predict what blooms since it depends where you are planted. I don’t think the Universe would have it any other way.

Soar, eat ether, see what has never been seen; depart, be lost, but climb.” ― Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

 

“the immense edifice of memory”

When nothing else subsists from the past,

after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered…the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time,

like souls…bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence,

the immense edifice of memory.

~ Marcel Proust.

 

 

My grandmother smelled like lilac powder. Always.

Her skin was a field made from the scent of lilacs. Not how lilac smells now in perfumes but the way it used to smell in powders. It was as if she sweated lilac drops while the rest of us just sweated. Even in her “old age”—she wasn’t that old when she died—the scent of some faint flowery powder prevailed around her thinning skin, sagging one wrinkle neatly folded on another, just resting as skin should. She had great skin. Both of my grandmothers did. But Naani, my mother’s mother, had already passed on before I was born so I can’t attest to how her skin felt other than what can be concluded by looking at photos. My grandmother’s skin was taut even as she got older, it was as if the wrinkles decided to harmoniously distribute themselves in a proportionate net all around.

I wish she hadn’t been such an unhappy person, but what or who was she supposed to be then?

She couldn’t walk, stuck to a wheelchair (my father bought her a quite fancy for those times), as my grandfather would lift her from the bed to help transport her to the bathroom which was specifically designed so she could bathe herself once she had been dropped there, like a bucket. Sometimes he even had to help her. This was also the time they would bicker like birds at dawn or dusk: You can’t carry me–don’t don’t don’t drop me!/Have I ever dropped you?! Have I? Have I? Have I?. Or on days where she had less anxiety, a more humorous version would follow, something like this: You can’t carry me!/What am I doing right now? What do you call this?; I am too fat (she hadn’t quite become a paperweight then as she eventually would)/Well, I am not going to argue with that! Tell that to the cook next time you want Balushahi! The “funny” days were few. Mostly it was a lot of screaming, she always thought somehow she would slip or my grandfather would trip or he would finally decide to “show her how he really felt” by dropping her and teaching her a lesson once and for all. She could never see how he loved her in his own way. Neither did anyone else. They fought a lot. My very handsome grandfather—tall, fit, charming, with hazel eyes speckled with some forest green amusement—and my very beautiful grandmother—tall, broad shoulders to proportionately match broad hips, intense brown eyes and a laugh, when she laughed which wasn’t often, that felt like hearing 1000 simultaneous claps—invented conflict to communicate.

Their back and forth never felt like love to a little girl who was me, but now I know it is some kind of love which makes you carry and bathe a person gone limp due to Parkinson’s. Maybe she always smelled like lilac because she couldn’t walk in the field of dreams. In many ways, she had defied cultural restrains; she pursued medicine and became a doctor in a country where women still have to ask their family for permission to be able to pursue a profession or any work. But in many other ways, I don’t think she was able to do what she wanted. They came from a time and place where people had to give up a lot in order to have some of what they wanted but they still held laughter in their hearts. I couldn’t ask for more loving grandparents even though a lot of my grandmother’s night terrors due to her medications were beyond me as a child and I couldn’t relate to a persistent anger about life. It is true that we understand life backwards and in the process we understand the people we never understood. My grandmother is one such person I am beginning to understand and although I experience random bouts of tears whenever I miss my grandfather, I seldom think of her.

But smells have a way of carrying us to places where memories open like tents, and alone with the fire in our hearts we finally begin to understand.

We finally begin.

 

Pilgrimage to find lavender soap

Still Sundays.

April 20, 2014.

 

I found out about Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s death from my mother after I returned from my mission to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert near Abiquiu, New Mexico this last week Thursday.

My mission was no ordinary mission; it entailed finding this particular lavender soap bar for my father.

A year ago my father received a handmade lavender soap as a gift. The lavender soap was from a gift shop, Monk’s Corner, in Santa Fe, New Mexico which had since then closed due to the unfathomable rents in that city. He loved it so much that he wanted more. Not a problem, right? Everything “lavender” is so commercial now that one doesn’t have to go to a special Ayurvedic store; any chain grocery store is likely to offer several lavender products, including soaps. We got him several varieties from Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sprouts, and a few other stores that are likely to carry natural products and none were good enough. We even tried tricking him—without success—by taking the packaging off of the soap and presenting it as the same soap he had received as a gift! His intuition is surreal so I don’t know why we bothered. What surprised us the most is that he is not a very particular man yet he really wanted this soap. Perhaps that is not an accurate statement. He is one of the least materialistic people alive and doesn’t ask for much but what he does want he wants and nothing else will do. A trait I am convinced was genetically passed to all of us. After 6 months of trying to find a substitute we were afraid to joke if he would protest by not showering if we didn’t get that soap!  What next?

In December while I was in Santa Fe I contacted the monastery after finding them on the Internet only to learn that they don’t always answer the phone because they are not there to appease tourists since they are real monks! I sent an email which was answered and the reply said they indeed had shut the shop but they still made soaps and I was more than welcome to come and buy or order online. I couldn’t find a way to order the soaps online so I decided to go get them. Except I couldn’t make the trip due to the weather conditions. The monastery is located at the bottom of the Chama Canyon wilderness in northwestern New Mexico, about 75 miles north of Santa Fe, and about 53 miles south of Chama. The problem? It was winter and the road conditions didn’t allow driving on the thirteen miles of dirt road off US route 84 after passing the town Abiquiu.

Now that it is spring I was adamant to get the soap. Once in Santa Fe I called and was so relieved to have had one of the “Brothers” actually answer the phone. I told him about my father’s “soap predicament” as we were now calling it and the story really amused him. He said he will make sure to share this with the monk who makes the soaps. I wanted to know how many they had given it was quite a trek and—I felt sort of embarrassed saying this—I didn’t want to drive there for just one soap. He told me not to feel embarrassed and that he understood because it was not a quick drive. He said there were 30. I told him I was coming to get all of them. He said he might not be on duty to answer the phone but the gift shop is open till 5:00 p.m. and I was more than welcome.

And so we drove from Santa Fe towards Abiquiu, a town most associate with artists, writers, silent retreats etc.

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The drive is truly breathtaking and I can understand why some might come here to find inspiration (which is ironic because essentially what one is doing is creating space to be quiet and therein lies inspiration: within!). The silence is divine and the mountains exhale colors and history. They stand as a reminder of how there was earth long before us and there is a cosmic cycle in which we just happen to play a part.

After passing Abiquiu, a town that didn’t really interest my curiosity but for its beauty which I noted in passing, we nearly missed the dirt road which was to take us to the monastery. There was a small sign that said we had 13 miles to go and those 13 miles took one hour because of the nature of the road, all dirt and very windy. Who thought 13 miles could feel like 13 years! I was in great company so I didn’t mind but one would be hard pressed to ignore how long those 13 miles feel.

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Once there it was worth it.

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We entered the gift shop and there was only one man there, a tourist. I ran to the soaps and grabbed them all. The man inquired about the amount and I told him the story about my father. He said he too wanted one now. I realized I had them all, so I gave him one and asked if he wanted more and he laughed and said one would do. I replied, “That’s what you say now…”

Next: how to pay?

There was no one there. In the corner was a basket in which you could place the correct amount for whatever you had purchased. There were many $20 dollars bills in it. Next to the basket was a small pad on which you could write your credit card information for the correct amount and put in a box so others couldn’t see your information and they would bill your card later.

No cameras and no guards. Obviously, no one is driving all this way and going down a 13 mile dirt road to steal, but I was still very moved.

We did ring the telecom buzzer for someone to come in from their chambers just to make sure we were following the procedure correctly. A joyful and chatty monk named Brother Andre arrived. He was curious about the amount of soaps I was taking. I told him the story and that I was making sure the supply would last until whenever it was possible to buy again. He inquired where my father was originally from and I told him. His reply made me laugh out loud, “Really?! Very cool. I have some Facebook friends in Lahore!” And then the conversation somehow turned to South Africa. I think it happened because I was thinking out loud about getting something for a friend in South Africa and Brother Andre asked where. Brother Andre had lived in South Africa in 2008, specifically Limpopo. The serendipity of connections was extraordinary! And then he told us he was going to be late for prayer except he told us to hurry to the prayer session and we never saw him there. I am not sure what took over any of us but we agreed and we sat quietly to watch the monks chant their prayers and then disappear in their black cloaks.

The soap is handmade by a monk from Mozambique. I know my father would really appreciate this fact.

I walked for a little bit around the monastery. I thought about the recent Supreme Court decision that concluded that money is speech alongside corporations are people. I thought about the recent lunar eclipse beginning a rare tetrad. I thought about watching the eclipse despite being too sleepy and my head ringing. I thought about how powerful alignment feels. I thought about how Google and Fakebook buying and selling private information. I thought about Brother Andre and his Facebook account. A monk with a Facebook account! That thought made me think of the latest extraordinary acrylic artwork by Jamie Berry and what he wrote:

 

Unfettered by the self-imposed, collective isolation of a closed-feedback-loop, connection can enrich our lives and broaden our horizons in ways we never imagined as we realize there’s truly no separation between us. Alternately, when we base our connection on false premises, prejudice, and alienation, it can take us over the edge of a cliff, one after another.  Each of us gets to decide which of these bonds we are creating, and whether our contributions are an invitation to expand or to explode.

 

I thought and thought till I had no thoughts.

Later that day a chance conversation about a dolphin painting would lead me to learn about animal medicine, which in Native American/Indian tradition refers to the healing aspects that a particular animal brings to our consciousness. A spiritual practitioner would show me my “totem” animals. What chance! So many come to Santa Fe seeking enchantment and there I was in an ordinary conversation. People should really try to connect more in the most ordinary ways possible; it’s magical.

 

I began this Sunday by writing an appreciation of my own for Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Pages and tears. He was one of the few contemporary authors who really influenced me beyond writing. His works were an invitation to expand. Perhaps I will share those thoughts another time.

I don’t know whether the world is coming or going anymore. I do know that every day is an opportunity to resurrect the truth. A light that is too bright can’t identify the object on which it shines. We need a light that creates shadows as it illuminates so we know the difference. We must work with human weakness but we can’t compromise the expectation of zeal.

While at the monastery’s gift shop, I randomly browsed this book, among many others that were sitting on a table available for purchase. This book was an adaptation of the Rule of St. Benedict. The page I happened to open described “conversatio” as “openness to growth and change, willingness to look at oneself and to be challenged by God and others.” I later researched to learn there are many shades of interpretation of this ancient Benedictine term. The one I came upon by chance makes the most sense for now.

I close the curtain on my thoughts with two lines of many which my father wrote in my birthday card,

“[…]Remember the the Greatest Power lies in a ‘loud’ Prayer […] Remember that every pain and suffering, every hardship, every loss is an opportunity given to us to enable us to grow.”

My father is a a living example of titanium faith yet provided us sky-wide freedom to choose our own beliefs. I am grateful for that.

Maybe, it doesn’t matter if the world is ending as long as we know how to enjoy a lavender soap after fighting the good fight every day.

 

“MYSTERIES, YES” by Mary Oliver in Evidence.

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.
How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,

and bow their heads.

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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.

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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After (the) Thoughts

I don’t have much time to write these days.

I know there are many, many, many—too many—books and blogs that reiterate the following in so many awe-inspiring ways: “if it is important to you, you will make the time.”  I don’t think it always works like that and when it does, even then, amongst the “most-important-to-me” list, sometimes the top three priorities trump the bottom three. As if there is only one thing that can be important at any given moment. Blaming Time aside, I don’t think I can offer anything new at this moment, specially about California—I have said all I had to say without it becoming a diatribe—which quickly turns into a tirade against all that is going on, especially in the field of education, that is not in my control despite best efforts to stay informed, inform, and take thoughtful actions.

I think about John Steinbeck often. His detached yet compassionate prose which observed and observed meticulously must have been borne out of a necessity to deal with the Salinas, the Depression, the people, the injustices even if exclusive to those times.

Writing is surrender.

I think I would like to write the story of this whole valley, of all the little towns and all the farms and the ranches in the wilder hills. I can see how I would like to do it so that it would be the valley of the world.” from Steinbeck’s letter to George Albee, Salinas, 1933.

As far as the information on the Internet goes, this provides a better biography when it comes to Steinbeck relating to the land and its people out West that make up the rest of the California, the majority of the California, which is not Silicon Valley or San Diego or San Francisco.

None of this is to say I don’t write anymore; although, sharing here is sporadic for now, and thoughts barely make it to paper.  But I am some kind of a jellyfish that absorbs stories even when I am not thinking. Saying, “I don’t think I will write again” is akin to stating, “I don’t think I will have the XX chromosome set tomorrow.” I do have plenty to say about the state of education in California and USA but I am not at liberty to share my views at this point. I can direct you to check out the following posts/blogs. If you have children, or know someone who has children, or at all care about what kind of children are going to be running this country and world, I think it is worth learning about.

 

On a lighter note, we had a lovely weekend in Ventura.

I was reminded I am made of water after all so I don’t really need to swim.

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I was reminded that uncertainties are sweeter with a partner who understands you and can see you were born to fly.

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And that soon it will be time to fly away…

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And that we should have stuck around longer to really make sure this guy returned the poor starfish back to the water.  The starfish was left on the pier when it accidentally got caught in some other man’s crab net.

Humans are so self-absorbed; is it any wonder they suffer so much?

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And somehow trees make me feel everything turns out okay even when I can’t see so.

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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.