Category: Bits and pieces, complaints (mediocre writing in the short form)

#BlogHer17

1080x1080 VOTY Awards_060817-short blog post3It turns out I am one of the Voices Of The Year at this year’s BlogHer conference. It wasn’t a miracle – I submitted a few of my blog posts and somebody liked what they read. I am almost embarrassed to admit how much I’m looking forward to attending the conference in Orlando later this week.

But the excitement brings with it a small helping of shame. I wrote about my grief, and this brought me recognition, which leaves me feeling uncomfortable. I mined my loss for attention.

Maybe if my grandmother were around, she would ask me to just enjoy myself.

Here is home

Leaving often must mean looking for a home often, wishing the house would become by itself the kind of home you would like to come back to. A home that is warm and lived in, that tells stories of afternoons spent reading in the balcony, walls that have borne witness to both terrible arguments and the laughter of friends, tea and biscuits shared on brisk mornings.

Moving is never pleasant, except when you find something you had long ago given up as lost. Moving is stepping over sharp objects as you wonder how you ended up with so many things, even after making partially successful attempts to live like a minimalist. It is picking something to wear out of a suitcase because you forgot you had to meet someone and packed all your nice clothes a few days earlier than necessary. It is the mild annoyance that creeps up when you realize you have to sleep surrounded by carton boxes and plastic covers, because your house needs to be brought down and set up elsewhere.

Moving is also the citrusy air freshener that greets you when you open the door, the fresh coat of paint, fine sawdust in corners that come from repairing shelves. It is the sudden joy that catches you unawares, because for a moment, you think you left your problems behind and almost believe you can start anew. You find out then that you never truly leave something behind, it is within you like splinters and scars; some memories that you retrieve with abandon and others that you keep locked down.

Soon this house will smell of cumin and incense, occasionally of cigarette smoke from the dying embers of a habit that refuses to leave, perfume and detergent. Soon there will be stains on the carpet, grease in places you can never hope to get out, hair in the bathroom and furniture you can live without. Soon a bedroom will emerge, that you will attempt to make cozy, a kitchen that you wish to be bright and spotless, a study into which you retreat, a couch for you to be lazy in. Soon it will be a home.

But you’ve always carried your home with you.


Living with Parkinson’s

A few days after my grandmother went to sleep and didn’t wake up, we found a letter she had written in her diary. It was addressed to the university my uncle, her first-born and secret-favourite child, had graduated from. It turns out my uncle was in such a hurry to leave college, he never collected the piece of paper that proclaimed him a Civil Engineer. In her handwriting that resembles the printout of a heartbeat, she wrote “To whomsoever it may be concerned.” Could her son have his degree, now that he has constructed many iconic buildings?

My grandmother had Parkinson’s. It wasn’t something we thought about everyday, even as she slowly lost the ability to write until she could not sign her name, when she needed help to put on her shoes, when she suddenly forgot she had to walk forward and started walking back instead. I did not think of the helplessness and frustration she must be experiencing, as her body turned against her.

My Degeneration is a graphic novel by Peter Dunlap-Shohl, in which he talks about his life after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He takes us through the steps – the coping, the changes he must make to his routines, the support he received from his family and doctors, and finally the surgery that allowed him to continue living in a better way under the circumstances.

The text is informative and engaging – it presents to us both fact and emotion. We see how he deals with his diagnosis – initially contemplating suicide, but later actively working to improve his quality of life. Peter Dunlap-Shohl is a cartoonist, and it is an indicator of life’s cruelty that he was visited by a disease intent on taking away his fine motor skills. We would never know though – the art is compelling. This is a beautiful and brave book.

I learnt so much about the disease and what it takes away, but I felt ashamed for not having tried to understand it earlier. Too little, too late.

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A date with history

Everyone who makes advertisements got it right, nostalgia is powerful stuff.

There are some sights, sounds, smells and tastes that evoke a precise feeling. Or a memory. When the feeling is unpleasant or painful, I waste no time in pushing it back down. Infinite compartments exist for this purpose. Occasionally though, a memory that is warm and delicious comes to the surface. A favourite song from the nineties. A long forgotten dinner staple. The particular smell of a city in summer. Hail stones that throw themselves at the balcony door and melt in a puddle soon after.

I spent much of my childhood, or at least the parts of my childhood I remember, in a country where the locals spoke Arabic. When I hear an accent that does not distinguish p from b, I want to go up to them and say Hi. I want to tell them I like the way the English language behaves under their tongue, even if I made fun of it years ago. I want to tell them about the kuboos I ate growing up, the heat that burnt our feet, the dust storms that made buildings vanish, the cats that seemed to be everywhere, the meat that hung in revolving inverted cones. I also do not want to scare them away, so I smile to myself and keep walking.

If I may become your virtual salesperson for a minute, let me tell you about a cookie I like. A soft, thick cookie filled with dates, which is perfect in every way. It is not too sweet, and is always satisfying to bite into. Some buttery crumbs stick on to your fingers, which you can lick off later. A ma’amoul.

A few days ago, I came across a store that claimed to sell Middle Eastern Foods. Once inside, I spent many minutes looking at the products with English and Arabic lettering. I traced the font with my finger, from right to left. And there it was. A soft, thick cookie filled with dates. I sent my mother a message – Look what I found!

It wasn’t the same, but it was good enough.




This is what Rowan had to say:

It’s hard to walk the line between sentimental and maudlin. It’s even harder, sometimes, to pick a subject knowing that your readers don’t share your history with it. How much education is too much, veering into pedantic writing? How much is just not enough to build the connection? Anusha found that line this week and walked it with precise care. I want to tell them I like the way the English language behaves under their tongue, even if I made fun of it years ago. I want to tell them about the kuboos I ate growing up, the heat that burnt our feet, the dust storms that made buildings vanish, the cats that seemed to be everywhere, the meat that hung in revolving inverted cones. This eye for rich, sensual detail immerses the reader in a world they may not share but can feel through the screen or page. By the time Anusha finds her off-brand ma’amoul, we want one too. But it’s not just the descriptions that make this essay successful. What she’s done here is find a shared, universal emotion – nostalgia real or imagined – and connect her version of it to the reader’s own experience, bracketing the essay in the present day to ease us out of and return us to our daily lives. That’s how you share a memory.

Self-portrait

I am the one who dreams.

I dream of the love that revels in the ordinary – in walks shared and kisses traded, in confrontations, in meals cooked, in corners of the body discovered as the Nocturnes carried us to sleep.

I am the one who fears.

I fear disease and sickness, and indifference. I fear I may become irrelevant, or that I will lose my money and my hair. I fear all my nightmares and the horrors of many realities.

I am the one who leaves.

I pack my life in two suitcases – one light blue and the other black. I take my clothes and notebooks, my earrings and scarves, the greeting cards and the letters, and things my mother stuffed in when I was not paying attention. We cry. But I am also far away, already observing the tears from a distance, knowing I will write about it someday. I leave often, I go from parent to guardian to keeper, occasionally wresting freedom and solitude. When I return, I bring with me the smells of different places and stories of cities where the rain fell differently. I carry inside me the speech of different people. Some I have loved, some have made me cry.



Ain’t I a woman, asks Laverne Cox

A while ago, I attended a talk by Laverne Cox, whom I can only describe as fabulous. She is an African American trans woman, an actress, producer and LGBTQ activist. I came to know her as Sophia Burset in the Netflix prison drama Orange is the New Black, and following some intense internet stalking, I decided I liked her a little too much. She is openly transgender, and plays a similar role in the TV series.

There is one scene I find memorable: Sophia teaches some of the other women inmates about their genitalia. She tells them they can look at themselves with a mirror and understand how the parts work. One of the women asks her how she knows all of this information that wasn’t ever explained to them. She says she should know all of this since she basically designed her pussy. I have always felt this scene resonated quite a bit with me, considering we are never taught anything that is vital to our sexual health. Our society likes to operate on the belief that girls are never curious about such things, until the time they have to copulate and reproduce, and by then they have to miraculously know everything.

Laverne Cox spoke about her experiences growing up as a black trans person, with a twin brother and a single mother. She touched upon trying to come to terms with the reality of her existence and how other people saw her. She was beaten up regularly, bullied constantly, called a sissy for acting like a girl. She spoke of how the average trans person internalizes a strong sense of shame for being different. I thought back to the times I made insensitive comments – wondering out loud if the person in front of me was a man or woman, without pausing to think what they must be going through, or what they will go through every time they hear a comment like that.

But she was an ambitious and determined young person, who did everything she set out to do, even better than in her imagination. Her speech was inspirational, with many lines that elicited applause.

Hurt people hurt people.

Empathy is the antidote to shame.

She made several interesting points, some of which I hadn’t thought of.  There is a history of emasculating the black man in America, she said, and this is one of the reasons for the perpetual violence black trans people face at the hands of black men. Black trans women are often considered to be the embodiment of that emasculation by other black men, she argued.

Marginalized people discriminate against other marginalized people. 

Ain’t I a woman, she asked us. We cheered in response.

She quoted Simone de Beauvoir: One is not born, but rather, becomes a woman. She became.

Searching

I could taste the salt, the sand, and the sweet stickiness in the air, as we walked hand in hand on that night when the moon hid itself. We stopped at the shack that was now a restaurant, a bit disappointed that the grime was missing from the tables, and split an egg fried rice between us. I am not able to remember what we spoke of, but as you walked away to retrieve the vehicle that brought us there, I called out to you.

I woke then, and as the shadows quivered on the walls, I called you.

I haven’t cried in a long time, I tell you into the phone.

For so long, I say, I let the pain be at the centre of my being, with which I aligned myself. This pain that wasn’t what a doctor inflicted, nor was it from a wound. It emanated from within, sometimes tightening its hold on my chest. For so long, I continue, I was in search of an elusive happiness. I didn’t know what it was, but I found it occasionally, in beams of light that came down through the trees, in signs that I imagined were sent only for me, in casual laughter and conversations.

You wait.

When relief washed over me and took away most of the pain with it, I wondered if this was happiness. Is it the relief, is it the absence of pain? I ask you why it leaves me feeling empty and curiously numb. Maybe I have forgotten how to be happy.

You think I always want what I cannot have, or should not want, or do not need. You don’t say it, but I hear it in your smile, and in that long breath which says you would embrace me if this distance disappeared. I might find something elusive in the crook of your arm, something fleeting yet tangible, as if I could catch it in my palm and save it for posterity, to revisit whenever I had to. Was it happiness?

I cry then, for everything that was and everything that has come to be. Not sad, not happy, just being.