A Win-Win

When I was younger, I had seen myself many times but we had never met. It wasn’t that I lacked self-awareness or even orientation. It had everything to do with the way I viewed myself in relation to others. Never did I think that people were out there for the taking, but I hadn’t ever considered the possibility that those around me were just as capable of hurting themselves as they were of hurting me. It’s ironic that we’re disappointed most often by the people we expect the most from, and it just isn’t fair to score someone against an impossible record. The greatest lesson is that no relationship has to be lost on you.It was very recently that I began understanding the notion of investment. And when you invest in relationships, you aren’t reaping someone else’s crop. You’re actually feeding your own.

When I love, I love in limbs; I always thought that had to be the height of investment. The truth that no one ever shares with us is that when you build something with the people around you, the stakes are as much in your court as they are in theirs, which is exactly why you can never lose. Not even if they break your heart or disappoint you. We may lose ties, but we can learn to not lose ourselves, even when it seems the whole world is in disapproval of us. In my own eyes, I had something hideous. My entire sense of self had eroded.

The loss of a good friend made a light in me dim. I had shrunken into a shadow of myself. Less than a wallflower, I was a stain. This ugliness had spread into the far reaches of my life and it was easy to see that I had let myself go.

It takes a lot of pain to split your own self and pit both sides against each other.

The guilt of resentment has broken me many times over and I’m sure it will a few more. Every time it has, all that could soothe me was forgiveness, even when I didn’t want it near me. For so long, I refused to forgive unfortunate situations for what they were, so they would sit in me so long that when I forced them out, they would never really leave me.

So when I forgave, I let myself heal.

In that, I began to see not only my shortcomings, but also the beautiful things given to me in what I had just lost. There’s an under-appreciated melancholy in that, and I think we need to honour it better. I believe in an Almighty God who is my deliverance from suffering, and in that belief, I honour the hurt as significant, but not all-consuming. We all have a vessel, and that is mine. I find solace in knowing that growing and shedding is promised so long as I live, and maybe I’ll do it enough times that I will learn to enjoy it.

There were people who inspired me and shared with me their love, their trials and their lives. Somewhere, the love was lost. Shedding the resentment I felt towards so many people on the other end of my failed relationships gave me back the right to continue.  I am still a strong believer in anger’s validity, but I can appreciate that the capacity to do without it may be one of the greatest tools a person can carry through life. Peace of mind is something we all need, and forgiveness is the reassurance that we are all privy to that peace of mind.

 

Narrative

Delicately crafted genius in the telling of stories is engrossment so great you might accidentally slip into the account. Arms open, hands at the ready with shoulders caving inwards, and back bent, then extended, contorting to the twists and turns of the tale. I think truly riveting stories possess the teller every time.

Everything around us is based on a story: our upbringing, history, business models and even advertising. Some people are trying to sell to you, others eager to inspire, and a small few ask that you heed their warnings. Stories are written with soul, with words that encompass an event, a feeling, and then some. We tell stories all the time: when we document an event and its outcome, when we go back to something we said before, or when we’re lending our wisdom, we are running through a plot to paint a picture for our audience.

I like to tell stories because they encompass much more than ‘the point’. 

Within a story, loose threads tie into larger tales unknown to us, where the edge of imagination begins. It’s everything we’ve never done and never tried and never seen. From there, a great deal of our fears are born and bred, pushing us away from the places of adventure and innovation. Sometimes, we give up all restraint and let them box us into spaces of hopelessness and empty cynicism. Tapping into this wealth of “unknown” is how people imagine solutions and create awe-worthy content for you and I’s consumption.

There is, however, another dimension of telling the story that is more profound to me.

In Arabic, there is a proverb that goes,

”A kind word can break the hardest stick.”

I think about that a lot. Every time I’ve fallen into someone’s compassion, my sadness was at the mercy of their deliverance. And like the flower that blooms under the rain, I would wear my grief heavy, but the grip of a kind word kept my back straight. I want my stories like this, laced with warmth, and for the weary traveler to settle in them, for them to quiet all that is sore. In saying that, I remember all that has delivered me and kept me safe all this time. This is all that is beautiful about stories.

So I need to tell you that things can die in the world of imagination, too.

We don’t need imagination to write stories. We only need to be alive. So when violence is exacted time and again, don’t doubt that this is more than a fear and hatred of the unknown. There is a place where fear meets bigotry under a large willow, where they share ideas of intellectualism, conflating them with intolerance. Their stories have been told to me so many times that they have made homes in me. So much, my lips clamour to make noise in the place of pain. Especially when my hands are caught in places where my fingers run over their blades again, and again, and again.

What I am saying is, would they have still held my head under the water if I could have shown them what they did?

Could I have told a better story to soften them and change their minds? Please tell me that I could.

I want the tide to turn for us.

Messy.

I’m a really introverted person. When I was a kid, I tossed and turned between extreme introversion at school and unabashed loudness otherwise. Even in my loudness, I was shy. I still am. What has changed is that with time, life became messy. Slowly but surely, that unchecked mess makes for an unruly image. And it isn’t just about what we start to look like to everyone around us: it’s a lot more about what we start to look like to ourselves and how that starts to affect our confidence and performance.

It would take me years to learn that in whatever part of your life, things that are uncommunicable and unpleasant create clutter.

It makes sense.

There are so many things that get in the way of a perfect, micro-managed image. Things like health complications, financial crises, personal circumstance, schooling and exhaustion can steal years worth of social credit in moments. A faux-pas isn’t the end of the world in the eyes of everyone else; I’m referring to self-crippling feelings of shame and guilt for not meeting a deadline or fulfilling a request. While it’s important to be considerate of others’ time, it’s essential to listen to your body and turn down an opportunity to please someone if it means avoiding self-sacrifice in the long term (just make sure to make it up as soon as you can).

This is where introversion comes into play. I thrive in aloneness. I love teamwork and friendships because I enjoy being in the company of others, but I love that I have time to do so much on my own. The downside is that I have never been good at letting others know what I need. I would rather put up with it myself. Which just isn’t how the world works.

If you’re working in a team or in any relationship, what you do has the capacity of touching everyone around you. You are a moving part in a larger machine. It took me a really hard time to swallow that pill, and I am still getting into the habit of acting on it. For every struggle you don’t communicate, you run the risk of having it blow up in your face. It’s our responsibility to act on due diligence if we can help it. And we can most times. I can let you know that I am unable to see you because my energy is low. I can let you know that I am taking space from you to work out my own problems. I might even tell you that my priorities have shifted. You, on the other hand, can understand that or decline to consider. Both are valid responses, but it’s where so much compassion is lost. I say this from (acute) personal experience.

While we aren’t responsible for what other people are going through, it’s courteous to offer understanding. It’s human. Sometimes it takes getting out of your head to see where another person stands not only in relation to yourself, but in relations to their life and experiences.

Rewarding interactions are transformative, not transactional.  A transformative interaction is an opportunity rather than a gain, whereas a transactional interaction leads to a closed-ended and measurable outcome. We need both in our lives. I am by no means an expert, but a transformative approach would take unpleasant situations and turning them into learning lessons, no matter the outcome. It’s how we grow and thrive, and how we learn to be considerate of where others are coming from. Being sidetracked by misunderstandings is unavoidable, but how we move forward and make amends changes and defines us.

There is always an opportunity to make things right so long as we are alive, and I think the greatest lesson to be learned from these awkward run-ins is moving forward with tact and withholding excessive self-judgement. The worst thing you can do for yourself is create your own rut and perpetuate it day in and day out. The need to put yourself down often has to do with accountability and feeling that you need to right your wrong. Everyone and every situation deserve their own form of making things right. It could mean coffee with a colleague, a sincere apology and peace offer made to a friend, or maybe doing better the next time around.

Promise?

Today, I thought about commitment. About the space between choice and decision, and what sets uncertainty apart from indecision. And which out of the two is harder. I lean towards uncertainty as the greater evil, seeing as indecision denotes options and a point of crossroads. And what if 50 different paths cross one another? Who stops and who passes? What paths do I leave to sow forests over dead leaves?

I want to show you what I mean.

Between the single-digit hours of 9 and 5, so much of everyday life is encompassed. Joys, insecurities, fears, ambitions and hopes. When you go home, you don’t always leave those things behind – especially if you’re lucky enough to be doing something that consumes you. There are so many people who go decades loving and doing the same thing, renewing the promise every Monday and almost-Friday when they don’t feel like getting out of bed.

All the while, I am wrestling my tongue to give a promise. Each word is binding, yet I myself am still unbound, uncommitted, ungiving.

It’s the patience to let go of what isn’t a necessity that I am missing. That is how I will give what I promise to put in of me.

I don’t know how I got here. Most days, I am unforgiving to myself; I am unrelenting. These days, the coolness boils me over and I seep. Over everyone. Over everything. Promises are harder to keep. Commitments are harder to be. The space between choice and decision is slim, and then slimmer. How do I stay myself all while moving forward and reinventing? I am a person and I can only be repurposed and recommitted so many times. There is a threshold and I am at her gates often these days.

Commitment is compassion, towards the self or the other. There has to be more to life than repurposing. I haven’t maxed myself out, especially not at 20. Commitment is not boring, and neither is pace. A slow simmer gives a steady boil, and sometimes, predictability isn’t the worst thing in the world. Steady I go, I tell myself. Live densely, be earnest and throw yourself into your endeavours wholly. Most importantly, do it for yourself. Make a home out of yourself.

In this, you will find private avenues of fulfilment, if only the beauty of discretion is not lost on you as it has been on me. In its truest sense, it means living a life in which my actions and character are my mouthpiece instead.

As much as I would like to, I can’t trust it – I can’t trust me.

Everyday, I am learning to honour my place. It’s the only honest way to get ahead. To build a kind character and to abandon pride and pick up integrity in its place. To cross waters instead of burning forests and to take the road less traveled by if it means a clearer conscience. The art of committing is a lost one, made up mostly by a life-long balancing act. I owe it to the people who bled for me, who taunted me and who loved. We all do. Commit to yourself if you can help it. Commit to building over burning, and crossing over reaching. I’m inclined to believe so much of you will be changed for it.

Life After the Polar Prince

It has been two days since I’ve gotten back to my life in Ottawa, ON. The reflection below was written after I had finished packing up on June 10th, 2017.  


 

Today marks the close of the first leg of the Canada C3 expedition on the Polar Prince. There is so much that is unfinished. Thoughts and learning unfinished. I am leaving more confused than before. They say that the more you know, the less you know. And still, when you know better, you do better. So, where do you start?

Canada is best known for its utmost politeness and its size. Lesser known is our history of mistreating indigenous peoples, the diversity of our natural spaces, as well as the disagreement in what the future holds for Canada. We are, as Geoff Green likes to put it, an ocean nation. We are a coast-to-coast-to-coast nation. We are rich in diversity, be it in landscapes, perspectives or peoples, and we are just now learning how to harness that as a strength for all Canadians.

You’d think a nation by default would be by the people, for the people. But when Canada was first conceived, it was not made for all the people, and for that reason, not by all the people. How do you reconcile with that reality? How do you build on shifting waters? I don’t have these answers. I couldn’t possibly have them. I think we build these answers with time and consistent effort. Roundtables and grassroots initiatives are great, but political overhaul is of the essence. If our parliament was really keen on moving forward with reconciliation, there would be an entire reform of the Indian Act, and a nation-wide campaign on treaty education for settlers, who are also treaty people. I think we are moving forward, though.

During this leg of the expedition, I learned that I love being out on the water. I learned so much about freshwater systems, like how the largest freshwater system in the world is found in Canada. I learned that people from Akwesasne First Nation have to pass through international customs on their own traditional territories. I listened to the fascinating insights of my co-participants and got a feel for how many cool people there are out there trying to create positive change for this generation and those to come.

It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of the Canada C3 expedition. I have made friends from every corner of the country, and even a friend from Germany. I met a newcomer family living in Wellington, Prince Edward County. I had maple butter. I interviewed a chef on his work. I helped plant two little saplings on Gordon Island. I saw the most beautiful sunset of my life. I met a handful of kindred spirits. I read a book. I wrote plenty and sketched a bit. I embraced being quiet. I fasted. I even sang with Aaron Pritchett (I will never live that down). I had Korean BBQ for the first time. Became friends with a zodiac driver from France named Julien.

I had fun. And I am so grateful to have a voice in changing the narrative of what Canada really is and what we have the potential of becoming. I can’t say this experience was particularly life-changing, because most things leave me changed. What I can say is that my life has been dented, bitten into and gladly made richer for all that I’ve lived and learned.

To all those boarding on coming legs, I have a few recommendations:

  1. Be critical and outspoken. This is an opportunity for you to join a larger conversation and integrity is of the essence.
  2. Buy the cheese/preserves/ice cream. Always.
  3. Don’t use your data while your service is roaming. Reality hits you hard when you come back to a lovely $500 phone bill.

I think this may be good advice to anyone. I hope it serves you well. I wish someone had let me in on that last one.

What It Means to Listen

Maybe this has gone on forever, or maybe it is a plague of our time: we scarf down the words of others into a reluctant belly, waiting for our first point of entry. Eagerly, we wait for an opening in the string of words to juxtapose theirs with our own. Or, we use language as a means of understanding and reflecting on that which is shared with us. Be it selfless or self-serving, listening is an art.

Last week, I attended a beautifully curated exhibit featuring Van Gogh and Monet’s works, alongside many other artists falling in line with mysticism, which was accompanied by an audioguide. As I walked from one wall to the next, I realized I wanted the curators in the recording to say more than they had said. I felt this because my interaction with the paintings was reflective. I would see a depiction so familiar, it would take me to a moment. These moments were like windows and the curators sounded like pensive friends. And it was then that I wondered why I consistently refused to quiet my mind for the sake of listening to those I go through life with, and truly take in what it is they are saying.

There is both so much and so little to be gained from it. It is a fine balance of patience, admiration and interest, and most importantly, an act of compassion. Listening is forgetting that you are on two different sides of the table. Stories gathered through the resistance of hasty interjection, pieced together, make a room of solace in the mind for the listener. Suddenly, you are just you and they are just them, but their words lull you into an image that you have the luck to both share, them for a second time, in the same moment.

And sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with the content and everything to do with time. How intimate of a token of affection it is to express that someone’s account demands of your time – something only you can give and that you both can never take back.

I used to find myself so filled with things to say that I would run through them like a list. When we give room for stories to unfold, we are given the opportunity to grow alongside the plot and to give of ourselves what is intangible. To listen is to walk without walking and live a story not within the breadth of our own life. It is a charming complacency without struggle and without hidden intention. I listen to you because you are breathing past life into the present before my eyes.

If you find yourself in a position to listen, do not forget that a hall of silence befriends the listener. Because in this quiet, the storyteller will always find an open door.

 

“20 minutes of action”

In light of the ex-Stanford rapist father’s comments, I think it’s time we admit to ourselves that rape and the misogynistic ways of our society aren’t rooted in a no-strings-attached brand of misogyny. We resort to the term “rape culture” as an ambiguous catch-all, and we often neglect the weighted history of this culture.

Lately, I’ve been looking into the relationship between Arabia’s pre-Islamic tribalism and its remnants that still mark the religious culture of Muslim Arab customs. It taints the way  a woman is seen, the perception of her as not sub-human on the condition of her ability to excel in a capitalist work model, and much more. This intersection of oppression that many Arab Muslim women face is only one branch of larger misogyny.

It is very easy to cast judgements on the wrong-doings of other societies because, despite my being a feminist and a Muslim Arab woman, there is a detachment from their reality. I will never completely know what it is like, because I am outside, a part of a diverse diaspora. And I will always have to remind myself not to infantilize these women and not use my avenues of expression to speak over their voices.

Now, we have to assess the patriarchal structures looming over our larger culture, and how it intersects with other oppressions, most markedly colonialism, racism and ableism. Because when a judge decides to “cut some slack” for a rapist on the basis of him not deserving to have his life taken away from him, he isn’t saying that a woman’s life is less – he is blatantly acting on the deeply-held belief that women are accessories to man and that women have no right to life.

This quickly escalates to a conversation on colonialism and the genocide used to occupy Canadian land. It is the culture of the white man, who is stronger, whiter, and superior to everyone, and that the whole world is his for the taking. Note that Indigenous teachings do not enforce gender binaries, nor do they perpetuate oppressive conditions on women. Then, it only makes sense that our country is founded on a history of misogyny, patriarchy, racism and ableism. Further, to no one’s surprise, women, particularly racialized, economically disadvantaged, disabled, and LGBT+ women are overrepresented in sexual assault statistics. These identities are not (obviously) mutually exclusive.

What I’m trying to say is that the history that surrounds us necessarily has an influence on how we think and how we see the world. However, it has less power over us when we are aware of it and when we turn this awareness into a critical tool under which we should seek to examine the dealings between people. Because a label is useful, but it only matters if we choose to rummage through the box.


This post is a rant in response to the letter read by Brock Turner’s father.

No, I am not a fan of punitive justice. But I am not a fan of rape, either, to say the least. But in this society, that is how you pay a fraction of the price and it makes no sense to me for a person to be allowed to escape that.

Memory hand-me-downs

For as long as I could remember, memories would unpack themselves every night when I went to bed – half fact, half fiction. My child self was skilled at creating reels of how moments may have played out given the circumstances surrounding their occurence. I spoke of people I had never met, places I shouldn’t have remembered at the time, and largely of my mother and her life as it might have been. There is something about memory. Does it stay with the experienced or is it passed along discretely, mostly from woman to the next, in the shade of lofty trees and the intimacy of cooking alongside one another? Memory has mostly transcended the boundaries of time in my life. It has, however, respectfully filled the container of space till it was brimming with a knowing akin to intuition – clairvoyance, even.

With time, recollection is streamlined. This is the truth. The pathways of the mind shorten the distance between trial and error and wisps of inexplicable, deeply held truths are born out of the process. To learn from the experiences of others requires an emotional depth so profound that one could imagine the life of another in order to then enter it. They would then synthesize the memories of others into bits of understanding and empathy.

This empathy is painful at times. When we identify with the feelings of the people around us without knowing what caused them to feel that way, there is a tendency to either take on those feelings as our own or to push them so far away that we look down on ourselves when we feel the same way.

Striking a balance between empathizing with others and staying true to who we are is hard. It requires a constant state of mindfulness and an abandonment of self-judgemental tendencies. Over time, we naturally learn to know ourselves by means of compassion and self-criticism. Throughout that process, we also gain the tools to understand those around us. When this ability is lacking, we can look to memory to gently reveal to us the patterns in our lives and how they may present themselves in the lives of others. Every time I revisit a memory, I have no choice but to see it differently than I had experienced it.

As we honour our memories and the knowledge gained from those experiences, we can better appreciate the wisdom and experiences of our family, friends, and strangers, too. We can have the memory shortcuts without needing to analyze where they’ve come from or explaining them to other people.  We create an inventory of all our knowledge, whether it originates from lived experience or deeply held intuitions. Most importantly, we learn to accept who we are and to be confident in our viewpoint of the world, without needing to justify our vision and our actions to anyone.

 

 

 

“Where do I start?”

This has been my most agitated week of the year. Despite this, as I ran from one place to another, racing to secure employment, I noticed that I wasn’t accomplishing much at all. There’s a unique sort of glorification reserved for being on edge and busy all the time, but what about when all your work doesn’t end in reaching your goals? I’ve grappled with the tension between believing that I am either delusionally ambitious or that I am trying to talk myself out of my own plans, and I am beginning to understand why.

Ambition is the drive to accomplish. Put a driver who doesn’t know what turns to take to get where they’re trying to get and you’ve got someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. But what about someone who does know where they’re going and doesn’t seem to be moving forward at all?

There are barriers, inside and out. For some, there is a social privilege that allows them the luxury of entirely by-passing certain barriers to opportunity. The (arguably) most important barrier of all to accessing opportunity happens to be the easiest to remove. That is the barrier to first steps. So many socio-economically disadvantaged people, particularly people who fall into this group and first generation immigrants or their children, don’t know where to start.

The more I think about this, the more I begin to see it everywhere I go. I’ll give you an example. For the longest time, I didn’t know that you could get funding for art projects. The concept was foreign to me. You’re thinking, “Whatever. It’s not really something people talk about”. It’s something you’d think you would know of, though, when one of your parents is an artist, yet he was just as surprised as I was. Many art communities are  very niche. Networking is important, yes, but there is a very specific-unspecific trajectory that leads to timely interactions. These interactions lead to a broader audience and the sincere consideration of a person’s work.

When you aren’t born into the social context of success, the “specific-unspecific” trajectory I mention above becomes even murkier. To be specifically unspecific in the face of opportunity means to be different while remaining in line with norms of the culture in which you are participating. In other words, it means to be qualified but to be more, too. There are three things that happen first when you face barriers to the first step.

  1. You don’t know what the first step to take is.
  2. You can’t take the first step because you don’t know how to.
  3. You can’t take the risks that give you the “more” factor because you don’t have.

The first step is always the hardest, but for a lot of people, it’s near impossible. I can’t help but wonder how many people have been needlessly prevented from giving whatever it is they had to offer because they didn’t get the chance to start.

This is not something we should be setting out to remedy: it’s a structure that we have to undo. I’m not calling for a restart of social capital. It’s just the rerouting of information and opportunity transmission, and many people are doing just that by offering representation for groups that tend to be left behind, and mentoring young people and acting as positive role models. I’m grateful for the people in my life who played those parts. If you’ve also had that privilege, consider paying it forward in your community. Together we’re better.

What I don’t know

Many things.

When to stop. When to go. When to speak. When to bite my tongue. When to look. When to turn a blind eye. When to breathe. When to hold my breath.

These are things I don’t know. And yet, we’ve been acquainted many times before. I’m like a bashful child pulling on her mother’s leg, dreading the approaching lady pushing the cart, and her two kids – we’ve met before, but we don’t know each other too well.

Today, my mother’s leg has been replaced by a comfort zone so large, I live to maintain it. The lady pushing the cart is life itself. Her two kids are everything I fear. Fear is not always a gun to the head or a monster in the dark. Rather, fear is all from which I maintain discretion and dance behind curtains to avoid.

It takes on a life of its own; it presents itself as an inanimate thing and all of a sudden, it has become a shadow looming so imposingly over your own that you decide it must have opened its mouth and swallowed you whole already. You begin to have conversations. Fear jumps down your throat and steals your autonomy. You’re not ready to negotiate with fear. Ideally, fear is not to be negotiated with.

Before they had become fear, the woman’s two children were, to me, unknowns. Truthfully, they remain unknowns. Fear deludes us into believing that this feeling comes from an honest assessment of the unknown. But fear had existed long before the unknown presented itself to me. In my life, fear is manifested by stagnation: an inability to move forward. There is no quick fix for this. To say that a change of spirit will necessarily rid me of fearfulness is a symptom of disillusionment.

Fear always comes from experiencing failure. It may be perceived or painfully felt. It may be a failure to protect oneself or a failure to succeed. However, failure is most often not self-originating and I think that is a liberating truth.

In this life, we are born into love for the most part. Despite this, there is worry abuzz throughout our existence. I don’t have many answers for the question of why, but I am proposing a how. Fear of the unknown is not a fear of change. If it were, why would we still lament the loss of freedom to do and to become?

In my life, fear often began as doubt. Doubt is healthy and humbling. It only turns into something ugly when we tend to it and encourage it to prosper. The agriculture of fear is a product of community, which is more often than not the experiences that have contextualized our development. Understandably, looking into ourselves becomes a feat much larger than ourselves.

To feel fear in the face of the unknown does not mean the context of your growth is faulty. Rather, it’s a reminder that your experiences today and their validity are under constant cross-examination by all the experiences that preceded them.