That little crazy old person inside you? I’m on her side.

One day near the end of the summer I decided it would be a laugh to accompany my friend to the birthday party of her sixty year old activist boss.  As we walked up to her beautiful  row-house turned garish with unnecessarily and inconsiderately bright doors and window jams and banisters, I caught that sweet yet savory, musky yet bright aroma of weed.  I sighed.  There’s nothing worse than a bunch of high sixty year old activists dancing to Motown songs in the privileged part of DC.  After greeting the birthday senior, I slouched over to the food table to survey the fare.  Good cheese, good bread, good fish.  It was like Ina Garten was somebody’s fairy Godmother.  As I scooped Mediterranean veggies onto a piece of crusty bread, I overheard this, “…of course, being born is my most painful memory.”  Oily vegetables forgotten, I whipped around to see what nut-job had the audacity to utter something so granola.  I found her.  She was younger than the rest, maybe early fifties, and she looked astonishingly normal.  Simple yellow gold studs adorned simple attached lobe ears which adorned a closely shorn head set with small features.  I brazenly evaluated her.  Nine, I decided:  Nine for managing to look normal on the outside of a head that contained all that crazy.  I scoffed again for good measure and turned my attention back to filling my plate, and in quick succession, my belly.

Looking back at that moment, and back at that paragraph, I realize I’ve been taking it incredibly easy on myself.  Somehow, someone or something had bestowed on me the mantle of judgment and I was making good use of it.  I believe if I had continued in similar fashion from then until now the heavy thing would be threadbare to say the least.  The ailment I was exhibiting (being a judgmental little crap) was one of perception, and the most dangerous bit is that I didn’t know anything about its existence.  I thought I was way up, perched on my luxurious branch of superiority and intellect looking down at this pathetic hippie yammering on about her impossibly cosmic memory.  In fact, it was the opposite.  She was, and probably is, my superior in at least one very important facet of existence.  Self-legitimacy.

Now, see, up until now, I had readily self-identified as an intellectual.  I went to the “Ivy League of the Midwest” for God’s sake.  I had just finished law school, taken the bar, and I had a university teaching position lined up for me.  I was an intellectual.  I had bought the right to say that to the tune of half a million dollars.  Shut up.  Intellectual.  Me.  Ok?   I could hold my own in a discussion about Medieval British literature; I could figure out complex physics equations; I could draw organic chemical reactions; I could bust some lyrical prose over your head; I could reason my way out of your half-witted argument; I could equate your point with a similar point that historically FAILS; etc.  The problem though, is something I hadn’t ever thought about before.  I had to have this legitimacy as an intellectual sold to me, like so much sugar and butter that one manages to make into sub-par frosting.  I had to purchase it, like someone without that butter and sugar who needs to get it from outside of herself.   I hadn’t found it inside of myself, and worse yet, I hadn’t even looked for it there before pulling out my wallet.

Crazy-lady-with-short-hair here had.  And what’s more, she’d found it and used it.

Now, looking back at her, I envy her.  I envy her conviction and the ease with which she was able to speak her Truths.  And, she didn’t look high, but even if the cogs and inner-linings of her true self were lubricated with herb, the sort of conviction of self that it takes to reference something as subjectively abnormal as your memory of your own birth is, understatedly, laudable.

The first lesson we learned in law school was in Contracts class.  If ever we were unsure of something, our professor advised, we should say it twice and loudly. I understood that to mean that opponents sense hesitance, and to combat that, say whatever you’re unsure of with confidence so that your opponent won’t attack.  Perhaps the reason I saw it this way is because I sensed a huge void of confidence inside, and the two dueling parts of me were constantly in combat, seeing weakness and attacking, seeing weakness and attacking.  Bolstering weak parts with bought intellect and traded legitimacy and starting the whole battle again. Maybe what I should have understood is simply that although you may be unsure of something intellectually, if you know that it is, at its essence, correct, if your inner innate scholar believes it, then say it; and say it twice.  Say it three times! Make it your mantra.  And if your inner innate scholar doesn’t believe it, you wouldn’t have said it in the first place.

I’m not saying that I would be able to stand in a crowd and say something as brave as what the woman of this hour said.  I’m just saying that now I can see those dueling parts of me.  I can see the wounds and gashes inflicted by my judgmental mind on my hesitant soul, and I can feel an intellect that wasn’t bought vying for a spot in the light, vying for that mantle, that crown.  And I’m thinking just maybe, it’s high time for a change in leadership.

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For the sake of Flow:

Today, as I was walking home from the local baqallah, suddenly my internal bi-monthly assessment began.  How had I gone from jeans and t-shirts to this long tent-like abaya?  From pinks and greens and blues to a black face-covering that left everything to the imagination?  How had I come to find myself picking my way through cars and children in an effort to prepare lunch for my husband before 1:30?  I felt uncertainty and worry manifest themselves in beads of sweat on my upper lip and in wrinkles on my forehead.  Five months ago, I’d babbled something spunky about being summoned to pay my bills, and today I was dodging cars in Bagdadiyah Garbiyya  in Jeddah, a full-blown wife and an unemployed one to boot.

It was then that I spotted a pair of brothers walking ahead of me.  The older of the two couldn’t have been more than eleven and the younger was about eight.  They were walking in silence, sharing a plate of French fries and baleela, a street-food made of chickpeas and pickles native to Jeddah.  The cogs of my coping mechanisms kicked in and my brain replaced the street with the inside of a subway car and the brothers with a boy and a girl of the same ages.  The baleela became a bag of gummy worms and the scene was complete.  This sort of trip home was nothing foreign; it was home.  A long day, a shared snack and the sort of intimacy that needs no verbal memoranda of it: this is universal, and this I knew.

So, crisis averted.  Two boys eating baleela saved me from the pangs of homesickness and uncertainty, but the question remains: how did you get here? Well, dear patient readers, it’s The Flow, and that’s the long and short of it.  It’s the same flow that sent me hurtling through law school and across the world into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  It’s the same flow that I mistook for desperation when I uploaded a picture and a pathetic “about me” on a dating website and the same flow that somehow captivated my future husband.

It goes something like this: up until September, The Flow had been present, to be sure, but it had been sort of like the gentle breezes that attempt to ease July’s humidity, the ones that blow across a tiny pond and ripple the waves.  And my many years of school were like a flotation donut, and I was plum in the middle of that flotation donut just biding my time.

But then, at the end of August, The Flow began to blow a bit more passionately and I picked the most attractive of my photos and put it on a line and threw it out into the waters of the Internet.  And I waited.  Future husband bit and we began to talk and talk and taaaaaaahhhhk.  The Flow began to whistle around the nooks and crannies of my judgmental, cynical mind to unearth idealistic, unadulterated thoughts, to blow suggestions into my supple consciousness.  I listened.  The Flow blustered up into a gale and suddenly I was spinning through the tributaries of my little pond in my floatation device, Future Husband safely in tow.  And then, one day, over Skype, Future Husband, who also works in Saudi Arabia said the fateful words: “So, what if we get married on like, Thursday?” Enter The Flow.  I was catapulted into the most blissful period of my life to date.

And yes, we’re saying The Flow, but let me just say it.  I mean The Most High, The Glorious, The King of Kings.  I mean God and His Will.  I mean that this experience has taught me that I am so incredibly fortunate to know a Divine Storyline that leads to such calm, sweet water.

Divine Storyline? Divine Storyline.  So far, I can’t imagine better mornings, afternoons and evenings than those that I’m experiencing, and I think our key is transparency.  He knows my dreams and aspirations and strengths, yes, but he also knows to a T my faults, and vice versa.  And in my moments of weakness, he adjusts himself to counteract it.  I do the same for him.  We ride each other (get your mind out of the gutter) in this relationship like one might ride a subway train standing without a handhold.  He leans and I lean; I falter and he stands firm; he careens to a stop and I push the opposite way to avoid a crash.  We compensate for each other.

I remember clearly our one week anniversary.  We spent it on the plains of Arafah, one of the most sacred portions of Hajj (a pilgrimage that Muslims complete once in their lifetimes and that our Divine Story allowed us to complete together five days after getting married).  There in the suffocating heat and unnerving crowds, my New Husband fell asleep in our tent.  I remember looking down at his shining face and realizing that all of those years for praying for Divine Grace and Mercy and Nearness had been answered.  Here I was with my perfect-for-me New Husband sweating on the plains of Arafah when just a month previously I’d been waiting anxiously in my little pond for a big wave of change.  Boy, did it come.

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The M Word

As a young adult (because I’m sooo old now at 25), especially during college, I held very conflicting ideas about marriage. Part of me wanted it. The other thought it was an overrated social construct. (Many lit majors with minors in philosophy and gender studies also thought so. Whatever. In the 90’s, college kids were getting butterfly tattoos and pierced bellies. We never actually did anything silly. We only theorized it. So who’s laughing now?)

In my previous post, I made mention of  my “severe unhappiness issue,” which is code for serious depression. Such a thing happens for various reasons, one being the inability to accept things as they are. I was a pro at that, which explains why, after graduating from my safe academic bubble, life came crashing down. Fast and hard. Suddenly, the world I knew refused to fit into my mental boxes. Plus, I was super bummed out and broken hearted. Didn’t know who I was, what my purpose in life was anymore. (Before, it was to sit in an ivory tower discussing the hegemony of discourse and the reality of the feminine.) So yeah, blah blah blah, sad sad sad. Mind you, none of this helped amend my views on marriage. Instead, I decided that love and family were also an overrated social constructs. (I know.)

Then, a miracle happened. I met my Hakim and (literally)  life-saving mentor. He taught me the most valuable lesson ever: to differentiate between the language of the mind and that of the body. To always trust the body’s language, especially if your mind’s been poisoned by negative thoughts, emotions and “severe unhappiness.” I was like, jigga what? Up until then, the thought of our bodies having a “language” never occurred to me. (Even though my thesis was all about “the language and narrative of the body.” But again, that was theory.)

I was always quite athletic. Cardio, muscle toning, swimming, yoga…  I did it all religiously. So, being a know it all, I told my Hakim that I was very much in tune with ma boday. He looked at me all sad and pitying, which made me feel all sad an pitiful. “Bashirah, controlling and manipulating your body isn’t the same as listening to it. It’s not a car or some machine. It’s a body of knowledge.”

And then I was like, hold up. What? That is some pretty heavy sh*t. He explained it. In theory I got it, but practice was another story. Over the following months, Hakim taught me to read, hear and understand my body’s language. At first, it was challenging. My body had held onto so much pain, sadness and anxiety… all the traumatic stuff my mind wasn’t willing to accept. It was like visiting old ghosts trapped within. There would be breathing and self-tracking exercises where I’d just breakdown like a baby, or fall immediately asleep, too exhausted by it all. I know it sounds all hippy dippy if you’ve never done this, but it’s more real than anything I’ve known. (If you want to know more, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to share.)

The hard work paid off. Within months of these sessions, I found a new friend: myself. Working with my body and keeping open to it filled me with a sense of self-companionship. I felt protected and secure from within. Felt peace. My body would tell me what situations and environments threw me off balance and I’d simply respond. Life changed. This is around the time I decided to move to Spain, also the most spiritual period in my life.

Through it all, I’d  learned a few things: 1) The body speaks. A whole lot.  2) The mind and its inability to accept things as they are is your worst enemy. Not the world or other people. 3) Living in the past and defining yourself by it is a prison, no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable. 4) Being present is the key to happiness and spiritual peace. 5) I was happy being single and fulfilled. 6) I was finally ready for a partner to share a life with.

It was in Spain that my urge to find a partner increased. Not to give the impression that my monk-like existence in the mountains made me aware of some loneliness or unhappiness. Quite the opposite.  I’d never been happier. I remember going out every night to sit under my favorite tree, just witnessing the night sky and great mountain silhouettes. It was just me, God, and his beautiful gift of nature. I couldn’t get enough of it. Until one night, I realized my spirit was quite full and I was ready to share my gift (and myself) with someone else. It was such a natural realization and conclusion, no thought behind it.

So, I was ready for a partner. But I wanted a long term thing. Someone to grow old with, have a family with, love, support and share with. There wasn’t  an ideal or a checklist for what my husband had to look like or be. But I was very clear that we needed to share the same values. That he needed to be self-fulfilled and happy with who he was.  I wanted quality companionship. Two individuals who decide to share their already full lives. Not two people who need another to fill their lives. With clarity and intention, I prayed to God to give me the husband he knew was right for me. By then, I accepted how stupid I was when it came to picking guys.

In April 2012, my prayer was answered. Met my future husband through a mutual friend. We spent the whole day talking, from 4 pm until 2 in the morning. About life, spirituality, life passion and purpose. It was a breath a fresh air. I found a person who could keep up, who worked on and accepted himself, who understood happiness was internal, not external, not someone or something else. Who didn’t need me to save him or want to save me.  For the first time ever, I didn’t think I found my equal, but knew it deep down.

It never occurred to me that I’d found my future husband. I was all like, “Oh ma god. This guys is awesome. He’s like Fathima, but a guy! Yay!” Marriage never crossed my mind. All I knew was that I liked his presence. So, when he offered me a job, I took it, packed all my things the next day, and headed off into the sunset.

Jump to June 2012, we found ourselves getting married. It happened over dinner, while we were just friends. We were discussing how people started thinking of us as a pair and how I hated it. My independence and dignity felt threatened. Plus, he was my boss. No one wants to be “that girl.” I reacted very maturely, told him I hated him. Then,  my mouth kept going on its own accord. “Why don’t we just get married?”

My mind was like, “what the hell, Bashirah?!” He said “okay, why not?!” I was mentally freaking out, but my mouth was like, “fine!” And then my mind took over my mouth and was like, “wait! I can’t just marry you!” He goes, “why not?” I go, “you don’t just get married!”  Mind you, my voice was getting hysterical. People at the tables next to us were polite and pretended I was normal. But then future husband says the stupidest thing ever. “Bashirah, think about it this way, you can use it for the novel.” (Yes, we agreed to write a novel together, meaning I do all the writing.) I shout, ” I’m not getting married for a DAMN NOVEL.” He looses his cool, “You’re not getting married for the DAMN NOVEL. You’re getting married for the DAMN FLOW.” I immediately calm down. “Oh, yeah. Okay. For the flow.” The “flow,” is what we name the universal force that carries us along (much like the flow of a river) down our intended paths. When you let it happen and go with the current, it takes you to great places. At that point, the flow had brought my husband and me together and seemed intent on sealing the deal.

A few days later, we were happily married. My family (somehow) didn’t disown me for eloping. In fact, they were ecstatic and “knew” we’d get married. Fathima, my best pal and blog co-author, wasn’t so surprised either. She’d predicted it after I’d accepted my job. Everything just fell into place with  zero effort on our part.

It’s funny how I committed myself to something as serious as marriage with absolutely zero thought process. Aside from the now famous flow, what made us take such a huge step was the total and utter sense of peace. Though my mind had frequent freak outs, my body and spirit were in a constant state of serenity and calm. Being with my husband wasn’t an emotional high, I didn’t feel those butterflies of lurv. Just the presence of a force greater than ourselves.

I still have no inkling as to why I love the guy. He’s pretty annoying and not always likable. I see his faults plainly and, boy, does he have many. He’s his own person completely and, yet, manages to be my other half. The day before we had our marriage-decision-dinner-night, I read Khalil Gibran’s poem On Marriage. (In retrospect, the fact that I read it to him randomly over a private dinner, that he asked me to read it twice, that we sat in silence for like the next 10 minutes smiling at each other– all  should have given me a clue that I had the hots for the guy. That we were majorly digging each other. Nope.)

Anyway, I’d like to share the poem again. Marriage and love are ethereal concepts, hard to put into words. Khalil does a pretty good job though, so I’ll let him end this post.

On Marriage
 Khalil Gibran

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

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‘ello, lovely.

Now that you know a bit about F, I’ll take a go at my own intro.

I was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to two American expats. Let’s clear things up real quick: Yes, I speak Arabic fluently and am Muslim. Yes, it is possible to speak Arabic and be Muslim without actually being an Arab. Yes, I’ve ridden camels, but no, my family didn’t own any. (We did, however, keep a bunch of chickens on our apartment porch. The chickens had bare, red bums because they fell off the clothesline one time too many… if you’re lucky, I’ll tell you about the ducks, turtles, sheep and cats.) My life in KSA was as far away from oppression and hardship as anyone can get. I had the best education of my life there, time to spend with family and friends, a maid to make up my bed and clean my room, but most importantly, I was given my childhood rights of imagination and play time. Our family didn’t own a TV until 1999 (weird, huh?), this meant us kids played. We spent most of our days in the villa garden playing broom ball, soccer, pirates, street fighter, cat hunter, and power kicker. We did this all barefoot, running on hot marble and sand.

In 2000, the family moved back “home” to the USA. I remember mom telling me, “B, don’t get your hopes up. America isn’t anything like what you see in the movies.” Then we arrived in Evanston, Illinois. America was exactly like the movies. There were white picket fences and golden retrievers galore. People wore shorts and had blond hair and said “have a nice day!” There were libraries where you could read and take books for free. There was grass everywhere! People actually did walk outside. I took all the Americaness in. It smelled fresh and cool. A few months later, we moved to Westmont, Illinois. Mom registered me at a private Muslim school, which is just as bad as a private Catholic school. But it was at this smelly, yet academically prestigious school that F and I met and became the friends we are today. Oh, the hours we spent laughing and snorting our way through prayer time! Ditching class! Acting out scenes from Lord of the Rings during lunch hour! Jumping fences and harassing school neighbors! Thank God we were at a private school. In a public one, the likelihood of being expelled or charged with a felony wouldn’t have been in our favor.

In 2009, I moved to Costa Rica for 5 months for a study abroad thingy. College life was wearisome and my bones didn’t have it in them to suffer another winter. So, I went to a tropical paradise where I got college credit for… wait for it, wait for it:  “taking classes” as I napped in hammocks, partied, and got my tan on at the beach. To be fair,  I also picked up Spanish.

In late 2010, I once again got bored with the US. But this boredom was dangerous. I could no longer see or feel the value in my life. Solution? Picked up and moved to Southern Spain. There, I had to re-learn Spanish because Andalusians speaks with a lisp and chooses not to annunciate 40% of what comes out of their mouths. It was a period of spiritual work and self-reflection. A time to diagnose my “severe unhappiness” issue. Whoever said you can’t solve your problems by picking up and leaving was speaking a truth that applied to him or her, maybe not you. Sometimes we do need a change of scenery, culture and language. It helps identify what we’re made of, what we want and don’t want. Picking up and moving isn’t always running away from your problems. Sometimes, it’s diving head first into them, with the intention of clearing.

In 2012, I met my future husband while in Spain. We’re now living in Doha, Qatar, only a 4 hour drive from F in KSA! I can’t describe how thankful and blessed I feel to have my best friend be this close for the first time in years. When life keeps taking dramatic shifts, things can be a bit disorienting or overwhelming. Most of the time it’s an exciting adventure. Other times, you want a little piece of home to come back to. When you can’t find that piece of home within, a good friend will do the job.

That’s all you get for this post. I’m tired, smelly and in need of a refreshing shower. I have no doubt that F and I have tickled your fancy. Don’t be shy, subscribe! If you have any questions or comments, you know what to do. If you’d like to give us a post prompt, we may consider it. For future posts, we’ll try to include more pictures. Otherwise, read on, read on, read on.

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You, there with the darting eyes! Come. Enter our jive-zone.

I come from a little town called Lansing, which is the capital of Michigan. There was a time when I’d never claim Lansing as my hometown because it’s so, so humdrum. I’d claim a city that was bustling and important like Chicago (where I grew up) or like New York, where my imaginary friend lives (more on her later). But three years ago I moved back in with my parents in Lansing, and I’ve got to say this: it’s grown on me. I just spent $30 on a whole cartful of produce, lounged near the river while reading a work of literature (actually it’s the third book in a series called The Incorrigibles of Ashton Place, and I literally had to race a kid to the “new books” section for it because it’s juvenile fiction. Whatever. It’s riveting, and labels are for cans), and tried to fall asleep to the sound of hail in early September (and it was definitely in the mid 80’s earlier today).

Why am I reading young adult fiction, you ask? How could I have spent a workday doing what seems to be absolutely nothing to earn a living? Am I one of those new graduates with no workforce to enter into? Do I make money off ads on my many blogs and youtube videos? Patience, dear-heart. You’ve raptly read this far, so take your little rapt behind and read the next two paragraphs.

It often happens that ‘round about the time a person becomes enamored with a place, something and someplace new suddenly appears and demands immediate attention. So, after nearly two decades of school and literally thousands of dollars in books and hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit hours, I have been summoned to begin paying it back, and I’ve a new job to facilitate that. Sadly, this job takes me far from sleepy ole Lansing. For the next few years, I’ll be in a giant sandbox kingdom that reminds of me my strict private high school years (with stricter punishments for all the sorts of things I made a practice of doing) where petroleum is cheaper than water. Saudi Arabia is a far cry from Michigan, but I’m almost always game for a spot o’ adventure. Best bit is that I’ll be only four hours from my girl B, which is a good thing because we maaaaad tight, and also a gooder thing because we’ll probably get in trouble.

I guess this is a spot for you to eavesdrop on otherwise private conversations between B and myself, to nourish your brain at the trough of intellectually appetizing tidbits we occasionally leave out for you, and to quickly scroll through the rants and boring posts that may or may not materialize (the boring posts probably won’t though because B and I don’t specialize in anything uninteresting and we rarely dabble in the tedious (how do you like them cinnamons?)). So welcome, ahlan wa sahlan, etc.

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