November 4, 2017

I find it interesting how easily people tend to throw around the words 'anxiety' and 'depression'. Not to denigrate your emotions and all, but the fact of the matter is that you're not depressed because your favorite clothes got destroyed by your dryer. And even though you may have a vested interest in your test results, the simple anticipation of your grade does not make you anxious. Truth is depression, and anxiety are diseases, like any other, and using the words trivially is a little like proclaiming that you're dying from the common cold.

Thing is, anxiety is a demon. A dangerous, awful, terrible beast that can take over your whole life and innocuously destroy everything you once were.

Anxiety often emerges from something small, like - for example - an acorn falling. It's a pretty common occurrence for the fall. Acorns are heavy, branches are light, winds are blowing and acorns fall. Except sometimes - one time - an acorn will fall on Chicken Little's head. And in Chicken Little's brain something will tingle. This won't happen to everyone else - Henny Penny, for example, will just shrug it off and continue pecking at corns, Ducky Lucky may be shocked for a minute and will move to another part of the lake to avoid other falling-acorns - but in Chicken Little's funny-little-brain a thought will emerge: "What if, the sky is falling?". And even before the question is properly asked, another part of Little's brain will pipe up, "Oh-My-God-The-Sky-Is-Falling-We're-All-Going-To-Die". Now before you dismiss our Chicken friend as someone with a natural tendency to exaggerate everything, remember that he's known among his friend's and peers to be a somewhat-sharp-cookie. He may be Little, but he's smart. And maybe that's why he inspires a fowl-parade later on in the story, because most of them know that when it comes down to it Chicken Little is one-hell of a capable guy. And his eminently capable brain is aware of that, which is why a part of him fights strongly with the panicked part. "The sky can't fall", he argues. He reminds himself of the laws of gravitational physics and tells himself over and again that he knows perfectly well that the 'sky' isn't a monolith but a nebulous mass of cloud formations and layers that separate the Earth from the Universe out there, and these layers cannot descend on your head. Unfortunately for Little, his smartness makes the situation far-far worse. Because for every intelligent argument his brain puts forward, the other part of the brain adamantly refutes with exceptions, and more "What-if's". And with every rebuttal, the conviction gets stronger and stronger and Chicken Little is convinced - despite himself - that the sky is indeed falling. And so the tingle turns into an ache and before he knows it Chicken Little finds it difficult to think of anything else, talk about anything else. His heart races, and his head hurts and he finds it difficult to breathe. His world, his universe, his every waking moment is spent obsessing about the falling-sky. He finds it difficult to do much of anything else - even simple things like planning, and organizing and making-those-lists-that-he-used-to-make. A big part of it, maybe, is that since the sky is indeed falling, these mundane tasks seem irrelevant somehow. And how can one plan for a future that will never happen because after the sky falls all this will be over anyway. Talking to friends and people-who-love-him seems impossible now. They keep asking Chicken Little how he's doing and a big-big-big part of him wants to open his mouth and tell all of them about the falling sky, but he doesn't know where to begin or end or even narrate a part of the middle. So  he shuts up, smiles a lot and tell's them there's nothing to tell. "Same old, Same old" he says, and then asks them how they're doing. And then he stops doing that even and avoids them altogether because frankly its less chaotic when he doesn't engage. Instead he isolates himself and sits there in the not-so-little miasma of his mind where nothing makes sense except for this all-consuming-fear that the sky is falling. The sky is falling. The sky is falling. The sky is falling.

I was listening to a radio show today where a wise-Rabbi with a new book out was talking about how suffering makes some of us more beautiful than before. And he said something that resonated with me. He spoke about the old Testament, and about how somewhere in the religious script there is a notion and all of us are in a prison of our own making. Trapped in a cocoon of our fears, and insecurities, and doubts and anxieties. And the only way to escape from this prison, he says, is to reach out and seek help. Because even as we struggle, in isolation, we only dig ourselves in deeper and deeper. So reach out, he says, and acknowledge that this is real, and it is a problem, and you need help to fix it.

And then fix it.

So, Chicken Little, the sky is not falling.

And I, my friend, will help you figure that out.

I promise. 

October 31, 2017

For most of our lives some of us relentlessly pursue
a somewhat-cliched
but oh-so-bright-and-shiny
dream of a happily-ever-after.

But what happens, my loves
when that elusive ever-after finally arrives
the tarnished-reality emerges that
it isn't?


May 22, 2017

I  have a new project this month.

It's a take on the need that people have every now and then to re-invent themselves. They do this, methinks, because the old self isn't shiny anymore, or because it's broken somehow, or maybe it's just a little torn around the edges. Either way, because the old self needs some work they bring out the drawing board and re-create who they need to be. For some people it's as simple as a new haircut and a change of clothes. Others try to change something fundamental about their personality. Still others change their name, buy a fake passport and move to a beach-y island off the Caribbean to sip pina-coladas in the sunshine (hot cabana boys, optional).

As tempting as the sunshine-beach-escape-plan may be, I find myself struggling with a slightly different problem. Almost despite myself (certainly not by design), I find that I did re-invent myself over the past three years. I became, what I imagine, becomes of an ostrich that sticks its head in the sand and - finding the smooth-cool-mud somewhat amazing refuses to stick that head out again. Somehow (please don't ask me to insert logic into this analogy), our ostrich survives, even thrives, under the sand.  But unbeknownst to our feathered friend, time - and life - doesn't stand still even though she is. And then one day she decides to stick her head out again and take a peek. It's a strange new world she sees out there. Entirely too bright, and the sun makes her squint. The surroundings are different too. There are bushes where there were none before, but some tall trees are gone. Others have fruit when they once were bare. All in all, the world seems frighteningly shiny. So there she is, her head hesitantly out of the sand looking around like a squinty-eyed lunatic wondering what-the-hell-just-happened-here. A (biggish) part of her longs to stick her head right back into the soothing-coolness it came from away from the almost-blinding glare of what she used to be.

Coming back from our improbable analogy, I feel a little like that. A few years, no job and a kid later I feel like a completely changed person. Though not, necessarily, changed for the better. And as I look out into the shiny-world around me I realize that although my insular existence has brought me much happiness, I have also let go of a lot of things that used to define who and what I was.

So here's the new project. I intend to un-invent myself. Become a little bit more like the person I used to be. No matter how much we like the sand, muddy-ostrich is meant to shine in the sun. It's time she remembered that, and got down to it!

Wish me luck :)

March 17, 2017

It's sad when you read about it in the newspapers. It's appalling when you see it reported on someone's facebook feeds. It's unnerving when you hear about it from someone you know. It's devastating when it happens to you.

When an old, fat white-lady in a big-black-car smoking a cigarette a'la Cruella-de-vil looks at you as you load groceries and sneers. When she overhears a private conversation and yells out loud "This is America, speak English". When she looks on over to your mother and yells some more "Teach your children English". When - before you have the wherewithal say anything at all - your mother, terrified that redneck-Cruella is toting a gun, tells you to hush-up and get-the-hell-out-of-there. When the two of you race on home, one fuming in pent-up-anger and the other terrified.

When you realize that in the course-of-an-election, you are suddenly, publicly, openly unwelcome because of your skin color, or your religion, or the languages you speak, or the country your ancestors (if not you) were born in. In this nation of immigrants, founded on genocide, bathed in the blood of slaves - you may be new witches in Salem, just ahead of the trials.

When you look into the eyes of your child-who-was-born-here, and you wish for the millionth time that things were different. You wish you could, like in his current favorite cartoon, Zootopia, turn to him and say "Dream away Baby Toot-Toot, this is Zootopia where 'anyone', can be 'anything'. As he grows up, you want to teach him to be proud of who he is, and who his mother and father (and their mothers and fathers) are and were. You want him to stand tall and have the power to decide who he wants to be. The choice and the ability to do anything he wants with the life ahead of him.

To wonder, given the state of the world today, if you actually 'can' make that promise to him.

And 'that', my friends, is utterly, and completely, devastating.




December 1, 2016

Every morning, with my cup of coffee, I drink in my daily does of bad news. From shootings and stabbings and other acts of violence to natural disasters and man made catastrophes. From death and destruction to utter and complete despair, I witness it all from my kitchen table. And every single day I realize that nothing except fate and happy circumstance separates me and those I love from the Syrian refugees knocking on every door they can find who will take them in. From the homeless on the street with a sign that promises you endless blessings in exchange of food for the starving. From the war torn mourning their loved ones even as they fear the next round of shelling will lead to their own death. From those suffering from dreaded diseases.

At the end of the day, there but for the grace of God, go I.

And I an eternally grateful, as I am so very, very fearful.

And I wish with all my heart that somehow my son experiences a different world. A world where he does not have to live in constant fear. A world where he can be safe, and above all a world where he can just be happy without the overwhelming agony of the guilt that goes with it.

Sigh.


July 31, 2016

You're my wall. You give me strength, and stability, and something to lean on when I need it. Except sometimes you have these pointy edges. Sortoff like the uneven-glass-bits-and-pieces that wall-tops used to have back home in Karachi. The pointy bits push back at me. They warn me not to get too complacent. I hate them, when they emerge (every once in a while), but I must resentfully admit that they do force me to stand up straight.

And even though I hurt a little bit from the tiny-jagged-pokes and all, the truth is, I love you all the more for it.

January 23, 2016

A few minutes after I finish hand-washing a load of laundry thanks to a just-gone-bust washing machine and head to the kitchen to attack them dishes while the baby is (finally) asleep, a plaque from my past taunts me from the wall. "The Queen" it says, "Doesn't Cook".

From rani to 'nauk'rani.

Oh-well.

Such is life.

*sigh*

September 17, 2015

Another day, another story. At the rate I'm going my book will pretty much write itself, I had said. A long, long time ago.

On September 16, 2013, I wrote this. And I got a lot of helpful advice from friends and readers. I got a comment or two, an email or ten and had many conversations that resulted from this latest episode of rishta-boy-insanity. While most of them warned me against embroiling myself in a situation that ran the risk of yet more disasters, others told me not to take anything at face value and to decide for myself. Yet more told me to go ahead... if nothing else this new development would make for good writing fodder - which is, ofcourse, what all fledgling authors are on the look out for.

Frankly all of the helpful advice-givers could have saved themselves the trouble. Truth is, our first three-hour-long phone conversation - ironically prompted by the many-warnings-against - might have been the catalyst that sealed my fate.

So I came down to Seattle, prepared to to do many things as an extension of a fun-filled and much deserved US vacation. I intended to: befriend the bad-guy, explore an anthropological mystery (and assuage my curiosity in the process) and catch up with old friends.

What I was not prepared to do, however, is fall madly, utterly, completely in love. And not the kind of love I had ever felt before, but a feel-it-your-bones, I-accept-you-for-good-bad-beautiful-and-ugly kind of love.

The kind of love that makes you put aside the-new-job-with-the-fancy-title and stay on an extra couple of days in Seattle even though you spent the past three weeks searching for the perfect suit to wear to the first day of work in DC.

The kind of love that makes separation a gnawing ache in your tummy that just refuses to go away. The kind of love that rivals what you feel for your parents, your siblings - frankly anyone else you know in this world - and then one-ups it.

The kind of love that makes you feel like you're raw, and exposed and - for the first time in your life -  feeling something very much like regret that there was a life-before and there might yet possibly be a life after.

The kind of love that longs for things unknown and is terrified as much of a future-together as a-life-apart.

And that's just what was going on in my side of the universe. What happened in his conflicted world is yet another long story.

I really didn't expect to  get married a few months later. But even as I handed in my resignation, raced against time to put together a Pakistani-wedding-multiple-event-extravaganza, had more than a few wedding-dress-woes and committed myself to a man I knew so-very-well, yet not-well-at-all, I knew deep down inside (where all truth resides) this this is what I really wanted. And despite the huge changes that came with this decision - unemployment, moving away from family and friends-who-were-family, living life in a country both familiar and strange, this was what I was meant to do.

Two years, and a baby, later I still feel exactly the same. That for good or bad, better or worse, in sickness and in health this man who I met and loved so utterly and instantly was destined for me, as I was for him. That I love him more than I can ever express, in words or in deed. And that despite the doubts that may have cropped up once-upon-a-time, I made the smartest decision in my life when I flew down to Seattle, and opened my heart to love. 

May 10, 2015

Not just any day, certainly not every day, but every once in a while you realize that among the many lessons that growing  up teaches you, the most pressing is the irrevokability of life decisions. When you're younger (or just young-at-heart), jumping off cliffs seems like the thing to do. Everything feels like it's relatively simple. All you have to do is close your eyes, take that jump and let the future take care of itself. Because, frankly, you've never come across a situation that you can't walk away from. And with change being the only constant that you have known, it never occurs to you that a day will come when you wake up with a realization that 'this-is-my-life'. And whether you like it or not, everything in it is something you have to live with. Gone are the days when you could just pick up your (inconveniently-green) passport, have a visa stamped (or not, depending on where you decide to go) and catch a plane to-some-other-place. Gone are the moments when escape from your life had no consequences whatsoever - because, let's face it, who were you leaving behind? Gone are the days when your decisions had no impact (or none that you cared about at any rate) on anyone but you.

Gone are the days when you lived for no one but you.

And if you're honest with yourself, this is what you always wanted. Someone to belong to. Someone who belongs to you.

It's just days - like today - when you wake up to the spine-chilling awareness that whether you like it or not, there's nothing you can do about it. Contrary to past life events there's no 'k-thanks-bye' that you can say while you happily wallow in self-created life dramas and then move on to the next chapter.  Truth is after talking about it for most of your life, you've gone and done it. You've jumped off that cliff.

Whether you fall, or fly, is really up to you.