Musaafir hooN yaaro – I am a traveler, friends

And being a traveler, I have migrated to another blog. I thank everyone who visited and commented on this here blog. It seems that this is a landing point for many who had Radiant Reader textbooks in their school days. 🙂

If you would like to continue to follow my logorrhea, I am now at one of the competitor sites: Blogger. You can find me here.

Take care! May the Force be with you!

Advertisements

Demon dreams

That is what a friend of mine called them after I told him about the dream I had about him. You have to know something about this friend in order to know why he said that. He was a graduate of one of the Orthodox seminaries, and was hoping to become a priest (he wanted to marry before joining the priesthood which you can do in the Orthodox Church).

When he was not wearing his long black gown, I usually only saw him in white shirts and black slacks. One night, I had a dream about him. We were in a room, having a conversation. I still remember this vision, his long, really curly hair was pulled back in the usual ponytail. He was wearing a pullover sweater, and baggy blue jeans, and he sat cross-legged on a table or railing or something considerably tall.

The next day I recounted this vision to him. He smiled and uttered two words – Demon Dreams.

He has never worn blue jeans. He never has had the desire to do so. And after finally becoming a priest, I doubt that has changed.

From that day on, whenever I have really bizarre dreams, I think of him. Which is often. More “demon dreams” than I can count!

*~*

My most recent demon dream was last night (plus its continuation). It was in the early morning hours. I was chauffeur (chauffeuse? Ah, the heck with gender!) to none other than Lawrence O’Donnell. I was a lousy driver, who had problems confusing the brake with the accelerator. O’Donnell did not seem to mind that major problem. After several close calls, he told me to stop in front of a building. It was dark. I could not tell what it was exactly, but I stopped. He got out of the car.

A few minutes later he came back and told me that Alex Trebek was dead.

“What?” I was shocked. He was one of my favorite game-show hosts. What would Jeopardy! be without Alex?

“Yes, they found him dead in his home.”

O’Donnell said this all rather casually, and told me to drive on. We continued into the night.

I woke up from this dream, really disturbed. You know those moments right after opening your eyes when you cannot distinguish dream from reality – forget what Calderon said for now – La vida es sueño . . . .  Why would I have a dream that Alex Trebek was dead? I had to check the news as soon as I got out of bed to be certain that he was still among the living. Then there’s that superstition that when you dream of someone’s death, that person has a long life. At least I think that is how it goes.

I went back to sleep and the dreams I had the second round were my telling people about my demon dream and their talking about theirs.

*~*

Some things worthy of mention (!):

a) Alex Trebek is not dead!

b) No one ever has to fear my being behind a wheel! I do not drive. I would not do it even in an emergency for the precise reason that I do have coordination problems. I almost crashed someone’s car because I could not get to the brake soon enough and kept on the accelerator.

Memory eternal

I have been telling and retelling my memory of September 11, 2001 ever since the first anniversary. I cannot tell you what I was doing every morning before that date or perhaps even after. As many of us know, that morning was not like any other one. And without being insensitive to the grief of those who lost loved ones, and those who suffered, we have not been allowed to forget “9/11” in some rather grievous and divisive ways.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the attacks on American soil and the calculated murder of Americans, among others. It is a time to remember. It is also a time to heal and to build up as Ecclesiastes tells us. Not to build up walls between people, or to keep them from building bridges to join “us and them”.

I remember exactly where I was on September 11th 2001. I was not in New York. I was not in Washington D.C. I could have been in the nation’s capital if I had still been with him, but we had broken up already. Perhaps that is why my father called that day to ask my mom, “Where is Naveeda?”

***

The first time I visited New York, alone, was in 2000. Totally overwhelmed and fascinated, I would like to say that I remember having seen what became Ground Zero but I do not. I was in love with Manhattan. Buoyed by the encouraging words of one of my writing instructors, I wanted to enroll in a writing program at NYU or Sarah Lawrence. I visited the Columbia campus hoping to see Meena Alexander. It was summer! What was I thinking?

One of the things I love(d) about NYC at that time: The fact that no one noticed me. Make no mistake, it is great to have that happen at certain points in time, but I was in a city where no one glared and stared at me or my somewhat Chaplinesque feet. I felt freer there than I did anywhere else.

Everyone who knew that I wanted to move to NYC was rather relieved that I decided not to pursue my wild and crazy dream. In September of 2001, when I spent almost a whole week of vacation, glued to the television, I cried for the people and the city I still wished was my home.

***

I was in Manhattan in October of 2008, and spent a week in the city. Having only a few commitments, I was free to wander around; to just hop on one of the subways and let it take me wherever. I walked through the large expanse of Central Park. Visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At some point, I sat on a bench and realized I was crying. If only there was more time, and a “cunning plan” made years ago that would have gotten me . . .  I sat at the edge of the east side of the park . . . here. Too much was going on for me to dream “the impossible dream”.

During that week, I went on one of those ferry cruise tours where you hop on this white vessel, and are taken for a stroll in the water circling around the bridges, the Statue of Liberty, part of Ellis Island. There we were nearing the edges of Manhattan. The guide with his melodic voice pumped us with information. You could hear the chattering and sounds of camera shutters, the clippity clop of feet moving from one spot to another. And then there was that moment . . . .

The guide pointed out to us where Ground Zero was. All noise seemed to have stopped, even the man himself, once he said a few words, fell into this reverent silence for a few moments. No one spoke. Everyone just looked beyond the border at what they could not see, or touch, but there still was this sense of something gripping us.

***

I thought of that moment these past few weeks as the media was nearing fever pitch in preparation for the 10th year anniversary.

In the Orthodox Church, memorials for lost loved ones are done from six months (or earlier) to every year. Koliva is prepared and brought into the church. A service, long or abbreviated is chanted during which the boiled wheat is blessed and at the end of which we sing Eonia i mnimi – Memory Eternal. The first persons to receive the koliva after the blessing are family members.

I know the importance of memorials. Once the media gets involved though, it takes something away from the sacred aspect of it. It becomes something more than remembering those we have lost. Some may even lose sight of what should be foremost in our minds and hearts. There is much to learn from what happened on September 11, 2001, and I wonder if it has sunk in yet.

Reminded a few days ago of one of the beautiful passages from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I thought about the silence of that weekend afternoon in 2008, and was glad that was how I would be spending September 11, 2011, on the road, remembering the horror and sadness of this day amongst the beauty of the Oregon landscape, breaking the silence only with beautiful music, and things that remind me that life must go on, no matter how hard the struggle.

Eonia i mnimi.

 

Pirandello-esque-ish

If I had a pair of ruby red slippers, clicked them together a certain number of times and said: There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home . . . . where would I end up? An octopus’ garden in the shade (Thank you Ringo)?!

Home is one of those words whose meaning has been in flux for me for quite a while. It is interesting, this duality of feeling “at home” in one place and being an outsider in precisely the same space and time. Ultimately, at my age, I suppose I have to plant my feet in one spot and let roots nourish and flourish.

Ultimately. What finality. Never cared much for finality.

***

I hear talk about how someone who has been unemployed for as long as I have been is less desirable in the market right now. Oh, I guess previous experience counts for bollocks now. Life experience kya cheez hai? Yes, lump us all together and tell us that we really do not want to work anyway in order to save us from polluting the workforce – oh forgive me, we are saving you! Thank you so very much! Hope you are having a wonderful life! Wish you were here! Blah blah blah blah and blahblah!

No, I do not have an attitude problem. Or an altitude one. 😉

***

We are not only measured for coffins when we die, but also coffin-like boxes while we are still walking around. How difficult must moving around encased in imaginary leather or wood be in your perception. How binding. You could not possibly be concerned with how we feel about being embalmed with your twisted formula of class, ethnicity, sexuality, religion or non-. And I want you to know that it is okay, your non-concern. Because when it comes right down to it baby, it is your perception, your narrow lens, and thus your bloody problem – more often than not.  We have learned how to wash off your tainted formula and blast those cases you keep putting us in time and time again. When will you learn to stop making them?

Freedom is not what YOU determine for us, but what WE determine for ourselves.

***

Love never should be overrated. But it can be overdone. Vronsky was right, in the film version at least, to tell Anna he felt suffocated by her love. Where Vronsky was vrong vrong vrong: in thinking that what Anna gave up for him was not as great a compromise as what he did to be with her.

Love: one of the most misinterpreted words in any language. Even St. Paul, in his glorious description of it in his first letter to the Corinthians knows that love is not limitless, does he not? Love is patient and kind. Love hopes all things, endures all things. Love, faith, hope, these three abide, but the greatest of these is love. Oh, wait, but you cannot be gay because there is no love there, there is only abomination. So say so many.

I still think 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the best things written about love. I just cannot read it in the same way I used to anymore. Yes, I know – disappointing, is it not?

I guess I am in conflict with you being the author of my life. Or anyone else for that matter. And if you are no longer the author in my life, you and all those characters bound to you think I am pathetic, or I am poison, or I have made a deal with the devil, or I am a gay socialist cripple leper (I am really only one of those things but I am okay with being all of them). Or you do not think of me at all. Which is fine with me. Seriously.

It is not enough to be otherworldly when you ignore the pain you cause in THIS world. THAT other world means nothing if you hate in THIS world. Just so you know. Because you come across as knowing little to nothing. And I feel it is only fair that you know that, at least.

And you are walking away . . . Je suis libre enfin! Libre enfin! Libre enfin! L-i-b-r-e . . . . .

 

 

The soundtrack of our lives

There is a scene in the movie The Holiday where Jack Black and Kate Winslet’s characters are in a movie rental store. Black is a musician and while Winslet is looking for films, he begins rating them on the basis of their soundtracks. He hums them loudly, or sings a song from The Graduate. Dustin Hoffman appears in a cameo as himself, looks at Black and mutters something to the effect that the latter is crazy. Nice.

That scene was a bright point for me in what was a meh film because of my love of film soundtracks. There are films which have been made without any music whatsoever and the story is gripping enough to where one might not miss that. But then you have the music of Nino Rota (The Godfather, 8 1/2) or Ennio Morricone (Once Upon A Time In The West, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly), or Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago) among others, and what makes these films great in large part is their music. Music, like images,  tells a story as well, and the way in which it does that is beautiful.

Lists: they are relative, subjective and there are people in the world who get really passionate about the top 5, 10 or 100 lists of actors, films, songs, and soundtracks. When I learned that John Williams’ theme to Star Wars was rated as the number one soundtrack by the American Film Institute, I scoffed and went on with whatever I was doing at the time. Personally, the soundtrack to The Godfather ranks higher than Star Wars in my humble opinion, and as far as opinions go, everybody has them. The Star Wars music is awesome, no argument there. For me, part of the criteria of what makes a soundtrack one of the best in filmi world is how the music touches my soul. Is it like listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor, or a sad (even happy) Hindi filmi gaana. No, I don’t expect all soundtracks to be like great classical music, but there is that wow factor which again is so subjective.

One of my favorite soundtracks is Ennio Morricone’s from Once Upon A Time In The West. The different motifs are haunting like Harmonica’s Death Rattle or playful like Cheyenne’s. It is Morricone at the top of his game.

So I have a brief (just for blog purposes, it is actually rather extensive) list of favorites, and I will call them favorites rather than THE BEST of filmi soundtracks. Either way, try not to distort your faces too much. Didn’t your parents ever tell you your face would stay like a scowl if you did that too much?!!! I did not listen to my parents and look where it got me! 😀

Without further ado then . . . .

1) The Godfather. It has waltzes. It has tarantellas. It has pastorales. It has poignant music that plays through Vito’s childhood and young adulthood. And what is called the “love theme” has this combination of sweetness and sadness that hits you right here. *hits left side of chest*

2) Once Upon A Time In The West. I walked out of Portland State University’s Fifth Avenue after their showing of this film. It was late at night, and the echo that was produced when two guys whistled Farewell To Cheyenne in the near emptiness of the streets was great! I never can decide which one I like more, Cheyenne’s theme or the Death Rattle, but they both linger for quite a bit once the film has ended.

Yes there is a somber aspect to Cheyenne’s theme, but it still has a certain playfulness that none of the other motifs in the soundtrack possess.

When Harmonica’s (Charles Bronson) Death Rattle precedes Frank’s (Henry Fonda) theme, it is the most anticipated scene in the film – the duel.

3) 8 1/2. I hummed this particular theme for days after I saw what is one of my favorite Fellini films. What more can I say? It is Italian. It is Nino Rota. It is beautiful and carnivalesque.

4) To Kill A Mockingbird. Elmer Bernstein is one of my favorite American film composers. This part of the soundtrack makes me want to cry – and it is right at the beginning of the film! The poignancy of this piece sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Innocence lost.

5) Love Story. I confess: the film was not much to my liking, but I love the soundtrack. I listened to the soundtrack before I ever saw the film and I still smile at the thought that it was my youngest brother who had this on tape. It is one of those things that makes you go WhaaaaT? if you know my little brother.

And do not buy into what this film tells you. Love does mean having to say you’re sorry – again and again and again. 🙂

***

I grew up watching Hindi and Pakistani films that were filled with songs. Happy songs. Flirtatious songs. Sad songs. Some of the best lyrics ever written.  In my mind, a music soundtrack was part of your life. On a really gorgeous morning, Here Comes The Sun might accompany you wherever you are. When you’re broken hearted and humiliated (as I have been), You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away might play in your head (or other songs, of course)

Now, more so than when I was growing up, songs have become part of drama shows on television, and Western cinema. Like The Graduate. You do not have so much of the great soundtracks of the past. I am not necessarily nostalgic for the grand ones like Zhivago or The Big Country, but there was that grandeur to them which I do miss. Thankfully we still have those films around to remind us of “days of future passed”.

My “three men and a baby” story

Two days ago I was on a somewhat lengthy bus ride from my little town in Eastern Oregon to Portland. Personally, I appreciate both the desert scenery and the lush greenery that surrounds us once we approach the Columbia Gorge on I-84. Just looking at the water can be a calming experience, and gazing at old tall trees and rock formations a near spiritual one. Those experiences were challenged by certain bus riders who were frustrated about a number of things: a long journey, the bus driver, perhaps their very own lives. Some hated the “desert” aspect of Eastern Oregon. Or some bitched about Greyhound’s lack of decent bus depots (actual ones, not holes in the wall or Pilot truck stops), and everything Greyhound and kept vowing ad nauseam never to ride Greyhound again.

Truth be told, I have my own gripes about Greyhound, but here’s the deal. Traveling by bus is a choice. It is almost a necessity for those who cannot afford airfare; in some cases the bus is less expensive. But traveling by bus is a choice I have made since traveling by air became a wee bit more complicated. Yes, the seats are a bit on the grungy side, there are people who loudly discuss how Obama is a socialist or defend the Confederate flag, or talk about matters in their personal lives that everyone else in the bus does not need to know about (unless he or she is both psychotic and violent). Also people are free to believe whatever they want to believe, but pushing your religion on the person sitting next to you, no, not my cup of chai (Unfortunately Amtrak trains do not stop – or perhaps even travel – between Boise, Idaho and Portland, Oregon and until we the people and our legislators find a way to change that, it is not in the stars)

None of those discussions happened on this bus ride, thankfully. But the incessant complaining and ignorant statements got to the point where I berated myself for not recharging my IPod before I left. So when I was not rolling my eyes, or trying to focus on whatever was outside, I retreated to a world of memory and imagination.

***

The year I was born, we traveled from Lahore to Karachi by train. Karachi, being a port city (and the largest city in Pakistan), we were going to America by ship. For much of my life I have heard about that journey. Before we embarked on that, there was a photo taken in a studio of my mother holding a three month old baby, a little girl who was a little over two years old, and a boy of one. I think of  both of my parents leaving Pakistan for the very first time,  with three very small children. It could not have been easy, especially for my mother. There is a story of how even at the age of one, my brother kept my sister safe around one of the railings while my parents were at a distance. It must have been a comforting realization to know that there was some cooperation in that respect.

As the ship moved from the Arabian sea to the Red Sea and towards the Mediterranean (not entirely certain what the trajectory was, but my mother tells me they did stop in Aden which is in Yemen), we were either to arrive at Napoli, or already had arrived. Mommy had not had much of a break from me, the three month old. One (or more) of the Italian stewards was going to watch over me while my parents got to enjoy an evening together. Whether the steward(s) just looked after me, or all three of us is not entirely clear, but I have to say I like my “three men and a baby” version of this story!

In my story, the three men hovered over me and softly sang Italian arias to me like these:

Or this one – even if it translates to “None Shall Sleep”. 🙂

In my story, my mother knew the name of these men and I hoped to find them someday to thank them for helping my mother and taking care of me.  And I would tell them what arias I like in my really bad Italian mixed with Spanish. Their eyes would light up and they would laugh heartily while telling me that those were exactly the same arias they sang to me.

My imagination, mixed with the beauty of the Gorge and the thought of getting closer and closer to Portland made the last leg of the journey so much better.

***

The 6th of September marks four years since the death of Luciano Pavarotti. His voice remains with us on audio and video recordings.

 

 

Reading, writing, but not arithmetic

There are moments, utterly brief as they are, when I feel bad about not having taken more of an interest and excelled in mathematics. Who knows what direction my life would have taken had I done that.

I do not know how all schools in Pakistan worked, but at the one I attended, young women began to shape their future careers in Class IX. That is when we decided either to choose the arts track, or the sciences. I do not think I have to tell you what my choice was but to state the obvious as I tend to do: it was the arts. The thing about that track was that it was not completely devoid of science. We had to have a course in General Science. But free we were of mathematics, algebra, geometry and anything that was to come next. Yaaahooo!  I was awful in those subjects, barely passing them most times, particularly geometry. One would think that acute, obtuse, right and isosceles triangles would be easy to do. Pythagoras’ theorem, square roots and all those things we learned between Class V and Class VIII. But no! not for my addled brain. One year when one of my cousins was helping me study for my final exam in math, she rapped my knuckles with a ruler every time I made a mistake. My mother was not thrilled with that type of tutelage. This was the same cousin who would not let me leave the dining table when I refused to eat vegetables like baingan, kadoo and tinday as a child. That was not objectionable to anyone but me.

Almost twenty-eight years ago, when I went for an extensive medical examination to determine how I had done so far with my spina bifida, one of the neurologists asked me how my grades were, was I doing okay in school? I did not tell him I bombed mathematics most of the time because I did not feel that had any connection to my condition. I told him I did okay. And I did. When we returned to America in 1979, one of the classes I enrolled in, at the late date that I did (we arrived in late April, more than halfway through the final semester) was Algebra I, and it was made easier by the fact that I already had suffered through it for four years. Then there was Algebra II and Biology and Chemistry.

The way I look at it, my education in Pakistan was more extensive; my education in America was more well-rounded. And you know what I loved about American high school? My goodness, my answers could be much more brief in final examinations and I did not have to fill pages and pages of legal sized paper to write about a poem, or one of Shakespeare’s plays.

English always had been my best subject, until Class IX. That was my own fault, because it was around that time that I had fallen into a rather deep depression, did not give a fuck about school, or much else except love and unrequited love at that. This could not care less attitude was made easier by the fact that my father was out of the country, but difficult in that loved ones at home were hurt by it. I was isolated at school, and close to isolating myself at home if it were not for the fact that no one was giving up on me. English literature and composition suffered as well. Explicating Wordsworth’s Daffodils, writing about Orwell’s essay Shooting An Elephant was a far cry from writing an excellent character sketch of Antonio from The Merchant of Venice in Class VIII, or a composition which my English teacher voiced as an example of writing fantasy with some basis in reality: we had to write an essay about space travel to the moon, and remembering scenes from 1969, I added a bit about being quarantined upon return to Earth. Apparently “Miss” really liked that.

I will be forever indebted to my English teachers in Lahore both for encouraging me as well as their deep disappointment in my later work because they recognized my potential more so than I ever did – and still do.

***

I am struggling through writing a novel, the first one that has hope of being completed. There have been many beginnings over the years, even middles, but ever since I began seriously writing, there has never been a completed novel.  Today I looked up one of my favorite novels, D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers. Lawrence rewrote this masterpiece four times before it actually was published. FOUR TIMES! And here I’ve been, talking about the struggles with my first draft alone.

What is love without some kind of struggle? It makes what you have fought for within all the more sweeter once you attain it, n’est-ce-pas?

***

I am not reading as much as I used to and I blame my watching too much television for that, in part. Films have become more like novels to me. Television series like short stories. At one point I decided that I could not read novels while writing. The fear was that my novel would be greatly colored by whatever I was reading. When I read Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, I wanted to write just like him, which was also writing much like Henry Fielding. In that novel, Rushdie not only writes a story with plot and dialogue, he also writes commentary pertaining to the world we live in that is separate from the story and yet part of it as well. In my last novel that was actually going somewhere, over a decade ago, I tried that.  I gave it up thinking it was not me. But when Rushdie did that, it really was not “him” either. He just did it in a way that made it more interesting as a post-colonial work.

Just to be clear, I am not talking about what certain Muslims found offensive about the novel, but the form and subtexts of it.

It turns out that the decision not to read while writing is not the best of decisions.  Writers have different processes, but if you can stay true to yourself, there is much to gain from continuing to read besides the possibility of imitation. I know a lot of “literate” people who do not read novels, and that is their choice, but there is something lost. I wish I could remember who said that the novel tells us more about life than other texts do.

I am often asked what my favorite novel is, and it is a difficult question because there are so many. Definitely Sons and Lovers and Women in Love are up there. Mrs. Dalloway is another. Shame by Salman Rushdie, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (even if I did not finish the mega text!). Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and Demons.

I remember as a kid we had this card game called Authors (which if memory serves correctly was much like Go Fish). And most of the authors were male! There was Hawthorne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Washington Irving, Sir Walter Scott, Longfellow, and James Fenimore Cooper and would you believe, Louisa May Alcott, among others. The way it worked was you asked Do you have The Courtship of Miles Standish? And if you did not, you said Authors! If they still make card games like that, I hope it has more women, or perhaps we women should make cards that just have women authors. No, that would not be right either but I may have given someone a creative idea – perhaps?!

Enough of this lovely procrastination!

Previous Older Entries