Grace under pressure

I’ve never felt entitled to the notion of being “under pressure.”

A surgeon in the ER. Pressure. A mother with triplets. Pressure. David Bowie… I’m here all week gentlepeople.

I, however, no pressure. I don’t hold a particularly stressful job nor have I had life throw me any crazy curveballs. I have a fortress family, spoils of friends, great (ex)boyfriends, and a mostly non-traumatic childhood. There’s no objective form of pressure as far as a prairie dog can see.

Well. Except for one pesky little thing – a phantom threat imposed by the misinterpreted knowledge that my existence has to make up for all the very real pressures my parents underwent to afford me the right to glide through life like a white man. (Say that three times fast).

First generation immigrants know this threat well. Sometimes it’s explicit – the label of your naturalized citizenship thrown at you like a dirty towel of murky privilege and soiled tradition.

“Ugh, you’re so Canadian, so ungrateful.”

My mother has a colourful tongue and takes creative liberties with vulgarities, yet the dirtiest thing I’ve seen fall from her lips is that word, “Canadian.”

Other times it’s more implicit – an understanding that you have to be “more than.”

More than you would have been otherwise.

For me, this wasn’t necessarily cultivated by my parents. The seed was sown by an immigration officer in a Syrian embassy as he floundered through the depths of would-be immigrants’ motivations, taking the scenic route through my mother’s as she pointed at her two daughters and reiterated their gender.

Women. Poor things.

There were other motivations of course, but “for-my-daughters-to-have-better-opportunities” is what made it impossible for me to ever accept “less than.”

Enter 2017. This year has managed to make me feel so very “less than.”

I tried. I failed. I tried again. I failed differently. I stopped trying. I felt like a failure for not trying. I tried to try. That failed. I’m tired.

And I’m grateful. As cheesy as that is. It’s been a strange year for so many reasons (the world going up in flames included), but I was simultaneously humbled and reinforced.

I lost my temper but found my voice. I broke down but practiced how to build people up. I cut ties but mended old wounds. I forgot my place but remembered my home.

Arrivals

It’s not normal how often I think about airports. I could map out nearly every major life event to an airport terminal. It’s likely why that opening scene in Love Actually makes me cry. This past weekend, I had the delightful privilege of picking up one of my co-bloggers and dear friends from the airport. I was a little early and had forgotten a book, so I read people instead.

It’s not often that I’m waiting in arrivals; I’m usually arriving and rather delirious. But on Friday, I was mesmerized. I could nearly hear the butterflies in his stomach, as the guy with the crooked tie smoothed his hair and paced around, clutching a rose so hard that I expected to see blood. Beside him, a woman’s face lit up with a delight often exclusive to shampoo commercials as she ran toward her mini-me. The girl nearly melted into her mother’s arms. One couple made out the entire 40 minutes I was there. My lips were chapped on their behalf. Another looked as though they’d been custom-built for each other. I stared a little too long. Everyone had a warm glow, as if to say, I’m loved, I’m wanted, I matter. Except the businessmen. Theirs was a more fluorescent glow – I matter, where’s my driver.

The longer I watched people’s interactions, the less frenzied my thoughts seemed. My week had been filled with cognitive dissonance and watching the micro-expressions of pure joy calmed the clusterfuck in my head. So there I was – headphones, mane, goofy grin – coming to the same fortune cookie realizations I revisit every few months. People matter. Be more open. Call your uncle. Write something you’re not paid to write.

So here it is. After a four month hiatus, we’re back. We all needed a stimulant to snap us out of the drudgery. And what better drug than love, actually.

The English Din

I step into the terminal. Time seems to slow for a few seconds. Returning to the din of voices that I understand, little segments of sentences which again hold meaning for me float through the air. I’m surprised by the welling feelings of comfort, distraction, and disdain. I haven’t been away for very long, which is why I’m surprised. In the short time away, my mind has come to inhabit some place worlds away from where I grew up. Upon returning, I had expected more comfort than anything else. Instead, I’ve found myself somewhere in between, playing down some parts of myself in order to adapt to the present and respond in an acceptable fashion, to make people feel comfortable. I do this naturally by now, perhaps to a fault. It’s become instinct to hide what is different or foreign to people’s daily lives and respond with the minimum. In the few moments that I’ve gone too far, I’ve suffered the unpleasant consequences. People cut off from you, find you intimidating, can’t relate, and you become a self-proclaimed repository for passive aggressive comments. You could believe that this is an efficient filter of people from your life. I find that it only serves to pain others and yourself in many cases. Everyone has their own world and finds comfort within that.

But let’s go back to the airport. All together – comfort, distraction, disdain. In the short time away, it seems that I’d become accustomed to not understanding the words most people speak. I could block out the side conversations of no interest to me. It’s liberating in a way – to be able to sit in a crowded restaurant, café, coffee shop, party and remain with your own thoughts. To allow disturbances becomes a conscious decision, only allowed when one makes the conscious effort to listen and understand. After being alone in my head for some time, unconsciously understanding the conversations all around naturally becomes distracting and invasive. I find that I’m out of practice at blocking out the endless voices. The disdain only comes from understanding the emptiness of so many conversations. A pair of ladies gossip about the audacity of a friend: “Can you believe it? She’s telling me to do this, but it can only be done with aluminum pans! Well, I don’t have aluminum pans.” The indignation is tangible. What an affront to this poor lady. Yes, of course, when giving cooking instructions, care should be given to consider the recipient’s capacities so as to avoid offense. I’m struck by the banality of so many conversations. Of course, this is the case in any language. I’d only escaped it for a moment.

Perhaps it’s the only positive I’ve found amidst my seemingly constant frustration with the French language. I’ve harnessed this frustration into disdain for myself, rooted in an incapacity to learn and promptly apply. The violence of this frustration has made itself known in the past few weeks. I’ve come to blame language for my persistent dissatisfaction and what I’ve perceived as a regression to propensities I’ve so diligently worked to subdue. Low confidence, an incapacity to make decisions, and debilitating fear of doing the wrong thing all thwart my innate need to be independent at all costs. My already limited conversation has become even further reduced. People pass over me, either out of their own discomfort or my short conversation. And I feel indebted to the ones that don’t. I’m sorry for their efforts for so little reward. It makes me question my potential to be happy in that place. The idea that if only I could move around with confidence, independently, without a constant fear, frozen gaze, or incoherent mumbling. If I could move around without revealing my secret. Instead, my fixed smile seems to say, “Yes, you’ve found me out. I don’t fit here.”

How important that sense of belonging is. How important for confidence, for independence, for happiness. Where does this fear come from? I’ve been asking myself this question for a long time without a satisfactory answer. It only seems to ooze from some eternal black hole that pollutes my every action, each a strictly calculated movement. Despite all of this, I’ve returned to the din of English and find myself hating it. Perhaps it’s only the lack of sleep. Or perhaps I’ve adopted yet another repellent tendency – the Parisian sensibility of endless complaining and haughty disdain.

Writing Wrongs: Appropriate Appropriation

Some of my favourite femail exchanges are with my mom. She’s hilarious, wicked smart, and ruthlessly compassionate. With mother’s day having just passed, it’s only appropriate to share a recent conversation.

From: D
Date: Mon, May 15, 2017 at 8:30 PM
Subject: Writing wrongs – appropriate appropriation?
To: Mom

Canadian lit had a bit of a “Dear White People” moment recently. Have you read the stuff around the appropriation prize? The editor of Write magazine wrote a piece that began “I don’t believe in cultural appropriation.” A hook. Slightly tongue-in-cheek. But obviously tone-deaf. He could’ve made his points around writing “what you don’t know” without triggering so many people.

If you read the essay – without knowledge of the backlash – it’s not actually trying to be racist. It’s basically saying that “anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities,” especially since those voices aren’t heard very often (which, um, there’s another solution for, but hey… baby steps). It then praises indigenous writers. Sadly, throwing around the term “appropriation prize” makes even the praise sound condescending. It’s a shame too because his actual point is not a bad one.

Canada’s always struggled with its “identity” and Canadians – in all their hyphenated origins – have unique experiences of the true north strong and free. In a way, we’re all appropriating cultures of convenience at any given moment because so many of us are floating in vaguely ethnic limbos. Example: I can no longer lay much claim to Persian culture, but I’m also alien to “white Canadian” culture. Sometimes my own American accent legitimately startles me, and other times, I’m taken aback by random sprinklings of “eastern” traditionalism in my thinking. I’m Iranian for the purposes of a dinner party debate and strictly Canadian at the airport. If I stuck only to writing what I know, all of my characters would be in constant cultural paralysis, from a cis female perspective. It would get old real fast. Having more writers who thoughtfully include diverse characters in their work would make Canadian lit more representative of Canadian reality. The problem is that the words used to portray this in the essay, ignored the massive history of systemic racism, pointed out here by CBC’s Jesse Wente:

“We have to acknowledge … that appropriation is institutionalized in Canada. Not just cultural appropriation, but appropriation of land, of our lives, that this is the very foundation of what Canada is based on, including laws that were written specifically to enforce cultural appropriation.”

They also ignored the other solution to lack of diversity… removing barriers to entry and enhancing platforms for more accurate representation of different experiences.

Anyway, I wanted to know your thoughts.

From: Mom
Date: Tue, May 16, 2017 at 4:54 AM
Subject: Writing wrongs – appropriate appropriation?
To: D

I went to a workshop on aboriginal art. We were expecting to learn how to integrate aboriginal arts into our grade level curriculum.

The woman stood there and talked about appropriation for 90 minutes. One of the examples she used was Justin Trudeau’s Sun tattoo. Apparently, the artist’s family frowned at him after they saw their dead dad’s art on Justin’s arm. The guy had to apologize and explain that he just wanted to appreciate that work of art. I pointed out that it was the tattoo artist’s responsibility to make sure all his tattoos were authorized before transferring them on people’s body.

Generally, she was saying that if I wanted to use a work of an aboriginal artist in my art lesson, I need to contact the artist and ask for permission. Someone raised the point that if we don’t do that for any other artist, why should we do it for aboriginal artists?

Now, let’s go back to the article: I think the prize idea was silly, but asking people to write about other cultures to bring some diversity in written work is fine. The problem is, then white writers will go even bolder and write whatever BS they think they know about other cultures. I am thinking of reading a piece on Persian culture written by a non-Persian. Hahaha. I get mad at many Persian writers for distorting our cultures by looking at it through a tiny window. Now, imagine what a clueless author from another culture can do.

That being said, I don’t understand why they even argue over this subject. We call this practice, “research.” You gather information about a topic and write your findings. Haha. You just have to not suck at doing proper, thoughtful, well-informed research, which is the problem I guess.

Originally posted on: https://femails.org/ 

A Dinner Party

Winter is the season of dinner parties. Excuses to get together with people, but stay indoors, dress up in sweaters and sweater dresses and celebrate when the sun sets early and the ever present fog leaves beads on your scarf and colors your nose.

Early evening: Accepting the invitation

It’ll be great to get out of the house. It’s an excuse to dress up, because, why not?

It’ll be fun. I’ll see people and have lively discussion. It’s my chance to be social and energetic and show that I’m a fun person.

I do things. Yes, I do things with people.

Getting ready

What kind of get-together is this? Are we talking full makeup? Or would that be trying too hard?

And what to wear. Is this too much party? Or should I be safe and go with black? Maybe it’s too sad and dark. But black is safe.

I’ll just add some color with my shoes for some fun. Heels aren’t too much. People wear heels to dinner.

Purse. No purse? Purse. Which purse? The everyday one, not too much. And coat. Definitely coat, scarf, gloves.

Okay, ready.

Wait, lipstick. Always lipstick. Yes, done.

Oh, and the champagne. Your one job. The champagne. How could you forget?

And late, of course.

The (late) entrance

Okay, hi. This is a lot of people. I’ll say hi to as many people as possible, and then just happily ignore the others that are difficult to reach. I’ll be introduced eventually. I don’t want to make a whole disturbance now. It’s pretty unlikely that I’ll ever see them again in my life anyway.

This is a nice spot in the room. Just nod and smile. Don’t forget to ask questions. You can talk less that way.

Yeah, I don’t understand half of what’s going on…but that’s fine. You’re the foreign one. You’re not supposed to understand. It’s a nice excuse anyhow, a nice excuse to not talk. I just feel bad that they’re trying so hard to include me. But I can also see them getting tired of that responsibility. Sorry! It’s okay. It’s okay. I can’t fix that right now.

À table

Ah finally, we’re sitting down to dinner. I can just eat. Eating is a valid excuse. It takes ALL of my attention. It does. Taking the right amount of salad from the bowl. Not looking ridiculous that I can’t get lettuce onto my fork and on a successful journey to the mouth. How to make the lettuce not overly large? Yes, that’s right. Be sure to fit the entire piece in or else you’ll look like a dumb rabbit. Dumb in all senses of the word, considering that you can’t engage in conversation like normal person right now. ALL THE ATTENTION. Okay, that’s normal.

Hm, that wasn’t enough food. I’m definitely still hungry. I thought the “I’m American” disclaimer was well-distributed at this point. There’s not really anything much left though. I can’t be the one to take all of the final drippings.

The bread! Thank God for bread. The bread will do it. Eat the bread.

I hope they don’t expect me to have followed the conversation. My brain is tired. It can only translate so much in a prolonged period of time. I also have the jetlag excuse in my pocket. I must have zoned out for the past five minutes at least. Okay, fine. Try again.

This conversation isn’t particularly exciting. Maybe I’m not actually understanding. But I think I am. Would I be having fun if I was with my own friends? Or is this really just a language thing? Or do people just get boring when they get older? Or am I just more disinterested? I think I’d still be bored if it were my own friends. Maybe I’ve been here too long. Maybe that’s all it is. This is probably what it’s like for outsiders to hear my friends and I hanging out. I’m suddenly so sorry for all of those people that have to sit through us…

Bored. Maybe this is why I don’t come to these things. Just smile. More smiling.

Woo! Dessert! This is cause for celebration.

Post hoc

Dinner, check. We have to be leaving soon. There seems to be lots of talk left in them yet. *sigh* I’m exhausted. But I still look nice.

Okay, yes? Yes?! Coats. I can do that. I have all the things. Coats, gloves, purse.

Bisous! Love you all! We should do this again? Yes, of course! Let’s do this again soon!

*door shuts*

SWEET FREEDOM.

Let’s take a walk.

A walk sounds marvelous.

Opinions. And on having them.

Maybe this was only the irrational fear of a 12-year-old, the fear of not having opinions on anything. It came from this idea that I don’t have anything to say because I don’t have thoughts about them and that those non-thoughts form only non-opinions. I don’t say things because I don’t have anything to say. Without an opinion, I don’t have a stake in the conversation, in what’s being put forward as right, as legitimate, as ethical, as the way things should be in the world. I don’t have opinions on anything. This fear hung in the air for a good chunk of my teenage years.

American grade school (and into college) is a place where young people are lauded for their “participation” because this active contribution to the classroom is hailed as the way that people are heard and legitimate and intelligent. These people are the ones that move the discussion forward, that defend their arguments to others, and have influence, and what I’ve heard called “leadership” skills. To voice your opinion and your thoughts on some issue is to be worldly and to “know your stuff.” In other cultures, it’s called being rude, loud, obnoxious, and/or imposing on others. For a long time, I had trouble reconciling these two worlds.

I’ve come to realize that, back then, I was only gathering information, so-called data on truth. It is without doubt that from a young age, I had some kind of obsession with the truth. I struggled with the idea that perhaps, and probably, there is no real truth in the universe. As you can imagine, this made religion a difficult concept for me to grasp. While you could argue that I wasn’t brought up Christian enough to take certain ideas as self-evident, I’d argue that it was in my nature to be skeptical of that which could not be reasonably or definitively proven multiple times over. Rather, it was my acceptance of religion as a value to human society rather than the belief system of any one religion that answered my questions into why it should exist at all.

I had a certain way of speaking. [Some would argue that this sentence should be written in the present: I have a certain way of speaking. Perhaps.] Things had to be worthy. Statements had to be worth the effort of speech. And correspondingly worth the time spent listening to it. Hey, I’ve always been considerate. Speech had to make some worthy contribution – worthy meaning thought-provoking or relevant, adding something new. Why would you spend your time listening to and learning the same things over and over again? You wouldn’t. But perhaps this leads me to make too many assumptions about what other people would find interesting or relevant or new or of value. Maybe it is only an excuse for me to continue gathering information without making my own contribution to that data collection and its synthesis. Maybe the assumption that people see what I see given the same information is too strong. But hey, I’m learning.

This is yet another fear about which my 20-something-year-old self would be able to reassure my 12- and 15- and 17-year-old selves. I have opinions. And strong ones. I have opinions that after 20-odd years of data collection in the form of experiences, anecdotes, media consumption, diversity, culture, and (I hope) continued openness have cultivated. I have things to say and it matters that I say them. Though I remain reserved, these are opinions that I will honestly share while being conservative with who is worthy to hear them. After years of being a woman, I know well when words only fall on deaf ears.

This past month has reminded me of these past fears and more recent realizations, and really in ways that I would have gladly gone without. It reminded me that I am capable of an emotional violence in my opinions and beliefs at a very basic, fundamental level – a driving force that remains hidden if not completely smothered in the day-to-day. And it reminded me again that there is so much more truth to learn. That settling down is not an option. We must instead strive to engage and listen and contribute and find those things that are worthy. That complacency and blind trust is dangerous. And that those with all of the loud opinions may be more empty air than American reverence would make them seem.

Home?

Looking out the airplane window, down onto the moving toyland from my little sister’s Lego set, I can always tell how I feel about a place. Sometimes it’s excitement. Other times, it’s dread. And every once in a while, it’s the warming feeling of home. This one in particular is an interesting feeling, and probably because it seems that the feeling has changed for me in the past year. So much so that it was both at first alarming and exciting and comforting. Alarming in the realization that I may be attached to a place, which has never been the case in the strict sense of knowing that I want to live there, be there. Exciting to be finally figuring it out –  a place that I like to be. Comforting to know that yes, this is home.

But I’ve moved again. A month ago, I moved again. And it won’t be the last time. I recognize now that that feeling of home doesn’t come for every place. In that way, for me, when it happens, it’s noticed. It’s treasured. In another month, I’m going back. But just to visit. I don’t have a room there, a bed, my own window, a place to call my own. I only have a friend’s couch. Will I still call it home? Will that feeling come back? Will it have gone forever, left in a time that I can never re-create or re-build or re-live, only reminisce and remember? Or will it be so overwhelming as to overcome any potential future plans I’ve already made in my head? Will it become a guiding goal to call this place home? Will I be set on striving for something that seems so unreachable and faraway? Which is worse?

I’ll know in a month’s time as I contemplate all the things cut off from the world in my window seat, looking down.