The Time Watcher

I am in charge of Time in my family.

It’s time to go.

It’s time to get ready.

It’s time to eat so you can be ready.

It’s time to do homework.

It’s time to finish and not to linger over homework.

It’s time to head out so we can get there on time. โ€ฆ and so on ad infinitum.

I am the planner, the nag, the clock-watcher, always on alert to ensure the perpetually unwilling dithering masses, focused on higher thoughts and dreams, are drifting in the right direction at the right time.

Aren’t I, as a desi person, supposed to be excused from all this?

Are men adapting to the demands of marriage?

When I was a girl in Lahore, I was constantly scolded, urged to be more adaptable, more flexible, more willing to change for my future in-laws/husband. I wasn’t really supposed to have set habits or a real personality beyond being “sweet.” I was supposed to be able to do everything, occupy every role with a smile. The ideal daughter-in-law was in her early twenties, not fully “done,” ready to be re-baked in the oven of a new family, to be re-made in the image of whatever her husband desired. As I grew older, I watched women transform themselves and become housewives, working women, fashionable partygoers, conservative covered women, moms of many kids, – as well as everything the husband and his family needed.

I never heard anyone teaching boys how to be husbands or fathers. And their utter lack of preparation showed.

Girls and women were supposed to be ready for change. Boys and men were accepted as is. Today they face a tough reality. And it’s going to get harder. Their inflexibility and lack of adaptability is rendering them, in many ways, dead weight.

Today, I sense tension in many homes, dissatisfaction bubbling just below the surface about how men have not adapted to the expectations of the new realities of marriage today. How many men have not adapted to being *married;* how many expect it to be pretty much like single – life plus additional perks.

Yawn, my wife keeps needing me to take care of the dishes. Do I have to watch the kids again? Fine, I’ll do the minimum. She’ll be home to pick up the slack.

Working women are managing homes, children, complex schedules, and high expectations. Men are chipping in just barely enough to get by. They’re irritated when asked to do something. I see men not catching up with the need of the times. And increasingly, I hear women’s grumblings of discontent grow louder. Is it worth it, they ask.

Why should they labor so hard to maintain these high-maintenance male-divas, just to be in a traditional marriage and/or two-parent family, they ask. And many women are leaving marriage behind, finding themselves perfectly capable of managing family lives without the dead weight of men.

It’s not just chores and domestic labor either. It’s also emotional labor. Women have soured on the emotionally unavailable man – Mr. Darcy, if you will. When he’s a father, he still embodies too much of his father or grandfather’s emotional persona, while his wife is the multi-tasking goddess of all, extending her emotional and physical reach into new arenas.

We talk about adapting to the changing workplace, but men aren’t adapting to the changing family. Yes, it hurts to have to get out of your comfort zone. Try being a woman in patriarchy, where nowhere is a comfort zone.

Men are falling behind. The endless labor of maintaining their self-absorption may be too much for increasing numbers of women. In so many ways, men are going to have to prove we still need them.

Auto-ethnographic writing: Pakistan, Islam, and the 1990s

I’m writing. I’m working on a draft that is now covered in barnacles from multiple attempts and attacks. I’m trying to slough off a state of mind regarding this article, and to refresh my writer’s vision.

Writing this piece entails plunging into the cold waters of memory, and I keep coming up with strange forgotten sea-shells from my youth, my time at college, at university, in Islamabad, in Cambridge, in London, and Bloomington. Internet research on some of my employment activities yields information that is a tad concerning, but it was a different time, and I didn’t know the big picture. The present day U.S. political climate makes writing about these things a little – iffy, shall we say? The U.S. project in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1980s did not age well into the 1990s, and Muslims were left with a mess that was pinned entirely on them, as if memory and history were dead.

We need more personal-historical memoirs of the 1990s.

But my deadline is closer than the whole emotional and intellectual experience allows. So I keep writing. I’m not sure what will come out of this period of gestation. I’m not even sure it will yield anything I am willing to share.

Standing at a lakes and dreaming of oceans

It was a beautiful day at Lake Michigan. The sun shone over calm, gentle waves, and we had rare visitors, ducks paddling alongside gulls in the clear water.

As I stood in the shadow of multi-million dollar lakeshore homes, my heart was bursting with prayers that work, health, money, time, responsibilities would just make way for me to fly to go see my ammi and hold her.

I feel more and more strongly about a political movement that invests in global equality and equal distribution of resources and power, so that we can *stay* in the homes we love. So these homes, these lands, these countries, these economies can grow and be hospitable, free of military adventures of great powers, and the plunder of natural resources, and the alliances of great powers with the worst authoritarian powers within our countries. So we can live in dignity like those in ‘first world’ countries, rather than rushing to take our places in this brain drain of the decades. So that we don’t have to be far from our loved ones, and they don’t have to die yearning to see us just once. So we can quit this frantic flying back and forth across oceans burning fossil fuels just so our hearts will be comforted and we can hold our parents once a year or once every few years – maybe just in time, or maybe far too late.

Baby birds and aching hearts

The other day, when I wasn’t home, a bird flew into our glass patio door and knocked itself out. I got a series of distraught texts from my teenager, and got home to find her in a state of total grief.

The bird was by this time no longer on its back like a beetle but sitting weakly on the floor. I was at my wits’ ends to do anything except keep the cats indoors ๐Ÿ˜ณ.

My daughter wept and grieved for this little bird.

She reminded me of myself at age 10. My parakeet (Sugarpie – don’t ask, I think I got it from Archie comics) had suddenly dropped and slowly died, lying on his back, his beak working, and his eyes half-closed. I had to bury this little blue bird, a poor mistreated creature, snatched from its natural environment and kept in a small cage in a hot country by people who had no idea how to care for pets.

I still feel my grief from that moment, how I wept hard, and vowed never to have any pets ever again (yes, I break vows sometimes).

I was also struck by how my mother was more struck by my grief than by her own pity for the bird.

How did grownups learn to become this way, I wondered. How did very good and kind people learn to survive by detaching themselves from extreme compassion? I later found a journal entry my mother wrote about how soft-hearted I was. Her journal reflected on Sugarpie’s death, as well as my sorrow when Billie Jean King (my flea-ridden, skinny, partly-stray tabby kitten) got run over by a car.

I’ve always been told I feel too much. I’m told it’s impractical, and a little ‘crazy.’ “They’re OK,” I’m told, about animals and birds. “They’re OK,” I’m told about the poor and dispossessed. I had to shut down my heart a little, to survive.

The other day, as my daughter wept uncontrollably, yearning to do something, anything, I saw myself in her. And I saw all the practical grownups (and I use that loosely, because it includes plenty of young people) of my past in my own calm, kind, but businesslike, adult attitude to the bird, my attempts to protect it at least from the cats, but very practically not bringing it indoors and doing anything ‘crazy.’

I felt sad. For the bird and for my daughter – because I know what a too-soft constantly-breaking heart can do. And for me.

I did go back outdoors to check on the bird.

It was gone. I went back with a flashlight, before letting the cats out to the patio. I checked all the corners, looking for it, and it was nowhere. What happened? Did it get better? Fly away? Fall down to the ground from the patio? I hoped it was OK.

I swung the flashlight up, – and there sat the bird, on the railing, looking quite healthy. As soon as my gaze alighted on her, she flitted away into a tree, as if to say, Look, I’m fine. I can fly. Now you can rest easy.

I took a moment after maghrib prayers and asked my daughter to join me.

We prayed for the bird to be all right, to be healthy, to not be hurt, and to have a happy life. She wept. I did pray for the bird, of course. But I also wanted to give my daughter a place to put her heart, instead of telling it to not feel because “They’re OK” and it’s crazy to feel so much. I don’t want her to be ashamed of her huge heart, or to feel like it’s a dirty secret to be hidden away in a world of selfish pragmatism. I want her to embrace the huge aching world of compassion, but also to find a way to live with it.

I am an Educator. Education is violence

I am torn between being

*someone whose entire life, training, & career are about Education;
*and being someone who loathes with a passion the physical & mental control/violence that educational institutions inflict upon people.

Leonid Afremov, “After School”

Do I really have to explain?

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve gone through school or college. Chances are, also, that you’ve experienced epiphanies of knowledge in classrooms or while studying for class. (Chances are, you could experience some of those epiphanies – not all – while reading on your own, or discussing your reading in a good book club.)

Chances are, you’ve had to deal with a teacher or professor who hates their job, or their boss, or their life, and you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’ve experienced a number of educational settings. I’ve also taught in a number of institutions. My child has experienced a few schools in her life. I value schools and colleges. I also hate them for what they do to the most vulnerable of people.

I believe in the power of learning. I also believe that mass education in neoliberal capitalist societies can be intellectually and emotionally destructive. You might learn some facts about how to do equations, but you might also internalize a sense of inferiority because your teacher doesn’t want to waste time with you. Or you might learn to hate learning because your teacher wants to be a dot com millionaire rather than teach classes of struggling students.

And don’t even get me started on body control in schools. There are apparently quotas of bathroom passes per month in schools. There are kids being turned away from lunch because there’s no space in the cafeteria. There are kids ashamed of their homes and their parents, fearful of hallways, terrified of their peers. The climate of most schools is, truthfully, unpleasant.

So yes, I am torn.

I the middle of the night, I sit here, worrying about a child’s school experience. I’ve seen cases where a staff member tries to sweat a child out of her class into an ‘easy’ one.

So I am wishing I could just scoop the child up, and hide her under my wings, and teach her myself.

But, well – having gone through a horrible math education experience myself, I cannot.

So I sit here and wonder why we are slaves to educational institutions, and why they are like this.

My Friday mosque

It’s jum’ah. I chose this mosque today.

The floor of this mosque is soft like the Prophetโ€™s first mosque. The sound of Eternal Being ripples through this mosque.

Every day I come here it is different. ูƒูู„ูŽู‘ ูŠูŽูˆู’ู…ู ู‡ููˆูŽ ูููŠ ุดูŽุฃู’ู†ู

Some days the majesty of fierce waves attacks. Or the surface shimmers like a wet dupatta. Some days it stretches toward the horizon, transparent, barely moving.

Today, grey water is One with misty white-grey sky.

The congregants mutter on the side, preening their feathers.Nothing to say about my clothes or how I am standing, sitting, or kneeling.

Prayer without words rises up through me at Friday prayers

Cleansing off the toxic energies

People will tell you to flee negative energies, but most of us are not always able to choose. There are some people whose negative and profoundly toxic influence we are unable to escape.

I’ve often heard people say “Everybody is basically good” and “We are all the same.” I don’t believe this is the case. I have met enough people who are so profoundly psychologically damaged that they are unable to be anything but harmful in their impact. There are plenty of people, also, in the world who are not nasty because they just need to get ahead, but because they are stuck in a cycle of nastiness, and they are addicted to a diet of spite.

You cannot change them.

The best you can do is limit your exposure to them. You can’t completely avoid them, but you should not let their stench become part of your mental energy.

The second thing to do about such people is to not internalize their nastiness. It’s them, not you.

Vindictive people have a nose for damage: if they sense that a spiteful comment, or a judgmental remark will reduce you to grief or to anger, they will repeat it. Again and again. This includes workplace colleagues, by the way. Don’t struggle to defend yourself. If you know you are in the clear, do not take the ball from them. Drop it like a hot potato. This is about their internal damage and their twisted nature. It is not you.

Third, find a way to wash them off you.

Whenever I have to deal with toxic people, I resort to my ablutions: a) nature b) family and c) good friends.

I sit by Lake Michigan and let the beauty, power, and purity of the water wash over me, cleansing my heart of the immediate impact of damaged souls.

I turn to my family and ground myself in the fact that ultimately they are my focus, and anyone else, especially in the workplace, intersects on a temporary basis with my path.

I connect with good friends whom I know to have clear hearts, finding comfort in the fact that I am nestled in a multitude of positive spiritual energies. The few that are negative, toxic, harmful, and destructive need not be dwelt upon.

Don’t stare into the abyss of these hearts. These people are like flies at a picnic: swat them away, and continue with the barbecue. Find your ablutions and cleanse them off yourself.

Reclaim your life. Push the rubbish into a corner and shut the door on it.

A celebration of the parents who let me go

It was rare for young Pakistani women of my generation to move away from home for work or for higher education. I remember my ex-brother-in-law expressing shock and disapproval when I moved from Lahore to Islamabad to teach at the Islamic University and live at a women’s hostel. The people of my family did not do such things. Young single women did not move to different cities. That was a disreputable act. And there was no need! We were financially very comfortable. Why was this happening? ‘She’ll be fine,’ my mother insisted.

My parents supported me and encouraged me in my work. My mother never went to college; my dad supported himself through med school. Both were conservative Pakistanis and fiercely determined to support my career and growth.

Then three years later, I left the country for a degree at Cambridge University.I already had a career but they wanted me to pursue my dream, do what I wanted. When my scholarship fell into uncertainty and my job was threatened- because of dirty politics at the IIU when I wouldn’t kowtow to the authorities – my dad said he would finance the whole thing. Until the money came through, he did. ‘But it’s so much money,’ I wailed. ‘We will support your shauq, your passion,’ my mother said. I hated doing this to them, but they were my rock.

As much as they wanted me to settle down and get married and be near them, they were the wind under my wings. Yet they missed me. They wept with their faces turned away from me every time at the airport. I still hate airports. My heart breaks a million times. I have wept for ages on plane rides.

I left them before I turned 30, and then I only visited when I could, sometimes for just 10 days a year, sometimes after two or three or four years. They didn’t get to see me become mature (?) in my 30s and 40s. We got only celebrations and visits and phone calls. They got snapshots of me, and they still treasured it all.

But it was interrupted and disrupted. It was like a TV show with terrible transmission. Why was I now like this when I used to be like that? What was happening? Who was I now? What was my day like in America? What was Indiana like? What was Washington, DC like? Why was Stillwater so hard? How did I manage the mornings, the evenings? How did I parent on a routine basis? They were shut out of my growth and my routine for half my life, and I regret that.

You know how they say, if you love something, let it go? My parents really did this.

This is to celebrate them, their magnificent love and their unending support. I love you, ammi and abbu. Everything I am, everything I’ve done, is because of you.

Coffee shop serenity now

It’s Convention of the Loud Talkers in my cafe.

The usual Loud Talker has moved in defeat to the end of the table. A New Contender is filling the space with enormous small talk. Previous Champ is mere background bass right now. An additional minor player is talking *over* the other two.

I commented on the situation to the forced upbeat friendliness of the barista.

His quick but deeply felt storm-below-the-surface YEAH told me volumes.