The Journey Continues…

I have started a Women’s Wisdom training course. It’s almost over actually. Everyone’s first question is “what is that?” It’s part psychology, part therapy, part life coaching…all rolled into one. It’s about learning to get in touch with our own wisdom. The wisdom and intuition we’re all born with but slowly learn to stop listening to.

I have, with this course, decided to start listening again. I am learning to trust when my gut is trying to tell me something. When someone asks me to go somewhere and I get that uncomfortable feeling in my stomach, I’m doing my best not to dismiss it. I need to get curious, ask myself why I’m feeling that way. And see what I come up with.

I have for most of my life been the type of person that overthinks and talks myself either into or out of situations. For example, a neighbor will call and invite me over for coffee. My immediate feeling is no.  I don’t really feel like going. But I will say yes anyway. I feel bad saying no. So I go. And the whole time before I get there I will have an entire conversation in my head. Why did I say yes? I don’t even want to go. I’ll just call her and cancel. No i can’t cancel now that’s not right…and so on and so on.  Even if i have a good time, I was constantly in the habit of needing convincing.

I don’t want that indecision anymore. I don’t want the second guessing and overthinking that is preventing me from good times or landing me in situations where I’m not having a good time at all. I want to feel confident in my yeses and in my noes.

In my training course, I learned to see the difference of what a “no” felt like and what a “yes” felt like in my body. Here’s how it works, in case you want to give it a try…

You or have someone else ask you a question that has a clear no answer. When you hear the question, something will shift in your body. That gut reaction I mentioned earlier. Then you do the same with a clear yes question. This time, the reaction will be different. It may be subtle. But once you notice that, that feeling will get stronger. It may already be. The real question is: are we listening? Are we paying attention to what our bodies are signaling to us?

It’s a familiar story to a lot of us. We feel pain in our bodies and delay treating it. We feel tired and we still stay up another hour. We run ourselves ragged and take little time for self-care. I get it, who has the time? All that saving time is costing us something.

Since I began listening and trusting myself, I feel a lot better about my decisions. But it’s a still a process. Especially when you make a decision about something you won’t see the results of for a long time. In my case, I’ll be traveling soon. I had the option of renting an apartment or staying with family. At first, I felt adamant about renting a place. I felt having my own space would give me more independence. It would allow me and my kids to have the downtime we needed after being around people all day. It would give us time to process and decompress.

But as time went on, I realized that to rent an apartment would essentially be subjecting my kids to having too much alone time.  We live away from family and only see them on these vacations.

I prayed on the decision and sat with myself to see how I felt. After getting several signs, I felt good about forgoing the apartment. And now, I feel a bit anxious but I am trying to do my best to trust my feelings. It will take extra time and imagination to come up with ways to take time for me and my kids. But being aware of the need is half the battle.

I don’t want to hide from the world. I want to trust myself and live happily with my decisions. I want to find my own calm even when chaos is abound.

Trust can be the hardest gift to give anyone. Most of all ourselves.

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Mindful Parenting

Thirteen years ago, I had my first baby.

Trying to write this post about mindful parenting and the journey I’ve been through with my children and my 7 year old daughter has just said, “fine, fine i’ll just do that to you next time” stormed out and slammed the door.

All because I said, “next time can you throw out the apple core instead of leaving it on the computer desk?” I know, harsh.

She’s back…telling me “if i don’t want to talk to her, FINE. She doesn’t want to talk to me.” As she’s laying down next to me.

And this is parenting. Exhausting. Frustrating. Stressful.

When I had my first son, I knew what babies were like. I’m Palestinian..there were always babies around. And I had opinions about all of them. And the inevitable “when i become a parent…” Yeah, shut up younger me. You don’t know anything.

But when me and my husband were about to become parents, we were determined to be different. We started studying attachment parenting, reading up on homeopathy and Montessori. Breastfeeding and homeschooling. I read about birth and the best way to deliver naturally without drugs. We were on this! We were ready!

The first year of my first son’s life was a result of all our studies. We didn’t allow him to watch TV. I literally used to turn his baby chair around and make him face the wall while we watched. He played with wooden toys and occupied himself. It was a first-time parent’s dream. He was a wonderful baby, bless him.

It’s in this bubble we thought, parenting is easy. Let’s do this again!

Baby #2 comes along just to show you that nothing is under your control. Buckle up kids, this is gonna be a bumpy ride. And it was. My 2nd son was cranky and clingy. I held him in a baby carrier all the time while doing laundry or dishes or cooking. Add my 1 and 1/2 year old toddler and well life was less a dream.

But we still did our best to use all the skills we learned. Attachment parenting was all about keeping kids close and explaining everything to them. If my son was crying, I would help him identify his frustration by saying it out loud. “oh you’re crying. It looks like you’re upset about not getting that toy. I know that can be frustrating. But you’ll get a turn in a bit.” And i’d hold him if he let me or i’d dodge and weave the various projectiles he’d hurl at me. But i did my best to keep my cool. This was important. It’s how he’d learn to be in touch with his feelings and how to articulate them.

Even if i was in the middle of a conversation with someone, I would stop and listen whenever he called. Because he couldn’t tell me yet what was wrong. I needed to teach him how.  My first two kids got the benefit of all of my attention. I sat and read to them and played with them. I made them costumes from random household items. I took them to the park and let them stay for hours; playing in the sand. I’d swing my toddler while the baby napped in the carrier. We would walk everywhere with the baby in the carrier and the toddler in the stroller.

I was physically and mentally exhausted. But i was present and attentive. I was attuned to their every need. And I was over it. Two boys…by Arab standards was the gold standard. I could quit now and never get nagged about it. But my husband wanted more kids and well, that was that.

Baby # 3 came along and when my other boys were 4 and 2. Moving from two kids to three is the biggest transition in a parent’s life. (But that’s another post).  Now the mindful parenting becomes less mindful. I started going through the motions. You start wanting time for yourself which is never available it seems. Because there’s always a kid wanting something from you. It seems impossible getting them all on the same sleep schedule. At this point, I am still trying to be present but the resentment is creeping in. You have more moments of “what am i even doing here?” “is this really my life?” “How did I get here in the first place?”

By the time baby 4 and 5 come along, I am so over parenting, I don’t know what to do with myself. And it will be a long time before I figure that out. It will be a long time before I find fulfillment in something that is solely my own. Namely, writing.

I have become far removed from the parent I was. I am still a very involved mother. But it wasn’t the same. I started letting them use electronics at their own discretion. Sometimes on for half the day. Mindlessly clicking their lives away.

When the opportunity came up to attend a “Mindful Parenting” workshop, I decided to go and see what came up for me. As the slideshow progressed, what came up was guilt. I remember the things I used to do with my kids and realized that my younger kids never really got the benefit of the attentive mother. They never really had me there sitting with them; reading with them or simply sitting in the quiet with them. And I wanted to give that to them.

Suddenly, all the bad things i was doing as a parent were passing in front of me like a movie.  I felt like I was doing all the things under the “don’t” column.

But it is really difficult. And i’m still struggling. I decided to wean them off the electronics, limiting their daily time. But there are days when I want to sleep in so the little one will just get on the computer knowing I’m not awake to tell him no. And I know he’s doing it but I’m tired! I don’t want to get up! Sometimes the fight isn’t worth it. Or maybe it is and i’m just lazy. I don’t know.

That’s a lie. I do know. I want my kids to use their creativity and imagination. I want them to think outside of the box and question and feel with their whole selves.

So I’m back to sounding like a robot, “I understand you’re feeling frustrated at not being able to go on the computer right now. I get you want to spend every waking minute on it and it’s frightening to be bored but this is healthier and blahahahahalahbalbhalfhgalhbl”

I ask myself 100 times a day, “why do i even bother??”

Then I see them doing a puzzle or playing a board game or my 5 year old actually using his imagination, I know it’s working. And every little bit helps and is better than nothing. There will still be yelling, stress, and inconsistencies (5 year old has been on computer waaaay past his time limit today) but it’s about recognizing that and starting again.

One thing I learned on this journey, is stop being so hard on myself. There is always hope and it’s never too late to try. We all have our own journeys. I cannot map out theirs as much as I’d like to. The truth is I haven’t even mapped my own so I have to remind myself we’re all on this path together.

I’m here. Mind, body and soul.

 

 

Beyonce’s Cultural Misstep You Might’ve Missed While Watching Formation

 


0-3RWI50pvFH5PCDfbBeyonce in Coldplay’s “Hymn for the Weekend”

 

I have been a fan of Beyoncé’s since Destiny’s Child. We’re basically the same age so we’ve grown up together. Her songs took me from high school to adulthood. I have danced and cried and loved to her songs. I have felt uplifted and empowered because Beyoncé has always been about female empowerment ever since “Say My Name” and “Survivor”.

So seeing Beyoncé dressed as a Bollywood starlet in Coldplay’s “Hymn for the Weekend” made me very uncomfortable. Cultural appropriation is such a confusing thing for most people. When is it appropriation and when is it appreciation? And the answer may just belong to the affected communities. I do not belong to the Indian community nor to the Black community. But as a Muslim woman, I know what it feels like to be a part of a marginalized community. And my heart went out to the Indian women that would feel underrepresented by this.

The fact is, there already was an actual Bollywood actress, Soonam Kapur, in the video. But rather than feature her in the starring role she was relegated to the background. Why wasn’t she the actress Chris Martin goes to see at the cinema in the film? That is her actual job after all.

Beyoncé was barely in this video but she shouldn’t get a pass for it. It isn’t enough to say, well this is what happens when you let the white guy plan the video. Because Beyoncé has shown that she is in charge of her image and her choice of song.

And here’s where it gets problematic. A week after this video came out, Beyoncé dropped “Formation.”

“Formation” is an AMAZING video. It is a political work of art. As a fan, I was so proud of Beyoncé . As a person who has been rooting for the Black Lives Matter movement, I was excited for all the Black girls and women that would see this video and feel “Yes! This is who I am and who I want to be!” I was blown away by the power. But then I thought for all the Black women that felt empowered by this song and video, what about the Indian women that woke up to the Coldplay video? How did they feel to see Beyoncé dressed like a stereotypical Bollywood star that represents an Orientalist fantasy? How many Indian women are equated with this image when they are more than just a costume? It’s hard to answer because ever since “Formation” came out, discussion about “Hymn for the Weekend”, where you can find it, has been overshadowed. And it deserves discussion.

“Formation” showcases black women in all their beautiful shades and sizes; young and old. We can’t say she doesn’t know how to show representation. While it isn’t her job to uplift the Indian community, as a feminist, she should be thinking about what her role in Coldplay’s video would mean to women. Representation matters.

She is not the only one at fault here. Coldplay’s faults are many for this whole video and it is not their first offense. But, again, I’m a Beyoncé fan and it is for that fact that i’m concentrating on her. “Formation” is a video that will go down in history. “Hymn for the Weekend” is pretty forgettable. Except for those that will remember when Beyonce forgot them.

 

If you can’t say something nice…

Ahh, the comments section.  have they always been this nasty? When did they go from being a place where people can discuss ideas to personal attacks of the writer, creator, manufacturer? I’m all for people disagreeing with what I have to say but let’s keep it about the subject at hand. My article about Dolce & Gabbana’s abaya collection for the Guardian received 409 comments. Many of them were just attacking me for being a (Hijabi) Muslim. Or attacking Islam in general. A lot were removed by the moderator. There were some that actually did discuss the points of the article but they were few and far between that I had to stop reading them.

I needed to stop reading them because it takes away from the excitement and sense of accomplishment. The nastiness of the insults completely sucks the joy out of the process. It really is a shame that people feel the need to unleash such ugliness into the world.  Obviously not all comments sections are this way but the overwhelming majority are. Artists and celebrities often stay away from critiques and social media for this exact reason.  Most refuse to Google themselves for fear of what they’ll find.

But ever since the creation of the internet, there has been usernames and anonymity but the rhetoric wasn’t always so hateful. What has changed?

Some websites are considering doing away with comment sections entirely.  While others are trying to replicate the successes of other websites that seem to still cultivate intellectual discussions. And that’s really the shame because these forums should be a placce for people to come to together to share ideas on ways to improve or ask questions. Writers and manufacturers should want to respond  to create a meaningful dialogue. But to respond now is to add fuel to the fire making commenters even angrier.

I hope there is a solution. The truth is as a writer I am interested in what people think. It helps to know that your work is being read and hopefully enjoyed.  I write because I feel a need to write. But i won’t lie. I like people reading my stuff. I like the attention and praise. But what I really love is the discussion. It’s a great feeling to know I’ve made someone stop and think about something; see a different perspective.

Audiences’ reactions (whether 1 person or hundreds) have the ability to make me doubt myself sometimes. In fact, the idea of sending my work out into the ether can be daunting. I allowed the fear of rejection paralyze me creatively for years. But I have come to realize that I never stopped writing. I just wasn’t allowing anyone to see it. I got to a point where I didn’t want to do that to myself anymore. It wasn’t helping me or anyone else.

Since publishing work, I have gained so much more confidence in my own self and abilities. As well as support from friends, family and strangers too! My kids see that achieving your dreams is a possibility and it’s a constant work in progress.  With or without the comments sections, I will keep working at it.

 

Ring, ring…hello, destiny?

In keeping with jumping on writing opportunities, the chance to write for The Guardian came up and I, well, jumped on it.

At first, the voice inside my mind head started to tell me I couldn’t do it. I mean, this is The Guardian! Surely, I needed more experience. I asked my husband what he thought and he told me, “to go for it. This is what you’ve been waiting for, isn’t it?”

He was right. This is what I’ve been waiting for. What I’ve been working toward. I emailed the editor asking for the details of the piece; angle? word count? deadline?

She responded almost immediately asking for 600-800 by 9:30am ET the next day! It was 1030pm Amman time, where i live, which meant it was due by 430pm my time the next day. Well, then! I replied in the affirmative. I had work to do.

First thing, research! Thankfully, my experience from writing for Muslimah Media Watch came in handy. I knew the key was to get as many articles as i could find on the subject, in this case Dolce & Gabbana’s new abaya collection. After reading several sources, i was ready to support my case.

Second, write! I knew my limit was 800 words so I just let the words flow. I am a notorious self-editor. But after working with an actual editor (shoutout to Tasnim!), I have found that it’s better to get the ideas on paper and let the editor do their magic. I still edit obviously but i won’t keep going back and deleting every other word until I feel it’s perfect. Sometimes you just have to let go.

I finished a few hours later. Another thing I learned about myself throughout my writing journey is that I work better under pressure. If i have too much time til deadline, I tend to procrastinate and overthink. Having less time forces me to just press send.

Then the waiting again. I was told my piece would be sent back to me for final approval of edits. at the same time, I also knew there were other people interested in writing the piece as well. I didn’t know, at the time, that those ladies were told someone (me) was already covering it. I started thinking it would come down to a competition for the best of the submissions. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep last night.

I kept watching the clock. I knew I had til 430pm my time but that didn’t stop me from checking. I was a ball of nerves all day. Finally, at 5pm I received an email from an editor at The Guardian with the edits of my article.

When I saw the edits, a lot had been removed. Some things were added or rearranged but the majority of the piece was still mine. I remember comparing the two pieces; my original with the edited version. I kept thinking, ok, it’s different but still my voice. The ending had changed and the pieces that were removed didn’t seem to take away from the overall message I wanted to relay but in the excitement of getting published by a major publication, I went ahead and approved the changes.

Once I emailed the approval, the article went up on the site. Seeing my article with my byline made me cry. Literally, I was staring at the screen and crying. I had never accomplished anything like that before professionally. It was such an amazing feeling. Sharing that article with family and friends was a joy! My husband had the article printed and blown up! My kids were so proud of me. I was proud of me.

Then the comments on the article started rolling in. Being a naive, inexperienced writer, I was excited to see what people had to say and share about my article. I never should’ve bothered. I will post another time about the comments section.

But this is important: What many readers don’t understand is how much of the final product doesn’t belong to just the writer. It is a collective effort between the writer and editor. Yes, I may have final approval of the overall tone and wording but even those undergo extensive scrutiny. I had no control over title or captions. In fact, I had never even seen them. People may take issue with me for those very words but that had nothing to do with me. Now I know, next time I need to be willing to voice my concerns if i have them. The desire to be published should not override the message. To be clear, I’m happy with the way the article came out. I just might have been happier with some of my original content added to it.

It’s all a learning process. That initial excitement and joy over having taken a chance and accomplishing a goal didn’t have to be diminished by the less exciting parts of the experience. Each high and low will help me grow. I am learning to feel it all; the acceptances, rejections, praise and critique. After all, it’ll give me something to write about.

Getting published

A friend of mine sent me an email from a site, called MuslimahMediaWatch.org, looking for writers. My first instinct was ‘hey, why not?’ I actually had a topic in mind so I went for it. They wanted to see two writing samples. So I got started. After writing my samples, I sent them to my friends to get feedback. I worked and reworked them. Finally, I had to hit send.

Then the waiting starts. And with it so does the anxiety. Will they like it? Will it get accepted?  No. No way it’ll get picked. 

Next day (don’t ask how I slept), my phone chimes. Email notification. Gulp..this is it.

Open to find “Thank you for your email….You have a very lucid style and your humor definitely shines through.” Omg! What??

Reread. Yep, that’s what it says. Oh my God. She liked it. A real life editor liked what I wrote.  The rest of the email was, of course, full of edits. But still. She liked it. And wanted to publish it!

After deleting half of my original piece (whatever, there was still another half!), I reworked what I had. I learned how to hyperlink and insert images and source them with hyperlinks. I might be a bit hyperlink obsessed to be honest. I sent it in and after a few more back and forths, it was ready!

A week later it was online! It had been shared over 500 times from the site. Not to mention the times it was being shared amongst friends and family. It was surreal. I went from being afraid to submit to being read by hundreds of people.

A follow-up piece followed soon after and I was invited to become a regular contributor. Which I gladly accepted.

The process had been so difficult in my mind. The reality was so much easier.  Let’s hope it continues that way.  Because I refuse to let my fears get in my way. My goal for 2016 is to jump on any writing opportunities that come along!

Finally!

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as i can remember.  For the longest time, I’ve let my fears of rejection hold me back.  I remember being in a journalism class at college and the final assignment was to submit an article to a newspaper or magazine. I did the assignment just never sent it to anyone. I just couldn’t get myself to do it. But how can you be a writer if you never submit your work?

Are you even a writer if no one reads what you’ve written? It’s like the ‘tree in forest’ riddle.

Years later, I wanted to write a blog. I wanted to write about my experiences as a new mother; as an American living in Damascus. But I kept letting fear get in my way. Who’d want to read what I had to say anyway?  The desire never went away. I just kept putting it on the backburner. Raising young children made it easy to do so. Eventually, though, your kids grow up and suddenly the desire I kept pushing down came to the forefront; demanding to be confronted.

It wasn’t until I attended a women’s circle that I learned that fear was never going to go away. That rejection was not, in fact, the end of the world. The voices in my head were telling me I wasn’t good enough and I believed them without ever even trying.

Well, no more. This is it! I’m taking the plunge. So far, I’m swimming just fine.