Dormant anger in the postmodern era and a music review

There are days – more realistically, nights – where I’m so overcome by my own sudden, built-up anger that I don’t know what to do with myself. It’ll come entirely out of left-field, usually while I’m working, maybe triggered by a lyric in a song or something I read. Right now I’m reading about the Security Council’s action after the Syrian Civil War began and how its major weapon – language, in the form of resolutions – began to encompass addressing radicalization as a global concern. This coincided nicely with a closer listening of Everything Everything’s 2015 album Get to Heaven and this song in particular.

The entire album is a “love” letter to the general alienation the postmodern world perpetuates, especially with an eye to British politics (note that this album dropped before Brexit was a thing; very prescient), radicalization and the rise of ISIS, and just general daily disenfranchisement juxtaposed with the notion of being humans that have inexplicably set their own trajectory for a perverse evolution.

**

I found out one of my oldest and most loved friends has cancer. The last time I found out a friend had cancer was two weeks after she died.

**

I’m trying hard to get a co-op in the Hague with a bureau that works with human trafficking and sexual violence against children. It feels fitting recompense for all the bullshit I’ve had to stomach and read about over my life. Besides, it’s the Hague and it has to do with international law and global governance. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted.

**

My friend starts chemo the same day I have my second and final interview with the above bureau.

**

I have been trying to work through a lot of the anger I’ve felt especially as a byproduct of learning too much and not being able to do enough. Writing poetry helps. Working on research for my Speakeasy Symposium helps. Actually studying and being organized helps.

But somewhere in the cockles of my otherwise warm heart is a too-hot coal that suddenly cracks violently. And when that coal cracks, I become cognizant that there is an angry, angry Pakistani that aches to rail against the system and scream her discontent. And I’m relatively privileged and lucky, so what does that say about the rest of my 180 million-odd compatriots? What does that say about the millions of Americans living under the thumb of an institution that hates them? What does that say about people being, on the one hand, constantly bombarded, and on the other, constantly instrumentalized by the same people bombarding them for liberal humanitarian points?

And where does that put my good-will and desire to be a diplomat/arbitrator if I’m still pretending that I’m not always really fucking angry (sorry mamma and dadda)?

When I  was studying sociology in high school I didn’t understand postmodernists all that much. All that talk of meta-narratives while painting their own meta-narrative seemed absolutely absurd to me, and I really enjoyed taking that “redundancy” down in my essays. But now? Actually living the postmodern? I think I get it.

Humanity has a long and storied and sometimes really shitty history. We have been through a lot to get to the point we’re at right now. But here’s what’s different about then and now:

We can actually look back at a good chunk of our past. We have painstakingly categorized and subcategorized the movements, zeitgeists, music, politics, craftsmanship, technology, literature, art of our past and after we got to the modern, we were stumped.

What does knowing what’s come before make us now? What does it mean when we have access to more information than we have ever had access to in the history of mankind?

It means a great deal of disillusionment. It means a lot of arguments about whether or not we have any freewill. It means a lot of nights being crippled by how much the world is. We have applied so much theory to our past that we start seeing ourselves within a framework and the effect is terrifying. We cope by meme-ification. By taking the mundane and making it absurd, we give something a universal yet temporary meaning; we make it our momentary zeitgeist, but what happens when your zeitgeist are fickle and somewhat superficial?

What happens when your zeitgeist is situated in the theatre of the absurd and someone else’s is steeped in tragedy and exploitation?

I don’t have an answer for this. All these questions aside, we’re still flawed and humans and in a hundred years they’ll have a category for us too. That’s comforting. We still make beautiful art and music and literature. We still have fascinating and infuriating politics. We still fight wars and make love, sometimes with the same hand. But to contemplate us is to stoke the anger.

Is this an anger that characterizes our time? Is this the anger of someone from a country that has Seen Some Shit?

Whose anger do I nurse in my breast, and why does she erupt when I am at my most desperate and helpless?

I am afraid.

The old Lie

I imagine the hardest part of living through a war is not being able to see the enemy as anything but just that; an enemy. I imagine the other hardest part of living through a war is realizing you had no stake in it until your way of living was turned into a small pile of chips to wager.

What they don’t tell you about war in history books (that aren’t doused in Wilfred Owen) is that war turns people pathetic. It turns people into schoolyard bullies trying to prove to the other that their prepubescent chin hairs are longer. Dignity lies in the barrel of a gun…and how far you can threaten the mass annihilation of a people in a Facebook comment.

War turns people small. Not small in a cute, cuddly way. Small like a shitty chihuahua who yelps and growls and bites really irritatingly hard. You suddenly become a groupie after a government that was the bane of your existence, and forget every single valid qualm you had against it because it gave you a distraction.

War turns people short-sighted. They say retrospect is 20/20, but not during wartime! There’s a reason history repeats itself time and time and time again because the fog of war makes it really hard to actually see what’s staring back at you in the mirror unless you have the presence of mind to air out the bathroom. Everyone loves a good nuclear war.

War turns people geographically illiterate. No, really, everyone loves a good nuclear war – especially if the targets are right next door. That won’t go over badly at all.

War turns people heartless.

Everyone loves a good nuclear war.

That won’t go over badly at all.

War turns people impractical. You know how it’s really irritating to have to go through a visa process because some jerk from your country did a really horrible thing and now you have to deal with the consequences of a country that went full War on Terror?

Yeah. That really shouldn’t be relatable.

And honestly? War turns people selfish. On the scale of the effect of war being an inconvenience <-> being disastrous skews more and more towards the latter when you start tossing poverty into the mix. You know what’s hard to do when you’re homeless, internally displaced, and living day to day – sometimes hour to hour?

Changing the filter on your Facebook profile picture to your country flag.

No, but really though, that’ll show ’em!

My parents raised me too well to let my ego dictate personal foreign policy. They also raised me to not share controversial opinions but that one is a bit harder to follow.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

In defense of the fantastic

I will be the first to admit that I read fiction far more than I read non-fiction*. In her fairly successful attempt to make sure her children turned out to be fluent in English, my mother filled every bookshelf I ever had with books either bought firsthand, secondhand, or passed down from her own childhood. After a while, I took excursions away from my own bookshelves to secretly raid hers during afternoon naps or days she ended up staying at her school late.

I’m sure if she knew the kinds of books I was sneakily reading at the time, she would have made sure I stuck to my British schoolgirl books. Alas, for better or for worse, I got to read about Alexander the Great’s various and plentiful and certainly embellished indiscretions. And Cleopatra’s. And various other historical figures whose lives were probably not quite as exciting and scandalous as Valerio Massimo Manfredi would have you think.

One of the genres I found myself gravitating to were fantasy novels. I’ve mentioned before of my great, undying love for Tamora Pierce and how her heroines taught me to be independent and strong, but beyond just that it was the candid exploration of socio-political issues set against the backdrop of a world not quite but similar enough to my own. I was forced to put aside my own reality and consider the author’s presented universe, and to put my prejudices aside meant questioning my predispositions. No matter how young my thought process, it was a necessary experiment. As I revisited the same books over the years (or, hell, sometimes in the same year) the knowledge I’d acquired in the meantime found more nuance in the books, in the characters, picked out subplots that I hadn’t even seen before. I was able to then see the similarities between my world and that of the protagonist’s. Fantasy became a little less fantastic and a little more allegorical. Even the highest of fantasies (and, it must be said, probably the highest of authors) forced me to confront political truths in my own life. I might even go as far as to say that fantasy and fiction helped influence my politics.

As absurd as that sounds, why wouldn’t that be the case? We become so invested in fiction that the experiences of the characters we read about elicit visceral reactions from us: hatred, love, empathy, sadness, grief, thoughtfulness, sometimes even horror and a sense of overwhelmedness that requires us to physically remove ourselves from the experience.

Two words to this point: Red. Wedding. If you thought the show was bad…

Another thought to the same point. A Song of Ice and Fire/A Game of Thrones: Whether you watch the tv show, read the books, or both, we all know by the now the profound cultural impact George R. R. Martin has had on us. The New Yorker publishes think pieces about the series. We debate redemption arcs, commiserate over usually gory deaths, confront the stark reality that justice is not always served and the world doesn’t owe even the most honorable people anything and what even is honor? Moreover, the universe forces you to politick in your own mind in an attempt to keep up with the characters and mechanisms presented to you. People hypothesize, argue, posit theories in a way that political scientists should be awed and probably a little annoyed by. In fact, people have managed to apply this universe’s politicking to that of the real world. This isn’t just limited to the US, although that is the example that comes most readily to mind. I’ve seen Pakistanis identify major political actors in our own realm as Cerseis and Margaerys. As mundane and even vapid as it may seem, that is a disservice to humanity. We have seen and manifested reflections of our politics in various art forms for as long as we have had said art forms. If mass deliberation by virtue of social media is somehow less meritous (is this a word? It should be), then I’m happy to be vapid.

I watched 12 Angry Men with my parents earlier this evening. Originally, I had intended to only passively watch while tending to my farm in Stardew Valley, but somewhere between catching my largest eel yet and realizing how little hay I had to feed my chickens through the winter I realized this movie deserved my full attention. I was rapt, as were my parents, and it stood to make an emotive audience of us. We gasped, laughed incredulously, and when the movie ended we just sat in amazement. It didn’t matter that the movie was almost 60 years old, the black and white seemed a trivial thing to note; we had suspended our own notion of reality in favor of the one presented to us, and by the time we snapped back to our living room chasing the tail end of 2016 we had absorbed and harmonized the truths in 12 Angry Men with our own truths.

Or, as the case may be, our reasonable doubts.

After the movie I went and did some cursory research. As it turns out, it was the movie that influenced US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer’s decision to study law. Good call.

The beauty of being human is that we can find inspiration, motivation, drive, hope, outrage in so much. Fantasy for me, though, became a means of productive dissociation before I even knew what that meant. It forced me to confront difficult questions while maintaining the comfort of distance. When it did become a little too much for me, I could put down the book and mull everything over until I was ready to plunge myself back into the problems of my foster universe. And for a Pakistani kid – for a deeply traumatized 20-something year old college student – that kind of control is a savior.

And then when I’m ready, I can save entire worlds again.

*this does not make me better than anyone

At some point I’ll make a list of my favorite/most influential fantasy/fiction series 🙂 Currently reading the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson.

Long note: honest despair

I realize my last few blog posts have been a little more depressing than I usually put out. I try and imbue optimism in everything I write, because there’s enough sadness going around without me adding to it. And yet, here I am.

I forced myself to take a social media hiatus after some encouragement from friends. There is such a thing as too much engagement, and I had overextended my capacity to that end. That…was a sucky realization to say the least. I always thought of myself – forced the view of myself – as being impervious to emotional exhaustion. I feel, therefore I am, and I am lucky to be around so why ever stop feeling? If I want to give my life to some sort of public service, then I need to be able to power through the fatigue, muster every ounce of energy and positivity in me and somehow add to humanity’s global reserves of drive and perseverance.

Perseverance. Fortitude. Resilience.

Resilience.

Is there such a thing as being too resilient? is a question I’ve asked of Pakistan as a whole many times before. I look at when this debate first began – the night of the APS massacre – and wonder why it took that long for me to begin considering that question. As was at my emotional worst – and also at my angriest. The emotional wreckage felt welcome because of my physical distance from Pakistan. It felt like I was doing something if I was in so much pain – that there was a connection that mattered so much that it bruised no matter how far I was from home. It was comforting and despite the despair that still itched at my heart, it helped me heal.

At some point, we need to break down our shell and allow ourselves to feel the heft of lives lost and lives scattered, of normalcy shattered and routine decimated. We risk losing our humanity and capacity to empathize and mourn if we don’t let our walls down; we risk losing the opportunity to recharge.

I think I have let myself feel too much. I think I pushed myself to take in so much sorrow that I burnt myself out. Sometimes when I’m alone and I let myself be vulnerable, I cry for myself, for my family, for families I do not know, for people who have cried like I have. I cry for my own little microcosmic problems, and I cry at the sheer scale of the chaos I cannot even begin to comprehend.

And when I’m not crying, I try to fight a battle I’m not sure I picked wisely. We are all guilty of that. We pick fights out of self-righteousness in an attempt to feel vindicated, to feel any sort of productivity in the face of helplessness. We try to educate and inform, when we are the ones who want so desperately to be sat down and educated and informed. We project our own confusion, hurt, chaos of mind and heart onto others and I’m not sure if that heals anything.

And what we all need right now is to heal. Whether the wounds are global, local, personal, we need healing and kindness. Taking part in the “right” discourse can only help so much.

I suppose that’s what I’m tired of. I used to think that argument was the basis of all knowledge, and I still do believe that, but an argument requires some desire to find understanding. The dialogue I attempted to engage in was for the wrong reasons. And so I never truly let myself heal. I just held myself together with spit and gum and pretended I had recharged.

None of us really let ourselves recharge. We have forced ourself to always be “on” and ready to engage.

Screw engaging.

We have outsourced interaction unto words that are cold and impersonal.

I turned the pursuit of kindness into a game of skirmishes that I decided to ascribe intellectual properties unto.

We are – I am – so busy talking that we forget how to really feel, when our guard is down, we are broken and raw. That’s no way to recharge. You do not heal a wound by exposing it to the elements when it needs to be tended to overtime.

I’m tired, and that’s okay, but I need to do something about the fact that I exhausted all of my facilities in self-destructive perseverance.

Being too resilient is a bad thing.

At the time of writing this, I feel smaller and more helpless than I ever have. I don’t think that’s an uncommon sentiment lately, regardless of where you’re from. I find myself turning to art, music, writing but at the time of finishing this draft, an artistic Giant has been assassinated in Pakistan, and rather than taking the time to mourn him, I see my countrymen sharing videos and pictures of his ruined body. There is nothing sacred left about the horrors we as a world are facing. We have monotonized what should be held as unusual and unwelcome, for whatever reason (I have my own theories as to that).

I don’t really have a solution to my own despair, but maybe that’s the point.

Maybe there is no point, but maybe the point is loving fearlessly, whether that’s yourself or others.

There is some comfort in platitude.

bee-stung tongue

I’ve been MIA for the past few months – but I promise it has been for a good reason. If not for a good reason, then it’s been for a reason I can’t necessarily divulge/qualify. At least not yet. I’m working on something that’ll do just that but I can’t promise when that’ll see the light of day.

I was considering whether or not I wanted my comeback post to be a poetry dump (because if there’s one thing I’ve been writing a lot of, it’s poetry) but I figured that would be a cop-out, and disingenuous to say the least. That said, if you ARE interested in reading things I should have written and subsequently burnt at 16, my instagram is where it’s at. Poetry has been incredibly cathartic for me over the past few weeks – the act of creating something beautiful out of moments of intense darkness and self-destruction is almost life-affirming in a way that can be difficult to do otherwise. But I miss writing prosaically so, well, here goes nothing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I use words recently. I’ve mentioned before that sometimes I get extremely self-conscious about how I speak, how my accent comes off, whether I sound…literate. And a lot of that is the product of perverse, internalized notions of literacy itself; as if to be literate you need to be perfectly fluent in English. But even aside from the accent aspect, language can be hard when you’re at least bilingual. You fumble your words all the time, and fumble them even more because you’re so self-conscious about how you’re being perceived – suddenly, you’re more foreign than you were before you started talking and if you’re like me and involved in public speaking, that can be incredibly stressful. I’m always worried my professors, peers and competition will underestimate me or expect less of me because they think I can’t grasp English as well as native speakers.

And then the hypocrisy of it all…it shouldn’t matter how well you speak English. It doesn’t, shouldn’t, affect how intelligent people think you are. Then why is it that I feel a treacherous tingle of pleasure at the top of my spine when someone says, “You’re very eloquent for a non-native speaker” or “Wait, you aren’t American?” That shouldn’t validate my intelligence. It shouldn’t speak to my worth as a student. But it does, and I’m still trying to unpack that from my psyche.

I recognize that as someone who operates within the realm of public speech, articulation is a large part of what I do. As a writer and a speaker, I operate almost entirely within the realm of words and that is where I’m most comfortable. But sometimes your tongue is so laden with all the ways you can phrase a sentence that you end up swollen and heavy-jowled, and all that comes from your lips are disjointed words interjected with hesitation and insecurity. You sit down, red, and pretend you aren’t being stared at by people who’re wondering what the hell you’re doing there; you pretend you aren’t pretending those people are staring at you because it’s much easier to displace the responsibility of criticism than admit you hate some aspect of your identity.

I love the English language. I love how it lends itself to accessorizing. But, as I have had to admit to my friends on multiple occasions, “Sometimes my tongue can’t wrap itself around English.” After talking to other polyglot friends, they’ve had the same struggle. Different languages require different formations, require reaching into different parts of your bodies and exhaling or inhaling just so. Speaking is a physical act, and sometimes your muscles are rusty, or overworked, or you just plain don’t want to use a language and aren’t admitting it or just have to get over it.

Sometimes I just want to wrap myself in the mantle of Urdu. Sometimes I want to court French, shy as I am after months of separation. Sometimes I want to lose myself in the full-bodied experience of Arabic, despite how little I understand it, because that is a spiritual connection that transcends speech.

Sometimes I don’t want to be eloquent.

I was talking to a (polyglot) friend in class today, and for some reason we started exchanging niceties in French. We went on for a while until I eventually asked:”Ça va bien?” “Da.”

There was a pause, and then we burst out laughing.

There is a beauty in being so full of language, so full of possible phraseologies  and syntax and unique colloquialisms, that you bubble over like an airy champagne. I want to learn to celebrate the days English doesn’t fit on my tongue because it means I have encountered, experienced, lived and loved so much. It won’t be easy, but I’ll add that to my list of invocations.

Another essay on home

They say you carry your home with you wherever you go. If that’s truly the case, then it should come as no surprise to the world that I hold within me a tempest: fire engulfing water trying to drench the flames fanned by winds trying to pull the elements every which way, and how beautiful that scene?
Home was never meant to be confined to brick and mortal. Home can be as grandiose as Versailles and as meagre as cardboard propped up by cans of refried beans. Home knows not the constraints of construction, although home is itself a construct. Home is not bound within the realm of conceptualization, though home is itself a concept. To strip home to its bare, naked self shows that at its very core it is a feeling evoked, or a series of feelings evoked, as fickle as September weather. To carry home within you is not to carry concepts or constructs, but to carry raw sentiment. Doesn’t it make sense then why people get so territorial, why nations go to war over arbitrary lines, why the diaspora, any diaspora, is such a powerful nucleus?

If trauma can be transferred over generations, then surely a sense of home can be transferred over generations as well – for isn’t home the most traumatic realization of all? It sticks with you, digs deep into your flesh, reverse lobotomizes itself into your brain – except that it can possess and inspire extraordinary love as well as extraordinary pain.

The diaspora shows that home can be found in people as well. But what words would do justice, could possibly do justice to that manifestation of home? To be so lucky as to experience home in all its vagaries – and yet, to be rent apart by it all at the same time.

Home is in many ways as much a curse as it is a blessing.

Two and a half thoughts from Thanksgiving eve

  1. I always get a little bit emotional whenever I watch Hook. It reminds me far too much of my own childhood, where I could spend endless hours with my own imagination. I’d make a laptop out of my heavy blue notebook, following my mother around and pulling out it out whenever we had even a few minutes to sit down; I would daydream for ages, thinking of all my favorite characters from TV shows, books and cartoons, creating scenarios where I would save the day and be the heroine to end all heroines. I would frolic – like, literally frolic – in my garden in Lahore and pluck flowers, grass, seeds and berries, mashing them into elixirs that I would then taste-test. I determined that elixirs are naturally bad-tasting things, and that simply the act of making them was enough. Actually imbibing in my potions was optional. But here’s the part in Hook that really got to me: when Maggie sings, and sings with all her heart out at the moon. Goosebumps. I always tell people that I used to sing a lot as a kid, that I used to be a really good singer. Truth is, I was just less inhibited as a child, because I didn’t hold myself to standards that either I had set for me or that I had cultivated for myself based on the world around me. I could sing my heart out, forget about whether it was good or bad, and the confidence was all I needed. Now, even when I’m alone, I police my own singing. How ridiculous is that? I police my singing, my drawing, my writing, and in doing so, I run the risk of taking the fun out of my own hobbies. Refining your skills is extremely important, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not as important as remembering how to enjoy the things you love doing. I nearly ruined drawing for myself; I still love singing in a group and aggressively screaming the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody or Vienna during karaoke nights; and writing is still my one of my greatest joys in life. Keep what you love close to your heart, and improve on it every day, but never compromise love for expertise.
  2. This is a slightly darker thought. In a way, I feel like I’m exposing certain people by writing this but the hope is that we are far too old to remember minute details of our childhood at this point. Pakistan’s demographics lean heavily towards the Muslim majority side. Only 1.8% of our population is Christian, but then, that’s a nice, solid 2,700,000 people. Pakistan’s a pretty big country. Anyway, I must have been 11 years old. I had a pretty good awareness of the world around me, being the budding future political science major that I was. I was also a voracious reader and pretty damn observant. So, I observed that a classmate of mine (who incidentally had the same name as me) wore the same necklace everyday to class. I had a feeling. One day, as we were playing during our recess, I noticed that it had slipped out from underneath the kameez of her uniform: a green, beautiful cross. I absolutely loved it. I wanted to know more. I had been reading a lot about Christianity and was fascinated by the religion. I’m not sure exactly what I said, it was either a really excited and sincere “Is that a cross?” or a nonchalant, feigning-at-tacit “What is that?” Immediately, her hand went to the cross, and her body language changed to a defensive one. Her voice didn’t change, but I knew the stream of conversation wasn’t going to put her at ease and make her feel as open as I was hoping it would. “It’s a medal,” she said, hurriedly. “…a medal?” “Yes.” I knew not to pry any further. Eventually, I think she became more open with me about her religion as we got to know each other better, but that was the day I realized what being marginalized meant. You could approach someone with the most sincere of intentions, but that doesn’t matter if you’ve been raised being told to be careful about your words and to keep your identity on the down-low. I understand that a lot better now, because it’s something I’ve been forced to experience. But back in Pakistan, I was supremely privileged – a Sunni-raised Muslim girl (albeit with strange Sufi family traditions) who fit the right demographics and had a family name that didn’t make people raise their eyebrows.
    1. I don’t think I have to explain what has happened recently to make me think along these lines, but I have just one thing to contribute: since coming to America, every time I see a police officer, my heart beats a little bit faster. I put on my most gracious smile, chirp a friendly “Thank you, officer! Have a good day, officer!” and put my head down to keep walking. I’m obviously brown, and that already puts me in a neat box to be scrutinized in. But I have the distinction of not being black. And that’s where my right to chip into the conversation ends.

That is all. Have a good day, everyone. Be careful, be kind.