Reflections That Matter

I had a long conversation with a friend of mine today about something that matters a lot to both of us. Evidently, it matters more to her than it does to me. And how do you quantify something like this? I used to think you couldn't. But I learned otherwise, and here's a story to tell you how I did so. For a long while I did not speak with my father - familial differences and those of perspective, too, no doubt. I never stopped loving him, though, and being a parent now, I know that I could never love him the way he loves me. But in his Shakespearean way, he often complained to my sisters, "You girls, you don't love me at all, and that eldest one doesn't even think of me." "No, no," my sisters would rally back. "She does, too, so, so much. She thinks of you all the time. And she writes about you constantly." "She doesn't write to me," he'd reply. "How am I to know how much someone loves me if I don't see it." After learning of such conversations I would fume for weeks. Trust my father to be very much the King Lear in our lives. "So young and so untender," Shakespeare whispered to me  with the inflection of my father's voice in moments of weakness and guilt. 

But I get it now. How am I to know how much someone cares for me if their feelings don't translate into action? This is the very line I employ when I nag my husband. "You say you're sorry about putting the wet towel on the bed again, but you're really not, or you would listen and stop doing it." Cue in the emotional blackmail, "You don't even love me enough to do this simple task that I have asked you to do a million times." It doesn't work on him anymore, but I have already milked it beyond its worth. Essentially, we need to see reminders of caring and love and friendship and feelings to know they exist. 

Circling back to my friend and the thing we both care about - something lifted today. I was able to not just see but also recognize that what she was telling me was absolutely correct and had merit. How can I claim to care about something if I don't show with my actions that I do? Flashback alert: When I was eight or nine years old, I asked my father for a new pencil case. Some girls in school had ones with magnetic clasps, and I desperately wanted one. To this day, my father has never let me ask for something twice. That day, too, my request was promptly granted. We went to a stationary shop and he bought me a beautiful pencil case. When we came home, I arranged my pencils and erasers in it. A few hours later, my father called me to the sitting room and showed me the new pencil case lying forlornly on the floor by the sofa. I had forgotten it there. He didn't say anything. Instead, he waited for me to be embarrassed of my carelessness. He didn't have to wait long. I tried to explain that I would have put it in my school bag before going to bed, but that was not the point. I had been given something I desired, and I had discarded it after the novelty wore off. I would like to think that I have not forgotten this message, but that would be a delusion. Such messages often times need reinforcement.

I used to invest my feelings in people and things and endeavors. I still do, because this is something I cannot help about myself. I am not happy unless I am dissolved in something: a project, a birthday party, a family member's health, et cetera. But I have also started to reign in my enthusiasm for getting carried away with my feelings when I encounter new interests. I depend on people's appreciation of my efforts for encouragement, even sustenance. When my effort and attention go unnoticed, I become angry. I build fortresses around myself. I turn away, turn against, turn around. It didn't used to be this way. I did things selflessly. I did things because I wanted to, because they made me happy. Somehow, over time, my happiness became associated with what people were thinking of my efforts rather than the effort or the act itself. This is a weakness, and I am lately stunned by the inroads it has made into my character. "You transplant yourself into every conversation," my husband told me the other day. "You make everything about yourself. You like to be the martyr." Others have called me a "drama queen," in jest, but probably with a degree of seriousness behind the assertion. 

I realize that they are right. They are all right - my friends, my father, my husband. And it's all connected, but there has to be a balance! I believe that credit must be given where it is due. The kindness and generosity of people must be acknowledged and praised. Similarly, care and love must be shown in actions and behavior for the things and people that you claim to love and care about. However, I must strike a balance in my personality. I need to be alright with what I see in the mirror without embellishments. I need to ground myself in the belief that I am fine with or without anyone's appreciation. I am still me. I cannot and must not expect that everyone will acknowledge all the good I have done. Indeed, I should not do good with the vain hope that someone will see it and appreciate it. I should simply do good. Do what matters to me. Do what matters. And trust that it is enough.

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Defining Principles

noun: principle; plural noun: principles
a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.

It is a hard truth to stomach when you are made to realize that no matter how loudly you toot the horn of “your principles,” you are not in fact living by them. If in fact, you were living by the principles you hold so dear, maybe you wouldn’t be in the house you are in, maybe you wouldn’t be married to the person you’re married to, maybe you wouldn’t even hold dear the possessions you presently prize. No matter how hard I try to reason with other people, vehemently and often quite belligerently, in order to elucidate my principles and beliefs and all the things that are wrong with “the system” in terms of discrimination on the bases of religion, caste, color, wealth, gender, and other such constructs, I am in fact living in “the system,” and haven’t done anything to discourage these discriminatory behaviors around me other than speaking against them, which in itself is a little hypocritical, isn’t it, for I am talking against something, but still living by it. Am I even allowed to call these ideas my principles then, if a significant portion of the above definition is absent, that is, while I use these grand ideas as a belief system, they don’t often translate into my behavior by virtue of the limitations I have in my present situation and my actual origin. 

Let’s state facts. Who am I? I am a 28-year-old woman, born and raised in Pakistan until the age of 18. I moved to America for a college education ten years ago. I left behind my parents, two sisters, and a brother. I am married to a Pakistani man, whom I fell in love with while we were both living in Lahore, Pakistan. He also moved to the United States to go to college and left behind his parents and two sisters. We have a daughter, a child of Pakistani immigrants born in America – by definition, a Pakistani-American. What are my principles? It is hard to define what these are succinctly and comprehensively. I believe in the basics – you know, like all good people, don’t lie, cheat, or steal. Don’t screw someone over for your personal gain, give charity, et cetera, et cetera. 

But let’s face it. I didn’t start this post to go on and on about the basics, did I? Something sparked me into action here and it wasn’t the one white lie I told yesterday, so it couldn’t be the discrepancy between my belief of not lying and the actual practice of doing precisely that. No, it’s something bigger than this. While speaking with someone about how unhappy I become when I have to defend my principles of fairness and gender equality among primarily Pakistanis, the response given to me intimated that if I really wanted to live by my principles, then I shouldn’t even be married to my husband, should I, because in fact we disagree on some fundamental issues. Essentially, my life as I am living it does not show that I am living by the principles I claim to hold so dear. Let me take a step back here. Gender inequality exists everywhere, including America. I was talking about specific things that I have witnessed in the Pakistani culture, like the expectation from a woman to sever all but the most formal and superficial of ties with her family after marriage, because her allegiance now should rightfully be with her married family. I’m sorry, I call bullshit. And this particular act of calling bullshit is under question here. If I am so concerned about a particular expectation that is ever present in my culture, then why am I married to a Pakistani man, who may actually support this very ideology (he doesn’t and neither does his family)? Why am I not living by my principles rather than simply talking very loudly and very ineffectually of possessing them?

Let me tell you why. This has been an uphill climb for me, even to reach a point where I can very openly and without worrying about consequences, voice my opinion about the gender inequality issue – you could perhaps call me an accidental feminist. One fine day, I suddenly started to voice my counter-arguments about this very issue in polite company and I haven’t looked back since. I have faced a few things in my life. I have witnessed injustices that women very close to me withstood only because they were too afraid of the alternative. Loneliness. Divorce. Stigma. “A woman alone has no respect in society,” I have heard reasonable, educated, modern  women utter this. “If a girl is not married, she has no future.” “There is no man that does not push around his wife. It’s completely normal.” We are made to realize that our men do us favors by accommodating us in their lives. “You are so lucky.” No, let me tell you why the vast majority of us are the exact opposite of lucky. In Pakistan, a male-child is a coveted blessing of God. A girl-child is a burden. Yes, even now in the 21st century. I have been so conditioned by this very idea that when the ultrasound technician told me that I was pregnant with a baby girl, I told him to “check again.” This single, almost inadvertent act of ignorance is the most shameful moment of my life. I do not believe that my daughter is lesser in any way than a boy. Yet, I uttered those two words in that small office. If this is not social conditioning, I don’t know what is. It was not a temporary lapse in the practice of my principles. That weak moment in the hospital was a lapse in conscious thinking. 

It’s like scaling a mountain, you see. It’s treacherous and back-breaking. Sometimes I stumble backwards, and I have to reevaluate my approach, but I am working towards a goal to reach the apex. I want to one day be able to say without reservation exactly what I think of the unrealistic expectations society has of women. I want to tell self-important looking Pakistani aunties with their opinionated first-born sons in tow to wait and think about what they are saying. Do they really mean to say that their son is better than someone else’s daughter or even their own daughter? Do they really believe that a woman is successful only if she is able to secure a well-suited groom? Do they really think that a battered woman should continue living with her husband because “he doesn’t mean it” or “she drove him to do it” or “he was just rough-housing?” Are we ever going to be free of the traditional gender roles that require us to cook and clean and keep house and change diapers and raise sons so that they think they are invincible and raise daughters with a sense of submission? I didn’t lie when I said that it is like scaling a mountain. I don’t always vocalize my discontent, and conversely, sometimes I yell and scream about it. I am an amateur at this. I am learning along the way. All I know is that I cannot support these ridiculous notions. I simply cannot – being a woman, being the mother of a girl – I cannot overlook these ideas that have penetrated into the very fabric of society like a systemic infection.

I also know that sometimes I do not live by the principles I claim to have – I stay silent, I give in to something, I overlook or shy away.  There are many ways in which we do not live by our principles. Does that mean we should stop having a belief system? If I am married to a Pakistani man, for instance, am I not allowed to criticize the expectations and ideas surrounding marriage in Pakistan? Do I have to sit down with my husband and parse out every last detail of what we disagree on before I can voice my opinions about subjugation, misogyny, and gender inequality? I don’t think so. I am going to continue to talk about the principles I believe in, the principles I would one day like to live by even if they are not reflected in my current way of life. Or maybe I won’t talk about them and continue to write about them here in this space, because this, at least, virtual as it may be, is my own.  

Pickled Shrimp and Letting Things Pickle

It is not always easy for me to let things go. In fact, I have often been criticized on my habit of holding on to emotionally charged exchanges, incidents, memories, and outbursts for an unhealthy length of time. It is hard to explain, but I am not dominated by the moments I am not letting go of; they are not holding me captive. I would submit that it is, in fact, the other way around. I am safekeeping them to remind myself not to invest too much again, not to make the same choices that led to emotional meltdowns of the sort I am guarding, and most importantly, not to allow anyone or anything unravel my composure for reasons that really don't warrant such a reaction. 

I find then - in keeping these moments alight in my memory - that at some point or another, I find a lesson or two to savor from them and let the bitterness go. They pickle, so to speak, instead of stewing. It is a different kind of mental energy that goes into this specific effort, you see. When I let certain things stew, there is a conscious fire of resentment burning under that particular cauldron. Unpleasantness is bubbling and brewing and cooking and sputtering. It has, shall we say, rather different consequences that do not always result in amicable discussions. Stewing has its purpose however, and I try to reserve such a reaction for people who really matter to me. I let grievances concerning my loved ones stew so that they can bubble over, we can air our differences, and be done with the whole irksome business and move on. For subtler things, however, such as hurts I encounter without the intention of the one causing it, inadvertent misadventures of the heart let's call them, need a markedly different treatment.

Making Bon Appetit magazine's Pickled Shrimp was a quick and delicious substitute to cooking an elaborate meal, and thinking about the write-up I wanted to accompany this food post with made me think long and hard about 'pickling.' You take something raw, put it in different spices and oils and juices and what-have-you in mason or earthenware jars (or a bowl, like I did), and then you put it in a corner for a predetermined length of time. Lo and behold! When you open the jar, you have perfectly pickled, savory, special-somethings. 

It's kind of like that when I file things away, or if you really want me to tell you the full truth, hold on to them when I should really just forget them and move on. But pickling, like stewing, also has a purpose. I put these disagreeable events in a jar with helpful facts (it was not intentional, they really are good people, everyone makes mistakes, et cetera), and leave them there for a while. Eventually, I find that the event loses its rawness and takes on the flavor of the facts surrounding it. One day, I miraculously find it to be perfectly pickled, a different beast really from what I first imprisoned in the jar. It is easier then for me to move past it in a more savory manner. It is better for everyone involved. 

Try it - it does work, and by the way, the pickled shrimp was delightful.

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Broken Promises & A Birthday Party

I know, I know, what was I thinking? A post a day? Every day? For a whole month? I must have been half asleep when I bound myself in that promise. But I had a pretty good run. 9 days. That's not bad, right?

Somewhere along the one-post-per-day discipline that I tried so hard to inculcate in myself, I realized that I definitely don't want to post for the sake of posting. Who am I to think that my anxieties matter to my readers. I can almost feel people rolling their eyes, cringing even, "Who does she think she is, anyway? Hey, you, yes, you, no one cares about your panic attacks. Get a hold of yourself and write a real post!" Oh, alright. Not every day then, because I can't possibly explore little matters that matter every single day and articulate them well enough to share with all of you. Every other day, then. Or as often as I am able to. I will do my daily writing exercises every night, though, once I get started on Story-Starters

So, that was a very round-about, self-involved (in the disguise of self-deprecating humor) way of making my apologies. Shall we move on?

I have a habit of setting myself up for failure. Spinning this positively, I can say that I am habitually ambitious to the point of exhausting myself. Yes, I will post every day. Of course I will exercise every afternoon. Sure, doing an hour of Zumba is a piece of cake. Yes, I will bake a 2-tier cake for my baby's second birthday and do the decorations and work on the favors and be the perfect hostess. Whew! Unrealistic expectations result in the realization of only one of two possibilities: Making a Herculean effort to do the things I have committed to doing, or failing spectacularly in the process, resulting in - yep, you guessed it - broken promises. 

So, no more forced posts (or impulsive promises). I will try to make meaningful and thoughtful appearances in this space, rather than hurried and dutiful ones. 

But while we're on the subject of my two-year-old's birthday, it was quite a success if I do say so myself (only because I had a HUGE amount of help and support from friends and family). It took me weeks to envision and plan it so I had everything matching my imagination with exactitude. The weather was perfect; Balmy and bright after a cold spell in mid-October, the colors of Fall already peeking in through the foliage, a slight breeze cooling off the guests as they enjoyed the barbecue and ran after their toddlers. The birthday girl had a wonderful time, which was only part of the goal, of course. If I am to be entirely honest, I planned the day because I wanted to throw a damn good party. I hate celebrating my own birthday with pizazz, but love putting together celebrations for other people. And this is the little love of my life we're talking about. She will get her mother's tireless efforts thrown into creating memorable birthday parties for her every year. Little baby girl - already two years old. Who knows how much longer I will be able to exercise my vision and plans for her parties. Pretty soon she's going to want a trip to Disney on Ice with her friends for her birthday rather than an elaborate barbecue in the park that her mother agonizes over for weeks. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, however. For now, pictures of the beautiful day.

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Controlled Substance - The Practice of Love

One Goll Gappay reader pointed out the importance of "understanding" in a relationship that I highlighted in two of my posts. When I think or write about love, I immediately weigh the understanding that is inherent in all of my relationships. And what exactly do I mean by this word - understanding? To me, it is simply the non-judgmental comprehension of the intentions of the person I love. For instance, even if I disagree with my sister over a fundamental difference in opinion, if I can understand her motivations and beliefs, we can meet halfway. There is a secondary definition as well, and that has to do with having patience and respect for our differences.

I marvel at the depiction of love, regardless of whether it is romantic or not, that is thrust upon us by the world. It is considered passive and external, like something that just happens to you without your control or consent. I emphatically disagree. To continue to love someone, even your family, is a conscious choice, and seeing it through takes a lot of effort. It demands the ability to listen to your loved one, and even if your values differ from them, it requires that you give them an assurance of understanding where they are coming from. Because wouldn't it be easy if our loved ones shared our value systems, our ambitions, our drive, our struggles, our fears, and our triumphs; Wouldn't it be easy to love them then, indefinitely, exponentially, forevermore?

I abhor the notion of passive love, an everlasting spring bubbling inside you, dotted with tiger lilies and surrounded by lush blades of evergreen grasses. Real love, I'm-in-this-for-the-long-haul kind of love is more like an arduous hike in the mountains. It is treacherous. It takes a lot of skill and hard labor to put one foot ahead of the other sometimes, the climb so steep, the distance endless, but you keep on going because there is a breathtaking view at the summit, and it is worth the trek. Sometimes, the climb becomes too costly - your supplies run out, your ankle twists when you step on a rock the wrong way, you encounter a rattlesnake or a mountain lion, or you simply get lost in the wilderness. That's to be expected with such an undertaking. After tackling your adversary, be it a wild animal or a dearth of drinking water, you evaluate your choices. Go downhill where a new course awaits you leading away from your original destination. Or, keep going up the trail, despite the scarcity of comfort, against every muscle in your legs, because getting to the apex is still worthwhile, it is still important. No matter which way you go, your journey is formidable. You must encounter new challenges and overcome them. But the course you choose should make you stay true to yourself, because that summit, this trek, it is all about you.

The objects of my love
Love requires you to give everything you have to give because you choose to, because you think the object of your love is worth it, because this act of giving matters to you, because it is rewarding for you. It is your resolve to give something of yourself to another person, your affection, your attention, your time, and your understanding. It is hard, grueling, back-breaking work. It involves altruism and sacrifice and forgiveness. And you should acknowledge that all of these virtues have limits. You, yourself, have limitations. You should also realize that loving someone is a choice. Your choice. You choose to do it, and you can choose not to.

Love isn't passive. It isn't something that takes hold of you in a moment of weakness. It is what you decide to give consciously. It is in your power to take back. It doesn't make you weak. On the contrary, it is empowering. That's the only kind of love I have in me to give - one that bows to my will, not one I submit to.

Photo by Rebecca McCue

Disquietude at half past 11

This afternoon, in the quiet space that stretches as a token of peace between two meetings, I slumped in my chair, rested my head against my hands, and wondered why, on impulse, I promised to write a blog post every day. Even though I have enjoyed writing my last three posts, and they have flowed relatively effortlessly, I was at a loss today.

Just a few days ago, I was complaining to Rebecca. "Why do I sign up for things in the hope that I will somehow magically transform into a different person and actually do them?" For context, I signed up for weekly Zumba and Yoga classes that I have not attended because of a busy schedule at  work and laziness. In addition, I signed up for a Tuesday night poetry class and was unable to attend more than one session because of a very cute two-year-old girl waiting for me at home.

It is very difficult to start these new activities that I so desperately hope to make a part of my life. I want to be the active working mother who also furthers her knowledge of poetry and fiction by taking classes. So far, I've had very little success, but I have resolved to keep on trying. Transformation is not necessary, but something I desire, moving forward, making good changes, growing, because how unfortunate is the alternative?

So today's post is an exercise in making good on a promise intended to foster the good habit of writing in me. It is a small effort to work towards that transformation I am trying to achieve. A more interesting post tomorrow, I hope, but for today, a glimpse into the daily rumination of someone who's not only trying her best, but also striving to make the best of situational limitations.

Until tomorrow, then.

Photo by Rebecca McCue

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn

My middle sister, who lives in Tokyo, sent me a curious message yesterday on g-chat. Before I tell you what the message was and why I am writing this post, I must tell you something about how my sister and I have become friends as adults - we were not grandfathered into friendship because we played house together as children. Our friendship came about because we actually chose to make a very targeted effort towards understanding and listening and becoming friends. There was no compulsion involved. We had decided that we would always be sisters, but we could choose, without crticism, whether or not we wanted to become friends.

My sister, Qurat, is a much kinder person than I am. I am not an unkind person, but I have a very low threshold for bullshit. Consequently, I am much more impatient (and fast) at weeding out negative people and influences from my life. I have no patience for forgiveness, and definitely none for politely keeping up appearances for people. These are not virtues - simply a set of values I have come to live by. My life is too busy, too short, too full to accommodate, to put it quite bluntly, other people's bullshit. Simple philosophy: Love fiercely those who deserve your love, weed out everyone else from the perimeter of everyday thought - they will exist in the fringes, of course, but they are not important enough or interesting enough for active screen time. It took me years to get to this place of contentment, and a lot of my strength behind consistently implementing this life-lesson comes from having a very cohesive and protective circle of family and friends, my insulation from all the aforementioned bullshit. My sister is a more open person than I am. She lets people in. People, in general, are really fond of her, because she is just a genuinely pure and nice person, someone who makes you feel important when she talks to you. She has this way - it's hard to explain, but it's like having Miss Honey from Matilda by your side all the time when you're with her.

So, I think I have very well established that we are quite, quite different. Even as less as two years ago, we would invariably end our conversations with arguments and judgments (more from me than her), because we would each say something (most of the time, inadvertently) to tick the other off. Then we had a series of conversations. We decided to really give each other a few minutes of listening without question or judgment when we talked. And I think we both helped each other - she made me more compassionate, and I would like to think that I contributed something, too, although what it is exactly, I don't know.

In light of all this, Qurat's message yesterday surprised me. "I think today's blog post was too personal, something not meant for public view." I was partly taken aback because Qurat never offers any kind of criticism (so this comment was good, she is not loving her sister's writing blindly), and partly because I have written other posts that are much more personal, intensely so. What was different about this one? Aha! It was the "I met a boy, left Pakistan for him, married him" story. The admission of leaving home for love is definitely still more than a little scandalous back home. I can imagine people asking questions like, "How did her parents let her leave?" "How shameless of her to write about this as if it's something to be praised." "What kind of message is this?" "Would she be OK if her own daughter decided to follow someone in the name of love?" My little sister was feeling protective of me. I am so full of love for her right now, which is why I do have to address this here, in this space where the original story appeared. Chin up, little sister.

The fact is, I have so systematically removed myself from the mouths that spew such nuggets of wisdom - err, excuse me, I meant nuggets of bullshit - that I don't even take such things into account. It wasn't until I had thought a fair bit about what Qurat said and talked to her on Skype afterwards that I truly realized the implications of such an admission. Pervasive judgment. So, let's get something straight. All due respect to people who still care about this mentality, but frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. And that makes me abrasively honest. That may not be a universally good thing, but it works for me. There are things I haven't written about here, because like any other person, I have matters I struggle with in the privacy of my own thoughts, but I am actively working towards conquering them and maybe penning them one day.

Birthday Celebrations for Goll Gappay

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”
― William Shakespeare

November is the birthday month of Goll Gappay. A year ago this month, I resolved to launch a blog and not let anything get in the way - a wish I had guarded and nourished since at least 2006.

I went frequently to my close circle of friends and supporters for advice. I singled out Afia Aslam for her assessment of Goll Gappay in its developing stages. Afia guided me on everything - name, concept, design, she even edited the well-loved line that defines this place "Little Matters That Matter," which is far more superior than how I originally wrote it, "Words and Opinions on Little Matters That Matter." When I launched the blog, she shared it on her Facebook page and instructed her online community to visit Goll Gappay in her signature style. "Shoo!" Afia wrote at the end of her post. My strong and secure friendship with Shehla Wynne, which is characterized by a complete lack of judgment and unrealistic expectations and is often epitomized in moments of absolute understanding and profound emotional/intellectual support, lent itself to the carefully worded critique she provided on the initial design and writing style. This changed the finished product positively when the blog went live.

My friend Rebecca McCue and the photographic life-blood of Goll Gappay also provided invaluable advice, encouragement, and gorgeous photos to accompany complicated posts, often on a short notice. Rebecca is also the personification of the voice in my head that berates me (albeit gently) when I have not posted an entry for more than a week. Most of the time, her reminders work.

Others, especially my sisters Maham, Qurat, Mahey, and Anam (oldest to youngest - no preference in terms of affection, although one of them knows she is my favorite - watch, each of them will think it's her I am talking about, muahahahaha) promoted Goll Gappay unabashedly. "My talented sister," their proud and loud Facebook posts would say. "The latest gem from Noorulain Noor," or something equally overblown and grandiose would go up on each of their Facebook timelines successively during Goll Gappay's infancy. I am lucky that their love is just as ardent in all other aspects of our lives as well. We have had a good year - on Goll Gappay and outside of it. Special bellow, shout-out, acknowledgement, cheer to Qurat Noor for creating and managing the Goll Gappay Facebook Page (all the way from Tokyo) that has a modest number of followers.

Through Goll Gappay, I have discovered some wonderful voices (and people) in the past year, both in the blogging community and writing world. I have, in the past year, rediscovered the metaphor of Goll Gappay that first inspired this blog - new people, new events, and old friends along the way, too. I am grateful to everyone who has read and appreciated my ramblings, my honest attempts to capitulate to the quagmires of my thoughts, which more often than not manifest themselves in the form of run-on sentences. For that, my apologies.

And now, without further ado (and emotional speeches of gratitude), Goll Gappay's Birthday Celebration Plans! DRUMROLL, PLEASE!

To celebrate 1 year of blogging and in an effort to rediscover my writing mojo, I am making the following promises.
1. There will be at least one new post on Goll Gappay every day in the month of November. Sometimes, this post will appear on the homepage. Other times, it will appear on an additional page that will go live at some point this month (see point 2 below for details).
2. I will start working on my writing seriously by following a structured program. I will be working through Michelle Richmond's Story-Starters , the 50-day program to write on one prompt per day. These entries will go up on the "Story-Starters" page - the additional page alluded to above.
3. I will be reading and writing more poetry - sorry, you will be subjected to some of it here.
4. I will start cooking again - stay tuned for some cool cooking posts, including a rather grand one at the end of the month for Thanksgiving.

I am very excited. I hope you are, too. 

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Remedy for a Broken Heart

Human beings are flawed at best and wicked at worst. This means that one expected outcome of even the most well-intended interactions is the potential of causing injury to the sensibilities of at least one party involved. More often than not, however, relationships that begin with promises of love and friendship morph dismally into purposefully malicious and hurtful interactions, orchestrated by at least one person in the relationship, and often both. This results in some hearts that are - for a time, at least - proverbially broken.

The best remedy for a broken heart, I find, is a strange amalgamation if things. The company of friends who know when to let you cry and when to ask you to pull yourself together, long solitary walks, books that make you think, movies that don't, comfort food in a warm, familiar kitchen, cooking and baking - I find that the kitchen becomes a place of solace, acceptance, and catharsis when I am nursing my broken heart. And so, I end up spending a lot of time polishing the glassware and silverware, baking elaborate cakes, cooking delicacies that take several hours to prepare, and somehow with the help of friends and filler activities mentioned above, I find that the heart, broken but resilient, mends itself.

It is definitely easier to realize as you grow older that no matter how impossible it may seem, the broken heart will, in fact, heal . First of all, you cry less at 28 as opposed to 18. Whereas 10 years ago, I would have cried dramatically for several days, now I only cry for a few minutes and get on with my life. Maybe this control over my faculties comes from knowing that no one thing or person deserves the kind of effort that is expended in crying, the brutal force of it, the headache that follows, the overwhelming self-pity and sadness. The other thing to realize also - and I know this may not apply in all cases, but is common enough that it deserves to be mentioned - is that more often than not, the person who breaks your heart is being cruel for the sake of being cruel. The person who breaks your heart is actually trying to make you hurt, unravel you, peel you back like layers of an onion, expose you, bring you to your knees, make you weak, weep, wail, react.

Once you gain this perspective, it is remarkably easy to not let anyone exercise that kind of influence over your heart. It gives you the strength to allow your heart to break in a resolute silence - you know, after all, that there will be plenty of time to pick up the pieces later. Whereas love, by way of its colloquial definition, makes you strong, the act of inflicting someone with heartbreak is the opposite: It is (not always, but most of the time) a deliberate and arguably cold-blooded initiative to strip you (the victim) of every last reserve of strength you have worked so hard to build.

I, in my exquisite stubbornness and intricate melancholy, do not give people the satisfaction of having wronged me. Contrary to what I have read about heartbreak, I maintain that pride is probably the easiest entity to salvage in the carnage of such a situation. As I have mentioned above, there are certain steps you can take, like not reacting, maintaining an icy silence, et cetera, to preserve your pride. What is entirely unsalvageable in matters of the heart that end badly, is trust. I would argue that you are not necessarily reeling from the shock of hurtful words and actions that have made your heart implode, but from the underlying betrayal, which brings the bulk of negativity back to the self: "How could I be so stupid?" "How did I not realize this?" "How did I let this happen?" "Why did I make myself go through this?" Et cetera. It's the betrayal, cold and sharp as a blade, that delivers the final blow, that annihilates any last remnant or semblance of being whole.

And now what? The heart is, as established, unfortunately and decidedly broken. You have agonized over the culprit behind the heinous act, you have recognized your strengths, and harbored your weaknesses. Now begins the long but finite journey of putting the pieces back together. It's time to heal and mend and laugh again. So, for me, this part involves comfort and writing and cuddling with my baby girl. Lots of cooking and baking. Reading. Doing good things with good people.

What does the road to a mended heart look like for you?

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Shallow Mistakes

A friend of mine is planning on launching a lifestyle/fashion page/blog. I was looking at her "About Me" statement today in which she talked about her life-long love affair with fashion (it has really been life-long - I have been privy to all the naughty details). It got me thinking about all the fashion faux pas that I have committed in the past. The stories I remember are really, really cringe worthy. I am just glad to have reached a point where I have some semblance of normalcy in my sense of style. It's basic and conservative, but it's a far cry from the precocious and embarrassing fashion escapades of my childhood. 

Whenever I recall all the weddings I attended in my childhood for which I wore dark lipsticks and bold eye-shadows, I keep thinking, "But where was my mother?! Why didn't she tell me to wash my face? Why didn't she tell me I was not allowed to wear that much makeup?" The truth is she probably did, and I probably threw huge tantrums and drove her to the point of giving her exhausted assent for me to do whatever I wanted. My oft-employed obstinate responses, as far as I remember, used to be, "It's my face! I will do what I want with it." My poor mom. 

My husband and I have known each other all our lives, but we reconnected as adolescents at a wedding after a long hiatus during the in-between years (also known as The Unfortunate Years or The Dark Years or The Ugly Duckling Years in my personal journals). We started dating shortly after that wedding, but he still remembers how I had done up my face for one of those events. He likens me to classic icons, like The Circus Clown, or ones that he's made up, like A Cross-Dressing Alien. I really needed an intervention back then. 

Tonight, thinking about those horrible days of shocking pink lipstick and rust-golden eye shadow or dark brown lipstick (seriously - it made me look like I was lacking a vital organ, like a heart) and bright silver eye-liner, I am so full of dread and regret that I am sitting here at 12:40AM writing this instead of sleeping! 

I have decided, however, just in the short amount of time it has taken me to write all this, that I am going to simply accept those fashion/make-up mishaps. They were in the past (yes, including the time when I wore a lehenga to a friend's birthday party, where to my horror, no one else was wearing a lehenga!), and I actually have really nice clothes now with a reasonable sense of the kind of make-up I should wear (or I just go to MAC or Sephora and ask them to sell me the things that look good on me). And maybe in ten years I will look back and think, "Damn, I really shouldn't have worn the MAC Russian Red lipstick so often when I was twenty-eight." But, you know what? I love wearing that red lipstick, and I think it looks pretty damn good. And there's something to be said about feeling pretty, OK? All those years ago, in those funny outfits and that horrid make-up, I felt pretty. So, from now on, I will acknowledge that my choices at that time were unfortunate and highly questionable, but I made them and felt happy. That's what really matters, doesn't it? So, really, what is the point of harboring resent for the-young-and-stupid-me? 

I should just let it go and enjoy my present Russian Red era. Letting it go, now, letting it go. Sorry, though, no photos from that time. I don't have any. You get three pictures from The Cute Years instead circa 1987ish.