Still Writing

From time to time, I ask myself, why do I have a Twitter account? I am not good at tweeting. I seldom have anything cool or clever to say that can fit in 140 characters. I examine the meaning of life, more specifically, the meaning of my life, in long-winded sentences strung together to form essays (blog posts) that may or may not be considered relatable by the half dozen or so readers I have. What is the point, I find myself wondering. And more often than not, I reach the conclusion that this is entirely self-serving. I am a writer, so I must write, and because I have written something, I must force it down somebody's throat. Yep, that's how it goes. If I am to be completely truthful, I don't write for myself. I write to be read. And so in the midst of these crises, I am overtaken by an unkind urge to write something like this: Are you out there? Are you listening?

When I don't write -- and I can speak to this honestly and accurately today because I have not written much for the past few weeks -- I  start asking myself these questions (and more). Why do I write at all? Et cetera, et cetera. Many years ago, I attended an all-day publishing workshop at Stanford. Joyce Maynard was the keynote speaker and her book Labor Day had just come out. She said during her speech, "If you are indoors attending this workshop on this beautiful day, you're a writer." Her conviction and the resulting happiness in the crowd have stayed with me these many years. When I start to question myself, I think back to that day, how I raced past the oval to the small registration desk, the talks I attended, the things I learned. And yet, even today, my own belief wavers. What does it mean to be a real writer? Over and over we hear from celebrated authors, "Show up. Write. Do the work." And what if you don't show up, don't write, don't do the work -- are you then relegated to being the hobbyist writer? 

Even if I side-step this question of whether I am a writer, a real writer or not (or more accurately, a poet), there is another layer that must be excavated before tranquility is achieved. Why do I write? Why do I feel so strongly about this part of my identity? While I am passionate about my career, do I bring this level of intense devotion to it? I don't know. Does it give me the same level of distress, and conversely, the same degree of relief? Absolutely not. And coming back to the reason for writing -- is it simply to be read? To create something? To share? Catharsis? Is the way I look at the world so important or so unique that it must be documented and posted on the world wide web? Who even cares? And over and over, I come to this: I wake up every day wanting to be bigger than myself. I don't mean that in a self-pitying way, and moreover, it has nothing to do with my 5-foot-1.5-inch frame. I want to conquer fear and hesitation and regret, and I feel like I accomplish some of that by sitting down to write. But this still doesn't explain why I feel compelled to share what I write, why I meticulously detail the number of poems I send out to magazines, the number of rejections, the number of acceptances. Why I whisper into the empty space around my desk: Are you out there? Are you listening?

Photos by Rebecca McCue

The Cultivation of a Realist

"Though there was no talk of it during this particular phone conversation, my father wanted me to be a dental hygienist. Unlike my sister, I wasn't shooting the lights out in school, and he thought it was essential that I have a practical skill to fall back on. A career in writing seemed about as likely to him as the chances of my inheriting Disneyland. My father thought I should be realistic."
- Ann Patchett in How to Read a Christmas Story. The Washington Post. Sunday, December 20, 2009.

This morning on my drive to work, I started listening to a collection of essays by Ann Patchett that I have been meaning to pick up for quite some time. The book is intriguing even at the level of the title, which in my opinion, is hard to accomplish.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage begins with a charming note by the author, taking the reader by the hand and walking her through the events and circumstances that made the book possible. A window for the reader to look in. The first essay in the book titled How to Read a Christmas Story originally appeared in The Washington Post in December of 2009 and is about the author being given an unlikely Christmas gift by her father, which she has cherished for many years. The gift was a story her father read to her over the phone on Christmas Eve. Listening to the essay, however, while I was moved by the gift of the story and how it still has meaning for the author after all these years, there was a different detail that made a deeper impression.

When one reads, one cannot help but become a part of the narrative, or bring one's observations, life lessons, perspectives, experiences, values, and philosophies to the reading. Why else would a book be resonant for a reader in one decade and completely jarring in another? I have experienced this for many books, most notably, The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby. Ann Patchett mentions in her essay that she intended to be a writer as early as age 6 -- remarkable -- and her family knew this, too. In the quote at the beginning of this post, Patchett reflects on her father's desire for her to be realistic and practical. Listening to this essay, I thought of my own childhood and how different it was compared to my adult life.

My father, too, was a man who liked storytelling, but he never thought that his children needed to be practical or realistic, because he never had those traits either. If anything, his lesson to us was, "Follow your heart, reality be damned." As a child, it was by turns exhilarating and confusing to be so removed from reality, to not be able to associate actions with consequences. I favored reading fiction, for instance, over studying for final exams. Our typical family bonding exercise was to watch a movie and take it apart scene by scene. My father could ask any number of odd questions. "Why do you think the camera was on a crane for this shot?" "Is this a set or a real location?" "Why do you think that telephone call was so important to be cut at that particular instant?" "Spot a continuity mistake in this shot." Finding a continuity mistake was like playing "Where's Waldo." Sometimes it was easy -- the actor had his sunglasses in the wrong hand all of a sudden. Other times, it was harder -- the ice-cubes in the glass had melted between two consecutive shots -- it took me about a quarter of an hour of rewinding and replaying the VHS to find this. When we couldn't watch a movie together, we would write. My father favored legal pads, my mother wrote on recycled newsprint sheets, I wrote in a wide ruled notebook. There was never a discussion in our house about being realistic, paying the bills, having a practical skill. It was like living in a bubble, which is why adult life, by contrast, was completely disconcerting.

I had to teach myself the practicalities of paying rent, for instance, when I first moved to California for college. For the first several months, I wrote instead of working. A weekly magazine that is no longer in publication in Pakistan, published the column I wrote: "Letter from California." Since I was not residing in Pakistan when I wrote the column, I was not paid for it. Eventually, the money my father had given me began to dry up. More would come for tuition and books, but I was beginning to discern the acute financial pressure on my parents, earning in rupees and supporting their daughter in dollars, and I wanted to pick up some of that burden. I kept waiting for something to happen, something grand and outrageous, the stuff of movies and stories. But nothing happened. I won third place in a local poetry competition, sold a couple of poems to small county magazines, and received a lot of rejections. A lot. It was a hard way to learn that I couldn't simply read and write and go to school and pay the bills. I was not a professional writer like my parents, but I never thought I had to be anything else in my life either. So, I got a job on campus. I began to pay attention. I realized I could do math! I fell in love with Biology. And for many years, I didn't write seriously. I cultivated the skills that are necessary to survive in the world. I anchored the dream-boat. I favored a lab notebook over a journal. And I became a realist.

Now, years later, my parents try to find the girl they raised together in me. My pragmatism scares them because they are not pragmatic people. They are artists and they have never known another way to be. They are those rare individuals who make a living from their art, who raise a family and tend a house all from an income generated by what they create. Their world is sustained by the world they craft on paper. I am in awe of them and in awe of the fact that I came from them. I am a writer in that I do not know how to be at peace with myself if I don't write, but that is the extent of it. Unlike Ann Patchett, I didn't give myself over to the destiny of a writer as a child. I didn't think I would be alone and poor because those are the hallmarks of being a writer. I also did not resign myself to the "Kafka model" Patchett mentions, banking on being discovered by virtue of my work after death. I wanted to do something now, in this life. I wanted to be a writer, but I didn't want it badly enough, and I wanted many other things, too.

So, here we are, twenty years removed from a ten-year-old who thought bliss is to be found only in the act of writing, the doors of creativity are always open, all you need is to pick up your pen and you will create something worthwhile -- probably because if there is anything my parents sheltered me from, it was from the travail of rejection, which they no doubt faced as all writers do. Last night on the phone, I told my mother, "These are the years. This is the time for me to work hard and have a career." My mother said, "I am proud of you, but work will always be there. This is also the time to take care of yourself." I said, "But my work is important to me." She said, "You and what you have to offer are the only things that are important." I just shook my head in silence and couldn't tell if she was speaking as a mother or as an artist.

Rainswept Reflection

On mornings such as the one I am living right now, everything seems possible. The quiet hum of the laptop, a steaming mug of coffee, and an unlikely rain pelting the west window of the house -- a false sense of being completely at peace, of having the ability to accomplish even the most difficult tasks that might cross my path over the next 3 years as I navigate my journey as a graduate student in addition to all the other roles I have. The house is asleep, the rain is drowning out the sound of my typing. I was working in my customary spot in the kitchen this morning even before the sky was faint enough for me to discern the delightful cloud cover and muse, "It sure doesn't look like a desert." Closing my eyes in front of the window, I could smell rain in the air, and sure enough, two hours into my work, it started pouring without fanfare or preamble, and I was brimming with such fulfillment, a realization with flavors of premonition that it will be alright, no matter what "it" is, it will just be fine, accompanied by this inexplicable motivation to write, create. The words came without effort or design and led to wholesome satisfaction. What more can one poet ask of an ordinary Thursday morning?

It is gone now, a few minutes of waning rainfall and the sky is silent again as if exhausted, though still shadowed. There might be more where that came from -- a heartening prospect and enough to keep me going through the rest of the day with unexpected buoyancy. Sometimes there is unparalleled perspective gained in the simplest of moments: at work in your home with good coffee on your desk and a temperamental sky over your head and you just know it: It will all be alright.   

Photo by Rebecca McCue

The Storyteller's Daughter

Isn't it strange how certain actions or habits start to mean so much to you despite the unlikeliest of origins? For instance, I started to drink coffee back in college because it made me feel grown-up. Gradually, I came to depend on it on the eve of a big test. Now, I am unabashedly addicted. How odd that something so natural to my everyday existence as daily cup(s) of joe originated from a desire to feel older, more mature, experienced. 

I wonder sometimes why I started to write. Do I honestly believe, as my parents insist, that it's in my blood, it's something I inherited? Or do I believe the other reason that I often give to myself and others: I write because it's a defense mechanism. I process everything by writing: hurts, slights, grief, joy, wonder, aches and pains even. But what if the real reason is neither of the two? What if the real reason is hidden so far into the crevasses of memory that there is no way to tell what it is? 

I have a theory. When I was a little girl, my greatest accomplishment as I saw it was being my father's daughter -- it was no accomplishment, I know that now. It was pure chance or pure fate. But that is how I saw it then. I was so infallibly proud to be his child, to be his firstborn, to belong to him that it began to feel like an achievement. I would look at the thick binders of scripts he wrote long-hand and marvel at them. My father writes stories, I would think. What a wonderful thing to be -- a writer -- whose stories will live on and on. When I am grown, these binders will still be here, neatly placed on the mahogany shelves in his study, and I will come in casually carrying a handbag and wearing makeup and breezily pick up a binder, settle in his armchair, and begin to read. And I will find my father and his words on these pages. I will forever find him here. That's what I would think as a child. For some reason, I didn't associate the act of searching with finding him. Why would I be trying to search for him? Why would I be drawn to his work? But such sophistication was beyond me at that time. 

Every year until fourth grade, I won the class prize in "Urdu Reading." Oral recitation prizes were discontinued after fourth grade, or I am sure I would have continued to win. I don't speak from arrogance -- this is the simple truth and it has its roots in my reading habits. Even at that young age, I would creep into our drawing room where my father liked to write in those early days. I would pick up stacks of pages as he finished writing on them and I would read his neat penmanship, tight loops, slanting accents. If I didn't understand a word, I would catalog it to ask my mother later. I never disturbed my father during his fertile spells of writing. It never occurred to me to do so. Even back then, I recognized the act of creating stories on paper as sacred, like a form of worship. I miss those days with the clarity of retrospection -- it is a time capsule -- that man by the window, one leg crossed over the other, a sheaf of papers in front of him, a Uniball pen flying across the page, and that little girl next to him, silent but occupied, hanging on to the rise and fall of his Urdu script. In a moment, he will look up, he will stretch, he will ask, "Do you want to go get barbecue for dinner?" She will leap from the sofa. They will gather the rest of the family and drive off. And soon after, she will grow up, there will be vast distances between them, some surmountable, some not. I want to tap that girl on the shoulder with this new insight of adulthood. I want to beg her to know how special that time really is because of its sheer simplicity. She loves her father. He loves his child. In this instant, there is nothing between them but a few pages of a much longer story. I want to whisper into the man's ear, too, who is much closer to my age now than the little girl's. It won't remain so simple forever, I want to say. Time and people will slip from your grasp, hold on tight for as long as you can. He will shirk me away. He will tell me I am mad. How is it possible, he will say, for his family to scatter. Why, that's insane. Here's his little girl. His smart little girl who will go places, and her Papa will always be with her. 

I digress as usual -- like my father, I am partial to story-telling. Back to my theory. What if I wasn't born with this strong inclination to write? What if this became a defense mechanism out of a strong wish rather than natural aptitude? My theory goes like this: Remember that little girl who would retreat into the drawing room with her father and admire his work? Maybe that girl loved her father so deeply and admired his vocation so strongly that she molded herself to be like him. She told herself, I must be like my father who is the very best father in the world. I look like him, everyone says as much. I may as well be like him. And so one day, she picked up a pen and paper and went to her father and said, Papa, I want to write something. Tell me what I should write. And the man said, my darling girl, you could write anything and you would do it marvelously. But Papa, she said, what should I write? And the man said, my darling girl, your smile is like the sun, write about the sun then. And so the little girl sat next to her father, and started to write in English instead of Urdu:

I am eating a bun
under the sun.
The sun shines brightly 
I can't sit quietly. 
After some hours
the sun is very large. 
The sun is very hot, 
I touch it not. 
-From the archives of Noorulain Noor

And how the man laughed and laughed with joy and pride when the girl read out the poem to him. He ran to his wife with the piece of paper in his hand and read it to her. She looked at her daughter with wide eyes and a huge smile. Frame the poem, the man boomed to his wife. We shall frame it and put it in the drawing room. That same afternoon, the man drove his three girls to a bookstore and bought them as many books as they wanted. He bought a special notebook for his elder daughter. For the writer, he said, as he presented it to her. The poet, his wife corrected him. And that is how she came to be known forever after. 

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Extemporaneous Writing

I have had so many days lately that made me feel like I was carrying pebbles in my chest. Reflecting in bed at night, I feel so weighed down by the day's events -- maybe I shouldn't have given Jahan that piece of chocolate, I shouldn't have yelled at her when she wasn't listening, I should have carved out some time for reading and writing, I really should have organized the garage. On days like this, I feel like I am at war with myself. My thoughts are all so critical, so negative. 

I wish I could identify an easy and sure solution to quiet the incessant critic in my head on such days. A magic shut-up spell. Something. Writing is the obvious answer, as I am doing now, because I cannot bear to spend another minute examining the minutiae of the past few days. There are also cooking and baking, something to turn back to as we settle into the routine of school/work this week. But I must acknowledge the elephant in the room -- the reason all this is happening in the first place. The anxiety of going back to real life has been mounting these past few days, and now on the eve of "back to work day," I am certain that I must have something to show for the last two weeks. Not one book have I finished (though I have read a fair bit of poetry). I have not attempted a single poem, much less written one. And now I won't have a break like this for a whole year. The year seems to stretch before me endlessly -- no wonder I cannot find any joy in this first week of 2015. 

I really don't know what the point of this post is. Better sleep now. 

Back to Basics

It is natural, I tell myself, to not feel particularly happy about the turn of the year. Why must I muster the enthusiasm of ten years ago, the festive evenings of foggy Lahore, the midnight trip to Data Sahib's shrine, the donation of a haleem deg to the street-dwelling citizens who counted on the generosity and ardent prayers of their middle-class counterparts for a free meal; or the celebratory visits to street vendors in the underbelly of the city, slithering with activity at all hours, food, chai, other vices; or the solemn prayer I offered every year specifically on the night that traversed two years -- make me good, make me how You want me to be, make it a good year, how You see it best. Why must I treat this as though it is any different from any other day of the year? It's not as if there is anything to celebrate or commemorate, really. 2014 was, after all, a taxing year for the world.

My heart finds comfort from the world at home. I find myself impulsively reorganizing cabinets, cleaning out the kitchen, finding expired boxes of cereal and smelly mason jars of sunflower seeds at the back of the pantry shelves and throwing them away. A new beginning of sorts. Clean shelves, a do-over for the pantry and refrigerator, and perhaps one for me at home in the kitchen. I find a salve for my restive spirit in making large meals, inviting friends and their kids for holiday lunches, taking out the nice china and then methodically washing and drying it by hand. As I write this, there is chicken curry bubbling on the stove, sautéed mushrooms ready on the side, a salad chopped and prepared. It's only us tonight and a friend we haven't seen in a while. We will gather around the table, talk about jobs and houses, about things that have nothing to do with having embarked on a new year -- the real things, the good things, the things that matter rather than the transient headiness one is prone to feeling at this time of the nascent year, the resolutions shiny and full of possibilities, that unmistakable sense of being at the verge of something significant -- an improvement, a second chance, a remedy for every mistake we have yet to commit.

And so, weary from the joy that surrounds me and without begrudging anyone their celebration, I find solace in simple things -- back to basics -- in cooking: smelling the freshly grated garlic roasting in the frying pan, watching the butter sizzle as it slides between the walls of the pan, the thickly sliced portabella whistling out a sigh as I press down with my spatula, the vegetables crisp under my practiced knife, such pleasure in the smells and sounds of a home-cooked meal; in poetry: in the books and magazines that have been piling up steadily over the last few months, collections and anthologies, books on writing, honing the craft, practicing it, owning it, and some delightful fiction, too; in writing: here; in thinking: everywhere. 

Perhaps that reads too much like a list of resolutions, but to me, it is an act of reaffirmation. Life is too short -- if there's one thing we have learned from 2014, it is that this cliche is unfortunately true. Staying true to yourself, to the things that delight you, make you you, give you lasting joy, is what you should be striving for. For me, it is coming back to the basics, to ordinary comforts, to little matters that matter.

Happy new year!

Two entries from November

For a very short part of November, I decided to write a "poem" every day. The writing turned out to be reflective, but not quite traditionally poetic. I thought I'd share two of the posts here. 

November 2

A Typical Day

It was Sunday so I made scrambled eggs served with toast and strawberry jam from a local farm. The mason jar had a homemade sticker and a square of checkered linen tucked between the rim and the lid. It reminded me of picnics I read about in children’s books back home. Cold sandwiches and fresh fruit and milk and cheese and happy children.

It was chilly but the sun was out. We had visitors and everyone was wearing Giants sweatshirts to celebrate the World Series win. “You have to teach me enough about sports so I can at least hold a superficial conversation,” I whispered to my husband. I made tea. Children ran around the coffee table in a post-Halloween candied craze. I wished for a backyard.

My husband said, “Oh no. The BBC has an update. ‘More than 50 people were killed and at least 100 injured in a suicide bombing close to Pakistan's only border crossing with India.’” We became quiet for a moment. The children kept running, their giggles sounding manic in the silence. “Please don’t say such things in front of the children,” I said and carried the tea things to the kitchen.

For the rest of the afternoon, we talked about college funds and good school districts. I am feeling cramped in this townhouse. I want a backyard. I really want a backyard.

November 1

Old Novembers

How did November come to pass in those years, in that city?

It was such an in-between month. The monsoons were gone, but the winter hadn’t quite arrived.

Mid-month we would celebrate my mother’s birthday with magic-markered messages on sheets of recycled newsprint and a dinner at Mei-Kong where we got toasted almonds on warm stoneware saucers before the meal. The residue of salt on fingertips is still so vivid in my memory that I find myself tracing thumb over index finger in circles, trying to find the abrasive particles, to lick them off.

But what about all other days? The rest of November? When did the fog start rolling in? When did the street vendors set up tea stalls? When did mother bring down suitcases of winter clothes and boxes of chenille comforters from the attic? Was November the harbinger of seasonal change?

No crisp memories. No concrete answers.

Time is lost in time.

Photo by Rebecca McCue  

The State of Not Writing

Goll Gappay turned two while I was absent from its pages. Many times, I opened this page and thought, I've nothing much to say right now. Instead, I read and felt sorry for not writing, for not having inspiration enough to write even a single line. I complained to friends, I can't write anymore. The response was always a familiar roll of the eyes, here she goes again, and a frustrated, "Yes you can. Did you even try?" They are all right, of course. And yet, I drove through the much needed Northern California rain, thought about the rise and fall of life, ruminated on journeys and their transience, and all the while I sensed a poem hovering under the realm of my consciousness. I had several dreams about my father, about seeing him after 12 years, about holding on to things that cannot be named, and letting go of those that can. I experienced restlessness over not producing anything, not even ideas, not even a phrase that could be written, let alone celebrated. 

There are so many reasons for not writing, you see. I am busy at work. My toddler is, well, a toddler. I was briefly traveling. It's the holidays. I have to buy Christmas gifts. Potty training is a looming monster. I am tired. I am not truly "present." And yet, there is only one reason to write that overshadows all of these arguments with the tenacity of its truth -- "because I must."

So, here I am again. No poem in sight, but an image from Joan Didion's Play it as it lays whirlpooling in my thoughts, "The sun glazing over the Pacific..." Nothing extraordinary about this particular image when you look at how exceptional Didion's work is. "The sun glazing over the Pacific." And yet there is poetry in it, the loneliness, the longing...or is that me trying to find all of this, identify, memorize, craft it all -- but how?

Does a poet relearn the rules of the game every time she emerges from self-imposed hiding? Take a pen. Open notebook. Start doodling. Write anything. Write, dammit, write for god's sake write, just write. It is so daunting, this wait, this gloom, the mounting anxiety in this time of silence and loneliness where there is neither comfort nor words. Sure, writers understand each other's woes when one complains, "I can't do it anymore. It doesn't give me any pleasure. It is torture." In fact, this is the exact conversation a talented writer-friend had with me a week or so ago. To which my immediate response is, yes, of course, it is torture, but for most of us there is no alternative. We must write. There is not even a "yes, but." We must simply do it. It's a double-edged sword -- equal parts injury and relief.

And so I am here, to get an infusion of relief. To relearn this art that gives me so much joy and just as much misery, but let's face it, mostly joy. "The sun glazing over the Pacific," not the sun's warmth, not the hot sun, not the yellow sun, or the orange sun, or the burnt sun, simply the sun. And the fascinating, this phrase, the sensory reaction it invokes. For now, maybe it's enough to soak this in. Then, maybe, a poem, or a few verses. Another blog. That's how it starts again. And maybe it will start tonight. If not, I must keep clawing my way there.

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Time passes differently for you and me

"There was seldom anything addressed to her. Only an occasional letter from Manash. She resisted reading them, given what they reminded her of. Manash and Udayan, studying together in her grandparents' flat, and Udayan and Gauri getting to know one another as a result. A time she'd crushed between her fingertips, leaving no substance, only a protective residue on the skin."
- Jhumpa Lahiri in The Lowland
I felt this way once before when I took another journey with Jhumpa Lahiri. It was a different book, The Namesake, but I remember the landscape of this author's creativity, the topography of sentences, the valleys and deltas, the mountains and forests. This is a fertile place. Lahiri takes me back to my home -- so different from the home of Ashima in The Namesake, and certainly nowhere near The Lowland of Gauri's past -- and yet, I find myself reaching back into time, recognizing moments that were lost for so long that I had forgotten I even experienced them. This is what great writing does. 

The Lowland is not for the faint-hearted reader. It is not a kind book, but it is an important one. For a novel, it packs an expansive history lesson, a history that I, being on the other side of the border from India, never learned in textbooks and lectures. But more importantly, at its core, the novel was about time, particularly the past, a slice of time crystallized and settled into the realities of individuals affected by it. Time taking hold of lives and just not letting go. My father used to say to me, "The words that leave your tongue and the time that leaves your hand will never return." And he wouldn't warn me further than that. He wouldn't instruct me to use the time I had wisely or to hold my tongue. He would simply state a fact and leave the action up to me. I thought back to this statement of my father's that fell short of the technical definition of an advice, but governed so many of my decisions as an adult -- a life lesson, I call it still -- and I thought of it often while I read The Lowland. 

How much of our lives do we forget? How much do we remember? Two people who share a moment remember it differently, the quality of the moment changes for each individual, the feel of sun on skin, the sound of a heart beating loud enough to drown out all sound for one person and the same rhythm not even audible to another, the truth and its tributaries running different courses to irrigate the two lives -- it's all relative. And sometimes one person simply forgets or knows only half of the truth or a different version of it altogether. Then what? Who do you share your reality with then? You simply guard it within you. 

The Lowland compelled me to reach into the crevasses of memory and examine some caged realities that exist only for me now because they've been forgotten by everyone else. They are not so easily crushed for me, they roll between my fingertips like cool marble, grave, unyielding, ever present.

Photos by Rebecca McCue

So, Let's Talk About Entitlement

I have been thinking a lot about entitlement these last few days and the universe is giving me signs to continue to think about it. I was exploring it on my own in a different context, but a dear friend brought my attention to how important it is to ensure that we raise our children in a way that they are not consumed with this sense. My friend, while talking about the challenges of having a toddler and the merits of letting our children express their individuality said, "But I don't want her to feel entitled, you know. I never want her to feel like she can do XYZ because she is who she is." That really resonated with me. I absolutely want that for my daughter as well, and will strive to foster virtues of humility and determination and ambition in her - but it's such a fine, fine balance. Like most aspects of parenting, the success of teaching our children to rise above feeling blindly entitled teeters precariously on scales that can tip over at the slightest push in the wrong direction. While this is a continued and valuable challenge of parenting, this is not the type of entitlement I want to talk about today.

[Warning added after completing post: The part below devolves into a rant. Apologies. But this is where I come to write poetic truths, and this is also where I come to get bad things off my chest.]

What I want to talk about is the sense of entitlement that adults feel towards every damn thing in their lives - home, work, relatives, friends, household help, restaurant servers, services, goods, you name it. Why is it that most of us feel like it is an expression of our greatness and a representation of our generous spirit if we demonstrate this sense of entitlement brazenly? I will give you an example, an example that is probably at the root of this whole thing, anyway (and the truth comes out, you say? Yes, yes, apparently, it does). I am quite happy and successful. I love what I do both at work and outside of work. I have a beautiful home, a loving family, et cetera. Now, there are probably some people that I used to know back home in Pakistan who nurse the idea of having positively altered and helped me so fundamentally that I have reached satisfactory levels of self-actualization because of their efforts and not because of the obvious reasons, i.e., hard work, resilience, persistence, and obviously the help of remarkable people along the way (not unlike the ones who are the subject of this post at this time). The point is - I am the sum of all my parts. And to say that I am content with my current circumstances because of one person with whom I crossed paths in my childhood is simplistic to say the least, but let's also point out all the other things such a claim is: arrogant, ignorant, ignominious, ignoble, derisive, belittling, unsubstantiated, and quite frankly, absolutely and utterly false as anyone with an ounce of sense will attest, and what it has at its rotten black core is a well-oiled, well-nourished, rather rotund sense of entitlement. Pity. No, anger (as demonstrated) and pity. 

So here's the thing, O Person Who Would Love to Take Credit for Me, I will continue to be great, god willing. And you can continue to feel entitled to everything I do/achieve. But the stark truth is this:  You cannot be me, because I rather like being me. I am quite comfortable being me if I am to be perfectly honest with you. And next time I learn of your entitlement issues, I promise to bring my good humor along as I have gotten all the vitriol out of my system here. You should thank god for Goll Gappay. 

Photos by Rebecca McCue