Crying and Reclamation

deonnakellisayed:

My latest column at Loveinshallah.com, “Thoughts of a Wasat Girl.”

Originally posted on Love, InshAllah:

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“Love Wins”

I am not always strong.

There are times that I experience steep slopes of sadness. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, the sorrow arrives as crude, impolite explosions.

I don’t have everything together, no matter what type of confidence seeps out of my writing. I spend most of my time struggling from paycheck-to-paycheck, too poor to actually date should anyone ever ask me out.  I’m always in a suspended state of fear that this is all my life is going to be: a lonely existence with a salary that is barely livable. I feel like I’m stuck, and inertia is a type of sin in my world.

Sometimes, I feel like I should just give up and claim my rural White heritage. I will move to some small Southern town and live in a trailer park. Forget my complicated identity. Screw my vast life experience…

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The Ides of March

deonnakellisayed:

My latest “Wasat Girl” column at Loveinshallah.com

Originally posted on Love, InshAllah:

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The Ides of March

--(or how girl can write her way to a new life)

Last week, snow and ice kept me housebound for the third, and hopefully final time, this winter. This snowfall felt different than the previous ones. It arrived glutinous and sticky and carried a surreal sheen of pristine clean. It seemed that nature had saved the most beautiful display for the last seasonal flurry. I felt that it was sent just for me.

The ice weighed down trees until many limbs plummeted to the earth, as if set free from unspecified burdens. As temperatures rose throughout the day, a glorious soundscape ensued. Imagine a cacophony of dripping and flowing water, the hum of melting snow and cracking limbs, and birds already praising the spring weather that would arrive the next day. It was like a grand tick-tock of a celestial clock, all gears grinding in…

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Bathrooms Where I Have Cried

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I recently found some personal journals. They took me back to places I needed to go; to places that weren’t completely comfortable to visit but enlightening nonetheless.

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Two years ago, I left my twelve year, international marriage to a United Nations diplomat from Afghanistan. (I say international because we lived in various countries and dealt with the geopolitics of a post 9/11 world. My ex-husband’s extended family lived in Afghanistan and Pakistan.)  Not many white Americans have to consider such dynamics in their most sacred interpersonal relationships.

My decision to leave the marriage occurred after doing a lot of crying in my bathroom, which was in a nice house and in the best part of town. I used to take bubble baths every night and just…cry.  My tears were filled with such caustic loneliness that the bubbles parted way. I was alone in a 2300 square foot home raising a collection of stepchildren and my son, Ibrahim, while my then-husband remained abroad doing his United Nations gig. I saw him a few times a year and only for a few weeks at a time.

Between the loneliness and single parenting, I became a paranormal investigator. I hung out with some of those people seen on the paranormal reality TV shows, and I wrote some books about why a good Muslim girl who was the wife of a Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate would do something as pedestrian and seemingly lowbrow as ghost hunt. If you want to know that story, read the book (or listen to the audio).

Before I became a ghost hunter, I was a budding writer. I scribbled in journals. While in the Middle East, I wrote for lifestyle magazines. An essay about my courtship and marriage to my ex-husband is in Love, Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women.

Most of the writing for all of my books and essays (and various blog posts) occurred at my local downtown coffee house, The Green Bean.  The coffee shop is such a significant character that I thanked the establishment in both of my published books.

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Moreover, it will show up in my forthcoming memoir (as well as some former baristas) as being an amazing source of support. In fact, I made the decision to leave my marriage while writing a letter over a Red Eye at one of the front tables.

And yes, I have cried in The Green Bean’s purple bathroom on many occasions. I cried during writing many manuscripts; I cried when I decided to untether my marital obligations, and I went into the bathroom today to cry after reading my journals, many entries I wrote while there.

Everyone needs a good coffee shop to call home and to have a good cry while in the bathroom. This has become my Third Space of liberation, creativity and safety. I’m so glad that The Green Bean has been there for me over the past several years.

The ladies bathroom door appropriately states, “Love Wins.” After two years of being unsteady and crying in bathrooms, I am betting on this to be true.

Dear Green Bean, may we continue to write beautiful manuscripts together!

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A Letter of Farewells

snow-roadsWinter, you have kept me cold but still. This is what I needed most. I look outside to see the snow’s glutinous majesty and the trees bowing in reverence to my solitude. This is it, I think, this is the end of something for me.

I hear the trees moan in affirmation. They are heavy with flurry and hard ice. Their trajectory to the earth is announced by cracking sounds followed with thankful snow-pelted thuds.  I, too, have fallen many times over the past  year, just like these overburdened tree limbs. Perhaps my descents were silent, yet they whispered in tones of grace and gratitude.

Snow, this is your last stand of the season and it is your most splendid performance: you display opulent purity. You will melt away by tomorrow’s end, and this will be the full stop to one long, run-on sentence in my life. I am sad to see you go. The turning away is never easy. As you wash into the earth, you will remove parts of me from myself. You will steal the coldness and stillness of this season to leave me ripe for bloom.

This is it, I realize, this is the end of something that I must bid farewell.

The sun will come out tomorrow. I am already warmer than I was this time last year. Everyone I know has incubated this winter; has silently professed that when the Spring comes, they will be better versions of themselves.

I understand the syntax of these moments and the transformative grammars that await. You are not who you once were, suggests the coming Spring, now go out into the world and become who you are supposed to be.  Write a new world for yourself. 

Memoir On My Mind

I am honored to be one of the top three “winners” of my local O.Henry Magazine’s first memoir competition. The story is a reflection of my rural Southern upbringing and how one event altered the course of my life. I entered the contest on a whim; this was my first time experimenting with a Southern voice AND writing about my childhood. The results surprised me! This goes to show that when you sit down to write, you never know what will fall out on the page.

Here is the opening paragraph:

I learned most of what I needed to know about the world under an old oak tree in my Big Momma’s front yard. The kingdom I created in that magical space, betrothed to me by a tire swing, predicted the shifting geographies that would define my life.

You can read the full text here, or you can listen to my reading below:

I’ve Been A Busy Girl

This past two weeks have been filled with amazing, wonderful creative people.

Let’s talk about love, Atlanta!

Brunch with the Atlanta crowd. Also pictured: Alan Howard

Brunch with the Atlanta crowd. Also pictured: Alan Howard

I had the honor of participating in the Atlanta Salaam, Love reading with contributors Alan Howard and Anthony Springer. I read an excerpt of “Even Muslim Girls Get the Blues” from Love,Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women. That essay started me on an amazingly transformative journey, and one I was happy to discuss during the reading.

The highlight of the Atlanta weekend was finally meeting Love, Inshallah and Salaam, Love editors, Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi. They brought me on a year ago to help edit LoveInshallah.com, a process that kept us in touch on a daily basis. However, I had not had the honor of meeting them face-to-face.

The weekend was a blur of amazing folks, including the awesome weight-lifting Kulsoom B. Abdullah, who took these fabulous pictures.

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Reading from my Love, Inshallah essay.

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The entire panel, which was moderated by Aisha Saeed. Anthony Springer is reading his Salaam, Love essay.

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Brunch time in Atlanta. Love, Inshallah and Salaam, Love editor Ayesha Mattu is pictured. 

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Love, Inshallah and Salaam, Love contributors with the editors.

Several of us imbibed with chai and conversation until the wee morning hours. One of the best conversations I’ve had in years occurred in the living room of Young Adult author (and Love, Inshallah contributor), Aisha Saeed, along with her husband and two adorable sons. Also present – Salaam, Love’s Alan Howard and Ayesha Mattu. I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to have had that weekend with these amazing people.

One tidbit that stayed with me is when Ayesha reminded us that Islam’s legacy is one of love, and it is time that we start to reclaim this.

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Speaking of chai and stories, Painted Hands author Jennifer Zobair has launched a new site called story and chai. I am honored to have my essay, “Ghostwriting the Self” as one inaugural entry. Aisha from Atlanta (who has an overly enthusiastic love for the grocery store chain, Publix) is also featured on the site speaking about writing YA literature.

In my essay, I briefly outline my writing journey and I reflect upon writing’s magical alchemy:

For those who think their story doesn’t matter, or feel too afraid or ashamed to share it, I assure you that it does.  Someone out in the world somewhere needs to read what you have to say. They are waiting for verification that somebody else feels like they do. Writing is invocation; it is a way of making things happen. When you find the bravery to tell your story, that is the moment you become something bigger than yourself. That is when you call the world to you.

Jennifer Zobair is a participant in this weekend’s The Muslim Protagonist conference at Columbia University, along with other fabulous Muslim writers and thinkers. Congrats to Jennifer and the other authors for rocking the snot out of things. 

On Being a Creative Protagonist…

I finally attended The Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. I’ve intended to go for years and finally got around to it in 2014. The event reassured me that I am on the right path in developing my creative platform. I bumped into food and travel photographer Dhanraj Emanuel and several other super cool folks.

A few highlights from the conference:

  • Musicians, artists, writers are no longer “discovered.” This model is outdated and irrelevant, so stop waiting for someone to “find you.” These days, you have to build your audience by creating work and engaging your potential public through social networking. A web presence is an absolute must for anyone serious about their artistic craft.
  • Every creative professional, no matter at what point in their careers, often begins each new project with feelings of inadequacy and the fear of  failure. Clinical psychologist and writer Anne Paris shared her perspectives from twenty years of experience with artists and writers. It doesn’t matter how successful or well-known one becomes, people still become overwhelmed with the creative process and producing a product for public consumption. It is OK to acknowledge these feelings, but allow yourself the experience of  immersion in your work rather than getting overly stressed by deadlines and (the lack of) daily progress. The reasons artists often procrastinate with their projects is rooted in personal fears of success, fear of failure of just the fear of the Self.  It is also important to accept whatever creative process works for you.
  • Don’t put your talent into one endeavor. Successful creatives need to be able to diversify, a point brought home by artist/ illustrator Kyle Webster in the event’s closing keynote address. Talent and hard work goes a long way, as does a little luck. But if you don’t diversify and invest your talent in multiple directions, you aren’t going to get very far. He provided the analogy of dominoes. You want the domino effect when it comes to your work, but you have to make sure the trail isn’t going to falter by going only in one direction. You want your dominoes to branch out in multiple directions. Once you’ve got something in motion, it keeps going…and going..and going.

Sasquatch on Valentine’s Day

Thanks to Southern snow, I’ve been housebound for a good twenty-four hours. I’m stir crazy, so on this day of love, I find myself writing poetry about the longings of Sasquatch.

It is a bizarre thing to ponder on Valentine’s Day, I know. This is what happens when I become a shut-in. But I love all of you. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE all of you!

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Roses are red
Violets are blue
Somewhere in a snowy wood
Sits a Sasquatch thinking of you

She longs for a peanut butter bar to share with a beau
To go wood knockin’ with someone that makes her heart swoon
But all she gets on this sainted eve
Is a cold stump and a night full of moon

Then, she hears her beloved howl from afar
She lets her heart follow the sound of the clamor
As she gaits in the direction of the call
She realizes it is some hat-wearing humanoid with a thermal imaging camera

Sasquatch pauses for moment before saying in her head,
“Take a infrared Valentine selfie, stupid human, I’m going back to bed."

- For Robartes
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Love (Again)

deonnakellisayed:

My latest Loveinshallah column

Originally posted on Love, InshAllah:

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Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment 
it is as perennial as the grass.
-Desiderata, Max Ehrmann

It is that time of year when people reflect on love. Maybe it is because of the polar vortex, the unusual mass of Southern snow, or the slow tide of winter, but love occupies my mind. Most specifically, I wonder when I will be on someone’s mind; when it will be my turn to be loved, and to love, again.

A carpenter friend of mine recently commented that empty homes disintegrate quickly. “A house absorbs the energy of people in it, and if no one is there to replenish the energy, it starts to fall apart,” he shared. This seemed counterintuitive: inhabitants put wear-and-tear on a home so the logic should be the other way around. But I’ve been in…

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To Find a Homeland

Her womb is tiring of the cycles and her bones ache in the cold. She understands that she is getting old. She longs to extend outside of her body, to demarcate pleasure to the wider spaces beyond the folds of her own skin.  There are many years still left, but she reaches out for a final homeland in the shape of a man whose body is like hers: vibrant with pleasure where the taste of lust remains familiar yet exciting, even if it must be called out from cautiously earned seclusion. She wants a man with hints of grey in the hair and muscles that are beginning to relax. In him, she will search for a new kingdom in the folds of his skin, one where memories have already laid claim; one where latent tributaries rest in secret hopes of discovery. He will be her safe space. 
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This is what happens as we become older: our bodies still long for pleasure, our wombs dry out, our hearts still seek. We pull from deeper reservoirs. The shared silences of past lives float to the surface. The taste of old stories sit on the skin like aged whiskey; strong, deep and wide. One lick of passion-scented sweat still sends shivers down the spine but deeper, deeper than those careless early days when love shifted our subterranean balances. There are other roots, other lives that leave their signatures. We cannot unknow these things. After the crest of many moons, we are unburdened in our ability to build upward, to roam under the high roofs of new skies. Such things are awarded to those who embrace the perennial seasons; we draw new maps; we find unchartered topographies in one another. We explore landscapes patiently awaiting the slow unveiling that will keep us occupied until the earth calls us back into the folds of her skin.

Renovations

Originally posted on Love, InshAllah:

Azerbaijan Art

 

Listen to Deonna’s cinematic radio reading of this piece. 

Sveta was my neighbor in Baku, Azerbaijan in late 2001.  I was married at the time to my ex-husband, Zalmay, a landmine removal expert whose skills brought us to the country to assist the Azeri government in clearing explosive ordinances left over from the 1990s Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

We lived in a luxurious rented top-floor apartment that had one blue marbled bathroom and an intermittent, calcified water supply.  Our penthouse was located in an older brick building on Seferoglu Street in Baku’s downtown, an area rumored to be part of the old Jewish Quarters. The walls and floors hosted pelts of wool Azeri carpets and Soviet-era art. Our back door opened to a walkway that connected to Azeri neighbors’ apartments and looked over a common courtyard. A tiny, communal kitchen — one Sveta said really belonged exclusively to her —…

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