Jump, Pray, Write

deonnakellisayed:

My latest Wasat Girl column at LoveinshAllah.com….

Originally posted on Love, InshAllah:

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Two and a half years ago, I left my financially comfortable global marriage for an expired passport and economic uncertainty. It was the saddest and bravest decision I’ve ever made. The US economy teetered in the worst recession since the Great Depression. There was no alimony, and I had not worked in twelve years.

The fear of “what ifs” loomed in monstrous proportions. I had no soft spots to land and no deep-pocketed family members to help me start over. Leaving meant leaping into a terrifying yet potentially poetic abyss.

Marriage had furled me tight. I couldn’t celebrate my complexities, and I longed for a different rapport with my spirituality. I felt like a fat and undesirable failure, and how I experienced my identity within the relationship wasn’t what I wanted to be out in the world.

When you find that you can’t locate yourself in a significant part of…

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Written in the Stars

The earth of my birth.

The earth of my birth.

I recently trekked to my ancestral village in Florida and stopped in Atlanta to hang with Salaam, Love contributor, Alan Howard, and Love, Inshallah featured, YA author, Aisha Saeed.  She has a forthcoming book (March 2015), Written in the Stars, available for pre-order.

Aisha swears allegiance to one particular Publix grocery store, so much so that we’ve enjoyed Twitter banter on the subject. Honestly, I don’t know why Publix hasn’t recruited her for public relations in celebration of diversity. Seriously. She could do for Publix what she is doing for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign (of which she is on the executive committee).

Yet, she got me to Publix and folks were as friendly (if somewhat smartphone inept) as she had suggested. (Note: there are three little readers in video, my Afghan-American son, Ibrahim, in a TAPS t-shirt, and Aisha’s two sons.  This is America’s future, these precious kids.)

Aisha and I were both raised in Florida, but in different cultural spheres.  She commented over Vietnamese cuisine during my Atlanta-lunch that she didn’t eat stuff like pho growing up. Her family dinner table consisted of traditional Pakistani foods. “Spaghetti was as exotic as it got,” she shared.

Likewise, my Southern palate consisted of collard greens and cornbread. I did not know about biryani until I became an adult. Pho? Pfffh!  I didn’t eat Chinese food until I was 12 years old. I didn’t meet anyone “foreign” until I moved to a big city high school in eleventh grade.

Every book I read as a child — and I read a great deal —  featured kids that looked like me: white, blond, simple, certain. The only literary diversity I experienced was Mowgli in The Jungle Book.

Aisha grew up without book characters that looked like her, and this literary absence is one reason she started writing.   The cover of Written in the Stars features a “brown girl”, and Aisha shared that this felt like an achievement, specifically because her publisher worked with her to develop a cover that accurately represented the story.

On that day in Atlanta, our children slurped down pho and then strolled through Publix, and each of us celebrated components of hybrid identities. The power of globalism was tangible.  Yet, I want more diversity in pop culture because my son is transcultured and of mixed race heritage. He needs stories celebrating his cultural experiences.

I devoured the ARC for Written in the Stars on the land settled by my Irish ancestors in the early 1800s, and on the same patch of earth where I was raised. In one swoop of the page, I was transported to Pakistan and into a reality very different than my own.  This is what great writing can do: it becomes little transformative journeys.  Writers like Aisha are opening new cultural spaces in celebration of complex identities.

I give a shout out to Aisha and Written in the Stars. What a fabulous story of love, redemption, and hope. Pre-order your copy now, and celebrate great groceries and literary diversity.

Written in the Stars

 

 

 

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Ramadan Musings

Here are some of my Ramadan musings:

  • When Deprivation is Part of the Journey 

“I became a Muslim two decades ago. Seven years later, I married the man who would become the father of my son; Ibrahim arrived a year later. By that point, a hijab sat on my head and I lived in Central Asia. I returned to the United States before moving to the Middle East, with back-and-forth trips to Pakistan throughout.  I experienced Islam and Ramadan in many places around the world.

I rarely experienced Ramadan internally.”

Click here to read more. 

 

  • Twenty Years of Stomach-Shrinking Ramadan 

“Your fast only counts if you are Muslim,” a man from Syria once said to me. I was eighteen-years–old, not quite Muslim but on the cusp, when he made this assertion.

“That was a horrible thing to say,” my Lebanese friend rebutted. “Shame on him,” she chastised with a shake of her head while she spooned iftari tabbouli on my plate.

It was too late, however. I had already internalized the message that only one legitimate story existed regarding Ramadan, and shame on you if your fasting experience presented a counter narrative. I was a year out of my bariatric surgery. I should not have tried fasting with such a diminutive stomach, but my heart desired to expand in the direction of Mecca. A year after my first fast, I would be a card carrying Muslim, and no thanks to Mr. Syria.

Some are unyielding when it comes to the Holy month. As one of the main tenants of Islam, it isn’t something to casually dismiss, but for me, Ramadan arrived each year as a personal dilemma. For two decades, I desired to feel the excitement other Muslims claimed to experience, but instead of anticipation, I felt dread at what Ramadan would do to me. I kept this anxiety to myself, having always felt too embarrassed to confide, what I considered my weakness, in anyone. “

Click here to read more.

Ghost Frontier

DSC05401The last time I thought of ghosts and other spectral matters, the ground was frozen and the air frigid. Many things have thawed in the summer heat,  including my once-upon-a-time persona as a “paranormal investigator.” I’m putting on that hat again — at least, for a few minutes – or, more appropriately, I’m pulling on one of my black t-shirts to talk about ghost hunting.

To be honest, I’m not really talking about “ghost hunting” in the way one sees on TV.  On Friday, July 11th, I’m speaking at the Rhine Research Center about why ghost hunting/survival research/afterlife study is important for American society. My lecture, “The Ghost Frontier,” will be at the Stedman Auditorium at the Duke Center for Living Campus at 7:00-9:00 pm.

John Kruth, the Executive Director of the Rhine Research Center (former Duke Parapsychology Lab) emailed me about speaking in July during their month-long themed events on field investigation. I jumped at the opportunity. The RRC is a fascinating organization conducting unusual and compelling research that “explores the frontiers of consciousness and exceptional human experiences in the context of unusual and unexplained phenomena.” The Rhine hosts Friday night lectures and other gatherings that elevates the dialogue around subjects (like precognition, ESP) often clouded in cliched discussion.


I’m honored to speak at the Rhine because it allows me to really dig into my social and cultural theory academic background within the context of my experience as an investigator.  I’ll link today’s paranormal investigative culture to creativity (WB Yeats), the philosophy of science (William James), spirituality, the history of parapsychology and popular culture.

If you have any interest in these topics, or if you are a cultural studies enthusiast, I hope to see you there or hear that you are registered for the online simulcast. If you aren’t in the area, this provides a perfect excuse to visit NC — there are lots of touristy things to do in these parts.

If you do make the trip, Saturday, July 12th is a workshop with David Rountree followed by an investigation at an active (but undisclosed) location!

 

 

 

 

 

A Map of Home

deonnakellisayed:

My latest “Thoughts of a Wasat Girl” column.

Originally posted on Love, InshAllah:

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Lately, I think in the shape of maps. Cartography is a relevant metaphor as my boundaries are bending yet again. My tongue wags in the direction of due East. I am revisiting old languages while my writing hand rests.

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The immigrants gather together in my coffee shop, no matter the country of their origin. They call personal grammars from the air. The Persians gesture with palms towards the heavens; the Arabs stretch arms out wide as if to catch a word before it leaves the sentence; Indians write postcolonial diatribes with cigarette smoke. Some drink to lost memories hidden in their tea or coffee cups. A few read their stories from beer foam. They all remember somewhere else and some time from before.

He tells me that he would be disappointed if he returned home after thirty years of absence. Nothing will be as I remember, he says. He wasn’t…

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