A Sorta Fairytale

Radioactivity: the random emission of particles as a result of constant struggle from the two greatest forces in nature.

Radioactivity: it means I'm glowing.

Lamps, Ladders, Shepherds

I recently revisited a quote I had once posted here from Rumi, “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd.” There’s another one on the board in front of me too, “A candle loses none of its light by lighting another candle.” Also Rumi.

In my more gracious moments, reminders like this give me inspiration, fill me with hope and purpose, get me excited to give and give and give. After all, according to this, what’s to lose?

In my darker moments the cynicism boils up and I think about all the people around me who, however well-intentioned they might have once been (or even still are), know when to put up their shepherding gear and walk away. Candles eventually wear down, too.

And in the worst moments, which are neither light nor dark, just gray, I wander around in my head confused at who I want to be, and how much of a load I want to bear. 

Though a Muslim, one of my favorite ideas to contemplate comes from the Bible - Matthew 5:46-47 “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

I have spent the past decade of my life thinking about this idea of loving when it’s hard, giving when you can’t anymore. It’s easy to love your friends, it’s hard as hell to swallow your pride and love the annoying people around you too. It’s easy to love your family and friends when they comply with whom or what you envision them to be, but should you throw a fit when they aren’t? For how long do you love anyway? 

The Bible says it doesn’t count if you want to do it, it count’s when it’s hard and you want to be anywhere but here.

I don’t know that I have practiced this often enough and I’m trying to understand why. What makes me afraid to give when other (rational) people tell me, “enough is enough”? Why do I run away from situations that hurt me? Who cares if someone is out to take advantage of me? Shouldn’t I give anyway? Isn’t that what life and love is about? Isn’t that the ethic of community that we are trying to build? Should the question of “at what cost?” ever arise if you are striving to be that shepherd?

Who are the people who practice this? Why do they stick by situations that might deplete them? What causes them to throw in the towel? Did they forget their purpose? Did another source of guidance alter their path? Did they get tired? Did they rationalize? Do they ever throw in the towel? And what do we, the observers, say about them when we observe them in these situations? “He or she is a saint” or “he or she is stupid for sticking around.” Those with endless wellsprings of love are often celebrated in the big picture, but they are often the same ones who are criticized by those around them who tsk tsk at their emotional responses, lack of will power, inability to step away.

Did Jesus or Muhammad ever throw in the towel and say “I’ve had it with this individual, he has crossed a line?” (Am I not supposed to compare my actions because I’m not a messenger sent with a higher purpose?) Or do I believe that, regardless of who I am, everyone around me is still a human, still a soul, that deserves the same amount of (if not more) love and compassion than my favorite people in life do? Why do we feel bound (guilted?) into loving our family, but find its okay to give up on those that are not family at little more easily? Aren’t we all the same? Are some people more deserving than others? Who determines that?

I know this is super idealistic and no one follows this “shut up and love everyone, all the time, indiscriminately” rule - but why not? What stops us? What is the realization everyone else has that helps them decide to finally walk away? And what would you (honestly) tell me if I said I wanted to be the shepherd who never abandons her struggle to love?

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Too Inspired to Care

There are moments in life when you feel so changed, so inspired, and so….full of emotion that all your pretenses, your excuses, hesitations and fears fall away. Like the fact that I haven’t written in over a year. Poof. Gone…because today was just too awesome.

My amazing job offers me the opportunity to travel around the US and the world attending conferences that expand my skills as a teacher and as a human being. They make me better at life. On countless occasions I have felt inspired and moved and awed and humbled and today is one such occasion. So here I am at the Learning and the Brain Conference in San Francisco (!!!), bounding back on the scene because I just need to capture this outpouring of thoughts and because a simple blank white word document is just not going to cut it right now. And because I know that you will appreciate, relate, and encourage these ruminations. 

So here’s what I learned today:

Session 1: There is a strong correlation between mental illness or mood disorders and creative geniuses. Writers, artists, scientists all fall into this category. Einstein, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Van Gogh. All game changers in their field, all some amount of cray cray. 

As an aspiring writer…someone who feels, in her core, that this is where I NEED to be, this is somewhat disturbing. I spoke with the presenter afterwards and asked her if I could hope to be as influential as they were she basically said no. Not kidding. I will not lie, I felt like I was back in high school when my science teacher refused to write me a recommendation for a college because he didn’t think it was worth it - I wouldn’t get into that school anyway. I have since then learned to take others opinions with a grain of salt (or not take them period) and to rely on my own internal indicators to guide me along my path. Whatever path that maybe, and however that path may define success. My internal indicator has yet to fail me, demean me, or make me feel even a few cents less than a million bucks (billion in today’s day?). 

But still. 

There is a lot more to discuss here, so I will devote another post to this (right now I’m aiming at one a month). 

Session 2: You’re already creative, silly. Here are few strategies to keep it going, particularly in your classroom.

Talk about a mood change. I went from trying to convince myself I was suicidal so that I would have the self-esteem needed to write a book to feeling a sense of relief that I was not putting myself or my students in any imminent danger by teaching them techniques on being creative. 

She had some good strategies for any of you who want to bring this to your workplace, classroom, life:

1. Reframe your question. Then look for solutions.

Instead of asking “How many ideas can we think of for Rick’s birthday party?” See what happens when you ask “How many ideas can we think of to celebrate Rick’s birthday?”

See what happens? A whole new lot of possibilities opens up. We didn’t even realize we boxed ourselves in! 

Ping moment: that’s exactly what jokes do. They reframe the question! So all you haters out there who want to knock my jokes…turns out I’m doing you a favor by helping you be more creative. Hmph!

2. Connect and Combine. Put things together that you never would have.

Or, check out the caption contest on the New Yorker’s cartoons. Put things together that don’t “belong” and you’ll find ways to make them belong. It’s genius.

3. Challenge the assumptions. Basically, don’t be lazy and take the first solution that comes to mind. Force yourself to think of an absurd number of solutions. Like 500 flavors of ice cream. Ready? Go!

…..

Now that you are back from your list making…

Session 3: In order to foster creativity, you need to be happy. How can you be happy? Demonstrate gratitude.

And herein lies the game changer for me. This is the second, hang-on-just-a-minute-because-my-life-just-changed-a-paradigm-just-shifted moment I’ve had this year. Talk about a blessed 2013. 

What are the skills required to be grateful?

1. Positive self-talk. Check out this video of Jessica on YouTube. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR3rK0kZFkg

This girl knows what’s up. 

2. Being able to identify things you are grateful for. Not just material things, but things that you are blessed to encounter - people, nature, etc. Things you are genuinely grateful to have. Not forks and spoons on the table. Things that mean something to you.

3. Being able to express out loud, and to someone else what you are grateful for. 

The speaker mentioned that a lot of people have trouble with this. I think to myself psh I always think about how lucky I am. I’m totally grateful. But then she said, a lot of people get really uncomfortable sharing this with other people. They feel awkward or they feel too cool, too elite, educated, cynical, jaded, worldly. Any number of things that makes it difficult for them to say thank you.

And guess what? I feel like she was talking about me. I get a little embarrassed. I feel like its mushy. People need to relax on all the love and thank yous. Get a life. etc. etc. 

But I realized when I was listening to her, that that is ME. And I have a problem with that. I feel like the people who are able to say thank you easily and with confidence have a different type of happiness, they are of better service to the people and the world around them. They are TRUE forces of positivity. 

I want to BE that person. Unashamedly happy, giving, loving person. 

Welcome goal of 2013. Welcome :)

In London I made a habit of chasing my fears, actively putting myself in situations that made me uncomfortable. Like blogging, performing spoken word, going to dance classes. 

Here, I’ve lost that drive a little, been too wrapped up in work and life. And yet, my new mission has found me. 

Time to chase the embarrassment and fear of being seen as uncool and awkward associated with being unashamedly happy, positive, loving, and giving. 

Key word: Unashamedly. 

What a great, great way to start this 29th year of my life. 

Time to bounce for now. Here are some great ideas I wrote down that I will be incorporating. Stay tuned! Even if it just one of you that is tuning in. Or none :)

Some GREAT ideas:
- 365 grateful project (I am totally doing this!!!)
- texting what you’re grateful for (AD and I used to do this!)
- “one mistake i made today” (get it out, let others see that its okay, and think through what you can do to not have that happen again. will be a great story later to laugh at)

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The Nihari Principle

I was in Chicago this past weekend when a number of random and unrelated encounters suddenly revealed a pattern that I’m excited to share:

Where to start?

I was sitting at a cousin’s house one night - hanging out, playing cards, and out of the corner of my eye hawking NK as he devoured a plate of Nihari (a spicy, meaty, oily Pakistani dish that any self-respecting, brown-skinned individual will rant and rave about).

If you didn’t already know, I have self-proclaimed allergy to Nihari. Every time, without fail, no matter how repudiated the restaurant, or who’s mom is cooking it, Nihari makes me sick to my stomach. Every. Time. So sick, and so many times, that it has nearly extinguished any desire to even smell, much less come near and consume the damn thing. Now saying no is like reflex.

This particular night, though, I was tempted. It was warm, smelled pretty awesome, and it just physically looked so good. But the decision was easy…because I trust that no matter how tempting it might look, inevitably the end result will make it not worth the instant gratification. It’s happened too many times to leave any doubt in my mind. And so I stay away and for once (for once!) am appeased by the evidence of so many tries. And let me tell you, I am generally terrible at self-control.

Okay now table that thought (we’ll come back to it) and check this next one:

On this same trip to Chicago, at another cousin’s house, I was getting to know someone fairly new. As it goes with such encounters, we shared a bit of our past, our families, and our personalities. And as per usual, I spilled the beans about my temper. This is a snapshot of how the conversation always goes:

Me: “Yeah I’m pretty laid back. I mean I take life as it comes. Although, I do have a temper - it just takes a while to get it going. But when it gets going, it’s badddd.”

Every new person I meet: “Oh. Not what I expected. Wait…really? Umm.. Should I be worried?”

Me: “Nahh. It’s been dormant for some time now.”


Perhaps it is my honesty that compels me to reveal even the most unattractive parts of my personality right off the bat. Sort of like - here, take it or leave it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. But I realized this weekend (through another chance encounter) that this bit about my temper is no longer true. At least not true enough or enough a part of my life to warrant it making an appearance at every first (and as a result, sometimes last) conversation I have.

Now to you this may not seem to be a big revelation, but let me explain something to you. For as long as I can remember, I have had difficulty managing my anger. We’re talking since I was a teenager. It would manifest itself in different ways, at inopportune times, and it would cause a lot - A LOT - of damage. Sort of like the Nihari to my stomach.

A lot of damage.

And though it’s gotten so, so much better over the years, I think no matter how peaceful I become, how happy, how radiant, how spiritual, my anger is an inextricable part of me. I wish I could say it wasn’t, but I’ve accepted it and moved on to understanding just how to not let it get the best of me. It’s so strange…I wonder how many other people there are out there that are like me?

But fear not this revelation my friends. This isn’t about to be a repeat, awkward, bare-all conversation. Quite the contrary. What I realized during this monumental trip to Chicago is that while this anger/aversion to Nihari is always be inside of me, so too is it’s antidote.

Now whether you want to call this antidote self-control, will power, trusting history, maturity, or simply a case of me learning my lesson - it still remains that I have found a mechanism that works!!

This is HUGE!!!!!

This antidote is so effective that it took me some time away to even discover its existence.

THAT good.

In my final revelatory encounter this past weekend I had a moment where my anger was aroused. My feelings were hurt, I was upset, and I was ready to unleash. So I did - to the mirror in the bathroom. I thought about what I wanted to say, I spent a lot of time mumbling under my breath, and then later that night when the opportunity finally presented itself, without even taking the time to decide, my reflexes kicked in and…I politely excused myself.

That’s it.

It’s not that I didn’t want to indulge - but I know so well where the damage of instant gratification has gotten me in the past that it wasn’t even a question to consider taking that road again. I trusted the evidence I had collected over so many years and suddenly it became clear that this beast of a temper has learned to cower in the face of this truth.

Only days later after thinking about why I was upset and what I really wanted to accomplish did I consider reopening the situation. Rationally, thoughtfully, and with a noble purpose in mind. Not to satisfy my ego, not to have the last word.

I can’t begin to tell you how far I’ve come. It was truly a really proud moment for me.

Now earlier I said I was excited to share a pattern - that means there’s a little more.

So we know this antidote works on Nihari, we know it works on my anger. What else can it be used for?

Two nights ago over dinner with the lovely ZPD, we came to the conclusion that it can be applied to C, too. (Remember C? He’s made appearances every now and then over the past few years.) It’s an altogether toxic relationship that has long overstayed its welcome in my life. It’s also extremely addicting and after more than two years is increasingly hard to walk away from.

Until I remember that I have collected evidence on so many occasions that any sort of communication while instantly gratifying leaves me with a pain so bad I can barely breathe. I can’t think of a better word than agonizing, literally.

And though I have thoughts of indulging this “thing” I am confident that if I apply the Nihari Principle, just like it was with my temper, thoughts of giving in will subside until they are almost nothing. Eventually this will become something I sigh upon, fully content that no matter how tempting it is, the momentary happiness I would get for sure would pale in comparison to the damage I would more than likely suffer.

After all, history (and Nihari) has proven so.

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Why I Love Dance Class

I stepped back into a dance studio today for the first time since my days at the Seduction School in London (sounds more scandy than it actually is, don’t worry). 

I also relived all of my awkward first moments today - being totally off-rhythm, laughing and looking around to see if anyone saw me, and secretly thanking the white girls in the room whose lack of any sort of ability to pop and move with confidence made me look like a superstar. Ahhhhh there’s nothing like a first day of dance class.

But what I love so much about the first day of dance class is that - unlike any other difficult, new skill I have had to learn - my improvements and advancements on the dance learning curve are immediate, undeniable, and huge. And that will prove true for just about anyone. No matter how bad you are the first time you go, you will most certainly move just a little easier the second time, and then the third time, and before you know it, you will be confident enough to almost - almost look yourself int he mirror as you dance. 

Don’t even get me started on what it does for your confidence. 

And all this comes in such a timely manner, as I embark on year two of my teaching career. While I can see leaps and bounds in my confidence, preparation, and ability to think like a teacher this time around, the fact that it took a year (and this was a long, very difficult and grueling year) can be disheartening, oh like maybe two, three, and six months into the process. And for some of us, nearly every day in between too. 

Sigh. If only improvements in teaching were as swifty and remarkable as they are in the studio…

See you in the mirror, self.

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Finding Relief in the Periphery

Most of you who know me can attest to the fact that I have a hard time focusing on pretty much anything but I’m pretty good about spreading myself around and getting involved in lots of random things - writing, art, school, dance, volunteering, traveling, etc etc etc. It’s how I roll. But everyone now and again as I run through life I find that my sleeve sometimes snags on nasty branch.

That nasty branch has many forms - a annoying presence, a negative situation, a paper, certain relationships, a life-sucking force - whatever it is, it momentarily consumes me to the point where I suddenly cannot see anything else.

(I remember my mom calling me out on this pattern of mine and complaining about my “tunnel vision.” She would point out that I would get lost in my own world and just sit in my head forgetting everyone and everything around me. “Life goes on Zahra, get with the program.”

Looks like somethings haven’t changed.)

And just like when you’re actually running and your body takes an extra second of moving forward before it is pulled back by the force of your snagged-on-branch arm, I don’t usually notice the impact of my tunnel vision until I’m fully trapped in the thorny grasp of the situation life has presented. Standard signs and symptoms of being trapped include gazing off into space, being highly unproductive, losing track of time, keeping items on my to-do-tomorrow list for over 3 weeks, and losing motivation to cook (weird, I know).

The biggest sign though, and usually the moment when I realize I’m in too deep is when I experience the overwhelming feeling of suffocation tinged with momentary hopelessness - when my entire line of vision - forward, back and both sides - is an endless stretch of this struggle - this very moment, right here, right now, and all of the in-my-face energy it is sucking out of me. It’s unbelievable just how swiftly it can color my view of life and strip me of the lightheartedness I’m used to carrying.

But it is only a moment until I remember that it’s just my arm that got caught on a branch. It’s not a monster, it’s not a perp with a gun, it’s not the cops arresting me for something crazy that I promise I didn’t do. It’s just my arm, caught on a branch.

I call this the periphery. It’s everything else that was always there, that will always be there and that I keep forgetting exists when I let myself get tunnel-visioned about my life. It’s what allows me to remember that life is great overall, that time heals, and that this branch ain’t got nothin’ on a life full of trees.

Breathe. It’s time to zoom out and go big picture, baby. 

(Originally written almost a year ago, but highly applicable right this second.)

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Made this for dinner tonight - mmmm it was a big hit and SO easy to make! 
* I used 99/1 turkey meat, added some extra salt, garlic powder and minced onion to the mix.
* I also used garlic and herb flavored feta crumbles. The mint was an awesome touch!
* It was good to go in about 12 minutes using a broiler (no access to a grill).
* I added toasted walnuts to the top and as garnish to add a nuttier flavor (turkey is hard to flavor and doesn’t pick up spices or have as much natural flavor as beef).
* Serve it with flatbread, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and greek yogurt for a WAY healthier version of gyros. 
If you try it, let me know how it goes!

Made this for dinner tonight - mmmm it was a big hit and SO easy to make! 

* I used 99/1 turkey meat, added some extra salt, garlic powder and minced onion to the mix.

* I also used garlic and herb flavored feta crumbles. The mint was an awesome touch!

* It was good to go in about 12 minutes using a broiler (no access to a grill).

* I added toasted walnuts to the top and as garnish to add a nuttier flavor (turkey is hard to flavor and doesn’t pick up spices or have as much natural flavor as beef).

* Serve it with flatbread, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and greek yogurt for a WAY healthier version of gyros. 

If you try it, let me know how it goes!

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Now what? Gwan, argue.

Now what? Gwan, argue.

(Source: casketofpearls)

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The Inequity of Never

As I was lying on my bed, contemplating life and avoiding this damn Texas heat some thoughts began to plague me. 

I’m not one to be “sad” in life and most things don’t phase me much. Stuff happens, good and bad, and you learn to deal with it as it comes, appreciate the good times and take the not-so-awesome times in stride because, in all likelihood, the Big Guy is probably just gettin’ his dose of jokes in at our expense.

But today, the idea of “never” entered my head, and so began the inner workings of my mind. What does never mean? The dictionary on my phone has some pretty depressing results: not ever, at no time, not in any degree, not under any condition.

So we know it’s a negative word. Never means that under no condition, no degree, ever, at any time will ___ happen. It will never be the case that I will be alive in the year 2500.

It’s all good I can live with that.

What I am having a hard time living with is the less explicit, yet no less severe nevers that do exist in my life, or in yours: she will never walk again, you will never have your stuff back, I will never see him again.  

It’s the sleight of hand, twist of fate, way-things-must-be lawlessness of never that really makes it hurt. It’s so unjustified, right?

But I feel that perhaps the most difficult aspect of never to swallow is that it lacks a nemesis. What can match the finality and absoluteness of never? I’ll tell you what can: forever. 

Forever can save us from never!! Well, no it can’t, but at least it approach life with the same force, the same zeal that never does. For every never that robs us, a forever will come and enrich us!

Wait, no it won’t. Because, aside from the Walt Disney edition of Merriam-Webster, forever (meaning: for a limitless time, at all times, continually) doesn’t actually exist. 

Think about it: what do you know that lasts for an unlimited amount of time, guaranteed? Burger King’s latest deals are always for “a limited time only,” we say love lasts forever but one look at the stats in this country and you KNOW that’s a lie, your teeth won’t last forever (mine already hurt :( ), your stuff won’t last forever, hell even your soul abandons your body at some point. Nothing lasts forever because forever doesn’t exist. 

Never mind the fact that all of the other binaries exist fully and in their own right: bad and good, happy and sad, black and white, yes and no, you and me. We are all here, with our own qualities, complementing one another, existing with each other, canceling each other out. Bad is acceptable because we know that good, its equal, comes around every now and then too.

But never and forever, that’s false advertisement. Or rather, the forever portion of it is false. Never - never’s got a lot of integrity. That shit stays.

And the thing is, the falsehood of forever sucks, but it would be bearable if never was just as fake. But it’s not. Never, the negative half of the binary, is the one that is absolute. In fact, never is…forever.

That’s messed up, Big Guy: not okay with this concept of never again. And don’t tell me You are the “forever” in this equation. That’s cheating. Doesn’t work that way. 

Readers: tell me you have a comeback, or at least that you’re not feeling as depressed about never/forever as I am right now.

It’s just not cool. 

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Untitled, On Purpose…Sort of

Look at me, I’m a hot mess.

It’s been 20 minutes and I have yet to think of a title, a clear idea, or even a first sentence.

I suppose this is one of the pitfalls of leading a whimsical life. Most of the time though, it’s awesome:

I wake up on any given day and have an inclination to focus on one area of play more than another. For example, for the past year or two I have had little desire to read. However, as of a few weeks ago I’m suddenly itching to get my hands on every piece of written word my eyes can devour.

On other days, I’m obsessed with sketching out calligraphy. In those moments, I drive to the nearest art supply store and have my way with the pastel counter.

I appreciate this lifestyle because it allows me to naturally address each of my interests when the time is right. There is no need to make a decision about what to pursue or a feeling of guilt because I’m neglecting an area. I just go with the flow and enjoy the flavor of the day.

However, this becomes problematic when:

- I am commissioned to produce a product relating to one of these interests. I can’t do it on command, that’s part of the magic. I also feel like this basically means I don’t belong to this society, which revolves around commanding others to do one’s will. Oops.

- I want to have a say in the matter. Though I am generally not very picky and happy to do whatever my hands desire, there are some days when I don’t want to float anyone else’s boat, not even…mine? Hmm..

- When my circumstances allow for the pursuit of one interest over another. (i.e. now that I feel like reading for pleasure, I’m overwhelmed by required reading by an outside force.)

I WANT to write, dear friends. I want to have thoughts worth expressing. I want to be able to formulate them in a way that is accessible and interesting and relatable. I want to feel the inspiration course through my fingertips as they pound away on my silver keyboard.

But alas, as one who has chosen the life of a Type B, happy-to-be-here, I’m-down-for-whatever type of gyal, I’m just saying…it might be awhile before the Divine Spirit decides to stop icing me out of what I’ll never admit is my actual favorite inclination.

(Yes, writing, I not-so-secretly just confessed how much I actually enjoying engaging with you. Blushing is appropriate.)

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I LOVE this poem. Why? Because it tells us to shut up and stop analyzing everything or judging everyone. Life is good AND bad. That’s what makes it so awesome.

I LOVE this poem. Why? Because it tells us to shut up and stop analyzing everything or judging everyone. Life is good AND bad. That’s what makes it so awesome.

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The Story of the Missing Painting

A long, long time ago (2007) in a far away land (Chicago) a younger version of a really fly girl (me) sat down in a room full of really smart adults for her very first adult meeting.

Uncouth as she was, she used the pen and pad in front of her not to note down the insightful comments she wasn’t about to make but rather to let her hand and heart wander together creating calligraph bliss. She loved to sketch (especially at meetings) and this day in particular marked the creation of a very, very special sketch indeed.

Why? Because you see, this fly girl just a few months earlier had taken a hard fall in life. She was still suffering from acute disappointment and broken-heartedness and her spirit was wandering between what she knew to be true in her soul and what actually manifested itself in reality (a very different picture, indeed); in short, she was lost.

And in this very proper, very adult meeting, while her mind focused on the Key Performance Measures being presented, her heart drifted into another world where feelings trump what the naked eye wants to believe is true. Meeting her hand, this very strong heart proceeded to shape this feeling. Minutes later, on a tiny 4x3 sheet of paper was borne the first draft of a very important painting. The fly girl didn’t know that it was more than just the stirring of her heart that made this sketch monumental, but as you may have guessed, she was destined to find out.

But until then, months passed and as she nursed her wounded heart she continued to fixate on that tiny 4x3 sketch that brought her so much peace. Every time she looked at it, retraced it, and improved it she replayed the events of the past years that led her to this moment of contemplation. She thought about her chance encounters with spirituality which soon turned into an outright courtship - He, calling her name so clearly that she would be forced to rise at Godly hours, sleepily traveling to His door to sit patiently and happily in the darkness. Her fingers traced the peaks on the painting as she replayed those early months when she would spend hours in conversation with Him, laughing along at the practical jokes He liked to play. Her hand dipped down into the valley of the painting just as her mind remembered the pain she felt at the thought of how much, how so very much she had trusted Him with the deepest secrets in her heart - the fears, the desires, the vulnerabilities. And then, with the final flick of her wrist, she relished how much, how so very much she still trusted him, despite the pain she felt He had caused. This was, indeed, a very monumental painting.

But my friends, the story is just beginning. You see, in the redemption that true love brings, she began to rise up out of her pain. Inspired, she wished to share her journey with the world.

Our fly girl spent weeks tracing and retracing, enlarging, getting materials, mixing colors and playing joyously in the paint that was to tell her courageous story. And then, when she was satisfied that all of her pain and happiness and trust and loved had set into the colors, she framed it and submitted it as a dedication to the One above.

At the gallery viewing, the piece didn’t receive much attention. But that was no matter. To her, it radiated. Her parents were a little disappointed. “You didn’t paint the background though…it seems so plain.” Her friends were not all supportive, either. “I went by the gallery but your piece didn’t really catch my eye so I walked past.” (True story.) No matter. She knew that while her technical skills were amateur, she was a master in the art of expression. Confidence intact.

A few months later, after the gallery had closed and the hype had cooled, our fly girl went back to the daily grind of life, continually satisfied in her relationship with spirituality and all of that. And a couple months after that, the disappointment that had caused her such intense pain just one year ago had suddenly lifted, replaced by a renewed opportunity that almost (but not entirely) made it all okay again. Why not entirely? Because sometimes entirely doesn’t come without understanding. So while she accepted the events that transpired, she still did not understand why it had to be this way.

To her the world now looked flawed, but she still loved Him just the same, anyway.

As she packed her belongings to head out to an even further land, the thoughts of her painting resurfaced. The gallery had long closed, and its artists had all received their pieces back - but where was hers? She searched and searched and searched…! She searched high and low, spoke with all of the necessary parties, and was finally given the consolation “we didn’t guarantee we’d return it - that was your risk.” Her painting was missing.

No matter, it was a labor of love, and she was moving ahead.

Years went by and her life was enriched by the blessings and opportunities that surprised her at every corner. There was new love, new experiences, new knowledge to cherish and she soaked it up with an almost (but not entirely) clear heart and almost fresh eyes. It had to be almost because, you see, entirely doesn’t come without understanding and despite these bounties our stubborn (fly) girl just did not understand.

To her, the world (still) looked flawed, but she still loved Him just the same, anyway.

The painting never resurfaced, but she carried the image in her heart (and on her FB profile), and every once in awhile she would lose herself in the dips and peaks of the painting, indulging herself with a trip down memory lane.

That is of course, until she returned to her (sort of) homeland many moons later. Overwhelmed by the responsibilities of this new phase, our more graceful (fly) girl busied herself with making home and hearth. Every day she would go to her place of work, dive in and (attempt to) conquer the piles of work, and then she would head back to her (supercool) crib.

One day, as she walked into her place of work, something looked different… She paused for a moment. What could it be? As she scanned the room, her eyes fell upon several pieces of art sitting along the walls, waiting to be hung - colorful, beautiful pieces, each one expressing a sentiment from the artists heart. She turned her body around the room, gazing at each painting individually, savoring its message, giving it its due respect. And then, having turned nearly 360 degrees, our fly girl’s eyes landed on the final piece in the room…her own!

Here amongst these beautiful and intricate pieces rested her very own, simple expression of love.

She knocked on the secretary’s door and asked her where these pieces had come from and where they were traveling to. “They’ve come from different galleries around the country and they are to remain here. We’re using them to decorate your new offices.”

And suddenly, our fly girl was humbled into silence at the realization that was upon her: Three years ago she had been decorating her office for the job she was to have. The job she thought she’d never get, the reason she had been so heartbroken.

What a master plan, huh?

As the pieces fit together, the understanding too came, and the humility brought her swiftly to her knees. There was no room for almost here.

Epilogue:

After almost nine months of waiting for the painting to arrive and be hung, the missing painting never did show up at the new office. The other paintings were all here, stored in a room, but once again, hers was nowhere to be found. The fly girl knew it was safe but wondered what He was up to (she had learned her lesson and was effectively waiting for the punch line). Because you see, while this painting was intended to decorate her office, it took so long that in the meantime she was offered a position in another office, far, far away (Dallas).

And today, on her last day at work as she diligently filled out the progress reports for her students, she noticed the building manager hanging up some paintings. Curious, heart-racing, she turned the corner to see and what do you think she found?

Her very beloved painting, to be hung on the wall facing the door as the first piece you see upon entering this space…my space…maybe not in the flesh (anymore) but certainly in Spirit from here on out.

You won’t forget me, Atlanta. Thank you for always saving me a spot :)

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Me and Ms. Zahra

I am morphing and I don’t know how I feel about it.

Last week I found myself helplessly cast as the victim of an unfair conversation. Twice!! The conclusion: I played the “You’re mean and hurting my feelings” card on the first go-round, and “Okay, sorry for disturbing you even though I’m not really disturbing you at all but really calling because I need a friend but I’ll just try again later because I have low self-esteem and deserve to be treated this way” card the second time.

This is not me. When have you ever known me to be meek or quiet or hurt?? Ew. You and I are used to the sharp-tongued, hard-edged, slightly mean-but-really-just-blunt-you’re-too-sensitive-and-I-don’t-care Zahra who will call you out for being a jerk or disrespecting me.  

Hello! I burn bridges for a living/ I value my dignity and can afford to lose a friend since I have plenty more where that came from/ All those other phrases that let you know I’m not afraid to tell you how I’m feeling even if you judge me as arrogant.

But suddenly this voice is gone…muted and even…forgotten, replaced by an omnipresent force feared to have swallowed my ego whole…the kind, the loving, the patient…dun dun dun….MS. ZAHRA!!!

(RUNNNNN! DUCKKK!! AAHHH!!)

Okay so let me explain the quick backdrop to this story and then you will understand the complexity of my neuroses (and I will thereby in your eyes become a little less mysterious and a little more lame).

Four (score and twenty) years ago I made one of biggest decisions of my life to date: I changed my academic/career history by veering off the road of sure success as an amazing cutthroat criminal lawyer and petering down the path of an educator.

I couldn’t quite tell you how this change of heart snuck up on me, but I can tell you that one of my biggest reasons for making the shift was out of consideration for my future self’s personality and character. It’s true.

Because we spend so much of our life at work or thinking about work or trying to make ourselves better at what we do for a living, I saw my options as the following:

1. Become an amazingly awesome lawyer who, in order to win so many cases, must by nature be defensive, argumentative, overly rational, critical, sharp-tongued, hardened and perhaps even a little….mean. 

2. Become a lovely, nice, nurturing, kind, patient, cinnamon-lavendery smelling teacher who hugs and wants to be hugged and has feelings and is naive and full of wide-eyed innocence about the world and who loves to be creative and fun.

Okay so obviously these are exaggerated caricatures in my mind’s eye but you have to admit there is a certain amount of truth here. While these descriptions rely heavily on stereotypes, being a Varsity (undefeated might I add) debater in high school, I understood that for me, the successful debater and the rest of me couldn’t stay two separate people for long. Eventually, the traits that allowed me to succeed also became the traits that were primarily used to define me.

And while that had been okay thus far in my life, as I said, I started thinking about the future Zahra. Do I want her to be a hard ass? Or do I want her to be approachable and soft and kind and nurturing?

I don’t do balance well - I’m an all or nothing kinda girl. And so I left behind the dream of being a lawyer and all of its perks for the path of teaching hoping it might eventually turn me into someone patient, quiet, and that dreadfully bland word…nice.

Which brings us to today. Or last week rather, when I realized that I’ve already begun arriving at the corner of “timid” and “nice” - much sooner than I anticipated so that suddenly when I find myself on the receiving end of statements that are not okay I can’t seem to defend myself because the fighter in me has fled, and in her place is the kind, ever-loving, wimpy Ms. Zahra who backs down and sulks away at the slightest hint of push back.

 

Please.

 

I knew when I started that being a part of this profession would mean a change in personality - I even welcomed it. But now that this change is happening, now that I am naturally becoming more patient and calm and nurturing I’m not sure I’m okay with it. Or rather, I’m not sure I’m okay with the reciprocal cost of losing my ability to speak up and say it like it is without having to stop and consider the other persons feelings every second. (Come back, oh Z who once spoke with her heart, valiantly risking consequences for the sake of honesty!)

As I sit at lunch and listen in awe to SA recapping how she put so-and-so in his place for even tryna disrespect her, shooooot - there is a hint of admiration in my heart followed by a realization: you don’t admire something you already possess, Z, you admire the qualities and characteristics you desire…

So is that it then? Have I traded in my gloves for pencils? My sharp tongue and wit for a hug and some tears?

And what does this mean for us? Can we still be friends or will you step all over me? Will you no longer find good company in me because I don’t fight back? Because I am a different person? Will I choose to say goodbye because your disrespect is something I no longer have the strength or the voice to address?

 

And…am I okay with that??

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Zahra Miss’s Thursday 9th graders :)

Zahra Miss’s Thursday 9th graders :)

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Ohh…Wait, You’re a Teacher? So…What Do You Do??

Right.

Sometimes when you ask this question, I want to punch you. I’m a teacher…what do you think I do??? Is that a joke?

And then you say something dumb like, “wait you get paid to do that?” or “yeah I know you teach but like, that’s only for a couple hours a day so you probably like sit around the other 6 hours” or “I mean, I have a REAL job…you, like, babysit, let’s be honest.”

Really, you’re asking for it buddy.

Buttttt just for today, I will cut back on the judgment and answer this question straightforwardly - for you, for those who are genuinely curious, and for those of us who do what I do but are tired of explaining (you can cut and paste, yeah?). I’m not going to repeat, so pay attention.

Ready?

Tuesday: This is my Monday. It’s a regular 9-5/10-6 day and it’s the day that I normally set aside to lesson plan. Ahhh lesson planning! You forgot I have to actually take time to do that right? I’ll take that as a compliment.

Here’s what lesson planning actually involves:

- Reading the curriculum

- Reading around the curriculum - related topics, current literature, things it might be associated with that your kids might encounter at school or in pop culture

- Deciding which elements you want to cover in your class (key messages/objectives)

- Deciding how you want to do that in the language of activities

- Preparing a discussion around those activities (this involves creating questions which is a science in itself, and running through the discussion yourself so you know that it actually works)

- Running it by a colleague and make the necessary adjustments

- Making sure you adjust your lesson plan for those students who need extra attention (I have 80 students, by the way)

- Creating or finding resources for your class (youtube videos, props, trips to Hobby Lobby)

- And oh yeah, what about homework and the kids who were absent?

The best part is that once you get to know and understand each of your classes, you realize that different classes have different needs. So basically, a few months into the year, you sometimes have to repeat the above process anywhere from 2-5 times…a week. It’s mentally exhausting.

Tuesday is also spent answering emails that came in over the weekend, calling parents to follow up on absences or misbehavior, and if you happen to do all of this, then you can start to turn your attention to planning unit projects and assessments as well as field trips.

Wednesday (1:00pm - 9:30pm): YES it is a late start. And it’s awesome and well deserved when you have to deal with 20 kids at night who sometimes drive you crazy.

1:15pm - 2:45pm - Staff meeting to talk logistics, concerns, upcoming events, potential professional development opportunities, etc.

2:45pm - 6:30pm - reflecting on last week’s class, grading assignments, reading through and responding to journals, inevitably working with other colleagues on their lesson plans and readjusting yours, making copies (lots and lots of copies) and occasionally meeting with your co-teachers to go over lessons and ideas. And of course, if you have time (I never do): work on preparing end of unit/term/year projects, assessments, and field trips.

7:00pm - 9:30pm - put on the performance of lifetime so that my students can understand that the knowledge and interaction they get in these two and half hours might just be slightly more valuable than the Gossip Girl episode they’re missing to be here.

Thursday and Friday: Repeat

Thursday meetings involve discussing content concerns, sharing best practices, incorporating research into our work, teaching techniques and behavior help.

Friday meetings are with my Professional Learning Community (PLC) where other 9th and 10th grade teachers get together to discuss what we’re each doing in our classes, make sure that we align with our messages, share what’s working and what’s not and get ideas when we’re stuck. It’s actually pretty awesome.

Aaaannddd every Friday at 4:00pm I get to spend quality (scheduled) phone time with the Boss who helps me be better at everything all the time in the classroom.

Saturday (11:00am - 6:00pm): Back to back classes.

And none of this accounts for days we devote to professional development, countless meetings we have with managements, co-teachers, and special-action groups who want access to the most sought-after constituency in the community.

SOOOOO my friends, our pennies are hard earned!!! :)

It is now the end of my first year and I can say with confidence that I really thought I wasn’t going to make it. Really. It was hard man. Every single week was tough. Sometimes it was the students that made me want to quit, sometimes it was the lack of creativity in my brain, sometimes it was the unbelievably overwhelming workload (keeping track of 80 students is…unbelievable) and sometimes it was just accepting what my lack of confidence wanted me to believe: I’m not cut out for this.

And the truth is, I didn’t save every student. Actually, I didn’t save anyone. Actually a couple students never came back to class…oops. There were no heroes borne from the overly inspirational discussions, and no one is going to be the next President because I told him he was a good critical thinker. I didn’t prevent anyone from becoming a drug addict and I’m pretty sure that I didn’t move anyone to be a teacher… :-/

(Butttt I did just make myself a pretty nice to-do list for next few years, huh?)

The rest of the truth is I gave my students a platform to think and share and discuss - which they appreciate, I showed them new perspectives, I practiced on them, I learned A LOT this year, and I’m so, so excited to put all of the difficulties this year toward being better next year.

(Still hella terrified, but excited.)

That was a pretty bangin’ breakdown, wasn’t it?
Here’s hoping you never look at teachers the same way again… :)

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Heeyyyyy! How’s Atlanta?

I’m almost embarrassed to continue typing.

Actually, I AM embarrassed to continue typing. Why I have been away so long, I cannot tell you. Between papers, and weddings, and random trips to South America (it was awesome), and family affairs, it has been a whirlwind of days and weeks. And once I put the “pen” down, I cannot, for the life of me, seem to be able to fluidly pick it up again.

And the embarrassment - I still can’t figure that one out. Who am I accountable to? And why does it matter so much? And where the hell is all this random guilt coming from?!

And of course, the need to justify or explain. It’s my life, I can do what I want to. If I’m too busy to write, I’m too busy to write. It is what it is, and all of us (I) need to get over it, fast. And so, to symbolize that I don’t need to write this justification, I’m striking this beginning. 

What up, what up! Greetings from Atlanta! Yes, I have moved. 

No, it doesn’t feel like home yet. But we’re getting there (maybe)

And that, my friends, is what I have to say in response to the above question. 

It has been exactly six months - to the day actually - that I left my previous home and life and status as a student back in London to move to this brand new place called Atlanta, as a full-time teacher.  

So far, it’s been different than what I had expected. In some ways more, in others…the uptake has been slow. 

When I left London, I had an image in my head: me, stretched out on the couch of my awesome pad, sun shining through the windows as I leaf through the latest issue of some stylish magazine while sipping on some morning coffee. I’d have plans to run some errands during the day, do a little cooking to some jazz tunes in the evening, and then polish off my super-independent-living-up-the-single-life day with whatever novel du jour I was on. 

The truth is, aside from the coffee (which I don’t drink), that image is amazingly (and thankfully - I’m so blessed, really) almost exactly spot on. I’ve got a beautiful apartment that I have the freedom to decorate as I please, I’ve got a sexy car to take me all the places I need to go and I have the time and the freedom to indulge in leisure activities as I please. It really doesn’t get better than this.

What I’m not telling you, though, is that the image in my head also came with a grossly underestimated time-frame. I thought I’d be slick and smooth in 3 days or less and instead it’s taken me until very recently to be able to step back and acknowledge that my apartment might still need a few finishing touches, I don’t have as much time as I’d like (but who does right?), and that it isn’t always HOTlanta, but that life can still be good.

It’s a process. And it takes time, lots and lots of time. 

Funny thing is, I already knew this and had learned it in a very painful way back during my camp days. I guess amidst all the excitement and dreaming I’d forgotten?

And the even crazier thing is that it doesn’t just apply to my apartment/lifestyle. It applies splendidly to my job as well. Our workplace is gorgeous, but it too, has come together in a very slow and piecemeal way. I forget that on TV they fast-forward this part so that everything is built in like 30 seconds, even though it may be days and days of footage. Sigh to the instant-gratification society we live in. 

Getting used to being a full-time teacher with 5 classes and 80 students has also been a process. They don’t love you on the first day, or the first week, or sometimes even the first term. Surprisingly, neither do I. Creating projects can be a *****, grading papers is annoying, and progress reports make me want to throw up. But, six months down the line I’m more organized than I have been in a long time, I’m rising to the top of my game (as much as a first-year can rise, that is), and I’m regaining the creativity that was momentarily stifled in all the panic and confusion that this profession can wreak. And, they come around :)

All I know right now as I re-read what I’m about to post is that I’m in a place where I can actually look back and write with the knowledge that I am already moving forward and that it’s getting better and better every day. THAT is a good feeling.

And the image in my head (minus the coffee) can finally, after many, many difficult moments, be an image that comes alive not just because I perform the motions, but because I’ve become the person. 

Welcome back, Z.

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