Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

When simple minds do complicated things.

I haven't written in a while, and that's because, as I mentioned in my last post, it's Ramadan, that blessed month when all Muslims focus on spirituality while they fight the pangs of hunger 'til the sun goes down. I've also been reading lots, not just the Holy Quran, but other things when I just feel like doing what I usually do.

In that time, I've gotten through my first Philippa Gregory book, "The Virgin's Lover," loved it, then started a book that has been infuriating me from its first few pages. "The Caliph's House," by Tahir Shah, is a book about this guy, Tahir Shah, who one day decides to leave his somewhat cushy life in England for a more exotic life in Morocco. He takes his pregnant wife and little daughter, and they move into a house they purchased on a whim in a shantytown in the well-known Moroccan city of Casablanca.

I admire anybody who leaves a cushy life anywhere for an exotic one anywhere. Except for Shah.

The problem with this book, and with Shah specifically, is that in the bit of the book I've managed, with difficulty, to get through (I'm on page 122), Shah has written himself out to be a narrow-minded westerner, who has no interest in really being a part of Moroccan culture, but rather treats the place as a sort of novelty to look at and study, preferring to stay within the palace-like house he is having renovated by a local architect and his motley crew, criticizing everything from Moroccan culture and norms to Moroccans themselves.

There are several ways that Shah infuriates me with his observations, which, to be fair, are his opinions, but his opinions are too arrogant, proving further that he's not interested in really living an exotic life, that he just wants to continue living his cushy life in an exotic place. Nowhere is this more evident than when one of the three men he refers to as "the guardians" who came packaged with the house comes to him with the bad news that the government would be tearing down the shantytown where the guardians as well as he are residents.
"Since moving to Casablanca, I had secretly hoped that the shantytown that surrounded the oasis of Dar Khalifa would be bulldozed, and that upmarket villas would replace them." (p.63)
More than arrogance, Shah emanates ignorance and insensitivity to sensitive subjects in the most uncouth way. Again, these are opinions, but they infuriate me all the same, making me dislike the book and its author for being so crass.
"As far as the guardians were concerned, Dar Khalifa's proximity to a mosque was more than fortuitous... To me, the raspy voice, amplifed through an old loudspeaker, was more of an irritation than a blessing." (p. 19)
Shah's irritation with such a staple presence in any Islamic society, as Morocco is, is the equivalent of someone being irritated by church bells at the Vatican. It just shows how he just doesn't get it, or much of anything about where he's decided to have an adventure, which clearly he's just not all that interested in having. He's more interested in owning something he couldn't possibly own with his means in England; a house with about twenty rooms, an endless garden, a tennis court and a large swimming pool among other things.

Now, as a Muslim myself, I suppose I could be biased when it comes to Shah finding the muezzin, the raspy voice calling people to prayer five times a day irritating, but regardless of that, Shah's view of the different set of beliefs, or beliefs period, are bordering on disrespectful. He does try to disguise his unflattering opinions and observations poorly as "An outrageously black comedy [written] with the straightest of poker faces," (Washington Post Book World), but in my rather humbled, perhaps biased opinion, he fails. I am a big fan of black comedy and dark humor, and I see no such thing in this book...Shah writes nothing more than his own arrogance.

Now, provided that the superstitions Moroccans have about Jinn, otherworldly creatures discussed in the Quran, are a little crazy even to me as a Muslim who believes in their existence, they are nonetheless beliefs that are shared by an entire culture, therefore, Shah should be a little less dismissive of the Moroccan sincere belief that they each have Jinn attached to them, who must be appeased with lavish dishes prepared with the best meat and other offerings in order to prevent their wrath and evil.

I am taking into account that I may be biased, but after reading several reviews, only a few of which are negative, I've found that the few who gave it less than five stars out of five are people who voice my own opinions and have made the same observations I have about the true spirit of Tahir Shah in making that big move to a land much too complicated for his simple mind.

Also, I don't understand why instead of pictures of Dar Khalifa and the shantytown in Casablanca, we are given shoddy sketches that mean nothing to the reader who would like to see the oasis Shah seems to prefer over all of Morocco.

I can only hope that in the next 200 pages Shah's attitude is adjusted and his arrogance dissipates to make way for a more wholesome and appreciative stance.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

This is when I detox my soul

A sunset is what we Muslims like to see during Ramadan, but there is so much more than just food that we crave.
Ramadan is here. Well, actually, it touched down yesterday, but I'm just now blogging about it.

What can I say about this sacred month that I haven't already? Each year, I begin with the hope that through the spirituality that comes attached to this month, I will detox my soul and begin afresh once the Eid celebrations are here. Each year I think I succeed in detoxing, but it's so easy to load back up on the toxifying things once Ramadan is over.

That is what I hope to change this year.

Not that I am doing evil and horrible things after Ramadan is over, but I am always hoping that I keep my mind free of negative thoughts, keep my mind open to all kinds of ideas, and never judge anything or anyone before knowing the facts, at which point the facts might eliminate the need to judge in the first place. Sometimes that can be a tall order, because no matter how much we, as human beings, tell ourselves to live and let live, sometimes, it's just impossible to do just that. Why? Because we're human, and when we see someone doing something that we perceive as wrong, we naturally and instinctively react.

I know I will never be a saint, but through the spirituality that comes as a gift with the month of Ramadan, I sometimes feel hopeful that the gap between me and a saint shrinks. I know that gap will never disappear or be hard to spot, but just like happiness is a path and not a place, so is being the best person one can be.

Welcome, Ramadan.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I stay up late...

Where I stay up late.

I stay up late, because that's when things wind down, and I am able to concentrate. I stay up late, because that's when I do most of my writing, uninterrupted. I stay up late, because the eerie silence of the suburban street I live on is like a soundtrack to my ideas. I stay up late, because I can, and I like it.

But, really, I stay up late, because I wake up late.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Rejection vs. Silence

There is something about rejection that scares most people beyond reason.

Writers, in particular, I think, are especially afraid of rejection. They are so afraid of it that they let the idea of a possible rejection gobble up thousands of possibilities for publication.

I should know, I've sabotaged my own opportunities for publication because of this very fear.

Up until recently, I never would've dreamed of sending in my work to any serious, paying publication. I pretty much stuck with the non-paying, virtually unknown ones that don't even bother with ink and stick with the Internet as their medium. It's good to start small, I thought.

I kept at these smaller publications, because I figured that my writing wasn't quite up to par with the big leagues, and I have no problem saying that it still isn't. But something has changed over the years. The difference these days is that I am sick and tired of the silence. I'm tired of sending my work into the great abyss where it disappears and I never hear from it again, and I can't even say that I sent it anywhere recognizable or memorable.

That is why a little more than three weeks ago, I went in for the big kill. I sent in a piece of mine to The Sun Magazine, knowing fully well that my chances were slim, but wanting to take that big step anyway. I wanted to get things moving and shaking; I wanted to give myself a violent shove into the fast lane.

In what is perhaps a record response time for the overloaded-with-submissions Sun, my SASE arrived in the mail with my rejection letter inside it. Today marks the first rejection letter I've received from a very well-known and respected publication.

Of course, at first, I felt a tiny bit disappointed, but I soon composed myself and thought of the positive in the situation. After all, that was my purpose when I decided to take that big leap in the first place: to stay positive in the face of a negative.

The fact that I am seeing the positive in this negative situation leads me to the realization that I am ready to go places, simply because rejection sounds better to my ears these days than silence. In this case, any news, and not no news, is good news.

Don't judge me!

When I went out yesterday, I didn't think I'd come home with a new cell phone in my purse, but there you have it: I have traded up from an ancient Motorola Razr to a Samsung Strive with a complete keyboard.

It's nothing too fancy that I've traded up to, but nevertheless, when Eddie at the AT&T store took my money and got me set up on my new phone, he closed the transaction by saying: "Welcome to 2010."

I laughed at Eddie's little jovial remark at the end there, but the more I think about it, the more I am bothered by the idea that I am considered "behind" simply because my phone is old.

Really, Eddie, and anyone else who would've seen a Motorola Razr glued to my ear, would immediately assume that I am one of those dinosaurs who still hunts and pecks at the keyboard in order to compose and send an e-mail through my TV. I'm telling you that nothing could be farther from the truth.

I type close to 90 words per minute, with few if any errors, using all my 10 fingers, while keeping my eyes on the screen. I own a pretty nice laptop with all the fix-ins anyone could've needed two years ago, yet still don't feel like I'm missing too much by not having a blu-ray disc drive. I am practically an expert on iTunes and iPods. My iPod is a 3rd generation iPod Touch with wi-fi, which I use regularly to upload pictures, send e-mails and use a slew of apps to simplify my life and entertain me.

I could go on and on listing the ways in which I need no welcoming to 2010, but I think I've made my point; I am simply pointing out that just like you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, you shouldn't judge a person's tech savviness by their cell phone. After all, it's just a phone in a world full of other, more impressive and unique gadgets.