Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Book is done

As I sit at home sick, eating
tofita because I can't find mamba and drinking coke because I can't find Gatorade, it occurs to me that I haven't shared some important news. 

It's about that book. The one that started out as five thousand well paced words. That was neglected for almost a week of November. That book that was finally finished in some all night delirium in the middle of December. In proper Sumeera fashion, it was finished after the deadline. But it's done.

And by done, I mean I have surpassed the 50,000 words we were supposed to write and have most, if not all, of the plot and story down.

I haven't sat down and read the whole thing. At times I'll open up the document and read a few pages here and there. I stare at them, not sure who wrote them. Other pages stick out to me. I can remember exactly where I was sitting, the person it was that walked by and inspired that character or emotion. 

Do I love my book? I'm not sure. I love it because its my first. I love it because there are things in there that I really wanted to say and there are stories that I really wanted to tell. I love it because one of the characters was so hard to write and I stuck with her, trying to see the world as she would see it. I tried to write about her life tenderly even though I thought the life she chose was stupid. Do I love my book? In a slightly dysfunctional love kind of a way, I do. I really love it.

We got an email from Nano titled "An Year in Revisonland" encouraging us to start thinking about going back to our books. It said, "Because if our novels tumbled from our imaginations in tidy, ready-for-the-bookstores packages, we would be denied one of the greatest pleasures and challenges on the planet: Novel revision. Through rewriting, we get the opportunity to take the best parts of our books and build a truly awesome story around them. In doing so, we also get to improve our shortcomings as writers, and take November's sparky fling and turn it into something fiery and enduring."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Yoga sucks but it also kind of rules

(These are the three main teachers and the founders of my studio)

I used to think I had done bikram yoga. I was an idiot.

I recently had my first, actual bikram class. I think I died a few times during the workout. I want to chronicle how unbelievably hard and painful it was so I don't ever start deluding myself into thinking the last time I got in shape, it happened overnight by magic.

The first time I came to Turkey I lost a lot of weight. To the point that I actually thought I was too thin. I know. I too didn't think that was possible. Particularly for someone who is 5'1. After I became thin I started thinking mean things about people who complained about being fat. I thought shut up and stop eating so much. Why don't you go on a treadmill if your butt feels too big?

Having gone from being fat/chubby to being thin, I felt like I could hate on fat people legitimately. Kind of like when minorities say offensive things about their own.

And then I got fat again. I knew it was happening. I went home and studied for the bar. Eat, eat, eat. Fahad got married. Eat, cake, eat, ice cream, eat. Then Ramadan came. Starve, eat samosas, pakoras, anything, eat, eat. Then I was fat because of Ramadan so eat, eat, eat until I feel better. Then I was in London. Fried chicken for one pound everywhere. Eat, eat, eat. Then I went to Paris. Croissant perfection. Eat, eat. Belgium. Chocolates, eat, waffles, eat, eat. 

There were so many times I was eating so much that it physically hurt. You know that feeling, right? When you go to a restaurant or your mom's house? And you just gorge because the food is so damn good. I think we don't realize how much we do that until we actually start noting it. Or we overeat so much that our bodies become accustomed to it. The thing is, becoming fat doesn't really sneak up on you. (Unless you became fat in your early teens or before you really knew any better.) It is the result of many, many, many choices. Most of them involve not stopping eating when you are too full and not exercising even when you can feel that your body needs it.

I am not writing this because I think fat people are evil and thin people should rule the world. But I do realize that weight is an issue for a lot of people, both men and women and we don't have to hate ourselves over it. We can't constantly mistreat our bodies and then expect them to still shine for us. Our bodies are not trophy wives. They will not stay with us if we have affairs with ding dongs and ho hos. 

As I was standing in bikram with my newer, chubbier self, I felt each and every posture. My legs and arms were shaking for most of the workout. At one point I started rolling up my mat because I was the only one who couldn't do it right. I looked like such a fat rolly, polly idiot and I felt humiliated.

But I took a deep breath and thought it will be far worse if you walk out. How will you ever come to another class? My mom always says, you have to take that first step, and after that, the only ways you get to your goal is to continue, one slow step at a time.

So, I made a commitment to stay there. To not allow myself to leave just because I felt embarrassed. To not deny my body a chance to be something better just because it was 'hard.' I realize that the first time I got fit, part of it had to do with trying to eat a salad or something light for one of my meals, but a lot more had to do with simple things like only taking the stairs, taking walks when I was bored or going to yoga even when I didn't feel like it.

I remember that in almost every single yoga class, I swore it would be the last one. Yoga is so hard for me. The postures are hard, the insecurity of being the worst in the class is hard and focusing on one thing for 90 minutes is hard. And for those same reasons, I realize that it is really good for me and it is something I need to do.

Today, I can start to feel the toning in my shoulders and the firmness of my legs. I can feel the long line in the back of my spine and I feel good. I feel healthy and I feel strong.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The World Keeps Going Around

500 Days of Summer- 2 broccoli sprouts

Dear God. This movie was so bad. You like the Smiths? Me too! OMG. Fate! You are an unconventionally pretty girl that thinks I should be an architect? And you yell penis in a park? OMG. You are so eccentric and unique. Puke, puke, puke.

The movies take on love was idiotic. The characters are incredibly unsympathetic and you pray unbelievable because it makes me sad to think that people like that really exist.

I wouldn’t even recommend this movie as a ‘totally chill want nothing from a movie movie’ night. What were you thinking Joseph Gordon-Levitt? After seeing some of your recent GQ spreads I expected so much more from you!

Inglorious Bastards- 3 chocolate digestives

Fantastic! So well done, clever and engaging. Brad Pitt nailed his character and the scene in which they are in the basement bar draws you in so much that you completely forget the world around you. Isn’t that what we look for when we watch a movie??

This movie has humor, revenge, and a classic Quentin Tarantino ‘happy ending.’ Just when you think you can’t watch one more WWII movie, QT proves that you can.

My Sister’s Keeper- 3 potato boreks

After Hena saw this movie she started saying that I was Abigail Breslin’s twin. After watching it, I am sure that Hena was on some serious drugs when she saw the movie, but I am also sure that I would agree that it was a fantastic film.

It is a simple story. Really not much more than a lifetime movie with an all star cast. But that’s why these guys get the big bucks, no? Alec Baldwin and Breslin contribute significantly to the movie’s success but the casting across the board is on target. I question the inclusion of Cameron Diaz but even her one horrific outburst scene doesn’t ruin the movie.

I appreciate the moral dilemma the movie tackles and hope another movie will try to address it again, perhaps more successfully. The main theme of the movie hinges on the question of what right a person has to make choices about their own body and life. In this movie, that question takes a back seat to a more cliché story line that focuses on family dysfunction and giving Diaz too much screen time.

Even with that said, I cried throughout the movie. I thought of my own sister and how difficult it would be to see her go through something like that. The bravery it would take to do what Breslin’s character does. I clutched onto Feraz thanking God that despite our little hurdles of being apart, that he is in good health and that we have not been tested in such a difficult way.

I recommend watching this with someone you love, especially if you are feeling some distance between yourselves. It will glue you right back together!

Paranormal Activity – 1 gummy bear

After all the hype about this movie I was looking forward to being scared!

After eleven minutes into the movie I started wishing that something bad would happen to both people because they were so incredibly annoying. At this point I still thought the movie was real. It brought back flashbacks of Into the Wild where I kept thinking, do such stupid and pretentious people really exist? I even said to Feraz, this has to be real footage because there is no way you can act that annoying. In fact the movie would have actually been really scary if it was real.

Seeing that it wasn’t, it was a bit cumbersome to sit through a lot of it. I couldn’t understand how Micah could be so stupid as to keep trying to invoke the spirit. Are men really that pig headed and desperate to prove their manhood??  Why did Katie need his permission to call the demonologist? Are you more scared of your semi-retarded boyfriend or of a demon that can f*** you up?

I have to admit that the last three minutes were pretty redeeming and were pretty scary. Especially since I still thought the movie might be real footage. As scary movies go, it was better than most but that is just saying more about how bad most scary movies are than how good this one was.

Away We Go – 2 gummy bears

Feraz and I stopped watching this movie about five minutes into it because  it seemed so stupid. After Feraz left, I gave it another go and I think its safe to say that they packed the worst five minutes into the very beginning of the movie.

It wasn’t the greatest but as someone who has been a wandering nomad for what seems like my whole life, I could relate to the idea of searching for a place that you can call home. Er, something, something. I am sleepy now. Goodnight.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Santameera Clause

This past Thursday I was the Santa Clause at my work's holiday party.

It started innocently enough. Word around the office was that every year someone dressed up as Santa and handed out the Secret Santa presents at the holiday party and gave gifts to the kids. 

A person has some dreams in life. They write them down on a sheet of paper. And over the years, if they are lucky, they check them off one by one.

On Thursday I checked off one of my dreams.

But I have to say, playing Santa in my mind was very different than playing Santa in real life. Getting into the costume was much harder than expected. It was very hard to make everything look real but eventually I think we did a pretty job. 

The best part was the first moment I walked out. The kids went nuts. The first kid that saw me had an extremely excited look on his face. He grabbed his head. Turned in a circle as if he didn't know what to do and then ran into the hall to tell all the other kids, "Santa is here!!!"

I heard a stampede and suddenly a ton of expat kids were jumping around me. It was very exciting. For a few seconds. Then someone tried to pull off my beard. 

From that moment on there was a divide. The kids that believed (which diminished as they noticed my manicured nails and high heels) and the kids that were trying to figure out who I really was. 

One of the highlights was when one of the kids put up his hands when everyone was jumping on me and said, "Hey guys, have a little respect. This is Santa."

One woman came up to me and said, "There aren't many firsts these days but I'd have to say a Pakistani, Muslim, female Santa has got to be a first." 

This is honestly how much fun I have work at every day. I love my job. I had to cut it for propriety. Haha.

Little did I know that Phyllis was being a female Santa that same night!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Another New Home

I am in yet another new apartment. Moving day is always strange. You bring your familiar belongings and plop them all down in this foreign space which is supposed to be home.


I look around at my tiny apartment remembering that I agreed to live here for the month mostly out of desperation. Ugh. Although my friends in Istanbul have been incredibly great and insisted that I could stay with them until I found a place I really liked, I felt terrible imposing and also just wanted a place that was mine.


For that reason I also opted not to have a roommate this go. I have had incredibly good luck with my roommates. I have no particular horror stories to tell. But for the past few years I have always felt like an intruder in someone else’s space. I want a place where I can leave my clothes on the sofa if I feel like, where I can do the dishes on my own schedule, where I can wake up at 3 am and take a shower without feeling guilty. They are simple, stupid things but they are the desires that are born from constantly living with other people.


So, this will be the first time in my life that I will be living alone and tonight will be my first night alone in this apartment. Feraz helped me move in and get settled but he just left for the airport back to London. In all the months and years we have spent apart, you would think that time would make it easier to say goodbye. But each time it feels harder than the last. Each time I think, I can’t wait until it is the last time we have to be apart for so long. I think it is the strongest testament of love that a person who craves independence as much as I do just wants to settle down, wants someone who nags when I come home from work late and who’s schedule I have to consider when I make my plans.


But I digress. I came home just now and was met by my landlord. He is an overweight, mute man who smells like strong, strong onions mixed with body odor. Yesterday, he approached Feraz and I outside of our apartment and tried to speak to us. Of course he can only grunt and make broken sounds. He was able to communicate that he is basically mute and seemed to be implying that he is our landlord.


We were hesitant to let him in to the apartment because we had never met him before and the agent who I had rented from had said that she would personally introduce  me to the landlord. Feraz and I were unsure of what to do as this man kept making sounds and gesturing for us to let him into the building.


Finally, we asked him to use his keys to get into the apartment if he was the landlord. He couldn’t find any keys. Shady, shady we thought. But then he pulls out a showerhead attachment. That was his golden ticket. I knew that the landlord was supposed to come install that yesterday so I let him in.


He followed us into the apartment, breathing heavily the whole time. He sat down by the futon and with his overweight body and smelly odor and proceeded to breathe heavily all over my apartment. He then started taking out some extra dishes he brought. He unwrapped each one. One by one by one with his big clumsy hands.  Feraz and I looked at each other wondering if this was really happening.


The landlord then went into the bathroom to try to fix the showerhead but was unsuccessful. This whole time he is trying to talk to us which is just heartbreaking because there is no way in hell that we are going to be able to make out what he is saying. We keep shrugging our shoulders and responding bilimyorum which means I don’t know.


He finally leaves and Feraz says, “That has to be up there with one of the weirdest things that has ever happened to me.”


“Thank God you were with me at least,” I responded.


Imagine coming home in the dark to a huge man who can’t talk and insists on being let into your apartment. After I dropped Feraz off, I came back to the man waiting for me. He asked to be let upstairs and I let him in. Today, he brought me more dishes, which he also unwrapped one by one and some new towels. He is coming back in half an hour to fix the shower. I don’t think I will be requesting anymore repairs or things for the apartment…


Another new place, another new adventure.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dogs and Domestic Violence

Last week as my friend’s and I were entering their apartment, a Turkish woman came screaming and ran past us into the apartment. At first we are not sure what was going on.


She told us that her sister’s husband was hurting her and there was a six- month old baby in the home. She was crying and shaking and totally out of it. We wanted to call the police but they don’t get involved in ‘private’ matters. We called the compound security and they assured us they would take care of it.


According to recent statistics, 4 out of every 10 married women in Turkey have been physically or sexually abused by their husbands. From the stories I hear, it seems that this is a gross underestimate. When we lived at our old apartment I remember hearing horrifying fights between a neighboring couple. When the fear seeps in under your door and into your night, should it still be a private matter? When you can almost feel the pain the woman must be going through, should you still not call the police?    


Two days later there are some beautiful purple orchids at the door. Attached is a note in poor handwriting saying, “I am very sorry to disturb you and your family on Saturday. It connected to alcohol. When my husband drunk to get angry. Thank you so much.”


When we read the note, I wanted to cry. Here, the woman who is already being abused feels the need to protect the image and reputation of her husband. She attributes the behavior to the alcohol instead of to her husband. She takes the blame by being the one to apologize for the disturbance. She thanks us for… what? Understanding? Not saying anything or calling the police? For not being upset with her?


The first issue here is the matter of domestic violence being a ‘private’ issue. The compound is hesitant to involve the police because these are their residents and more likely than not, the husband is paying the outrageous rent that comes with this address. Are they not getting involved to protect the sanctity of the family’s private sphere or to assure that they have a happy customer who can beat his wife with the protective shroud of the compound’s policy in place?


Do the police not get involved because they really feel this is a private matter? Or is it because most of these men who make up the police force have a vested interest in maintaining a status quo that permits the abuse and oppression of women? Or is it because the men who do want to speak up are afraid to do so in the face of their colleagues and a society who still quite openly subscribe to a machismo and misogynist culture.


No society should take the stand that domestic violence is a private matter. It never was and never should be The general safety of an individual is a responsibility that should be born by the whole of society.  In this instance, what happens in the private sphere significantly impacts the public sphere. Society’s that condone the abuse of women and allow children to be raised in such environments suffer economically, politically and on a multitude of other levels. Most importantly they carry the shame of these abused women. The blood of the women hurt by abusive men is on every member of society who turns a blind eye and keeps their mouth shut.


What can we do in this particular situation? We write a note that says “No problem at all. We just want you to know that our door is always open.” We make sure the husband doesn’t see it. But when the institutions in place don’t protect women, who do we call? What do we really do to help?


Last night I was taking the dog out for a walk and the elevator door was open. The sister and another man were there. The lady got really frightened and started screaming ‘I am scared of dogs.’ So I pull the dog close to me and say go ahead making room for them. They are over five feet away from me so they can easily pass, and the dog is being calm anyways so they have nothing to be scared of. This guy starts Screaming at me. He yells ‘Go away!! Get away!! GO GO GO!!” I thought he was going to hit me. His veins were popping out of his head. 


I was quite shaken by the incident but the thing that struck me the most was that this woman was willingly standing in the elevator with this seeming monster and she is more scared of a dog that has never done a thing to her. Who is the real beast anyway.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Things I Know Today

-I love Feraz more than any human being on the planet. He is my saving grace.
-Nothing bad can happen to you if you don't let it. Even the worst things are the best things and if you tell yourself that again and again, it becomes true.
-Glee is the best show ever right now. :) I'll Stand By You on Glee is a mind blowing experience.
-I have the best friends in the world. And I am so lucky that they have spread themselves all over the world for me to visit!
-You haven't lived until you've been to a Pink Party hosted by the Dutch Consulate. 
-My sister is my hero and my best friend. 
-I can write a novel.
-I don't ever have to be afraid to be myself. Ever. (Neither do you.)

And those are some of the things I know today. Not very entertaining reading, but important for me to write down nonetheless. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

You got me begging you for mercy

Paris is definitely one of my favorite places in the world. I love the wide streets, the incredible architecture and the deeeelicious croissants. (Especially that last part)

One of my life long dreams has been able to idly sit in cafes and write lazily, to look out a window and see the bustle of the street below me and to walk around soaking up everything around me. It feels so surreal to be sitting here working on my novel and sipping a cafe au lait. 

The last time I came to Paris my trip was more rushed but this time I have had about ten days here and they have been pretty incredible. Being in Paris with Feraz was so amazing. It was very different from most of our vacations in we didn't bother too much with the touristy stuff. We did see the Eiffel Tower and the Arch de Triomphe but mostly we just relaxed, lazed around and enjoyed the company of our friends that we were visiting. 

While Feraz and I were walking around in Paris we ran into a friend from Michigan. We were completely surprised as neither of us knew the other was in Paris at the time. We were able to spend a few days with him and kept laughing at the randomness of it all. Another friend of mine from Michigan also happened to be in Paris as of a few days ago so it was great to spend some time with him and some of his friend s here as well. 

One thing that really strikes me about Paris is the crazy amount of babies there are everywhere. This must certainly be the city of love if people are reproducing at such a fast rate! Our friend told us that kids start school when they are 2 or 3 and then they have a full day until five. That is why you don't really see toddlers anywhere and also why people probably don't mind having so many darned babies!

Our friends are pregnant and the advice that they give pregnant women here is pretty wild. They are told they can smoke up to ten cigs a day and that they can continue to drink moderately. They also give them crazy amounts of pills and are really against them traveling at all once they are in the last trimester. 

There seem to be a lot of mixed signals to the women! My friend also told me that the pressure to be thin is extremely high here and most women smoke like crazy and that is the reason that they continue to smoke during pregnancy. Never mind that their faces are going to look like crumpled leather on their diets of cigs and fake tanning.

Tomorrow is my last day in Paris but I am sure we will be back to visit our amazing friends who have been so incredibly hospitable and accommodating. By far the best part of traveling has always been and will continue to be the incredible people you meet along the way. 

(I will post pictures soon!)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

If you failed the bar...

When I found out the results for the Feb bar exam, first there was a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach and even shock. Then, there was a sense of relief. At least I knew. And then, it felt terrible again. I left work early and waited at the metro. All I wanted to do was go home and see Feraz. Standing there waiting for my train, with throngs of people around me, I wanted to scream, I failed the bar! How is everything going on just like it did two hours ago?

JFK failed the bar three times and went on to be the President. Jackie Chan, a personal hero of mine, failed again and again and again all his life. So did Bill Gates, Isaac Newton, and Abraham Lincoln. And so has every other person who has walked the face of the Earth.

When I called my mom today I told her, Thank God I passed. I may have been able to have dealt with failing for myself but the thought of facing everyone else again was agonizing. She said something she has said to me my whole life and something that strongly has defined me. She said, if you walk, you're going to fall sometimes. That doesn't mean you should stop walking.

I noticed that a lot of people saying that today was the happiest day of their lives. The happiest days of our lives should be the ones when we are with the ones that we love, when our parents show us that they believe in us no matter what, when our partner turns to us when we have made a terrible mistake and gives us a second chance, when we are laying on the grass in a park and we look up at the sky and know that God is there with his endless love and mercy. They shouldn't be defined by whether we guessed correctly on 200 multiple choices questions. And likewise, the tragedies of our life should not hinge on something so arbitrary either.

So, if you failed today, its OK to cry and to feel bad if you want to. But remember who you are. You are the same person that has met the many, many challenges you have faced in your life. You are the same person who worked hard and made it through three years of law school. You are the same person that is a child of this universe and loved by so many. This a small kink in the big picture. One day it will just be a distant memory and another story you will tell about how you didn't give up, you persevered and in the end you were better for it. Trust me, I know.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I pray you don't look at me, I pray I don't look back

The novel writing begins. I thought Nano would be a great opportunity to write that novel that has always been sitting at the tip of my tongue. All those nights that I can't sleep, pages and pages of it write themselves in my mind. The characters have been dancing around for ages. They have been there for so long, that I am sure that they must be getting tired. If I don't capture them now, they might be so exhausted that they won't be there anymore when I am finally ready to write.

It is day 3. I have 5,000 words down and I am happy with about 27 of them. One of the things about nano is that you are not supposed to delete things you don't like. In some ways, it is an exercise. You write and write and write. It won't be your best work. It might be complete crap. But at the end of the month you will have 50,000 words and you are supposed to be proud of that. 

I recently read "Outliers" and in the book the Gladwell notes that we don't need to be extremely talented to succeed. The smartest people aren't the ones that get the furthest in life. In fact, you only need to be smart enough. Once you reach a certain threshold, you basically have the same tools as the genius. At that point, it becomes a matter of what you do with what you have, opposed to how much you have of it.

Gladwell also talks about the 10,000 hours rule. He asserts that to be really successful in any area, you have to have dedicated 10,000 hours to honing and perfecting that skill. He points to people like Gates, Oppenheimer, the Beatles, or Michael Jordan. All of them had put in 10,000 hours in their craft before they made it. Talent gets you to the playing field, but then you have to log those hours. You have to pay your dues.

We aren't born geniuses as much as we'd like to think that some people were. When you look at the best writers, scientists, or athletes, they worked and worked to create the magic that inspires us all. The overnight success is a myth. Nobody wakes up and can play Wimbledon level tennis or can write like Arthur Miller or Sylvia Plath.

The truth is my book is probably going to suck. It is not even the story I've wanted to write all this time. I am too scared to write that one. But hour by hour I am putting in my dues. I might not be a great writer even if I do. But I definitely won't, if I don't. 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely

Urg… I keep having more false starts with books. This is annoying because reading a hundred pages into a book and then realizing I don’t want to finish it wastes precious time! The most recent false starts: The Hitler book- I just don’t have the energy for it right now and since I already read Mein Kampf it feels redundant sometimes. So, that is back on the shelf for right now. Then I tried Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. Gross. It was way too hard for me to read while I was going through the visa drama so I put that down as well. Then I got through books 8-10 and tried Walter Cronkite’s, A Reporter’s Life. I got through about 150 pages of that but didn’t want to lug it back with me and wasn’t really that into it. Surprisingly, his writing just wasn’t that captivating. 

I write about these false starts because I suppose they are reviews in themselves. The other good thing about the false starts is that they show that I can put a book down. As little as an year ago, I didn't have it in me to leave a book unfinished. Even if I totally hated it, I had to see it through. Now that I have read so many good books, I don't want to waste my time on stuff I don't like. The small life lessons you learn by making yourself read a book a week! 

Book Eight
Angela’s Ashes
By: Frank McCourt
Read: 9/29/2009
Rating: 5.8/10

This book was mostly annoying. I wrote a long reflection about it in my paper journal but can’t be bothered to type it up. For the first 200 or so pages it is sad, sad, sad. One sibling dies, another dies. Dad drinks too much. Grandma hates us. Someone else dies. Life in Ireland sucked really bad. Having a drunk Irish dad sucked really bad.

I had so little patience for the people in this book. I wanted to clobber the dad and his ability to keep drinking and drinking in the face of his family’s mounting problems. I wanted to scream at the mom for being such an irresponsible parent and for continuing to bring children in the world and then acting totally irresponsibly around and towards them.

You feel bad for McCourt. You feel bad for the many Irish families, and like-families in the world. But you also feel mad at humans for being such damn idiots.

I want to read 'Tis which McCourt wrote after this book and it picks up in New York where he is more grown and starts a life free of some of the problems of his family. McCourt ended up having a very good and full life and just died a few months ago from cancer.

I didn’t like this book but most people do. But my opinion is probably off base. It won the pulitzer prize for autobiographies, was an international best seller and made into a movie. But that still doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Book Nine
Made in America
By: Sam Walton
Read: 10/9/2009
Rating: 7.1/10

If you hate Wal-Mart, you should read this book. If you are an entrepreneur, you should read this book. If you go to grocery stores, you should read this book. If you have a dream, you should read this book. If you want to make money, you should read this book. You get the idea. Basically, just about anyone can take something out of this book. It is a great story about a really hard working guy who makes good. It is one of my brother’s favorite books of all time and he is also an autobiography addict if that helps you decide if it is worth checking out.
Sam Walton died in 1992 as he was finishing the book. It was his last project. I've noticed that a lot of the most successful people I've read about, had to wait until they were totally incapable of doing anything else before they wrote and many of them died soon after finishing their books. 
Book Ten
My Life in Action
By: Jackie Chan
Read: 10/14/2009
Rating: 9/10

What a great, amazing, fantastic, wonderful read!! I didn’t know much about Jackie Chang going into this book and was really shocked by the crazy life he had! This book is moving and inspiring. It is a story of someone who fails and fails and fails and fails and fails and then finally… finally… there is success!
Book Eleven
My friend Leonard
By: James Frey
Read: 10/24/2009
Rating: 5.7/10

By now you have probably heard of James Frey and how he is a big, fat liar and cheat.

In some ways I can’t blame him for his embellishments. It seems that his life was hard in some ways and I can imagine that when your life is hard but not hard enough to be a really big, sad deal, you might have some sense of entitlement. You might think that the world should feel sorry for you. Or that you know a certain kind of pain and from that you are sure you can talk about a bigger kind of pain. That is bullshit. I am not as mad as some people are about Frey’s attempt to pass his book as a total memoir but I think it is annoying and wish he hadn’t.

I read this book knowing that this guy already had been made a liar with A Million Little Pieces so I guess my next comment probably isn’t fair. But when I started reading it, the first thing I thought was wow, this guy is full of crap. It felt like I was reading a novel. Although it’s true that a lot of biographies are pretty amazing and unbelievable they read totally differently. The sincerity and authenticity screams through the pages. Here, there was none of that. I thought this guy sucks. I don’t want to read this anymore.

But I needed a break from big stories. I wanted to read a regular person’s memoir and lies or not, I got that to some extent. Also, if this hadn't been labeled as a memoir, it is actually a pretty decent book. Not for everyone, but a fun thing to pick up. So, for those purposes, I actually liked it a little bit. Overall, I just need to read some stuff that is a little lighter. My brain just needs a little rest! 

There'll be time enough for sleeping when we're dead

I am going to write a novel! I've signed up for this challenge. People all over the world sign up to write a novel in the month of November. You have 30 days to write 50,000 words. The idea is that everyone always says that they will write a novel one day but they never actually do it. By having a time frame and a deadline, you are more motivated to actually write. 

I hope that some of you will join me on this adventure and decide to write a novel too! You have a whole week to sign up! 

I want to make the most of this year that I have. There are SO many things I want to do in life and like everyone else I have the propensity to sit on the bench a lot of times. I hope this is one more step in the write direction! Get it? ;) 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

feraz turns 30!

I am on photo posting overload but this should be it for a while! 

Feraz's Birthday Pictures

And after all, you're my wonderwall

On the way home from the airport yesterday, Feraz and I saw Sonnet XVIII and it feels so appropriate for this day. Today Feraz turns the big 3-0!! I have shared most of this last decade with his life with him and in it I have found more and more ways to love him still. I was going to list 30 ways in which I love him but there are some things that should stay out of the blogosphere. So, instead, Happy Birthday to the love of my life, the person who makes every tomorrow look better and who always humbles me with his endless love. May Allah teach me to love you as perfectly as you love me! 

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! --- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Still I never meant to go away... I was raised, I was raised, In the place, In the place

I have been wanting to go to the UP for ages. While in the UK I was missing fall SO much and I felt really lucky to be able to go on a road trip up there this past weekend. Best of all I got to go with one of my favorite people in the world, Sara. It was like a dream come true! 

Take me on a trip, I'd like to go somewhere

Here are pictures from the last month in Istanbul, London and Chicago. What was supposed to me a permanent move to London ended up being three days until I had to go back to Chicago. What was supposed to be five days in Chicago ended up being more than three weeks! 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Om shanti om

I keep starting to write a post about the need to commit to sustainability and keep getting side tracked. I will post something more substantive soon but in the meantime, please watch this video. 


Find out more at storyofstuff.com

Friday, October 2, 2009

Since then it's been a book you read in reverse

I guess it's big talk to say that even when everything seems to work out imperfectly, it is still perfect in it's own way. When you feel like your back is up against the wall, it is much harder to stick by that sentiment. 

I'm in Chicago and even though I was supposed to go back to London on Monday, now I have to change my ticket and extend my stay here for another week. If nothing works out by then, I am just going to call it a day and know that at least I tried my hardest to get the visa. 

The whole thing has been a nightmare. A very expensive nightmare. After I got my biometrics taken, I spoke with the passport agency and found out that I couldn't get a visa at all because my passport was soon to expire and if you don't have at least six months left on it, they won't give you a visa. So, the first order of business was to get a new passport. Ok. I got the 24 hour rush passport and had that ready by Weds. 

The very, very short version of the rest of the story is that my visa has been denied for reasons that can only be attributed to the incompetence of the expediting agency that I am using to take care of all of this. They have totally messed things up and now I have to take the case back from them and try to explain to the consulate why those people were incompetent. 

At this time it seems very unlikely that things will work out and thus I will have to put this LSE dream aside. It is incredibly, incredibly disappointing. I know that this door closing will open up other doors and opportunities and on top of that, I always still have both my Istanbul and DC jobs, so I am grateful for that. But... it is still sad. And it is ok to say that. I understand that whatever happens, it will somehow be for the best, but for a moment I just want to feel sorry for myself, to curl up in a ball, watch House and fantasize that I had gone to med school instead.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

All the world is a stage, everyone has their part

I have gotten a little behind on updating with my book list. So far I have finished seven books which keeps me on track to reach my goal, at least technically. I didn't read much during Ramadan so it is a good thing I read ahead while I had the time. My main problem recently is that I have been having a lot of false starts. I started reading about George Washington in His Excellency and that just didn't stick. It was a little too dry for me at that moment in my life. Then I started reading Charlie Chaplin's autobiography which was quite good and I got about half way through but had to return it to the library before I left for Turkey. In Turkey I started both a book about Jackie Kennedy and Katharine Hepburn and both were a little too cheesy for me. So, now I am reading Angela's Ashes which should be done soon and a book about Hitler which is over 900 pages so that will take a little longer. So- that is my status and hopefully I do some good reading on the plane ride to Chicago tomorrow. After my recent laziness I am a bit concerned about getting to my goal, but hopefully this post will help me get back on track.

Book Four: Helen Keller: The Story of My Life
Read: 8/19/2009
Rating: 6.9/10

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting too much from this book. Is that mean of me? Anyways, the book was pretty terrible. It was so cheesy and flowery and generally I scoffed as I read it. Most of the book is filled with passages like, "

To her credit she wrote this book while she was quite young. I am beginning to get the impression that no one should write their own autobiography until they are at least 50. (Remember Obama's failure?) And if you happen to die before that age-  if you were so wonderful, someone will find your personal journals and publish them anyways. 
So- the book was a giant fail BUT after the part HK writes as the formal part of the book, there is a section of letters between her and her many friends. This part of the book is very impressive. For one, she was friends with amazing people likeMark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell, and Charlie Chaplin. Interestingly, her letters to random people who showed her kindness and to her heroes like Mark Twain held the same love and admiration. I was really impressed by that and the fact that she wrote thank you letters for the most simple of simple things. She definitely got lots of sweet gifts and special treatment because of her circumstances but she was so incredibly appreciative of it. Her humility in the face of the love she was shown is probably the best take away from this book and you can fully see that in her correspondences. And even at this young age she rarely sees things as impossible. It was quite inspiring in a way I didn't expect!
You can find a digital copy of the book here
Book Six: Obsessive Genius; The Inner World of Marie Curie
Read: 8/25/09
Rating: 7.18/10
But afterward, when I was restored to my human heritage, Mildred and I grew into each other's hearts, so that we were content to go hand-in-hand wherever caprice led us..." or "Thus I came up out of Egypt and stood before Sinai, and a power divine touched my spirit and gave it sight, so that I beheld many wonders. And from the sacred mountain I heard a voice which said, "Knowledge is love and light and vision." Barf. 

This book was great for someone who knows nothing about science. It went a little into the science in her life but did a nice job of talking about it in an accessible way and making it more interesting by intertwining it with the more personal details of Marie Curie's life.
Since I read it quite some time ago, I can't review it all that well. However, I jotted down this quote from the book though. After her husband's unexpected death she wrote “I live only for your memory and to make you proud of me.” It was such a sweet sentiment. The two seemed to live only for their work on the outside but this piece from her journal shows a more tender side of her. 
What they didn't realize at the time, or refused to admit was that it was their work that was killing them. The radioactive material they were exposed to every day was slowly destroying their bodies. Even today the clothes they wore are radioactive!
Marie Curie was the first woman to teach at the University of Paris and the first person, man or woman to win two nobel prizes but still the French Academy of Science refused to admit her. This was just one of many cases of discrimination she faced as a woman in her field. In fact the Nobel Prize for her discovery initially didn't even mention her name, let alone list her as one of the recipients. However, in time, despite the prejudice she rose to become known as one of the greatest scientist in her time.
“Throughout history, once an icon has been created, there is a societal compulsion to destroy it. Marie Curie’s downfall was to be as fierce as a Greek tragedy.” After her husband's death, Marie Curie eventually found another lover but he happened to be married. Once the press found out they attempted to destroy her and she was even asked to leave the country. No mind that her lover was infamous for his many affairs and did not suffer at all in the scientific community or in general society. 
Eventually Marie Curie was able to recover from these attacks and continued to contribute greatly to science. The book paints a great portrait of the deep sadness that permeated her life and of the 'obsessive genius' that inspired her work.
Overall, this is a good and quick read- I recommend it. 
Book Seven: Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia
Read: 8/30/09
Rating: 6.8/10

After reading about all these ultra successful women I needed something more street. A book about the mafia seemed in order. After seeing this cover I quickly knew this was the book I was looking for.
Sammy (Yup, we even kind of share the same name!) is the highest member of the mafia to ever defect.  In his autobiography we learn that Sammy kills lots of people and is swallowed into the mafia at a young age. He himself describes moments of his life as seeming like they were straight out of the Godfather. (I have not seen any of these and now am excited to finally watch them.) I couldn't help but laugh out loud (lol for the youngins) at lots of parts in the book. They just seem so over the top and so removed from any type of life that I have known that it is hard for me to relate or understand. Reflecting on the book it is kind of chilling to think of how many people he killed and that he talks about it without any remorse or sense of understanding of the wrongness of his actions. He just always attributes it to the fact that this was the life that they all lived in and getting shot dead by your friend was just a part of that reality. 
In the book he seems to think really highly of the mafia code. There are no problems with killing people left and right but since the family that he was in didn't deal with drugs, dealing with drugs was inconceivable to him. He was incredibly loyal to his Mafia family and the code until the end. Then a new type of gangster comes into the scene. The John Gotti type. Flash, money and no respect for the code. When they end up in prison together, Sammi realizes that the mafia of his childhood is gone. He is only loyal to that dream he once lived in and wants nothing to do with the mafia of today, the John Gotti mafia. So, naturally, he sells out Jon Gotti and all of the secrets of the mafia along with him. (In all fairness, John Gotti sold him out first.)
The end is kind of heart breaking. He loses his family (his wife supposedly has not "known" that he was part of the mafia) and has to go into hiding. That is where the book ends. Since then he has actually left the witness protection program and says he is not afraid to die and if a hit team comes after him, they better expect a good number of body bags back. Unfortunately, he didn't leave his life of crime forever, he started a huge ecstacy ring and now is back in prison. What an idiot? He is now dying of Grave's disease in an Arizona prison. 

Friday, September 25, 2009

We don't need no education

On Wednesday evening I arrived in London. Ahhh... another new beginning!  Everything went without a hitch. My luggage was not over weight. (Small miracle!) The British Airways hostesses were incredibly nice! (Slightly bigger miracle.) The plane landed over half an hour early after a perfectly smooth flight. Once I got off, Feraz's cousins Z and S were right outside of baggage claim to pick me up. Everything was perfect! We drove to the house that Feraz and I will be staying at. The place is so amazing! It is artsy and scholarly. It has a great guest room with a fireplace. The whole house has tons of character. The kitchen has a retro floor. The garden has a line with pins to dry our clothes on. There is a small, cozy study that is wallpapered in books where I envision writing brilliant revelations on gender theory. There are political posters on the walls and the owner's marvelous paintings are all over the house. There are so many biographies for me to read! I love everything about it. Everything is going so perfectly that I feel like I am in some wonderful, spectacular dream. Seriously that is exactly what I thought to myself. "Wow, this is such a dream life I live." 

But as we know, all dreams must come to an end and I got a rude awakening when I went to LSE to register the next day. It turns out that you can't get a student visa once you come to Britain. You have to have it before you come into the country. And you can't simply leave the country and go just anywhere to get the student visa processed, you actually have to go to your home country. When the lady at LSE sat me down to tell me this I literally felt in shock. Like the baby I am, tears welled up in my eyes. There was no way I could afford to go home and back and still make it in time for classes. I couldn't imagine how much a ticket to leave three days later would cost. From what I was hearing, I basically would not be able to go to LSE this year. 

As I headed back home I tried to see the bright side of things. I could go back to Istanbul and work or I could just start at my firm at a more normal time or I could travel all around the world. Although all these options seemed incredible, they weren't what I had mentally prepared myself for. And worst of all, in fact the deal-breaker was that they did not include Feraz. After this last month without him, the idea of leaving him for any significant period seemed too impossible to consider. 

So, it was time to brainstorm ways to still go to LSE. Essentially I had to have a new Visa letter issued, fill out my new Visa application, fly back to the US, preferably to Chicago where I could get a same day turn around, get a biometrics appointment and get my actual Visa appointment and hope that it all gets approved. Uh...yeah. I reconsidered how much I wanted to pursue this Masters... Enough to go through all this. So on Monday I will fly back to  Chicago and spend the next seven days there trying to sort this little mess. Please pray from your heart of hearts that all this works out! 

On the bright side, Feraz flies in tomorrow and I am so excited to share the magic of this place with him. We'll get a full two days together before I have to shoot off but hopefully after that we can just settle in and enjoy Glooorious Britainnnn. And when I get to Chicago on Monday, I get to spend a full week with my brother. Something that has not happened in the last decade! Hopefully I'll also get to see a bunch of my friends and maybe even drive up to Michigan on the weekend and see my family! 

It is strange how life never plays out how you expect it to. When I left the US in August I was sure that I wouldn't be returning to that soil for a long, long time. One year ago, you couldn't have paid me enough to believe that I would be living between Istanbul and London in the circumstances I am. And yet, here I am. And it feels that this is exactly how it was meant to happen. And even in all its imperfection, somehow it is perfect. 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Allahu Allahu Allahu

It was a frustrating day at work. I was having a hard time fasting. I was sick of the apathy of all the Muslims around me. I am in a Muslim country. I want to feel like I am in a Muslim country. Sorry, if that makes me suck. But most, most of all, I don’t want to feel like I am defending my choice to fast every day. So, as I make my way home, I feel exhausted on many levels. I am eager to get to my apartment, to lay down and find that peaceful place that will help re-center me.

I get to my door and start the five-minute treasure hunt in my purse to find my keys. Five minutes pass. No keys. I sit down on the stoop and take everything out one by one. No keys. I hear the azaan in the background and I am desperate to open my fast. I reach into my purse to find my wallet so I can go buy some food. No wallet. I call my roommate to see if she will be home any time soon. Of course not.


I dig in my purse and find a few liras at the bottom and go and buy a “Le Cola Light” and a pide (a round bread that is sold here in Ramadan). I eat this glamorous dinner on my stoop where several of my neighbors question what I am doing.


Realizing that I can’t sit on my stoop all night, I call my friend and ask if I can spend the night. As always, she saves me. I head out to catch the bus to her house. As I walk to the bus stop I start to notice the Besiktas jerseys everywhere. It is game day. Soon the streets are swarming with Besiktas fans.


Usually this is a sight that makes me happy. But today I only see their drunkenness and how stupid they all seem. The air smells of cigarettes, filth, alcohol and machismo.


It is Laylat al Qadr in Istanbul.


Ramadan is the holiest month for Mulsims and Laylat al Qadr is the most special and holy of nights for a Muslim. On this night all the angels come down to Earth. It is the night on which the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhummad. It is a night that is considered to be better than a thousand months. Whoever prays with sincerity on this night will have all their past sins forgiven. 


Around me all the drunk people stumbled around. Their cheers and chants were deafening. In front of me a huge fight broke out between the police and a bunch of belligerent drunks. I felt the chaos would swallow me before I could even reach my friend.


I longed for the homes of the Salmans, Jukakus and Fahmys; these families that I have always loved and admired and had always opened their homes on this special night.  I longed for my own family and Feraz and for the peace and discovery that always comes on this night. I felt so helpless that I just sat down on a bench and cried.


Eventually, I made it to my friend’s house. She restored me with lentil soup, tea and Nutella. She made me lay down and take a nap to erase all the bad thoughts in my mind. Her other friend joined us and we made our way to a place where we could stay up all night and pray and worship.


In this random room in Fatih I found the peace that comes from sincerely seeking Allah. Among these complete strangers I felt my frustrations melt away. I realized that you don’t have to be in your town, in your musjid or your own home to experience the power of these last ten days. Allah’s love and mercy is so strong that it can find us across the world, through booze filled streets, and even past our own hardened hearts.


“Oh Allah who removes worry, the one who eliminates grief, the grantor of the prayers of the helpless, oh most merciful and compassionate of all in this world and in the hereafter, only You will show mercy on me; give such mercy to me that I do not need the mercy of anyone except you.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

And it rained all night and then all day

The evening starts innocently enough. I head out of the huge spinning doors at work and walk the short distance to the dolmus stop. For some reason I am feeling extra indecisive today. Dolmus after dolmus going to Besiktas passes by but I reject them all. One is too full. I don't like the color of the other one. Finally, annoyed with myself, I jump into the next Besiktas dolmus that arrives.

Seconds into the ride, the passengers are yelling at the driver. Although they are speaking in Turkish I am confident they are saying something along the lines of "You jerk! Why are you driving like a maniac?!" If you know anything about riding in taxis or dolmuses in Turkey, you know that the default is really crappy driving. So, you can imagine how bad this guy had to be driving to get a bunch of Turks riled up.

After many near accidents we came close to my stop. Then we had an actual accident. As the driver swerved to pass someone, he slammed into another car. As if in slow motion, my body lunged forward. My two knees slammed straight into the metal bar in front of me. I gasped for breath and then looked down to see if my legs could still possibly be attached to my body. Still there. Whew.

After a good amount of swearing and yelling, the driver continued on his way. I stumbled out of the dolmus feeling each painful step. Luckily I had on three inch heels. And the whole walk home is on cobblestone. And their was bumper to bumper traffic so everyone could watch me walking like an idiot. I used every ounce of concentration I had to ignore the pain and try to maintain my balance. To no avail. I fell forward five feet. Again, in slow motion. As every person in that stand still traffic gawked on. Thankfully, I had on a fabulous outfit. Whew. Again.

After pulling myself together, I looked up to see a group of three guys standing a few feet ahead of me. Throwing back beers. In this Muslim country. During Ramadan. As the Azan went off in the background. I wanted to cry. 

At home I nursed my knees which were actually feeling much better after the initial shock. Even though it was a lot of fun to sit in bed and pout about how much my life sucked and how much I missed Feraz, I dragged myself out of bed and forced myself to go hunt for dinner. I told my roommate I would be back in ten minutes. 

I passed about 84 restaurants that all looked unappetizing and kept walking. Even after fasting all day, I couldn't find one place where I wanted to get food. Soon I was about fourty minutes from home standing in front of an everyday shop. Once every few days I go into this shop, ask the price of something and then don't buy it. I am pretty sure the store owners want to throw a rock at my head.

But again, I walked in. I spotted the umbrellas. I needed an umbrella. Perfect. The store owners eyed me suspiciously. I was actually holding an umbrella. (It was my roommates.) They had no faith I would purchase their umbrella. They turned away and paid attention to people who were more likely to be actual customers. I cooly walked up to the counter and laid down a ten lira note. The umbrella was mine for 6.5 liras! Their shock was priceless. 

And then, the universe showed me how uncool I was. An incredible down pour came out of nowhere. It was like some faucet in the sky was on full blast. It mocked my two umbrellas. Even ten umbrellas would have been useless! It was the craziest rain I have ever seen. I ran across the road to take refuge in an outdoor cafe where I could watch this incredible show. In the huge outdoor section of the cafe everyone was crammed against the walls, staying close to the only seemingly dry spots outside. But there was one table in the middle of it all that was somehow staying dry. All around it there was rain falling down and like the opposite of an oasis, it stood completely dry in this sea of rain. I quickly sat down at it and ordered my dinner and tea. I felt like I was in a secret fortress. The rain fell down on all sides of me and sitting there in the middle of it all, I kind of felt like a superhero. 

For a good hour I sat at this table, slowly sipping turkish tea and watching the world try to run from the rain. There was a huge parade of the cheap five lira umbrellas that everyone buys off the street when there is an unexpected rain. Couples were huddling close to each other. Some laughing, others just trying not to get wet. Behind them the Bosphurus shone in the night. There was the smell of cigarettes wafting through the garden. There was that strange, calm feeling that comes with an incredible storm. It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. 

Finally, the rain slowed down a bit and I started the long walk home. The rain continued to come down, more lightly now. The sidewalks had huge puddles everywhere. Night had fully descended. Somehow life felt incredibly different from how I had ever known it. Each cobble stone step I walked on seemed like a part of a bridge I was crossing. And though I cannot explain it, this night when the worst floods in Istanbul's history destroyed so much in parts of the city, it felt like an awakening, a renewal and a rebirth. Here's to being born again and again. To always, always getting out of bed and meeting life. Even when our knees are incredibly weak! 
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