Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Happiest Day of My Life

My mom always tells a story that both makes us laugh and horrifies us. It is about the happiest day of her life. She always starts off my making sure we know that she is not qualifying the story. She says, 'That happiest day of my life wasn't when I got married, or when I had my kids or when I came to America. Nope. It wasn't any of those days. The best day of my life was the day that I got my driver's license." She might clap her hands or be laughing when she recounts this story because that is how happy it makes her to think about it. She talks about the sense of freedom she had that day. Her whole life changed in a magical, beautiful way.

I never thought I would be able to look at my life and say there was one happiest day. How would I recognize it? What would it look like? Would it smell different? Would it have a special taste? I assumed the day would be full of signs, of laughter, of lots of big, crazy things, like that one scene in that terrible movie 500 Days of Summer when Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character is walking down the street with everyone singing and dancing and there is a blue cartoon bird over his shoulder.

My perfect day was nothing like that. It started at seven in the morning when I woke up after four hours of sleep in the horrible Crowne Plaza (Never stay at the Crowne Plaza in Albany! It was awful!). I went outside and the first drops of rain began to fall on a bitterly cold morning. I pulled my suit jacket close around me and did not get any warmer.

I walked as fast as I could to get to the meeting room where I would wait for almost three hours until they reached the Ys and I could give my interview. A few minutes later a piece of paper was signed declaring me to be of good moral character and qualifying me to take my oath of admission. And in those moments before I took my oath, I began to think of all the things I can never forget.

I will never forget that little village I came from. I will never forget all my family there and especially my parents who brought us to America so we could have a chance to be something. And not just something, they always supported me to be what it was that I wanted. And before my parent's boast that I am a lawyer, they say that I care about women's issues and one day I will help women all over the world.

I will never forget all the places I have traveled and all the faces I have seen. I will never forget all the little children and all those little eyes that hold dreams and potential and power, that if unleashed could change the world. If someone would just give them a chance. I will never forget that it is a simple twist of fate that separates them from me.

I will never forget that day in the fall of 2005 when a big envelope came from the University of Michigan and I knew that my life would change forever and I thanked God for this chance and I begged Him to never let me forget the feeling of gratitude I felt in that moment and to make me worthy of this blessing.

I asked the same of Him on Friday. As I took the oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and as I joined a profession I have dreamed of joining since I was a young child, as most people in the room looked bored or annoyed to have to take part in this arcane seeming ritual, I tried not to cry and I asked that I may be worthy of the blessing I am receiving and when I am working late nights and weekends I remember that this is not a burden but the fulfillment of a dream I have long wished to realize.

It is not the happiest day of my life only because of what happened in it, but because of what it represents about the roads that I have walked on and the hope it can bring for the roads I still have to travel. It is a day that helps me understand my mother's own happiest day. One that wasn't tied to marriage or family or expectations. It was a day that was her own and signified something about the roads on which she had traveled and still had yet to see. After all these years, I can finally understand that look on her face and the excitement with which she tells her story.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nowhere Boy

The bus tour stopped for many awesome photo opportunities, such as this one.

Some things I wish I hadn't seen, like Strawberry Field which took some of the charm of the song away.

The tour gave us some insight into the childhoods and lives of the Beatles but it didn't begin to compare to the movie we just saw. Last night we went to see Nowere Boy - a great film that gives fans a look into the young life of John Lennon. Whether you are a Beatles fan or not, this is a great film to check out.

From the perspective of a fan it was interesting to see what may have made Lennon the way he was. From the perspective of a normal person navigating life, it was amazing to see the challenges and hardships Lennon had as a young kid. From the death of his favorite uncle, who was like his father, on his birthday to finding out his mom who had abandoned him had lived just down the street his whole life, we witness the personal turmoil that Lennon was enduring at the same time that he first fell in love with music.

A young McCartney and Harrison also appear in the film and one of the most moving scenes in the film takes place at Lennon's mom's wake ceremony. Lennon is struggling to deal with the unexpected death of his mother who he was just getting to know and he has a violent outburst and storms out of the wake. Paul runs after him outside and John punches him, knocking him down. Immediately recognizing his wrongdoing he helps Paul up and they break down crying- Paul having also recently lost his mother to cancer. The camera zooms out showing them standing in the middle of the street holding each other and crying. 

During that scene I am struck by the magnitude of their relationship. It was born when they were both so young and through that tragedy and so many others they were in each others lives. They rose to the top together, they were amazing collaborators  and then their relationship crumbled. At one point Paul wrote Too Many People in which he says "Too many waiting for that lucky break, That was your first mistake, You took your lucky break and broke it in two." John retaliated with How Do You Sleep in which he sings "The only thing you've done was Yesterday, and since you've gone you're just another day."

It's quite heartbreaking to think that they never had a chance to reconcile after watching the birth of their relationship in Nowhere Boy. I hope you'll go check it out and in the meantime, enjoy this video montage.

Friday, October 15, 2010

To the Lighthouse

Book #3: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

This is considered one of the best novels of the 20th century by many critics so I feel like a bit of an idiot for not liking it more. Woolf is not one of my favorite feminist novelists but I find myself quoting her all the time. Her suicide note, which I know I have noted on here before, always breaks my heart. 

"I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier 'til this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been. V"

I always read her work with this quote in mind and the awareness that I am reading someone who lived for her work and was a very conflicted individual. She has iconic lines such as "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." or "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." It is hard not to want to love her work but I always struggle with her books. 

Part I of the novel draws you into the lives of the Ramsey's and their friends, particularly focusing on Mrs. Ramsey. You follow their lives for one afternoon and by the end you feel very, very close to some of the characters. But in Part II, without any warning, Mrs. Ramsey is killed off and the home that you spent the last 80 pages in has fallen into despair. I love how Woolf did this. It immediately had the effect of making me realize how brief and trivial life is. (Though I'm not sure this was Woolf's intention.) The tables she dusted, the home that she took such meticulous care of is gone. The woman that so many of the characters were mesmerized or tortured by is dead. 

Read If: You like really clever social commentaries. I love the passages in the book where Woolf has us listen in on the internal dialogue of several of the characters during dinner. It is so well done and probably not that far off from what happens at diner parties, even now. 

Don't Read If: You like stories that move along and don't have too much philosophical introspection. Although I read a lot, I am not the best reader. I often don't focus enough, so I depend on the author doing some of the work for me. For this book, I had to read the sparknotes after to understand what I was supposed to take away from it. 

Overall, I can easily see why this book received the acclaim that it did but it was just not for me. 

Rating: 6/10

Monday, October 4, 2010

Moving and Prejudice

"I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him." -Abe

A few weeks ago, Feraz and I went to DC to look for a place to live. I went in with a twenty-two point checklist that I have been drafting in my mind since I was six. I have always wanted my own home and although we are just renting, this is the first place I will ever live in that everything in it will be mine. The excitement levels were off the charts.

Soon after we arrived to DC, my twenty-point list was given a reality check akin to what someone might experience when entering the marriage market.

On the second day of searching for apartments, we found something that we liked right next to the JCC. There was no exposed brick, no loft, no modern kitchen... in fact it was a basement apartment. I cringed at the thought! But at the time, it was the best we had seen and we felt good as we drove to our next viewing.

Not knowing the streets of DC very well, I booked the next appointment in a place we probably wouldn't have ordinarily considered. As we drove past broken windows, boarded up buildings, out-of-business commercial properties and lots of people loitering outside, I groaned that we would have to keep the appointment but we should probably just consider the apartment we had already seen.

We arrived at the rowhouse which looked nice enough on the outside. But inside. My God, the inside was beautiful. Amazing hardwood floors throughout. A massive kitchen with an over sized oven. A dining room which I could put my beautiful green hutch in.

It was love. But like with the sissy desi kid who walks away from the one girl he ever really lowed because he knows his parents will never approve, I left the house not even considering it. I laughed to Feraz that we had a perfect location with the first place and a perfect apartment with this place- now we just had to find both things in one package. And by laughed, I mean I cried.

The next morning I woke up at the crack of dawn (being about 10 am for me) and did what any reasonable person would do. I called the Metropolitan Police Department. Lo and behold! There is a service, available here where you can find a crime map for any address in DC. The crime statistics for the address we were worried about were considerably lower than the other areas we were looking in like Chinatown and comparable to Dupont, which was originally our ideal location. After that, our decision was made and we never looked back.

Although we have made some progress, classism, racism and elitism still rule the day. I see it in many people in my profession and even in peers. I think as young professionals we all are so busy trying to look impressive, to have the right address, and to believe in some false sense of security that we shirk our responsibilities to our communities. This is especially relevant for us Michigan folk. Take Detroit for instance. It can be something glorious but we have to be the architects of that change. Recently some of my friends have moved to Detroit in an effort to do something about a problem most of us Michiganders just like to complain about. They have made a choice to be agents of change in that community. They have inspired me to do something in my new home. This is a city where people make a point to avoid certain streets but simultaneously complain about how gentrification is pushing poor people out. We lament that this is the capital of one of the greatest nations and to just look at it as we put on our suits and try not to make eye contact with anyone who might look poor.

I don't know how you reduce poverty, how you increase integration or generally make the world a better place. But I do know that if we are going to move forward as a civilization, we have to think deeply and we have to think honestly about what dictates the choices we make.

On that Wednesday morning, we made the decision to take the place in the neighborhood that initially almost made us turn our car right around. Having moved here, I know that we made the right choice.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Gender and Status Messages

If your husband makes dinner, takes care of the kids, does some cleaning in the house- that is NOT a reason to post a giddly schoolgirlish facebook status update. 

Do you ever wonder why women still have such a shitty lot when we make up half the population? I mean it makes sense in some parts of the world but in America women are as or more educated than men (more women earned phDs last year than men), have significant economic capital and live in a society where there is no real need to be attached to a man. (Although there is social pressure, most of it is self-imposed by women on themselves)

Yet, we make less money, have less prestige in the workforce and carry the majority of the burden of managing the home, even when we are working. Many women shirk promotions or leave their careers all together because they can no longer balance their work and personal responsibilities. 

When I look around at the couples in the South Asian community that I am part of, a fair deal of the women are now making more than their husbands. (Not because they are higher paid in their respective fields in comparison to men, but because they are in higher paying fields than their husbands.) But when it comes to one partner having to leave the work-force when it is time to have a family, it is the woman who does. Or both will continue to work and use a third party to help with child-rearing responsibilities. But what I don't see is men leaving their jobs, even in the cases that it makes economic sense to do so. 

I know women who LOVE being homemakers. I can completely understand that. In fact, I would love to be a homemaker one day. I think it is an admirable role in our society and I also think it can be a lot of fun for people who are suited for it.  So, this isn't an issue of men should be doing this, this and this and women should be princesses and not have any role. Every individual should play a meaningful part in society but to the extent possible, this role should not be externally determined. 

So, ladies before you post how awesome your husband is for making dinner, think of whether you want to to keep feeding a system in which men's participation in the private sphere is praised and continues to be seen as a one-off opposed to being just one more part of being equal partners in a relationship. 
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