Run through my town, scream til I faint

By popular demand (i.e. Fahad casually mentioned it on my facebook) I am blogging about the joys of Canton. After coming back from Istanbul I expected to fall into a deep despair at being in Midwestern suburbia but I hadn’t given Canton enough credit. These are the reasons why Canton has won my heart. 

Amee: I love my mother in law. She is one of the nicest people in the world. She makes me feel safe and loved. She doesn’t ask me lots of questions, she doesn’t make me feel bad for not being talkative when I don’t want to be and she doesn’t force me to eat when I am not hungry. These might not seem like big things but if you have ever had to live with desi people you know how oppressive those things become!

The Silence: There are certain perks to living in the city. There is always a protest or a concert or a near missed riot. There are lots of weird people and bad clothes to make fun of. But because of that, there is lots and lots of noise. In Canton, I can sit in my room and write and read and not be bothered by anyone in the world. I can hear my thoughts!! Also, there is endless diet coke in the garage and on most nights there are potatoes in the fridge.

No Responsibility: Now that I am in a new phase of my life (no more going to Ann Arbor!!) I no longer will have to associate Canton with any sort of work. That means that whenever I am home, I will be on a holiday or break. This will be like my ‘summer home’ but better because I don’t have to pay for it and my in-laws are here to play with.

Solidarity: People from Ohio are automatically impressed when you mention that you are from Canton because by golly they have a Canton too!

The Musjid: In Turkey I got so spoiled with having Musjids all over the place. Here in Canton we have almost the next best thing to Turkey…er… But it is nice to just be able to zip right out and right back home without having to feel like you are making a huge commitment. Do you know in Troy many people drive ten or more minutes to get to IAGD??

Canton Couples: There are so many young married couples to play with in Canton. Some of them conveniently live across the street from the musjid and give nice snacks and treats. I have often heard one unnamed Canton moved to Troy guy complain that Troy is the most boring place on EARTH for a young married couple. (He is not related to anyone from 786…) Many of these couples have extremely cute little babies for me to play with. If I lived in Canton I would probably never have to have kids of my own.

Ikea: This isn’t really one of the main things I love about Canton but I just thought I would show off that it is down the road because this tends to impress people.

Add your own joys of Canton. Troy haters please be nice… I do not consider this a betrayal. 

katherine graham

Book Three: Personal History by Katharine Graham
Read: 8/18/2009
Rating: 9.6/10
Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. A much better use of your reading time would be to stop reading this blog and go read this book!
I will admit that the only reason I even bought this book was because it was so cheap. I went to the public library the day before our trip to find a book in their little used bookstore. My criteria were simple. It had to look like it was new. (I like the idea of writing in a fresh book.) It couldn’t be hard cover. (I wanted to be able to carry it easily.) It had to talk to an area on which I was mostly ignorant. Personal History by Katherine Graham fit the bill and for 50 cents it seemed like a steal even before I read a single word.
One reason I wasn’t sure I would get it because at 625 pages I was afraid it would interrupt my pace and I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my goal to keep reading about a book a week. No worries! It was really hard for me to put this book down, even when Costa Rica lay all around me!
I hadn’t even heard of Katharine Graham before picking up this book but was interested in the woman who was described on the back jacket to have piloted the Washington Post through crisis of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.
In her autobiography Katharine Graham not only tells her story but uses it as a vehicle to tell the largely untold stories of her parents and Phil Graham. In the beginning of the book we are introduced to the extreme life of privilege that Graham was born in to. But we also see how lonely this life is, where she is often left with her siblings under the care of governesses and grown ups with the non-existence of her mother’s affection.
Her father is an ambitious and extremely successful businessman. After he buys the Washington Post it becomes his great life work. Her mother is an incredibly selfish and often destructive woman. But there is no doubt that her mother is also brilliant. In one passage Graham quotes her mother, “Most people go through life without ever discovering the existence of the whole field of endeavor which we describe as second wind. Whether mentally of physically occupied most people give up at the first appearance of exhaustion. Thus they never learn the glory and the exhilaration of genuine effort….” This is totally me! I can never focus long enough now to get that satisfaction of pushing through and past a difficult part in my academic work. In law school one of my friend’s use to always tell me to try to sit down long enough that those first flirtations of distraction were gone. I never did succeed but I am going to try again. What an awful state to live in when you only see the most pathetic part of your ability exercised!
Later we meet Phil Graham. At the beginning he is a completely charming man. He is likable and the onset of Graham’s relationship and subsequent marriage seem very promising. She takes us through his great rise. He becomes the publisher of the Post at 30, personal advisor and friend to Lyndon B. Johnson and JFK. His brilliance is breathtaking at times. But he is manic depressive in a time where the language to describe his condition doesn’t even exist.
As he mentally deteriorates Graham is his only comfort and care taker because they are too ashamed to tell anyone about his deep bouts of depression. For five years she nurses him while trying to take care of their four children and still maintaining a picture of a perfect family and business. (Keep in mind that the Post is essentially completely under Phil’s control at this time.) 
As our heart breaks for Graham we are as shocked as she is when we discover that Phil has been having an affair (and also tells her about various other ones he has had) and has decided to leave Graham. At this point Graham blames just about everything on his illness and I am not sure if that is correct. But there is no doubt that at the time that Phil is spiraling out of control. At one dinner to honor his friend he rushes to the mic where he starts to incoherently talk and then proceeds to undress himself. This is his first public outing with Robin, the woman for who he has left his wife. Soon after he is institutionalized. After getting out he glob trots and starts a new life with his mistress. Graham writes “I found it haunting that the life he was reconstructing seemed to be a mirror image of everything we had done together.”
Eventually Phil’s life with his new woman falls apart and he suffers another bad bout of depression. He is soon institutionalized and with the charm that many manic-depressives have, he is able to secure a pass to leave the institution to go home for a bit. Graham and Phil enjoy a nice lunch together and then lay down for a nap. Phil excuses himself to go lay down in one of their other rooms. Moments later Graham hears a gun go off. She races into the room to find her husband lying dead as the pool of blood around him grows.
Graham emerges from this tragedy to take over the Post and begins to make a career for herself. The rest of the book details her rise, the incredible sexism she faced and highlights the many challenges she rises to in her career as publisher of the Post and in her many hats at the Washington Post Company. The story is remarkable and inspiring. If you are looking for a book that will greatly increase your knowledge about American history and politics, this is a sure bet.
The whole time I was reading this book, I didn’t want to know if she had passed away. It was written 12 years ago and as I read the last chapter I was so angry with her. She sounds tired and sad in some ways. My greatest fear is growing old. For the longest time I have prayed that I would die young. (I am sorry to the people this offends.) There is something about becoming that old, having seen that much of the world and losing everyone you have loved that is incredibly depressing and scary. Even Graham, who’s life has been so rich and varied and beautiful must humble herself before the cruelty of age. She is tired, illness is starting to take over her body and she realizes that she is in the “the last lap.” Those words broke my heart. Graham passed away in July of 2001. I pray that she is with her beloved Phil, far away from the darkness of his illness, with her parents who are restored to the days of their best health and with her many friends that she lost over the years. Ameen. 

Sometimes I wonder, if I’m ever gonna make it home again

After what feels like ages away, I am back at home. My parent’s home that is. Where my history and my life stare me in the face. Where we go to taraweeh prayer in the mosque where I grew up. Where I attended my first Sunday school classes and dreamed about crushes with my girlfriends. I vividly remember one Sunday where we said with wonder, one day we are all going to be married. What a big word that felt like!

 

I want to write this entry and I don’t want to write this entry. So, mostly I won’t. Perhaps it is my Paksitani background but there are certain things about home that are sacred. That you only write about and talk about with the people you love, trust and care for.

 

But the superficial things, those are easy to write about. Home has so many comforts. There in neatly filed binders, my mom has put all my awards. Lined on the shelves are trophies from all the different parts of my life. There are my diplomas and graduation pictures, one after another. In fourteen months we will add one more insha’Allah. There is a binder in which my mom has clipped out every newspaper story I have ever been in or written.

 

I notice that my life goes through periods of intense work and dedication and then I fade away, doing nothing academic or for social welfare. Perhaps we all need periods of renewal and growth, so that we can go back and face the world again. Unfortunately, my last period of inactivity has lasted about seven years. Lately I have been reading, writing, and digesting in an obsessed way. I have probably learned more in that last three to five weeks than I had in the five years prior. In reflection, law school was such a period of apathy and stagnation in personal growth that I feel an incredible intensity to make up for time lost.

 

This is what home shows me. It provides me a window into a place where I have existed, where I was something better and makes me believe that I can be that again. It is where my parents proudly display my accomplishments, more fully convinced than anyone in the world that there is absolutely nothing their daughter can’t do. It is where my dad looks at me in wonder when I come down the stairs to go to a party and says, “That can only be the daughter of a Raja.” It is where, despite all the confusion and miscommunication, I know what love is and I know that I owe so much, if not all, of my success to my parent’s sacrifice and blind faith in me and their full conviction that I can really do anything.

 

So, I won’t be back here for at least fourteen months. The last time I left for Turkey I cried as we pulled the car out of the drive and I cried for many nights after.  I am scared to leave everything again. It is made even harder by the fact that this time I will be getting on the plane alone. That I will face these coming days with a new strength that I will have to find. But that is the price we pay for wanting to do something, to be something and to carry out a promise we made to ourselves and to our world. In this great month, I ask that you please keep me in your prayers, so that God may help make that which is hard, ver easy. 

spat out Plath and Pinter, I am all the things you regret

Book Five: Rough Magic, A Biography of Sylvia Plath by Paul Alexandar
Read: 8/21/2009
Rating: 7.2/10

I picked up the Plath biography because she is a writer I have always appreciated, though I am only familiar with her poetry and not her novel. It seems that she is as famous for her life story as for her work. She showed an incredible drive and commitment to writing from a very young age. She started submitting her work to magazines before her teens and by the time she entered Smith she had already began to develop her reputation as a writer.

 

While in school, she applied to anything and everything. One thing I am learning with each biography I read is that every success is born of so many failures. I have yet to know of a successful person who had a golden road before them. Even the most brilliant and accomplished people failed and failed and failed. (This gives me a lot of hope because I am very good at failing.) Here, Plath received about ten to twenty rejections (at least) for every piece of hers that was accepted. Even though she was a writer from the start, her best work didn’t come until the end of her life.

 

She was plagued with depression for most of her life and her first recorded suicide attempt came while she was at school at Smith. She took rejections to heart and held herself to an incredibly high standard in everything she did. When things didn’t work out, she would fall into a very deep darkness. Complicating her situation was the fact that she had started seeing a doctor for her depression who prescribed electric shock therapy. The therapy which in retrospect is barbaric and cruel was made worse so for Plath because it was not administered properly. She was left alone in the room after her shock treatments. The physical and psychological effects devastated her and seem to clearly lead to her suicide attempt.

 

I wonder if we will ever understand mental illness. Who can really know anything about it? The patient is lost and confused because they are stuck in a never ending circle of trying to reconcile if how they are feeling is basically nothing more than a severe personality defect or a basic inability to ‘handle’ life or if there is a true chemical cause for their moods and reactions to life. Even when doctors tell someone that they suffer from one mental illness or another, it is extremely difficult for the patient to draw the line as to where their self-responsibility ends and where the illness takes over.

 

No one can know the darkness, the hopelessness and the paranoia that comes with mental illness unless they have themselves experienced it. Outside of this personal experience there is often doubt, criticism and misunderstanding. Often times, inside of this experience, there are similar feelings as well.

 

So, as much as we dissect and try to understand Plath, to some extent we will never be able to. Her personal demons were surely elusive, even to her. One person who is portrayed as the great antagonist in her life is her husband Ted Hughes. They entered a whirlwind romance and were soon married. The marriage was both extremely productive and destructive. From this biographer’s account, Plath set the foundation for Hughes success in many ways. She secretly submitted his work to many publications and was his literary agent. She helped him make his name and encouraged him to write, always putting her own work on the back burner to help maintain Hughes.

 

What was Ted Hughe’s role and responsibility in the death of Plath? There are those of the school of thought that an individual does not have a responsibility for any other human. I strongly support this view unless (and forgive my legal side here) they assume the responsibility. If someone enters into a relationship with a mentally vulnerable person, if they know that someone is suicidal and self-destructive and then they offer themselves again and again, then they have assumed a responsibility for that person. Here Hughes does exactly that. He knows Plath’s vulnerabilities and then exploits them. He uses her loyalty to him for as long as he needs it and when something else comes his way, he abandons her. He knows that it is killing his wife for him to abandon her. He does not give her warning or preparation. One day he loves her and the next he is walking into another lover’s arms. It is my view that there is nothing more inhumane, selfish and monstrous than walking away from someone who loves and needs you. Perhaps it is too demanding a view of the world but the consequences are severe, and so perhaps it is ok to demand such a high standard.

 

Here, Hughes leaving Plath led to her most severe bout of depression leading to her suicide soon after. Hughes’ curse does not end there. He marries his mistress and she moves into the home he shared with Plath and attends to her two children. Soon, she too has a child with Hughes. She is also a writer and lives in the shadow of Plath. Not many years later, she kills herself as well. However, unlike Plath she also kills her baby. Perhaps she could not stand the idea of another one of Hughes lovers stepping in and raising her children like she did Plaths. Almost forty years after her suicide, Plath’s son with Hughes also kills himself. Could Hughes have prevented all this? I think so.

 

Although the writing in this book is pretty terrible, Plath’s story is an amazing one and this book is definitely worth the read. It is mesmerizing and highlights the frailty of someone who suffers from mental illness despite any of the successes they may have in this life.