On Speaking Up…

Years ago, my professor pulled me aside after class and said… “It takes spine to go against popular opinion. However, it can be quite risky. I recommend that you learn to keep your opinions to yourself if you want to keep your place here. I don’t say this because I disagree with you. In fact, I agree with you, and know first hand what trouble an unpopular opinion can cause.”

“Do you mean to censor me?” I asked.

“I am not censoring you. I am telling you that this society will. If not by convincing you, then by coercing you.”

The discussion that had just taken place in class was about a human rights crisis that I could not be silent about. The curriculum presented the situation from the perspective of the victor which, according to my own family history, is a very shallow perspective. The truth was a lot deeper, a lot more cruel, a lot more painful.

I told myself that I would not let my professor’s words prevent me from standing on the right side of history. I would not condone violence, theft, oppression, hostility, injustice, human rights violations, exploitation, etc. I would insist that silence is equal to agreement. I would not allow someone else to manage my language for me, to correct my choice of words, to tell me what to say and how to say it.

No matter the price.

Then, I grew up. I started getting in line. Like everyone else, I had something to lose if I spoke up. If I said “hey, you! You can’t continue to hurt others!” or “read this, it tells a different story,” I would be told by others to get back in line before one of us gets the boot.

Even yesterday, when I voiced a concern that we should avoid using oppressive language, after several incidents when I had kept my mouth shut, I was corrected: “it isn’t oppressive language when nobody is oppressed.” Smile. Put your head down. You can’t fix a broken world. If something is wrong, put a disclaimer on it instead of taking ownership of the mistake.

We are all programmed this way. We look, but we do not see. We hear, but we do not listen. Right under our noses, people are suffering, and we are taught to ignore them. Ignore them or you’re next. That’s the attitude.

Meanwhile, on the surface, we are taught to use nice sounding words and phrase our language in a politically correct manner. This allows us to appear fair and inclusive as a society. Look at us, we’re so humane. We are so forward thinking. We are servants of peace.

The problem is, this is all superficial. I learned a long time ago that appearance and authenticity are two different things entirely. I was a new student at a school made up of over a hundred different nationalities. I was very quick to grasp the concept that there are two forms of diversity: one that is superficial, that you can easily see when you look from the outside in, but that doesn’t necessarily function well as a whole, and one that is beyond the surface, where difference is nurtured and understood, and every single part contributes to the heartbeat of the whole.

The former is just a product of globalization. The latter can only thrive where there is an abundance of love. One thing we all know about love: it requires communication. You cannot love someone while simultaneously silencing them. And so this is where the problem lies. We claim to love everyone, but we are quick to silence those who call out for justice and fairness.

We are all responsible for the condition of our world. When we speak up, or when we are crippled by silence, we contribute tremendously to the future direction of our communities. If we want to build a world full of abundant love, then we must understand that it also requires abundant sacrifice.

On the one hand, my professor may have been trying to scare me in order to prevent my truth and history from being shared. On the other hand, he may have been scared for me, and trying to protect me from a world that often has its death chambers disguised as safe spaces for discourse. Whatever his intention, he was right about one thing: it takes spine to challenge popular opinion, and it is risky, even (maybe especially) when the new perspective is in defence of human rights and dignity.

But, without spine, where would we be? A politically correct superficial sanctuary built on the backs of the invisible… where we can pat ourselves on the shoulder for being such wonderful and linguistically inclusive people, all while ignoring the less rose-tinted reality just beneath the surface. What happens to a world like that?

The truth is… there is no one true truth. Everything is a matter of perspective, including history. Every event that takes place can be described from an infinite number of perspectives. Everything we believe can be challenged. Every action has a reaction of equal force, in the opposite direction. It’s crucial for us to remember that and question, question, question. Don’t just nod, smile, and adopt the new words they teach you so you can appear more inclusive and generous and tolerant. Be more inclusive and generous and tolerant by questioning everything, educating yourself, and standing up against hypocrisy wherever you encounter it.

Fortune and despair, love and hatred, freedom and oppression, unity and division, speech and silence are all separated by the thinnest veil. The distance between here and there isn’t as long as we may think. All you have to do is look behind the disclaimer. Look behind the silent nod. Look behind the forced smile. There you will witness the cost of inaction in an ailing world.

Food for thought.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Cities of Ice…

Image property of Hack: Dream Life [Marian D.] ©2018. All rights reserved.

Ah… November…

I’ve closed my eyes for all of a minute and we’re already halfway through the month! You know time is running when you’re used to writing daily and you look back at your blog and realize you’ve been snoozing a bit too long.

I’m slower when the winter comes. It’s just the way I am. I’m not built for this kind of weather 🤣

I have always found that people subconsciously reflect the weather patterns of the places where they live. I, for one, am a lot warmer as a person in warmer climate. When the cold strikes, there’s very little that can persuade me to get out of my little nook and live a little. Over the years, I’ve made a concentrated effort to combat my nature; otherwise, I end up eating and sleeping myself into oblivion during the winter months.

On the other hand, place me in a warm country and I am full of life, and there’s very little that can keep me sitting still. It’s a completely different reality from the one I live in the City of Ice.

Whenever I grow detached from myself, I remember something my dad once said to me: just like you have the power to furnish your home so that it brings you a sense of comfort and safety, you can also furnish your city. If you learn to fill your city with good memories, every place on earth can feel like home.

I get it; but I can’t pretend I’ve mastered the trick.

The City of Ice never felt like home to me, at least not until I had a chance to miss it. Walking around today, I was frozen to the bone, and somehow found comfort in the frozen feeling. Ah! November! I walked past Christmas ornaments that have been, I kid you not, consistently put up with absolutely no change in the design for at least 5 years. Ah! A sense of familiarity!

The City of Ice never fails to astound me with its redundancy, and yet it is ever beautiful. Every year, like clockwork, my mood changes at around this time. I become less patient, begin to experience more severe chronic pain symptoms, and want to roll up under a rock and sleep away the next half year. But, somehow, I revel in the magic of it all. It’s a great reminder that good times are coming, that transitions are necessary, and that difficult moments make the good ones all the more wonderful. It’s also a great reminder that life is worthy of celebration and that we need to fill our world with good friends, good causes, strong family ties, and as much love as possible. And so, this makes it the best season for giving. It is when you feel most cold at heart that you should extend your hand to help others.

That has always worked for me.

What about you? How are you handling the changing seasons? Are you excited, inspired, full of ambition… or are you ready to take a nap, like me? What do you do to keep your head above water?

How do you manage to remember that we design our own luck?

M.

On Crazy Pants Dreams…

Sometimes, we need to slow down for a moment to be able to think clearly. Before taking a chance on a new venture, idea, or goal, we need a moment to contemplate in silence. This is really only a moment. The longer wait tends to happen after the idea has been born… it is the space between inaction and action. It’s only human to get stuck in that limbo for a while.

I’ve always been quick to think but slow to act. I see this every day in people around me too; everyone has a great idea, but very few are actually putting on their crazy pants and getting to work. Why? Because your best ideas are often based on childlike curiosity, hope, creativity, and excitement… and as we age, we begin to lose faith that achieving these dreams is possible.

When I was a teenager, my dad and I were taking the train back home after work/school, and he was telling me about a potential job opportunity out of town. My dad is often quick to think and even quicker to act. That explains why I spent my life country hopping. I saw the spark in his eyes that day, the one that always shined through when he had a new adventure planned. This time, I wasn’t excited. We had just recently moved, again, halfway across the world. I still missed my friends. I was upset. I remember crossing my arms and saying “dad, we can’t do this again. This needs to stop.”

My dad was alarmed by my reaction. After all, he raised me living on the fast lane, never knowing when we would change course and always adapting seamlessly. Shed a single tear and move on. He didn’t expect The Shut Down. So he told me about his view that life is a journey through train stations at various destinations, and that every train goes somewhere different. “Sometimes, you only have a split moment to decide to hop on a train,” he said, “or else, you will miss the chance forever.” “But there will be other trains!” I insisted. “Yes, and you’ll have to live with where they take you if you decide to hop on one of them. But the problem is, most people are so afraid, that they spend their whole lives living in one train station.”

I understood what he meant even then. While moving too often was frustrating and often painful, stagnation was my biggest fear, and still is. Yet, here I am on a train this morning, every morning, and it isn’t leaving the station.

What is the cost of inaction?

This week, I started the process of getting my business idea registered. I have been developing two ideas: one is fun, creative, and appeals to my youth. The other is more formal than my day job, and doesn’t really excite me. I decided to venture forward with my intuition, the inner guide that says “yes, you can only make X dollars per hour starting with this business idea, while the other will make you XX dollars, but… you know what… it’s time to put your crazy pants on, and do what you actually want to do!”

I can’t say that I’ve hopped on a train to a whole new life like my parents often do. They raised me with guts and survival instincts, but I am not quite ready to go back to the Bedouin life. For now, I am still a little stuck in my train station… but I’ll be opening up a shop instead of waiting around.

What’s your crazy pants dream? What are you waiting for to make it come true? Let me know in the comments below!

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Letting Go of What No Longer Serves Us…

I woke up to a reminder from Facebook. Today, last year, I had posted: “Let go of what no longer serves you.”

I laughed at this because, while I’ve let go of a lot of the white noise in my life since then, I still haven’t let go of the specific person I was thinking about when I shared those words. Isn’t life funny like that?

I was always a fond advocate of second chances. Third chances. Fourth. Thirtieth. I suppose it’s because I tend to see potential in people and have a very hard time accepting that I’m wrong. A year later, I am still hurt and heartbroken by this old friend, yet I am still granting her space in my life.

All of you have probably been here.

It takes years, maybe even the better half of a decade, for me to really put the friends I deeply care about behind me. Eventually, I become so depleted that there is no longer any shred of hope for resurrecting the relationship. Once it reaches that point, there’s no going back.

So where do we go from here?

In the last year, I’ve learned something crucial about myself. For me, the breaking point doesn’t happen during a fight or argument. It doesn’t happen after one or two or three instances of disappointment. It doesn’t even happen when hard words are flung across the room. It doesn’t happen when my mother and husband say “you are being used” to me over and over… and over.

It happens when the silence comes.

It happens when I start feeling dis-serviced, disrespected, neglected and taken advantage of… and I don’t have the energy to say anything about it. It happens when I find myself spending time with someone who pretends everything is OK, who continues to act in a selfish way, and who doesn’t bother to say “I’m sorry” and mean it.

I notice it when my mind starts blanking. I’m staring at you as you tell your funny story and I am not paying any attention, because I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of regret. Regret that I let you hurt me, and regret that I can’t get past it. Regret that I wasted my time and effort on someone who would come to my home, and then tell me she has done me a favour by showing up. Regret for loving a person who would decide, last minute, to cancel attending my wedding, and then not bother to even give me a nicely worded congratulatory card. I regret the small behaviours that show me how different our value systems are… they add up slowly, until they become unbearable.

I strongly believe that a blessing shared is doubled… except in very rare circumstances, when sharing the blessing actually splits it in half. The difference is entirely dependent on the value systems of the people who have access to the pot: are they adding to the blessing as they take from it, or are they only taking from it?

Silence is the trademark of all the small occurrences that add up to insurmountable pain. It is the trademark of relationships and friendships that are so burdened, so heavy, that they split without so much as a rattle.

And yet, one year later, I have plastered a smile on my face and celebrated birthdays, shared food, laughed at old memories, exchanged hugs and listened… and listened. And now, I’m no longer angry. I am laughing at myself, at my childlike hope, at my steadfast commitment, at my reluctance to say “I’m hurt” for fear of hurting the other person. I’m laughing at the fact that, if she read this, she probably wouldn’t even realize that it’s about her because I continued to open my heart and home to her without saying a word about it. Or, perhaps, she would say the same words to me that she has said before: “You have inconvenienced me by inviting me to your home and events. You should have less of them. People don’t have time to be with you whenever you feel like celebrating something. It takes a lot of effort to attend a bunch of events.” I’ve seen people accept and deny invitations in many ways, but this was new. Funny, how the small words bite.

You have all probably been here. Maybe you are here with me right now.

So where do we go from here?

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Womanhood…

What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century?

Some key themes emerge, including:

  • Independence
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Strength
  • Professional advancement
  • Education
  • Empowerment
  • Girl-power

Wonderful. What about key themes from previous times that continue to play an active role in the definition of womanhood today?

  • Home making
  • Compassion
  • Companionship
  • Motherhood
  • Spiritual devotion

Women are, as nature would have it, highly complex and adaptable beings. They are capable of absolutely anything. Yet, even in this generation that prides itself for its revolutionary admiration of women, society is severely lacking in its approach.

Every woman I’ve spoken to has a story to tell about exclusion, prejudice, judgement, stereotyping, abuse and marginalization. Yes, some of these situations are imposed by men, but this is no longer the global sentiment. More often than not, stories of microaggression are pointing to… other women.

You may have read my previous post On Feminism that addressed this matter. I feel compelled to write about this again after a small incident that occurred yesterday at my local bulk grocery store.

I was at the cash register with my husband, and I walked over to the end of the register to grab our cart of groceries as my husband paid. The cart was full of family oriented products: meat, vegetables, paper towels, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc. The cashier, a woman, pushed the cart towards me with a smirk on her face, then dished out this line: “Oh! Let me just slowly move away from the cash register so that IIIII don’t have to PAY!”

She laughed. At first, I wasn’t really paying attention and just smiled back at her. Then I looked at my husband’s face, and quickly registered what this woman had said to me. He bit his tongue and I bit mine. We don’t owe anyone an explanation about how we run our finances, and we don’t indulge in conflict as we run our errands.

We both walked away from that exchange feeling appalled. He was taken aback, and I was angry. “What is it with other women?” I asked him, “Why do they have to be so cruel? What’s it to her who pays for the groceries? Do her parents split the bill on everything? Do people not understand what family is anymore?”

He pointed out that people who pick faults in strangers typically have an inferiority complex. Fair enough. But that doesn’t excuse the behaviour.

I hear women, every day, insisting that women have the right to freedom. They insist that women have earned the freedom of profession, of faith, of association, of expression, of thought, of choice, and of opinion. Right? Yet, I also see women, every day, judging other women and attempting, typically through microaggressions, to suppress those freedoms.

Feminism is not about preventing men from designing our lives for us. It is about taking ownership of our own lives, and preventing anyone else from designing them for us. Letting other women coerce us into particular trends of behaviour and lifestyle is not feminist.

Moreover, men cannot be left entirely out of the picture, and leaving them out is not feminist either. We have to coexist with them in this world, and barring them from playing any role in our lives is counter productive. A relationship is a give and take, and marriage is a partnership. Anyone who says otherwise is either single or in a failing relationship. No marriage/relationship can succeed between two people who can’t fight the fight together. A family that splits its finances splits its mission, vision, and values. Any professional woman who understands the tenets of successful business knows that such a model would be unviable.

To the cashier, the intricate details of my family life are invisible. All she sees is a handsome man extending a hand to pay for a bill. She doesn’t see how hard he works. She doesn’t see how he pours his sweat, tears, and blood into the soil of our lives, for us to prosper. She also doesn’t see me running from morning to evening between my office and home, working late at my kitchen table after the homemade dinner I whipped up.

Would it be worth explaining it to her? Would it be helpful if she knew that my husband and I are strategic, that every dollar is budgeted, that we don’t walk through life letting things happen to us, and that his paying for the groceries is an intentionally determined process we designed together?

Perhaps. But the real question is, why do women have to explain themselves to other women in the first place?

In just the last week, other women have demanded an explanation from me for:

  • Why I cook so often, “since I work,” as though work and feeding my family are mutually exclusive responsibilities.
  • Why I haven’t had children yet, followed by a lecture about how my time is running out.
  • Why I got married, with the insistence that my marriage is unlikely to succeed because “most marriages fail” (for the record, the divorce rate is raised disproportionately by people who have repetitive divorces).
  • Why I still wear my engagement ring post-wedding, and why I’d even let my husband spend money on a ring despite this being an “archaic tradition”.
  • Why I haven’t hired a housekeeper. Another woman smugly retorted to this conversation with her opinion that women who hire housekeepers are failing women.
  • Why I would spend any money on a wedding.
  • Why I work in my field when I could be making more money in another.
  • Why I’m eating that.

You get the picture.

Women never give women a break and, instead of drawing a line and saying NO when other women take a stab at them, they tend to turn around and indulge in the same behaviours.

Feminism is not only about saying NO to men, it is also about saying NO to other womenNo, I will not allow you to tell me who I should be. No, I won’t allow you to define types of women and categorize me accordingly. No, I will not answer to you, I will not explain myself to you, I am not accountable to you.

Every one of us plays a fundamental role in protecting the freedoms of fellow women. It is our duty, our sisterhood, to raise each other, and to strengthen each other against forces that seek to break our spirit, whether the source of the offence is a man or another woman.

So, what will you do today to make the world a little bit safer for women? I’ve written this post. The cashier who took a stab at me will probably never read it, but so many others will, and maybe it will prepare them for a better response when they, or someone else, faces unnecessary prejudice. This time, my response was silence… next time, it certainly will be louder.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Charles Aznavour…

“Live now. Tomorrow, who knows?”

We each have our heroes. Today, I am writing about one of mine because it’s impossible to write about anything else.

I’m not going to tell you how many songs Aznavour wrote, or discuss the controversial topics many of his songs tackled.

I’m going to tell you, instead, why Aznavour broke many hearts when he died yesterday, despite being 94 years old.

Aznavour has always been a hopeful symbol for Armenian youth, especially diaspora Armenians. In foreign tongue that many of them, having grown up in predominantly English and Arabic speaking countries, didn’t even understand, he was exceptionally relatable. After all, he too was the product of a forgotten genocide that left his family searching for a new home and identity. He, too, was caught up half way between two very different worlds, belonging to both but, at the same time, to neither. He was one of the fathers of French song, and also the beacon of the Armenian dream: to live freely, to be accepted, to be recognized, and to belong.

Charles Aznavour’s voice has been playing in my ear since the day I was born. Before I could speak French, I had memorized many of his chansons. I remember the first time I finally understood one, I was blown away… all these years, I had been singing along to a voice I knew so well, telling a tale I couldn’t even comprehend. I was excited by this realization and went on a good old fashioned Aznavourian binge, listening to all his songs and dissecting them, trying to finally grasp sight of the man behind them. What I found in the end was ironically the same man I expected… a fighter, a dreamer, a seeker of justice… an Armenian.

I’ve inspired some laughter since learning of Aznavour’s death, as I was caught off guard by the sudden and persistent tears that overwhelmed me at random times throughout the day. “It’s like you lost a family member,” one friend joked. “He wasn’t better than anyone else,” another told me. “He’s just another celebrity;” “he was 94! What did you expect?”

They’re right. Nobody is better than anybody else. But Charles Aznavour was my beacon; he was a light in this world for many of us, wandering in search of our stolen identities.

Charles Aznavour did what others could not… he showed us that whether we call ourselves Western or Eastern Armenians, we all have one thing in common: due to our history, we can see people, really see them, and if we choose, we can be makers of magic for everyone else.

Charity, integrity, gratitude, faith and story telling are the pillars of my life. Whenever a crack started to form in one, it only took a sprinkle of Aznavourian magic to repair it.

A few years ago, when I finally went to see Aznavour in Doha, Qatar, I was mesmerized by the frail old man that greeted us humbly from the stage. He told us he had been feeling sick, and everyone expected he couldn’t make it, but he had willed himself to feel better because so many people were waiting. I was relieved… selfishly, I worried until the very last moment that he would not show up, and that I would never get to see him.

And yet, there he was, tired and sick but with a booming voice, faking a heart attack on the stage in good humour… 91 years old and still going strong, refusing to retire. As he painted through his signature La Boheme act, I thought to myself… this man is a true designer of his own life and luck.

And so, I saw new light.

Thank you, Aznavour. May you be seated in the heaven of heavens. (22 May 1924 – 1 October 2018).

And remember… “I love life! Live it! Don’t spoil it!”

M.

Goal Achieved!

As my readers know, I have been rooting for support for Angelina, a 7 year old girl fighting Lyme disease with her father. This weekend, Angelina’s family met and surpassed the goal of raising $20K for the treatment!

Check it out at: https://www.gofundme.com/angiefightslyme

This is what people are capable of achieving when they put their hands together in the name of love. We are all creators of miracles in this life.

Cheers to everyone who helped support the campaign by donating and/or sharing it. Thank you for sending your good thoughts and keeping Angelina and her dad in your prayers. Please continue to pray that the treatment helps improve the symptoms they are experiencing. And “may the odds be ever in your favour” 😉

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.