Meeting a Musician

I had the great privilege to sit and talk music with a friend and fellow musician. He’s a professional performing artist, with a big heart and an astute instinct for music.

We had planned a jam, but it turned into an impromptu guitar lesson since there was only one guitar between us. I played him a blues song I am working on. The way he critiqued the arrangement and my technique gave me a deep insight into his personality and philosophy on music.

He didn’t say it was shit. Even though it was really! He took my focus off the value judgment and helped me looked at the opportunities to improve my technique. He explained the difference between concert (standard) and open chord tuning. And then he showed me why. He tuned down to an open D chord and started to noodle.

It was a sublime, defining moment in my life. I saw the guitar in a completely new way. It was like a new universe opened up to me. No longer was the guitar a jail of chord changes. It was an open meadow of licks, riffs, and droning bass lines. I finally understood how the Delta blues masters were able to create so much with their guitars.

He made it feel like it was possible. It is common to be spoken to in a condescending manner, that you’ll never make it because you don’t have “it”. He did no such thing. He showed me the ropes, what I had to keep in mind, and what I had to work on.

One particular passing comment stuck with me: “It takes years to get to their level… or months if you work hard.” That second part he said with a glint in his eye and a knowing smirk. The comment lit a fire in my belly. I could be like Son House or Robert Johnson if I play and practice every day.

He gave me a place from which to start and something to practice. I had watched YouTube videos on the 12-bar blues, but this made more sense because he placed it with the context of songwriting. It wasn’t just another thing to practice because you’re supposed to. He broke down the 12-bar blues and helped me remember the positions by using the dots on the neck as a reference.

For years, blues guitar and songwriting has felt like some distant alchemy I’ll never figure out. I resigned to the fact that I’ll only write primitive arrangements and compensate with more emotion in my singing. Seems that that is changing now!

Dear Bella: 2019

My grandmother slept in Christ in the early hours of the morning on December 26th, 2006. I wasn’t with her during her final moments in the body. There was no goodbye and there was no time to transition from her with us to her not.


Her memory has faded over the last year. Once a regular patron in my dreams, I see her less often and think of her less.
Yet, she’s alive. And present. 

She’s present during certain meals. I can still taste the ghee, the garlic, see her wooden spatula move as I make scrambled eggs. I can hear her as I bite through potatoes baked under glistening chicken. People can live inside those kind of memories. I express this sentiments less, thinking that they have no purpose or meaning. But they do. They keep the person alive. They don’t allow the memories to fade. So, I’ll express these out loud next year.
Whenever I experienced biting loneliness or choking sadness, I used to dream of her. In the last three years, this has happened less and when it has, she appears as an image rather than a person. It’s almost like a figure in a diorama rather than a person. That sudden sinking feeling, followed by a flushing of cold water in my stomach, doesn’t happen anymore. She shows up and then disappears a few seconds later.


I still visit her apartment in my dreams. It has no furniture, no icons of the saints, and there are no lights except over the door into her bedroom. It is dark. The balcony door has been shuttered. It is a grotty, cold bedroom. In one dream, I ran back and forth between the bedroom and the kitchen, looking for her. In another, I tried crashing through the shuttered balcony door and I ended up being thrown off the curb by unknown hands. In another, I walked out from the bedroom into the dining room, finding myself in a makeshift morgue, covered in white marble with blue streaks. Then, I got locked out and found myself on another floor of an unknown building.


I was in Cairo in September and I didn’t visit her apartment. Last time I was there, I felt bigger than the bedroom. Everything seems dwarfed and cold. My memories of her and that place are enjoined to me, only as a child. So, I will return there during every visit and make new memories as an adult. I’ll sit on the bed and eat on the wooden table that was kept behind her bed. I’ll make new memories in the apartment, to chase away the cold dreams and nightmares.


I am growing up. I don’t need her, to keep me together in my thoughts and dreams as I used to. She was safety, comfort, and home. She was a secret stash of liquor in my dreams when I couldn’t handle waking life.
Recently, my mother gave me her engagement ring as an heirloom and I now wear it around my neck.
Pray for us, Bella.


The film I made about her last year: 

Let Offensive Films Live

Many of my Christian siblings are up in arms this week about The First Temptation of Christ, the satirical comedy on Netflix. I have seen the petition to have it removed, being circulated on social media. And I have seen many express their dissent by cancelling their accounts on the streaming platform. 

Although I haven’t seen the film yet, it seems to be in the same spirit as Jesus Christ Superstar, Life of Brian, Dogma, and The Last Temptation of Christ

It won’t be the first. What does this mean? It means that there is an entire cinematic tradition of films mocking Christ or Christianity or the church. The tradition doesn’t seem like it will be upended any time soon. Christians haven’t stopped going to church because of them. Christ hasn’t appeared to avenge himself or punish anyone. And filmmakers haven’t stopped making them. But every now and then, some of us are riled up and feel the need to attack those who make these films.  

I don’t want these films to stop being made and screened. I want to allow them to exist and I won’t personally be boycotting them. My only reaction to this film, or any other, is that which I think is proportional to any work of art that I don’t enjoy or not; I just don’t watch it. And I allow it to live. 

The film is free speech. One definition of freedom of speech is the “right to express opinions without government restraint.” In these precarious times, I would add to that that it is also the right to express opinions without the restraint of others, even if it offends many. We don’t think we’re doing this when we react so strongly to opinions like the film in question, but that is essentially what we’re doing. By withdrawing our economic support for Netflix and boycotting the film, we are saying to ourselves and others, this opinion is so dangerous to me that I want it to be silenced and put to death immediately. It cannot exist anymore. It should not exist. I have decided that this opinion should not exist. All of this is happening because some are offended by this film. Then, what will you do when the next film that mocks Christ, is released? Will you do the same again? You will restrain another opinion just because you are offended by it? 

We seem to be prioritizing people being offended over opinions over art being voiced. The restraint by both government and society, whomever is holding economic or political power, is enough to make all ideas absolutely homogenous or totally forgettable. So, it’s better that we just let opinions exist. Why is it so scary to you that an opinion offends you? Let all opinions live and thrive, and then die when it’s their time to die. But we’re arresting the circle of life of opinions by killing it out with our outrage, our weapon of choice these days. You may then argue, well if I choose to boycott this film, it is also my freedom of speech. But it is surely not an opinion then. You are mobilizing your freedom of speech with action – in this case, outrage. You are not then expressing an opinion, you’re going into action. You are doing something, rather than just saying something. So, when you boycott this film, you are not expressing an opinion. You are just restraining another opinion. 

The film is a work of art. The subject of the work of the art doesn’t invalidate that and I think it’s incredibly dangerous to dismiss art because it offends and mocks, even the most sacred to many people. If we stop to restrain all works of art because they offend you, then soon all art may end up looking the same. 

So you may be thinking, well how about the Charlie Hebdo cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed? I maintain the same line about those, too. Those cartoons are works of art. I didn’t think they were particularly interesting or novel, but they are works of art nonetheless. And they need to be protected. It is important that they are protected because I would want the same standard upheld for me as an artist.  

I see myself as a full human being. I have consciousness and a mind. I have the ability to dream, imagine, day dream, and create. I believe that these faculties are part of me being human. As an Orthodox Christian, God has these in his image, I have received them from being in his likeness. He is the creator and I can be creative like him. I can create from what exists, He can create from void. Void here is absolute nothingness. The closest I can get to this is by writing because something I can’t access with my senses can be moulded into the words you’re seeing on the screen now. So, art seems to be in my very nature as a human being. 

I can create, in the loose sense I have just described, whatever I want. It can be tempered by my beliefs or sensibilities or convictions. But should I remove all of them, I can just bring forth something. Whether it will be effective or not, convincing or not, powerful or not, loved or decried, it’s art. Art will challenge, will make you uncomfortable, will question, will distort maim or mock because the function of art is to see, to first see and then capture it with the medium of choice. Telling someone that what they see offends you is like saying to them your eyes don’t work. No, their eyes work just fine, just like yours. But they see what you don’t see. 

Art should not be subject to your tastes. Art is not moral and should not be moral. The Chinese-Belgian philosopher Han Suyin says that moralists have no place in an art gallery. A few of us are morally outraged by this film and thus want it to be silenced. We seem to be content or indifferent about most other art, as long as it is inert or illustrative or simply aesthetically pleasing. Art can teach or illustrate or be pedagogical. But the art you will remember is the art that jarred you. For me, it’s Saturn Devouring His Son by Goya and Vampire by Munch. Art has to be free of sensibilities, morality, and good taste so that it can see. The minute it is hindered, it is no longer art and it is just a message. art can have a message, but it’s best when it’s just a captured feeling, a vision, a moment.  

So, The First Temptation of Christ is just an opinion, a work of art, and a moment. The creators of the film have created some art that you don’t seem to like or agree with. As artists, they are free to create the art they want. If this moment injures Christ so much, then Christ isn’t the all-powerful son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity that I believe and hold he is. He is then a weak demigod who is perturbed by people. That doesn’t sound like him. 

This then begs two questions. Firstly, what kind of Christ do you believe in? Is he a weak, neurotic demigod, requiring of us tireless and continual defense or else he will visit us with his wrath? Or, is he the Christ that bore our afflictions and suffered, from the day he took flesh?  Christ is being tainted and affronted. But does he need our defense? Did he need it on earth? Does he need it now? The passion of christ on earth wasn’t just on the cross, it was from birth to death carrying all of our infirmities and withstanding all pain until the end. his suffering is over. he is not suffering now. His church is suffering and we are his body. You will argue that someone is attacking the head, so the body is hurting too. I could  concede that, but does that mean that we become like the world and simply fight back with outrage? Is that the only response we have in us these days?

We’re people of the Scriptures. So, let’s look in scripture, in the crucifixion narrative. Christ was mocked. Did he retaliate? 

I couldn’t find anything in the Acts of the Apostles, where the apostles retaliated with their money or outrage because Christ was mocked. There is this one verse though 17: 32, where some mocked the resurrection after Paul was preaching in Athens. What did Paul do? 

He left. He didn’t engage. He moved on.

I challenge you. Find a verse in the entire scriptures where God says, “Defend me [when they insult or mock or make caricatures of me].”

In closing, I won’t be supporting the ban of the film because it is an opinion, a work of art, and Christ will remain Lord and Saviour, no matter how many films are made about him. 

… Except When No One Did Co-opt International Men’s Day

I haven’t been at peace with what I wrote since two friends commented and explained what International Men’s Day was about.

I made a deal with myself yesterday that with whatever I wrote, I wouldn’t retract, delete, or edit it if there would be any kind of response. I would also not change the privacy settings of the post. I would take the flak for anything I wrote – even the flak from Scranton, the resident critic in my head. So, I kept my promise and didn’t do any of that.

Thank you for the gracious, positive, and calm responses to an assholic and arrogant piece. I appreciate and value them.

After reflecting on this last night and today, three uncomfortable points became clear to me.

I could have found out what the day was about after 1.5 seconds of a Google search.

There have been moments and times where some men shout louder than others, to complain about their perceived loss of power in a world that affords some of us all power. But yesterday was not one of those moments.

And finally, International Men’s Day was instituted for men like… me. I wrote last year before about my struggle about mental health, depression, and suicide. So, instead of using last night’s post to declare solidarity and talk about it from my experience, I used it to rant at an unspecified, non-existent “enemy”.

I messed up, I got it wrong, and there is no excuse.

If you’re a man who needed International Men’s Day yesterday, I hope you got to be a strong, resilient man who can talk about his struggles with people who understand and can hold space for you. If you’re the wife or partner to a man who needed it yesterday, God bless you for expressing your love for them.

A brief and final belated message about yesterday. Jay Z said that what you reveal, you heal. So, whatever struggle, pain, addiction, bondage, or darkness you carry, its power will be diminished if you just tell someone because its real size becomes apparent when it’s revealed. It’s not that behemoth you imagined; it’s just a dark turd that has been festering in a badly lit room, playing hand puppets against the walls.

Just tell someone, “I’m struggling. Would you listen?” Pick someone who cares and is good at listening. And then just let it out.

Then, you’ll be able to find some courage inside to get the help you need.

Happy Belated International Men’s Day. You’ll get through it because you’re not alone.

This was originally posted two days on my Facebook account and has been edited slightly.

A Letter to Myself Today

Dear Mina,

This is an important year. You are at peace, there’s a warm glow in your heart, and you’re living awake.

You’re strong, resilient, and pliable enough to know now that it’s not about one’s own might.

You’re worthy. And you’re believing in that, one day at a time.

This year you allowed yourself to be known and seen, to be helped and cared for. This is a wealth freely given to you by God. Cherish it.

The last 7 months have been a string of little deaths, the quiet execution of old plans, defenses, and traits. And there is a rumbling in the rubble, an equally quiet emergence of someone you’ll soon to get to know as the hidden you. A Mina that is not the final product, but certainly a first draft of the genuine you. You and I are both the process of writing the draft and living out the draft, one day at a time. We are the daily process.

A lukewarm wind is gliding past your arm. The sun is hot, it’s a calm and unassuming sweat today. It’s just us on this pier. There is some longing in you, for it to have been two. But this moment is enough. And you’re documenting the particular marks of this longing.

The party has come to our street. Let the contentment begin.

Lessons from My Longest Ever Relationship

Cranely, as I adopted him

In October last year, I took home from work an ordinary-looking potted plant. I was actually in the process of moving, so a new plant for my new apartment was an exciting prospect. It was both exciting and daunting. All sense of routine, maintenance, and discipline were matters still difficult for me to integrate into my daily life. And here I was, about to care for a plant.

My therapist said to me, take care of a plant, then get a pet, then you’ll be ready for a relationship with a woman. It seemed the wrong way around to me – you get the plant and pet once you have the woman and you’re living together! The delusion of the Middle Class Dream – the apartment, the woman, the pets, the boat, the villa in the countryside – was still upon me, so anything that questioned that dream-delusion seemed ridiculous. However, I had looked at my life and past relationships. It was just rubble. It wouldn’t hurt to try a new approach.

I gave the plant a name – Cranley.

Cranley, first day at home

So for the month before I moved, I watered Cranley every day, sometimes twice a day. I did no research or asked people how to care for plants. I just went on my own crazy conception of love and care, which was often full-on mania. Soon enough, my sister tempered my enthusiasm with some reality: you don’t need to water Cranley every day. I didn’t want him to die. I was on a journey, dammit! Plant – dog – woman. Nothing would hold me back…

I watered him every day. When I travelled, I made sure my sister or brother-in-law would take care of him. And when they were away, I asked another acquaintance to care for him. I made his watering a part of my daily routines. I sometimes played some music for him – classical, blues, jazz.

Just don’t die, Cranley. You can’t be another casualty of Mina.

He soon occupied an important part on the marble window sill in my kitchen. And I moved my medication next to him, so that there was now a marrying of my health and his health. Half of the glass of water is for me, the other half is for him.

I did this, day in and day out. I looked at him. Sometimes, I stared. I wondered if he would grow. Would he ever grow? I worried when he wilted or he didn’t seem to respond to the water.

I bought fertilizer and a special spray. I read up on about his species and how to care for him. After using them for a while, Cranley seemed to bloom and flourish.

I felt more secure in my part in the relationship. I was showing up and doing my part every day.

It’s been about 7 months now since Cranley came into my care. He hasn’t died. His arms are becoming gangly and there’s this wonderful light-brown tinge to some of his leaves. When I walk into the kitchen, I’m happy to see him. His arms tilt into the window, leaning into the Swedish sun.

Cranley has made no demands in this relationship. But now that he is in my care, I feed him, I make sure his pot is clean and not filled with water, and I prune his stems in order for more leaves to sprout. He gets the best sunshine in the apartment and sometimes, I just sit there and look at him.

That whole advice of a plant before an animal before another person is not about following a script, but rather learning how to be self-less, how to adjust your life so that another being occupies place in your mind and heart. In the center of this advice is the relationship with myself, one-half of Team Mina and Cranley. I care enough about myself to drink water and take medication every day. I do fun and spiritually nourishing things every day, like making art, to stay in balance. A healthy, present Mina is a Mina who is able to be present for Cranley.

I’ve had smirks and furrowed brows at having a plant as a pet because that’s how I introduce him – my pet Cranley! He doesn’t lick his balls or purr, but he is alive and he is worthy of love. He doesn’t even ask for it. He just sits there every day, living, breathing, and basking in the sun. And when I don’t feed him, he doesn’t complain. But over time, he dies because he hasn’t eaten.

When I looked at my past and examined what had gone wrong in relationships, I saw how selfish and reckless I was. Most of the relationships were about what I needed and wanted, and rarely involved being there for the other person. When it didn’t work out the way I wanted, I abandoned them. When I felt threatened or afraid, I ran. When I let others influence me, I dropped them from a great height. And all humans are made of porcelain, not stone.

That “all humans” includes me, too. The toll of what I have done is equal to the magnitude of the shame that I had made a part of my being. I’ve done shit and I am shit. Taking care of this silent, beautiful plant changes shame to acceptance and gives me hope for the future.

Happy anniversary, Cranley. You’re rather wonderful.

 

[New] Writing Should Be Read Out Loud – Why You’re Not Over Your Ex

Woman and Grief

This is a new idea that I’m exploring.

I’ve been reading a lot of good writing over the past couple of years. Do you ever read it out loud in your mind, as you go along? I’ve been doing that since I was young.

Writing, especially good writing, should be read out loud. Sometimes we can only hear the genius of a turn of phrase or construction when it hits our ears.

So, here’s my first recording of Why You’re Not Over Your Ex by Kris Gage.

Recorded with written permission from the author.

Featured image via x1klima on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

The Past Three Days

I know I went dark these past three or four days. It was dark and it felt dark.

Life revolved around keeping head above water. It looked possible at a few points that I would sink again.

By the grace of God, I didn’t. I just fought through it, a war of attrition through every moment until the enemy retreated.

I am left with a sense of longing, more than shame or guilt. The past weeks before this week’s toil were just great – immersed in the creative arts and blogging every day.

Back on track now. Till tomorrow!

My Complicated Relationship with Writing

I’ll spare you the platitudes of how life has been so busy, or I’ve been through so many changes, or any of that. I haven’t written in a long time, here, on this blog. The only reason is that my relationship with writing is complicated, not in the way that Facebook has now appropriated, but in that it was a non-relationship. Complicated could point at how I carry writing on my arm, as a trophy wife, but at home I beat her to death by neglect.

I didn’t write that novel I announced with much fanfare on Medium and here. I have been preoccupied with discovering who I am. Yeah, not rediscovering, but discovering.

I’m working on not killing you anymore, honey.

There will be no promises or announcements, no lofty goals or projects. I hope that there will be a public reconciliation with this thing I love and discard so much, writing – the closest I’ve ever been to a real relationship.