I didn’t write this summer. Not only were my children home from school all day, but it was Ramadan and we were finally moving into the house we’d been rebuilding from the foundation up for close to two years. It was too much to juggle, the boxes, the hunger, the thirst, the late night iftars, and I thought it would help to declare an official break. Maybe then I could stave off the frustration of trying to write and not getting anything done.
Even when I took a short break for a writing fellowship in Aspen, I came home and got right back to not writing. I unpacked boxes, made arrangements for our unfinished deck, and refinanced our construction loan. At night, I revised my long lists of to dos, filled with subcontractors to call, items to order, items to buy, items to return. During the day, I went from room to room, organizing closets, washing linens that had been in storage for two years and putting them away, asking myself about every mismatched towel, table cloth, and drape, “Why? Why did we bring this?” I waited for the electrician, the plumber, the carpenter, the painter. And still I didn’t write anything. I didn’t look at my manuscript, only rarely scribbled in my journal, and hardly ever read. “This so much better,” I reminded myself. “Get everything done now and then you can focus in the fall.”
But that frustration I thought I was avoiding by lowering my expectations never relented. It chased me down daily if not hourly. Coursing in the back of mind was always this loop of accusations: “You’ve lost your way this time;” “You can’t be a serious writer if you can take such long breaks from your work;” “There must be a minimum word count a week that distinguishes the real writers from fakers like you.”
This Ramadan has been hard. The long summer solstice days and deep heat. The nation charged with racial tensions. The obligatory iftars, the late night taraweeh, the early suhoor. The problematic tafsirs with implicit “-isms” that are so triggering. The thirst, the faltering, the not knowing if your piety is enough, and the wondering why piety doesn’t entail feeling more.
It is in this time of chaos and reflection that I choose to write. It’s the only way I know how to calm my mind, to focus my feelings. I know that if I can commit myself to writing one poem every day, that in those words I find healing energy, time to reflect, and a connection with Allah. It is for this reason that every Ramadan I challenge myself to writing a poem daily.
This year marks the second year I’ve hosted an online Poetry a Day for Ramadan virtual writing group. With close to fifty members, the only rule for poets is they must commit to writing daily. They can share if they want to. Just write. Make art.
It was a rainy and cold night in Los Angeles. The rarity of the rain added a sheen of intrigue as I drove up the 101 freeway through downtown. I glanced at the overpasses above, nearing the place where I’d been told the signs would be. Sure enough, there they were – jankier than I expected, but still expressing their intended hatred. In black pixelated letters one sign said No, and the other featured the image of a crescent and moon.
I took the next exit. After circling around for a few minutes, I finally found the exact overpass on Alameda St., between the city jail and Union Station. I rolled by, slowly. The signs were four laminated, letter-sized pieces of paper forming a larger rectangle. From the grommets at the corners of each sheet, plastic zip ties kept the signs fastened to the chain link fence.
Three years just doesn’t have the same ring to it as one month, or one year, or two. At three years, you are supposed to be better. You are supposed to be healed. You are supposed to forget. Three years is a long time. It’s dismissive. Less empathetic. Condolences are non-existent and hugs are shorter.
I almost didn’t believe it. I had to look at the calendar and count backwards because it was unbelievable to me that so much time had passed.
On Monday, June 2nd, 2014 – it will have been three years since Mom died.
North African-Dutch musician and creative artist, Rajae El Mouhandiz, gave a stunning TEdxBreda talk a few months ago on claiming her Islamic North African heritage as her own, the legacy of postcolonialism, and the importance of telling your own story through the arts. As #EmpoweredMuslimWomen are blazing up the stratosphere while talking back to misogynist metanarratives to claim new cultural space, we are proud to showcase Rajae as our Friday Love!
Rajae is working on several awesome projects, such as recording new music and a Crowdfunding endeavor to empower Moroccan women in the handicraft industry. She is also helping bring to life European productions of The Hijabi Monologues.
Take time to listen to her story. It will inspire you!
Sometimes, you run into a good thing and you want to share it with everyone.
Deonna Kelli Sayed recently attended the Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference, and kept noticing one attendee who drew during all the sessions. “Hey,” she said, “Your stuff is good. Would you like to create some original work for Love, Inshallah?”
Alex Irish, an aspiring and talented media artist, agreed to gift LoveInshallah with original art. In homage to resident Geek girl Zainab Chaudary and wonderful posts by Ali Mattu, Alex took took on LoveInshallah’s core theme — love!
Love is grand. Love is transformative. The experience belongs to everyone, regardless of body shape, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or wealth. No special or magical skills are required. Alex nailed it:
What a perfect sentiment for Friday Love.
Thank you, Alex, for sharing your talent with us. May the Force be with you!
Alex Irish is an aspiring media artist. When he’s not illustrating and sketching cartoons, he writes for The PlayStation Game Blog and IGN. Visit here to look at his animation and art, here to read his blog on Hollywood animation and design, and here for his Playstation musings.