Constellation

The sound of laughter, the allure of dancing eyes, of promises and words, the ease of friends, the unspoken commitment of lovers, and the bright stars you placed in the palm of my hand.

“Why would I need stars?”

“One star won’t do. You need a few, you need a constellation. It’ll remind you of us,” you grinned at me. Challenging me to argue with you, as you loved to do. Would I rise to the challenge? Your eyes dared me, and I thought to myself, if I could hold you in place, keep you, preserve you, I wouldn’t need any stars.

“Stay where you are,” I said, and reached for my phone, snapping pictures of you, as you threw your head back, laughing at my obsessiveness.

“A constellation looks different from every angle. But you’ll always find me. Depend on your imagination, but also look for signs. Trace the pattern,” you whispered.

“Like this?” I reached for you.

“Do you know why people wear a ring on this finger?” you asked.

“I wouldn’t know, but I’m sure there’s a story,” I said, listening intently.

“It’s connected, all the way to your heart. Here,” you said, tracing every inch, creating our very own constellation.

The body has a mind of its own. It will not be silenced. It will not behave. It can be pushed around, bullied, but eventually it breaks down. It was you that held me together, and after a long day, I would collapse, and you were the right dose of everything I needed to inhale. Forget smoking, forget all attempts at drugs, forget the way people numb their pain. There was no need for that. 

On Mentors

I was invited to speak at the Knowledge Development Seminar (Arab Open University, Kuwait) and gave a lecture about the prevalence of madness in women’s literature. I won’t go into the academic details of the paper, as this blog is almost always personal, rather than academic. I was a bit worried about the lecture, as I have been dealing with the intricacies and inconsistencies of this condition of being human. I have been overwhelmed with exams, marking, research, and struggling with a body that refuses to behave according to my wishes and expectations. My body almost always seems to have a mind of its own, which fascinates me, because isn’t the body supposed to be controlled/regulated by the mind? But enough rambling about me.

I was lucky enough to have my friend, who used to be my professor, Hanan, prepare me for the talk. She would object and say “I didn’t prepare you, you already know it” but the truth of the matter is, every time I talk about theory with Hanan, my mind is refreshed, feels sharper, and I am able to see different sides of the argument. A literature and theory professor, Hanan has always been by my side, talking me through literature, academia, and life itself. I went from being Shahd (her student) to Dr. Shahd, more than a decade later. And I am ever so grateful that she has urged me to participate in class (when I was too shy to speak up) and today, I am able to give lectures on my own. And yet, I had to consult her before actually giving the lecture. We prepared answers for possible questions/attacks that could be presented. The counterarguments of madness, the history of madness, the institutionalization, and how do we even begin to talk about madness?

As for the lecture itself, my discussant was an amazing Professor of literature, Professor Mohiba, who has studied under wonderful theorists and critics (she had the pleasure of being around Michel Foucault himself), and was educated at a time when women were still struggling and fighting for their rights.  She has seen it all, the sixties, the seventies, up until today, where she continues to fight against injustice. She is a passionate, brilliant academic, one that I look up to and admire. I have learned so much from her, just from being around her, listening to her, and I am mesmerized by the amount of passion she has for education, for speaking up, for fighting against all forms of oppression. She reassured me that the talk would be successful, and that the paper had great potential, while simultaneously pointing me in the right direction, gently guiding me, telling me what the argument needs to be developed. Even when someone fired a question that I was unable to answer, Professor Mohiba jumped to the rescue, diving into her years of expertise, and formed a very well-rounded answer. Following her lead, I was able to pick up.

And that is the beauty of real academics, real mentors. They are your friends first and foremost, they want to see you succeed, be the very best version of yourself, and they hold your hand, while still giving you a sense of autonomy and independence. They don’t believe in spoon-feeding, they don’t believe in giving you answers, they don’t believe in making it easier for you. The real academics are the ones who push you, who criticize you, support you, and tell you that you are capable. I have been blessed with having these two very brilliant women in my life, and I have been watching and learning from them, while at the same time developing my own academic identity.

So this post is filled with gratitude. This post is about mentors being our friends, about academia, about women who support other women, about the beauty of education, and mainly, if you’re an academic reading this, I would urge you to do the same, to guide, not to lead, to support, not put down, to create, not destroy, to build, and to watch as your students grow into themselves and become leaders.

And here’s to a new semester, filled with excitement and change!

Winterson

I always turn to Winterson. 

‘Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referenced me with your mark. The pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message on to my skin, tap meaning into my body.’

Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

‘There are times when it will go so wrong that you will barely be alive, and times when you realise that being barely alive, on your own terms, is better than living a bloated half-life on someone else’s terms.’

Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

‘Explore me,’ you said and I collected my ropes, flasks and maps, expecting to be back home soon. I dropped into the mass of you and I cannot find the way out. Sometimes I think I’m free, coughed up like Jonah from the whale, but then I turn a corner and recognise myself again. Myself in your skin, myself lodged in your bones, myself floating in the cavities that decorate every surgeon’s wall. That is how I know you. You are what I know.

Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

I felt your heartbeat, but through my shirt. It’s easy to say I wish you hadn’t, but I offered myself like a sacrifice to the gods. And in vain, I realized I was waiting for Godot. 

Hafiz

He says it best: 

There are different wells within your heart.
Some fill with each good rain,

Others are far too deep for that.
In one well

You have just a few precious cups of water,

That “love” is literally something of yourself,

It can grow as slow as a diamond

If it is lost.
Your love

Should never be offered to the mouth of a

Stranger,

Only to someone

Who has the valor and daring

To cut pieces of their soul off with a knife

Then weave them into a blanket

To protect you.
There are different wells within us.

Some fill with each good rain,

Others are far, far too deep

For that.

I don’t understand people who just throw away their pets. Literally. I saw a cat left alone to die. She was taking her last breaths and left to suffer alone. 

I will never understand people. And the cruelty that emanates from us. What’s the bet nobody wanted to witness the cat’s death? I can safely say, I no longer believe in kindness. And I understand what Kurtz meant when he said “The horror! The horror!” 

Can it be that I am still drinking your coffee? Bitter, black, no sugar. It’s cold, and I don’t have the desire to brew the perfect cup. Time is an elusive concept. I close my eyes and I can see you. Time stood still, and not in the way we thought it could. You were right, coffee was supposed to keep me going. But what happens when my body rejects it?  

“Hello darling.”

The fire between us, and I have always been afraid of fire. 

I looked at you. I have aged a thousand years and not a wrinkle has touched your skin.