And you were horrified with the mere truth, the truth that I had so desperately longed to hide.  There is a vulnerability in intimacy, in revealing one’s self, in allowing the other to witness a part of your journey, a part of yourself that has remained in the shadows. What do you do upon exposure? Exposure, I have gathered, entails either shame or relief. Both are extreme feelings. Both require a moment to comprehend what had just happened.

It wasn’t a trauma, but it wasn’t an epiphany either. But I do recall the way I felt as only a helpless, crying, sobbing child does, upon first noticing the huge school doors, knowing that it’s time to let go of Mama’s hand, feeling immense fear pull you to the ground, until you’re on your knees, clinging to Mama’s hand for dear life, refusing to let go.

But then once Mama departs, and the child is inside, the teacher smiles kindly, the colors of the classroom come to life, and the possibilities are endless. You can play with clay. You can use markers and scribble whatever you want. You can build something with the blue and red Lego. Whatever you do, it’s like nothing you’ve ever had at home. And the best part is, that’s a feeling you’ve never felt before. The child is now a separate entity. It was worth letting go of Mama’s hand.

“Love is a wonderful feeling, my darling, and I can’t wait to teach you all about it,” you whispered.

 

Fully Human

What does it mean to be fully human? I have no idea. I am still struggling with that definition. The mind and the body are so intertwined, and then there’s the complicated mess of the heart. Passion, logic, and a failing body – where do we go from there?

There are infinite ways and possibilities of mending a broken body, a broken heart, and even attempts at healing a mind gone mad.

But I am still searching for that “silver lining.” Today I discovered that it seems I must break-up with my body. We are fighting, again, and again. How can I escape it? Meditation, some friends suggest. Find another reality. Leave, disconnect. Find other ways of addressing the pain. And yes, perhaps, this does help. At least there are suggestions. A dear friend drove me around the other day only to keep me company. Fatima is an artist. She told me that she would make sure that I never have to use a boring black cane again – she would make sure it was as rebellious as I was. Fatima re-assured me that there would never be an “end” and that making adjustments, amendments, won’t mean the end of the road. She spoke to me about the importance of colors, colors everywhere. And I guess the “Silver lining” is actually a multitude of colors, you just have to look close enough.

As with gender, race, sexuality,  to understand how able-bodiedness and disability works is to understand what it is to be fully human. Perhaps even partially human. These are all categories that operate to help us label ourselves and others, but mainly, to identify as human (whatever that means).

I have called MS a random disability in the past. I would suggest that the experience of being human is fully random, also. Gender. Sexuality. Love. Lust. Attachment. Commitment. Breakups. Rejections. Nonsense and logic. All of it is random. You simply cannot trust anything around you, and even the closest part of you (that is, your body) can let go. No matter how much we attempt to find order and structure, to instill sense into a mad world, there is nothing consistent but the prevalence of randomness.

And that’s all for now.

On Monsters

I am teaching an Introduction to Literature class, a basic one that covers different genres. We discussed Margaret Atwood’s “Lusus Naturae.” The students had extremely different reactions to Atwood’s style and exploration of monstrosity. For the basic summary of the story, I would suggest just reading it. It’s only 3 pages, and is available online.

The protagonist is an unnamed character, a “lusus naturae” (which really means a freak of nature), and is rejected from society. She is born a healthy girl, but soon becomes monstrous and deformed. She is neither fully human nor animal, we are unsure what exactly she “is.” As readers, we are simply aware of the vagueness of her state of being. Her family eventually gets rid of her, because they are ashamed of her, and are afraid of what the neighbors would say once they notice that she is not a “normal” girl.

At first, the students took this text as a purely fictional, imaginative work. Once I drew their attention to the term “monster” and the permeability of the boundaries between human/animal, healthy/unhealthy, man/woman, they were able to question their assumptions about normalcy and deviancy. The monster, the freak, the outcast, the reject is a symbol, a metaphor for all that is foreign and other to us. As always, we drew on our own experiences of marginalization, as women, as lacking in one way or another. The conversation, of course, drifted to the idea of the “ideal woman” and perfection. I joked about how when wrinkles start appearing on our faces, or when we gain a bit of weight, we are told to quickly hide it, to take care of it, to attempt to look good again, by society’s standards of “looking good” and “normalcy.” Anything else is ugly, deformed, and monstrous. We look away when we see someone deformed or disabled. We claim we don’t judge, but subconsciously at least, we judge. We blame people who are overweight for not going to the gym, for eating too much junk food. We criticize the girl who doesn’t have makeup on to conceal the dark circles under her eyes. We feel superior to those “others” that reconfirm to us our own “goodness” and “normalcy.” They, the others, are the monsters, and we are the “humans.”

The question I posed in class, and the question we kept thinking about: who are the real monsters? The monster figure is so important because of its multi-layered meanings and definitions. Edward Cullen, of Twilight, is yet another “monster”, a vampire that is capable of love, and yet isn’t fully human. The Beast in Beauty and the Beast, typical monster/human boundary, is able to find love once Belle sees through his deformity. Yet does that mean the Beast got lucky? Are there real Belles in the world? How much are we really willing to look past ideas of perfection and normalcy? What is your personal standard and definition? What do you look for? Are you a monster? How many times have you hurt others, harmed them and excused it? I have quoted Mark Twain in the past, and I’ll do it again: “Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.”

Of course, as always, the board went crazy (or I went crazy) with ideas and keywords.


And that’s all for now.

Companionship and Commitment: Human-Animal Bond

I am constantly amazed at how people function. We are a total mess of emotions, confusion, and yet, there is always a desire to attain perfection. When perfection is the ideal, you are left constantly unhappy, striving to please, aiming higher, and eventually at a loss. The loss is grand. It is the loss of the self. The loss of the simple things in life. The appreciation of all that you are today. All around me are unsatisfied and unhappy people. And it is not their fault. It is this society, this culture that demands, that expects, that tells you you are falling short, that it’ll never be enough, and worse, that you’ll never be as great as you’re supposed to be. Who gets to say what is perfect, what is great, what is deemed better than others? Why the constant comparison? Self-worth is derived from others, and yet they will always fail you. Why do we keep doing it, then? A bad habit. A dangerous addiction to perfection becomes a disease that eats away at you, until you no longer know how to function otherwise. Until the simple things scare you. Until quietness and stillness is uncomfortable. Until simple faith and trust is difficult to attain. It becomes difficult to believe in others, and in yourself. Where do we go from here?

Flake knows. Flake, my 14 year old Labrador knows better. She’s my best friend, and not just because she’s non-human. Quite frankly, because she’s not “human” she seems to have an advantage. She sees through people. Flake has been my companion for the past eight or nine years. This companionship has taught me a lot about trust, about friendship, and commitment. I am tempted to mention Donna Haraway’s “The Companion Species Manifesto” but this is meant to be a personal, rather than an academic post. (For more information see Haraway’s work on animal-human interaction).

When Flake first arrived, I was hesitant. I did not like animals, simply because I did not understand them. She was a terrified, traumatized creature, who would shake every time I touched her paw. She rejected human interaction, and would eye me carefully. Flake was paranoid, and rightly so. She had been abused in the past. People were cruel, and it seemed I could not change her perception. One day, after a long day at university, I came back home and sat next to her. She moved away. And, despite all logic, I knew I would simply have to speak to her in human language. I told her something along the lines of: “Listen, you and I, we have to be friends. You’re here to stay, and I don’t want to send you away to another family. You’ve had your share of disappointments. I’m not too happy about this commitment, but let’s just try.” And we did try. We ended up spending time with each other, and she ended up taking care of me. I ended up learning about commitment, about going home at a certain time to give her medication (she has arthritis), and waking up early for her walks in the morning. I learned that when someone (human or animal) puts their faith in you, you don’t let them down. You rise up to the challenge, if you are afraid of commitment or responsibilities. You get rewarded immensely: there is so much beauty in giving, in being there for another being, someone other than yourself.

Struggling with Multiple Sclerosis, shuffling feet out of bed, getting dressed with difficulty, working through it all, is no easy task. Add to it having another creature that demands and needs your care. I learned the art of balance. I learned how to communicate without words. When I am in pain, Flake will place her paw on my shoulder and stare at me questioningly. When I cannot get out of bed as early as she would like, Flake pretends to be asleep. She waits. She waits until I can. There is an unspoken agreement. Animal lovers will understand this, while people who don’t have pets will be skeptical. This is a companionship that rejects perfection. We are both struggling. She is growing older, is less capable of jumping around, and I am making peace with my own lack. But I have never felt judged or incompetent, except by humans. The cruelty is strange- human beings are strange. Mark Twain says: “‘Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.” And we inflict pain on each other by so many different ways. We ridicule, we mock, we expect perfection, we demand more of each other, and we let go when the pressure is too much.

Below are a few pictures of Flake, because I can’t help it.

And that’s all for now.

  

Walk

A step. Two. Here it goes. It looks easy, doesn’t it? You’d think so.

But here it is, this heaviness that drags. This struggle of walking. It feels like walking through mud. Except you’re wearing heavy boots, and you can’t seem to carry yourself. The burden of you. This strange connection between the brain and the body. It is a strange state of being. Being a slave to this body. Who is in charge? They say the mind is superior to the body. We grow up conditioned to believe that your brain is sharp, that your body is just the follower, that you need to work on strengthening your mental skills, that the body is just a vessel. So how is it that the body is in control? It cannot be just a vessel. The body is what you see. Nobody sees your inner core, your self. What you see is what you get. The body is your Passport in life. When you are exiled from your body, do you get to go anywhere else?

And these are, as always, the random ramblings of a confused mind.

My New Book

My first poetry collection is now available on Amazon. Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/Love-Loss-Shahd-Alshammari/dp/1631358901/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1433966269&sr=8-1&keywords=on+love+and+loss+shahd

I expect that copies will soon be available in Kuwait. I don’t claim to be a poet, or a writer. This is merely an experiment, as all things in life are. Trial and error. Let’s see how it goes!

Thoughts on Salome

“The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.” Oscar Wilde, Salome. (1831).

I recently watched Salome. It was recommended by someone who knows the intricacies of my mind, my passion for words, and my love for theater. This film is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play. Of course, I read the actual script after watching the film. It had me hooked, and definitely in love. Salome is a fiery woman, a woman who is a legend, and there are numerous adaptations, Biblical allusions, and sexual imagery. The storyline is fascinating, the dialogue is gripping, and the performance is wonderful. I only wish I could attend this play live. I believe the film doesn’t do it justice.

Filled with sexual connotations, passion, desire and death, there is a blurring of the line between love/obsession, passion and lack, madness and sanity, purity/virginity and sexual desire. There is also the idea of the body as spectacle. The play, critically speaking, is infested with the idea of the “male gaze” and surprisingly, this femme-fatale image. Salome’s double, I think, is the moon. The moon in all its seductiveness, glamor, beauty, is also dangerous. The moon mirrors Salome’s psyche and character. There is simply too much to write about and think about when analyzing Salome. I have always been fascinated with “madwomen” and women who are considered “troubled.” The Young Syrian, a character who is obsessed with Salome states: “She is like a dove that has strayed..She is like a narcissus trembling in the wind. She is like a silver flower.”  The moon here is a metaphor. The idea of “looking” and being “looked at” is also part of this story’s complexity. To be looked at is to be seen. However, it depends on who is looking. You can have the wrong person “looking” at you, and all you want is for the right person, that “right love” to look at you. You want to be seen by him/her. Salome’s passion, her tragic ending, her desire to be seen, to kiss the man she has chosen is so intense. I was left gazing at the screen, shocked, uncomfortable with the bloodiness of it all. All she wanted was his “lips” and yet it is far greater than sexual. There is a union. There is a desire to merge with the lover, with the object of affection.

I won’t ruin the entire plot, but it is highly recommended. I will be looking into Salome’s legend and hopefully dissect it even more.

Side note: it is so refreshing when someone can access your brain and soul almost as much as you can.

Here are some beautiful excerpts:

“Ah, Iokanaan, Iokanaan, thou wert the man that I loved alone among men! All other men were hateful to me. But thou wert beautiful! Thy body was a column of ivory set upon feet of silver. It was a garden full of doves and lilies of silver. It was a tower of silver decked with shields of ivory. There was nothing in the world so white as thy body. There was nothing in the world so black as thy hair. In the whole world there was nothing so red as thy mouth. Thy voice was a censer that scattered strange perfumes, and when I looked on thee I heard a strange music. Ah! wherefore didst thou not look at me, Iokanaan?”
Oscar Wilde, Salome
“I am athirst for thy beauty; I am hungry for thy body; and neither wine nor apples can appease my desire. What shall I do now, Iokanaan? Neither the floods nor the great waters can quench my passion. I was a princess, and thou didst scorn me. I was a virgin, and thou didst take my virginity from me. I was chaste, and thou didst fill my veins with fire . . .”

And the link:

Move out 

You wake up one day and the bed is empty. Love has left. Wait, there is movement. Someone pulls the covers away. You rub your eyes and there she is, but she looks different. Older. Sadder. There are grey hairs. Autonomy stares at you. You shift uncomfortably under her gaze. What to do now? 

Touch, perhaps. But there is no flesh. There is only air. The air vibrates. Did Love leave a note? No, but there is a dent in the bed. 
Maybe it’s time to move out of the house.  

 

Lost and Found

I could hear the sound of muffled screams, a whimpering cry. I had no idea where it was coming from, but some entity tugged at my jacket, pulling me forward. I found myself going up the stairs. I was still afraid of heights, but there was no escape. I was no longer myself. I had to find you.

I opened the first door but you weren’t there. Was that my name I heard? The second door, the third, nothing. And finally, I found you lying on the floor. Drenched and bloody. What had happened to your skin? I dried your face, kissed your forehead, and pulled you closer. But nothing. Nothing. No pulse.

I took off my jacket and wrapped you in it. The gut-wrenching feeling of having lost you. The whimpers were so close. I could have found you in time. I put your limp arm around my neck, and carried my dead downstairs.