What Went Right

As this blog remains a personal rather than an academic one (but the personal and the academic are always intertwined for me), I was hesitant to write about this. But here goes. Recently I have suffered from a physical relapse, one that has hindered my ability to walk. I have also developed tremors, a very nasty and frustrating shaking that does not seem to go away. I won’t go into the boring details, but suffice it to say that it has been a challenging month.School started, and faculty had to go back to campus. I was very hesitant about showing up to school with a cane. Yet I did, and it was fine, but of course there had to be one remark that infuriated me. A superior suggested that it was “all in my head” and that I should “toughen up.” At the time, I was struck by the audacity, and was unable to respond. Later, of course, I dealt with the situation. But again, this post isn’t about negativity or what went wrong.

Let’s talk about what went right. I went to the University of Oxford for a conference I had been so excited about. I had spent months waiting for this conference, waiting to visit Oxford, to speak at the conference. I was giving a paper on madness and its potential for subversion. I never imagined it’d be like this – that I would go alone, and that I would go not as functional as I would have hoped. Simply, I was scared. When I voiced my fear to a wonderful person, Dr. Noor, someone with both a scientific background and an interest in Disability Studies, she told me that my fears were “perfectly normal.” A conference, in itself, is nerve-racking, she assured me, and to add to that, a body that is struggling to make it. We had met during an informal meeting to discuss our careers, but we quickly established a strong connection. Dr. Noor and I work from similar angles, similar research frameworks. We consider the ways by which illness and the body is socially constructed, how a sense of identity emerges, and the importance of dialogue between physicians-patients-society. This is a three way conversation which still needs to begin. 

I might be portraying Dr. Noor as simply a colleague, but she is way beyond that. She has helped me on a personal level, and is a friend I have been blessed with. Even when I suggested that I may be afraid of going to Oxford alone, her response was: “But I believe in you, Shahd.” We spoke about how hard it might be, but how I would have to get out of my comfort zone, if I really wanted to attend the conference (which I did)!

I am glad I didn’t give up on it. I was about to. Family and friends told me that there would be many other conferences, better health days. But if you know me at all, you would recall that I do live for the moment. I live for today. Maybe the circumstances weren’t the best, but I learned that every time it feels like it’s almost over, that is the crucial point where you shouldn’t give up. That’s the very moment where you shouldn’t let go.

I have been let go of, very recently. On a personal level, someone I believed would be there for me, there with me (at Oxford and everywhere else), has decided that it was time to move on. Of course this hurts. And it leaves you wondering where you went wrong. What you possibly could’ve said or done, or changed in yourself, to make them stay. At the same time, my walking ability has decided to let go of me, at least for awhile. Perhaps we’re on a break, as I like to think of it.

On the flight, I was recognized by students who made the connection that I was “Dr. Shahd” who teaches English. One of them was especially happy to be sitting next to me, and she was very friendly. When we landed in London, she noticed that I had a cane. The look of horror and shock on her face was something else. She couldn’t help herself and started asking so many questions. I responded and explained that I was okay, but she insisted on knowing “how” ‘why” and if I was “born this way.” That’s a story on its own, but again, suffice it to say that I handled it. 

At the conference, which was on madness, the social construction of illness, mental and physical, and its representations throughout history and literature – we spoke about how normalcy is overrated. I was reminded by a friend’s consolation of me by saying “Walking is so overrated.”

 But here’s the thing, at the conference, amongst academics, I felt like I finally belonged. A professor of Schizophrenia and madness, asked me how I felt about MS. I explained that it was a random disability, and I alternated between the binary of abled/disabled. He called it “Bonkers!” and asked me to “enjoy!” Richard and I became good friends afterwards. He was right to suggest that it was bonkers, and to tell me to enjoy, because this strange state of being human is always enjoyable, in its complexities, its inconsistences, and its nonsense. 

And maybe what went right was that it was okay that everything went “wrong.” 

Here are some images of the trip. 

   
     

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!

Scab

We were friends. Every night, I went to sleep, not thinking of consequences. But one fine morning (nah, I’m kidding, it wasn’t fine), I found that the cat’s scratch was right underneath my eyelid. I ignored it. The following morning, the scratch had made itself at home. I stared at its presence. Words on flesh. The cat’s constant purring was too close for comfort, and just when I thought I could hold her close, it pawed at my face, clumsily perhaps, but nevertheless, there it was, a scar had formed. On my face. Just in case I tried to forget. I am still me, except for the scar she carved. But the cat is still a fine creature, demanding of attention, willing to reciprocate every once in awhile, moody, loving, and unpredictable. Would she have scratched if she cared “enough”? Can you measure a concept as vague and as fleeting as affection/love?

After a long day, when all I want to do is drop my guard, she climbs onto my lap and stares at me. Anticipating. Waiting. Inquiring. Greeted by silence, she meows and purrs as though we have no history. I don’t recall the words, it’s hard enough when we speak different languages. I can only touch the now scabrous skin. Each night it digs itself further into me.

  

A Walk

There used to be a spot at the Scientific Center, a place we’d meet, and we would grab our morning coffee and I would comment that I liked it “bitter, like me.” Your reply would always be giggles and then offering me a piece of that double chocolate chip cookie, reminding me that sometimes good things are thrust upon us. That was a time when I used to struggle to walk with you, and yet I refused to lean on you. 

Last night I went for a walk, because the walking reminds me of being here. Existential crisis? I shoved my hands in my pockets, taking one step at a time, holding on to myself this time. Grounded in me. It’s starting to become very demanding, this movement, this mobility. Each step takes immense effort and I feel like I’m walking through heaps of snow. But I’m not ready to sit down yet.
Cookies might, in fact, be the best remedy. 
  

 

Random 

I lost my hearing today – only for a few hours, luckily. And I sat thinking about what it must be like to live completely deaf. One adapts. 

We are always so scared of deafness, blindness, paralysis, the deterioration of the body. But everything we are so afraid of is actually not as terrifying when it actually happens. When we lose someone we love, we think we’ll never get out of bed in the morning. When we lose one of our senses, we think we’ll never survive. 

But this survival is a concept that needs a longer post. I need to think about survival, and what it means. I wish there was a course we could all sign up for: Survival 101. And once you pass the course, you’re set for life. Then again, we’re never really set for life. Perhaps that’s the miscalculation right there. It’s all random. 

I probably should make friends with Randomness already. As an individual, I have always been so predictable, so consistent, and yet everything about my body, and how I react to it, is random and inconsistent. 

And that’s all for now

Some people remain more honest than others. They have a conscience, and they are more genuine than others. I know somebody who has a passion for life. And she is entirely devoted to her job, and not in an obsessive way, but in an admirable way. I watch her and I am constantly amazed by how she always goes that extra mile. And she claims she is always a student, always learning, always evolving. She never once claims to know how to do things, or that there is one right way of doing things, or that she knows more than you. There is a humbleness that she carries which is not immediately obvious. People like that are the type you can be yourself around, the type you can admire without feeling inferior, the type you can reach out to and still feel whole.

I admire this woman because life hasn’t beaten her down, and because passion has not died within her – she is always flirting with life. There is depth there that I don’t find in a lot of people. There is a strength that does not scream “I am.” There is an appreciation of life that is not sickeningly optimistic. It just is. In depth, there is simplicity. The equation does not require mastery, it does not call attention to itself, but rather it lays there, not expecting an answer, not desiring a formula. There is beauty in simplicity, in just being.

And that’s all for now.

Confession

Sometimes loss opens your eyes to its counterpart, and there is something to gain. Sometimes we are preoccupied with all that is missing, all that is wrong, and everything that isn’t as beautiful as we wish. Recently, I have gone through something very difficult, and I have felt that the world was a very dark and alienating place. I used to be an optimist, and I still like to think I retain some characteristics of an optimist, but I am no longer the same person I was a few months back. I am aware that we are always evolving, always changing, and we don’t actually remain untouched, untainted and unchanged by the world. I began to fear that as I was starting to physically deteriorate, I would no longer find happiness and/or beauty anywhere.

When reality hits, your views on life, love, and even friendships are shaken. But then I had that moment, as I always do. That one moment, where one missing piece of the puzzle finds its way into your brain, and you realize that there is more in front of you than you could have ever understood. One day, as I was on the couch, feeling physically dead, and nonchalant, that missing puzzle piece spoke to me, and she whispered, “You are an Assistant Professor of literature now. Do you understand what that means?” She asked me why I was so numb, why I didn’t seem to embrace my happy moment. Once a dream, now my reality… this was now a part of my identity – academic identity, at least. The point where numbness and raw emotion meet, the point where they collide, that exact second when someone’s genuine love jolts your senses – something suddenly aches. I realized that it was a deep place within me, an ache that was more grateful than painful, grateful that there was depth somewhere, and I had been touched by it. I had been so alienated from the world, from myself, that I struggled to find meaning and beauty anywhere. But my missing piece reminded me. I think we all have these pieces, floating around, just waiting for us to reach out and claim them.

I think I’ll be ending all my personal posts with this: and that’s all for now.