starting over

I used to write here a lot, then I wrote here a little, then I stopped writing here altogether, mostly because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to write about anymore. Sometimes I would write about books and sometimes I would write about weird things I came across on the internet (or weird things others came across on the internet that they wanted me to write about) and sometimes I would write about assorted miscellany like words or my family or dating or sex tips from Cosmo. I’m still not exactly sure what I want to write about, but I do know that I want to write.

So I don’t know what having a presence here is anymore, but it seems a shame to abandon the one project I’ve had going on for longer than any other. That project is this blog, which has existed in one form or another since the late 1990s. I suppose if I were to have found internet fame, I would’ve done so long before now, since I’m hovering around 15 years of being out here in pixels. I don’t mind not being famous, and in fact am happy I’m not, though there’s a strangeness about creating in a space where the currency of something is based on how many likes or responses it gets, and I think that, at least for me, at least some of the time, kind of screws with the genuineness of the creation.

I suppose what matters is that I used to be something of a creative type, and at some point during the past year, I forgot what I want to say. Or, that’s not entirely accurate. I started questioning whether or not anything I said was worth saying (here and in the case of the photos I used to take), which makes it hard to want to say anything at all. What it comes down to is that I may indeed be a talentless hack who is full of crap, but then, have you looked at the internet lately? Exactly. So I don’t see why that should stop me.

I’ll figure it out, one way or another.

In the meantime, hi. I’m 34, my hair is turning more gray than I’d like, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently thinking about whether or not I am interested in venturing into the world of eye cream moisturizer stuff. I almost always order dessert, and when I don’t, it’s because I’m too full to enjoy it. I work with electronic medical record software, and no, I never saw that coming. I own a lot of cardigans. I like all babies and dogs, but cats and kids who are older than babies are on a case-by-case basis. I am moody and sentimental and opinionated. Cheese gives me indigestion (this makes me sad). I’ve written the beginnings of several pieces of fiction that I will never finish. I’m still not living up to my potential.

But for here, for now, I’m going to try to write some stuff (I said I would write stuff this year, and here it is, April, and this is the first time I’ve written a post in 2014). I’ll try for once a week and see how that goes.

I guess that’s all. Good day.

old year, new year

Last year around this time, I was having lunch with a friend I’ve known since I was 11 or so, and his wife and kids. I hadn’t seen them in quite awhile, since they now live in Kijabe, Kenya, and do very good work. At the end of lunch, when we were hugging goodbye and getting ready to go, Andy said to me, “Next year at this time, you won’t be the same person.” I don’t know if I’m the same or different — I think yes and no to both — but I do know that 2013 has been quite a year.

All years are, they are really something, these collections of days, but 2013 has been one I’ll remember forever, for the good and the bad, though now that I’m here on the very last day, I’m not sure I need to recap. I’ve done a fair bit of recapping already this year. There were big things, like not having cancer but having to go through all the steps necessary to find out that I indeed didn’t have cancer. There was the death of my father, which I guess I’ve made as much peace with as I can — since there wasn’t a funeral or a monument to visit, I decided I needed to come up with something on my own, and found an artist on Etsy who makes jewelry from photographs of handwriting. I’d found, in my old wallet, a note my dad had left on my door one day when he came to see me and I wasn’t home (it didn’t say anything other than his name, along with a phone number and the time he dropped by), and asked her to create a piece from his name. It’s a lovely bracelet now, and reminder that we usually didn’t connect, but we tried.

But like any year, it was mostly small things — going to work and coming home and spending time with friends and spending time alone and going to concerts and going to museums (and being simultaneously irritated and amused by the astounding number of people who walk through galleries with iPads in front of their faces taking photos — let’s face it, they won’t be good photos — of the artworks instead of ever putting them down for a second and, I don’t know, maybe just looking at the art they paid to see, but then everybody enjoys things differently, I suppose) and and and.

And now it’s over.

Tonight, I’m going to a small gathering, and tomorrow will be the first day of 2014. I’m not usually one for making resolutions, at least not at the turn of the calendar, because I think it’s a fairly silly exercise, but I do have a few things I’m looking forward to doing and not doing this coming year.

1. Approach my body with kindness instead of criticism. It’s diet season, and dammit, I am not jumping on that bandwagon in order to spend all of January hungry and grumpy so that I can fall off the wagon in February and hate myself, because that’s already been done, and I’d rather be original. I’ve been fatter and thinner than I am right now (I’m sort of hovering at that weight my body rests at when I mostly don’t eat particularly well or move particularly much), and no matter where I’ve been, I’ve always looked at myself so critically. Everything I’ve done for the physical shape I’m in, all my life, either good or bad, has always come from a negative place, and I realized (while having a little think about how much kale can go fuck itself) that I’m tired of it. I’d like to just take care of myself, not based out of fear of going up a size, but because when I like something, I take care of it, and I should extend that courtesy to myself. And also because I am seriously never giving up chocolate for anything ever, and in my world, eating chocolate is a kindness.

2. Create more. In general, I think I’m a fairly creative person, but this year, my artistic output has been pathetically small. I made a series of photos earlier this year that I like a lot, but otherwise, I haven’t done much. I don’t like that about myself, so I think instead of passively not liking it, I’d rather just make stuff, because ultimately, it’s fun, and I’m a big fan of fun.

Those are two things I think I should work on this coming year, so basically, eat chocolate and write more? Something? I should probably also get better about answering emails, but I say that to myself all the time, and I still suck at answering emails, so I think I might be a lost cause there.

Anyway, maybe I’m a different person than I was last year at this time, and maybe I’m not. Maybe I’ll be a different person next year at this time, and maybe I won’t. I’m not going to put out any projections, like that this coming year is going to be great or amazing or terrible or anything other than a collection of days, but I hope the good will outweigh the bad, that I’ll laugh more than I’ll cry (not that there’s anything wrong with crying, but it does tend to get old), that I’ll make some great memories with the people I love. That’s good, I think.

And I wish the same for you. Happy new year.

the thankful list, 2013

Oh hello. Once again, I figure I should at least keep up with annual tradition posts, even if now my blog is dead. Having written that sentence, I realize it doesn’t make any sense, because if my blog is dead, there’s really no point in keeping up with any posts, but I’m fine with nonsense. It’s a good time to think about being thankful, not so much because it’s a holiday dedicated to that sort of thing, but because I’ve been pretty cranky lately, and… eh, might as well de-crank, if only for a few paragraphs.

So.

Right now, I am thankful for my grandmother, even if every conversation we have always devolves into why I’m not married, but I can’t get married because then she wouldn’t have anything to say to me. She’s 99, and I go visit her (mostly) every Sunday, and I often look at a picture of her from when she first moved into assisted living and think about how, even in just a couple of years, she is so completely different. She’s still an amazing lady, just a different amazing lady than the one who helped raise me (except for when she tells me I should lose weight or brush my hair, because then she’s exactly the same as always). I’m thankful she was able to come spend Thanksgiving in my house today.

I’m thankful for my job, which is totally different than what it was a year ago. It’s much harder than I thought it would be, and I have had to learn so many things. When I was younger, if anyone told me that I’d spend a lot of time thinking about data and training people how to use software, I would’ve laughed and laughed. Honestly, I thought I’d be some kind of artist. And I’m no kind of artist, but even though it’s about computery stuff most of the time, I do appreciate how creative I have the room to be. The downside is that now I spend time thinking about work when I’m not working. Even this afternoon during dinner, people were talking about normal things, and I was thinking about drop down menus and reports. I need to get out more.

And I’m thankful that the insurance I have through work isn’t all judgey and will pay for birth control. I’ve had a hell of a year, health-wise, and last November I was prescribed hormonal birth control because I suddenly started bleeding all the time, which is both terribly unpleasant and too much information, but I can’t think of anything I hate more than neverending periods. Talk about my idea of hell. (While I’m being all TMI, let me go ahead and share that this past summer I bled for 3 weeks straight, but I didn’t drive myself off a cliff. I AM A SURVIVOR, PEOPLE.) Anyway, it’s been a lot of ups and downs, hormone-wise, but I think I’m finally on a pill that both keeps it in my uterus (until placebo week, at least) and doesn’t make me cry non-stop, so that’s a win. The funny part about having gone through so many hormonal changes is that my hair has turned completely straight as a board. But only in one spot. Because if it were straight all over, then it wouldn’t be the communist hair that I am known for.

While on the subject of my health, I’m thankful I don’t have cancer. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that, but it bears repeating.

This has nothing to do with anything, but I’m thankful for that feature on Facebook where you can hide all of another person’s posts. Brilliant, that.

I wish I could be thankful for lovely weather, but it’s cold and snowy which is not lovely. I’m straying. Um. I’m thankful that I haven’t had to drive to work in any blizzards this year. Yet.

I’m thankful for my bathroom. Earlier this year, I was in the basement and noticed water dripping from the ceiling, which was the floor right underneath my bathtub and I thought something along the lines of “Well, fuck.” A couple of weeks ago, a contractor came in and put in a new floor, walls, shower, everything. It’s very peaceful in there, and I also don’t have to worry about falling through the floor into the basement every time I shower, which is a definite bonus. The house is mostly put back together now, and I’m really thankful that everything is working and okay and all in one room. I’m so thankful I don’t have to brush my teeth in the kitchen anymore.

I’m thankful for road trips with friends, having co-workers who get my Monty Python references, the candy basket in the tech room (though maybe I shouldn’t be thankful for that because Starburst is like fruit-flavored crack and I think I have a problem), wine after work, cuddles with Sweet Pea, lazy Sunday afternoons doing nothing but watching Doctor Who (except now I’m caught up now and I guess I need a new Sunday afternoon show), all the times my morning oatmeal doesn’t boil over in the microwave at work, trips to Sephora for things that sparkle, that it’s only going to be like 6 months until it gets warm again, mashed potatoes with lots of butter, and chap stick.

It’s been a tough year, but I’m stubborn enough to keep on going. That’s reason to be thankful, I think. And when I’m not cranky, I am. Thankful.

thirty four

Well, hey there. It seems like only a week or so ago, it was the beginning of July, and now here my birthday is again, which means that it’s September and fall is a little over a week away. I’m not really sure how that happened, except of course that time keeps on going, regardless of how much attention I’m not paying to it, because that’s what time does. There were some really good things and some really bad things, which is fairly normal for a year. In fact, I think all years could be summed up the same way, and what differentiates this year from all the others are the things. Yes, I know that 1) that’s terribly ineloquent, and 2) it is also true of every other year ever. But I guess even if I can’t update my blog for months at a time, I can still do the annual birthday post at least.

...and I can also do the annual birthday self-portrait, about which I have very little to say, except hi!

…and I can also do the annual birthday self-portrait, about which I have very little to say, except hi!

So, to sum up:

Last year at this time, I was looking for a new job. I didn’t hate my old job, but I needed a change. And health insurance. So I was sending out resumes and not holding my breath. About two months later, I got a new job. For the same organization, but an entirely new position in a different building. It was the change I needed, and it came with health insurance, and check out how things work out sometimes. I didn’t officially transfer over to the new position until January, and looking back now, I am surprised and happy with how far I’ve come in what is just a matter of months. People ask me what I do for a living and I try to explain, because it’s a million things, it seems, and a lot of them involve data and spreadsheets and reports and conversations about data and spreadsheets and reports, and these are things which tend to make people’s eyes glaze over, so I stick to the one thing that is the least eye-glaze-over-y, which is that I do a lot with electronic medical record software. It boils down to making sure that everybody can do their stuff, basically. I like what I do a lot, and I’m glad that I get to do it, even on the days when it totally stresses me out.

I also got to be in a play this year, which was a lovely experience (even on the days when it totally stressed me out — a theme!). I had a small role in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it was my first time being in a play in approximately 100 years. I got to wear some pretty fantastic jewelry and in one scene I got to carry a very heavy rifle, which was really very heavy indeed, and I had a lot of fun. It was more fun wearing the fantastic jewelry than carrying the rifle, but the entire experience was great. Theater used to be such a big part of my life when I was younger, and it made me happy to return.

There was, of course, the bit with cancer, though — thank god — it turned out I didn’t have cancer. I will always have a two-inch-long scar on my left breast as a reminder to be grateful because it just as easily could’ve gone the other way, and I’d be living a different story now. I always took not having cancer for granted, because not having cancer is a default setting, but I don’t anymore. I’m thankful every time I get dressed in the morning and see that scar. I’m not only thankful for not having cancer, though believe you me, I AM SO THANKFUL FOR THAT, but I’m also thankful for the people in my life who were there for me during every scary step. God, I love the people in my life, so much sometimes I feel like my heart could explode.

And about six weeks after wrapping up the episode of Do I Have a Potentially Life-Threatening Disease?, I learned that my father had died. I learned this news on Father’s Day, so I may possibly hate Father’s Day forever, and I guess I’ll see how I feel the next time it rolls around. People have asked how I’m doing with that, and I’m okay, mostly. I won’t make it through this paragraph without crying, but maybe you’ll have better luck than I have. That night, after that horrible, blurry afternoon when my cousin broke the news to me, I went home, and a friend came over to see me. We went for a drive, and then a walk, and then we wound up sitting in the park by the waterfall. I looked out at the field where kids used to play soccer, but it has, over the past few years, turned into a soggy marshland, and that night, the tall grasses were full of fireflies. And I thought how terrible it is to be alive, and how beautiful. Sometimes it’s more terrible, and sometimes it’s more beautiful, and you know? Sometimes it’s a toss-up.

I don’t know how I’m doing about that, about my dad, about not being able to figure out how to say goodbye in any sort of meaningful way that makes me feel like I have some closure. I guess I’m doing as well as I can do. But I’ll be honest. My heart broke that day. My heart has broken before, and it always heals, but it’s never the same again.

But yeah, I’m okay, mostly.

And hey, it’s not all death and cancer scares! Aside from the new job and the play (and the death and the cancer scare), I have had some fun. I’ve looked at art, bought some fantastic shoes, read some good books. I’ve gone to the movies and to the beach. I’ve seen Soundgarden (my teenage rock icons, and I was so close to the stage that when I thought I made eye contact with Chris Cornell for a second, I may even not have been entirely delusional), Ben Folds (seriously, he did a plank on the piano), Dawes (it was a good show and also it was sweltering in there) and Yeah Yeah Yeahs (I really am pretty sure that Karen O is a ninja… a water-spitting, glitter-confetti-throwing, giggling ninja). There have been haircuts and pedicures and nights out where I’m at the table with the people having way too much fun. There has been beer and there has been ice cream, though I don’t think ever at the same time, which is probably for the best. I’ve reconnected with some old friends, and made some new friends and realized how great all of them are. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried and I’ve laughed until I cried and I’ve cried until I laughed.

And it’s been a year. And that living thing, I just keep doing it. And now I’m 34, holy shit, but I still get carded sometimes, so I guess it’s ok, even if my hair is grayer and sometimes when I stand up after I’ve been sitting for awhile my knees make wonderful popping noises.

Also, David Sedaris is so happy I’m alive.

It’s terrible and it’s beautiful and I’m happy about it too.

letter to my father number eight*

Dear Daddy,

I go to work every day — I said it would probably be best to be busy — and it turns out that work is a good place to be busy. I’m so busy these days that I don’t have time to think of anything other than how busy I am. Between answering emails and teasing out answers to questions from all the rules and validations built into our electronic medical record software, I go to meetings and sit in on conference calls and all of it keeps me from thinking how fucking angry I am when I’m not pretending that I’m not terribly sad.

I know it’s just a phase, and it’ll pass. It’s a documented part of the process. I’ve managed to move beyond thinking that this all somehow has been some terrible mistake and that you’ll show up any day now on my porch and ask why I didn’t call, then rattle off my phone number, asking if it’s still the same, like phones don’t work two ways. I know that was my brain tricking me and that you are, in fact, dead. I know also that it’s completely stupid to write you a letter here, now, but it’s okay to be stupid sometimes, I suppose, and I don’t know what else to do.

I have all of this, here, in these moments when I’m not so busy and I have time to think about things other than being busy. I’ve thought of you every day, of the things I remember about you, of the stories I have of you. I think about telling the stories, about how I should force you out of my memory and into the memories of others, and then I think about how short my list of memories is, and how I don’t want to tell the stories because I know I’ll reach the end of them and then there won’t be any more.

You were always good at leaving. And damn you if you didn’t do it again. You always left too soon, and now this. And you won’t ever know that for the most part, I’m doing okay for myself these days. I have a good job in an actual career field that I stumbled into sideways and never would’ve pictured myself enjoying and yet even though I get overwhelmed with how much there is to do and how much I have to learn, it feels like a good fit for my love of projects and processes and puzzles. I have a house, I have a car (though presently, I do not have my car because someone backed into it a couple of weeks ago and now it is being repaired so I have a rental car that is very very red). I have great friends, some of whom only ever heard of you, like you were an urban legend. I’ve spent the past decade-and-then-some digging myself out of what a mess I was back a decade-and-then-some ago. Yeah. You know. I’m doing okay.

I know you wanted me to get married and have kids (just like my grandma! and David Sedaris), because Arabs are family-oriented people, and here I am, in my 30s, unmarried and childless. And you weren’t into dogs, so Sweet Pea doesn’t count, I suppose. I only ever fall in love with men who are primarily absent and who leave, and I suppose that somewhere in that is proof that I’m really fucked up, but I prefer to think it’s because I like both my space and a challenge.

I smile like you. I wonder if other people who knew you see it, when my nose crinkles. I see your face in mine, even though we didn’t look alike, really. I wonder what other ways I am like you, if there are other ways I am like you. I don’t know if I’ll ever know.

The thing that kills me, the thing that squeezes my heart like a fist until it feels like smashed pulp, is that I am your daughter and I don’t really know you. It’s your fault, but it’s mine, too. I’ve heard that you asked about me a lot, but you never called me. I never called you either, even though I had a number where I could’ve reached you in Yemen, I never called it, not once after that time we last spoke — when was it? October? November? — and I should’ve. Because the one thing I did know was that you meant well, but I was almost always going to have to be the one to reach out, and I didn’t do it.

They say that regret is a waste of time, but I think some things are worth it. It’s worth it to me to regret you, and the fact that I didn’t do my part. Your heart quit on you before I got over myself. Life has inconsiderate timing, but death is even worse. I will regret that forever. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so goddamn fucking sorry. And I know it’s not worth much to be sorry now, but I have to tell you anyway, even though now it doesn’t do either of us any good.

I don’t know what else to say. I will be alright. This isn’t the first time in my life that I have missed you, after all. I know how to live without a dad, and I wish it had been different, but it wasn’t and now it won’t be. In all your absence, there was a gift, too, and I know it, and I appreciate it, for what it’s worth. Thank you for giving me the freedom to grow into a person you didn’t understand. You never tried to control me, not even when you could’ve, and even though it meant that we never found a place where we were entirely comfortable with each other, I know you loved me and you knew I love you too. I hope your life was a happy one and that you enjoyed more than you didn’t.

I don’t know much about you, but I do know one thing. Whenever I smile, for the rest of my life, I will look like you.

Love,
Jamelah

________________________________________________________________________________________________

*letters to my father one through seven were poems, the last one of which was written on Father’s Day 10 years ago.

A lifetime ago, I used to write poems, and among the hundreds of poems I wrote was a series — I think there were seven or eight — called “letter to my father” that was to my dad, full of questions I never asked him, and things I never told him. I don’t write poems anymore, because I seem to have lost touch with my ability or will to do so, but I’ve been thinking of those poems since yesterday.

My father died. I don’t know when, exactly. A couple of weeks, in Arab time, could mean last week or it could mean a month ago or it could mean a couple of weeks. He was in Yemen, which is where he’d been for the past two and a half years, give or take a few months, and he had a heart attack. That is what I know. He was planning to come back to the States, I knew that also, and yesterday I thought I’d look him up and see if he’d made it back yet or if anybody was aware of an estimated time of arrival. What I learned instead is that he’s gone.

There’s no funeral I can attend, or nearby grave where I can take flowers, and this, here, may be all I have. Of course, I don’t really know what to write. He was my father, and he failed me, and I was his daughter, and I failed him, but we loved each other. That was the last thing we told each other, months ago on the phone. “I love you,” he said. “I love you too, daddy,” I told him.

My father immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. He was lanky, and he seemed incredibly tall. He wasn’t actually incredibly tall, but he seemed that way, due in part to the aforementioned lankiness, but also due to the way he carried himself. People would stop and watch him when he entered a room, in part, I suppose, because he was handsome, but mostly I think because that was the thing to do: he had a presence that demanded attention. He was proud, and never fully comfortable in English, because he didn’t sound like a native when he spoke it, because the words didn’t come easily, so he could be on the quiet side, but he had a deep, deep voice, the sound of which I hope I never forget. He had an expressive face and an easy grin. He had an intense stare and fascinating eyes, dark dark brown with a small ring of blue around the outside edge of the irises. His hands shook. He put honey on pancakes and nearly lethal amounts of sugar in his coffee.

What does that say? Not much, as it happens. I am the oldest of his children. I have a half brother and half sister. I have a cousin who is like a brother; my father raised him like his own son when my uncle died. My dad wanted me to go to Yemen. He wanted to show me where he was from. He wanted all of his family together. I never went, which was a disappointment to him. I always said “someday” and it never came. The family has never all been in one place.

I don’t think he ever quite knew what to do with me, which is what he told my mom on more than one occasion. I never quite knew what to do with him, either, and because we’re cut from the same cloth, that meant we dealt with it by not doing much of anything. I always thought I had time, that I would figure out a way for us to make sense to each other, and I waited and waited for that epiphany to come. I know that it’s the biggest lie any of us ever believe, that we have time to put things off, that we can wait for circumstances to line themselves up just so. But there’s never enough time to love a person. I should’ve tried harder. And he should’ve, too.

I’ve lived so much of my life without my father, spent so much time being angry at him because he wasn’t who I wanted him to be. And now he’s gone and I can’t have any of that time back. Reaching out in love is always the right thing to do, no matter how hard it is, and the chances to do so aren’t infinite. It turns out that we are all mortal after all.

I don’t know what else to write.

the lesson of curtains

DSC_0747-edited

It’s been an interesting weekend, one that started with a long drive home and is wrapping up with the excitement of doing laundry, because it’s always a good idea to have clean clothes to wear. This afternoon, I was making my bed, and I had the windows open. The breeze was coming through my bedroom curtains, and they kept drifting gauzy and dreamy over the end of my mattress. I pulled out my camera and sat at my desk chair and watched the curtains, snapping a photo once in awhile when the breeze would move them. I’ve taken several photos of those curtains; I love them for the way they play in the breeze that comes through the open windows, love the way they filter the light. Every time I’d put the camera down, the wind would really move them, and they’d flutter gracefully, and I’d think there’s a shot, but by the time I got my camera back up to my eye, they’d rest placidly against the window frame. This went on for maybe a half an hour, just watching the curtains and the breeze do their thing together, taking a photo when I thought I might catch an interesting curve of fabric against its invisible dance partner. I did alright, got a photo that I liked, and then I stopped. I processed it, I uploaded it. Done and done.

And now, as I sit here writing, the wind has picked up and the curtains are just so lovely and I’d really love to share. The light is different now, though, and that changes everything. Things are always changing, after all, but in lucky times, they stay beautiful.

It’s a lucky time right now, and I’m happy for it.