June 29, 2016

Bravery

As a child, my mother feared that I wouldn’t be brave. She desperately wanted me to learn how to swim, but I was too scared. When she pushed me on the swing in the playground, she pushed me hard enough that I felt like I would fly out of the seat. When I yelled for her to stop, she laughed and said that nothing would happen to me. When we went to my cousin’s beach house in Northern Tehran, she carried me by force into the Caspian Sea, swimming far away from the beach, away from the shore where my cousins played with sand. Then it was just the two of us, moving through the waves, me holding onto her waist, she pushing us farther out. And suddenly my head was under water, just for a few seconds.

I remember the shock, the darkness and the salty waters as they entered my lungs and ears, and the moment that I came back above water, followed by the fear that my mother would let go of me. I held onto her with all my might. It didn’t make sense to me why should would do such a thing, when she knew how scared I was.

In a country of banned dreams and arbitrary arrests and executions, in a country where freedom was not a privilege but an illusion, my mother found her liberty in the sea. She was always first to go in, and last to come out. My mother intimidated me with her bravery because I knew about her daunting past, her five years of imprisonment in an Iranian prison, and her siblings who were executed fighting for freedom. I didn’t learn the details until I was much older and my mother and I had immigrated to the States. It was in America that my mother found her true self; and with that, she began to reveal bits of her past that as she dug through suppressed memories.

Seventeen years have gone by since our immigration, and sometimes, when I am writing, or thinking about what we used to be, I think about my mother in my childhood.

And this is the image I have of her in Tehran:

She is making black cherry jam in the kitchen and the warmth of the stove mixed with the summer heat is making her sweat. But she works diligently, adding cardamom and vanilla extract to the pot of boiling cherries. She does this every year in late June. She looks peaceful, like she can make jam indefinitely. I am sitting at the yellow, round breakfast table, waiting. Time is not yet significant, for the days are still long, and I am fascinated by the idea of being a grown up, and I am craving it, just as I crave the jam I am about to eat with my baguette and butter. I do not know that this is the last time I would see my mother as a housewife, making black cherry jam with patience. I am unaware that my mother is dreaming of America as she makes this jam, while I daydream about growing up. It is only in that kitchen of the apartment we later sell that the two of us are impervious to the world outside, to the struggles we later must accept, the separations we must endure as we take on new identities as immigrants. In our little Tehran kitchen, there is only the sweet smell of jam that lingers in the air, tangible even years later.

April 7, 2015

The Raucous Inside

There is a raucous inside me
a nuclear war
I can burst at any moment
I used to curse at my belly
as I tugged at my shirt
gripped with an unbearable ache
wishing my belly didn't exist

Where is the love?
I had to ask myself one day.
when did I stop loving myself
or did I ever start?

The raucous reminds me of the Middle East
the injustices that anger my insides
all the times I feel futile
what have I done to the Middle East?
I left
that's what I have done

We
immigrants and nonbelievers
we all turned our backs
and we all said enough is enough
we wanted freedom
we wanted to breathe without fear
of execution

What have we done to the Middle East?

There is a raucous inside me
and I bend over with arms hanging loose
my fingertips almost reaching my toes
and with an exhale comes out muffled sounds of pain
I am in the bathroom and there are people in my living room
so I am silencing my pain
and I am hurting and my belly is screaming

I am going to burst at any moment.

December 6, 2014

This Freedom Hurts

I come from Iran, a country of broken rules, arbitrary confinements. A country where the thought police prowl the streets, thought police, like Orwell’s 1984. A country where religious guards break into homes and demand answers to the most private matters, questions like, What is your relation to this man? What is your relation to this woman? Are you married? A country of unsolicited interrogations. A country unfair to women, unfair to men, unfair to the youth. A country of crushed dreams, where life happens in secret, underground parties and illegal drugs, illegal kisses, illegal sex. A country of forbidden lust. Where adulterers and homosexuals are stoned to death. A country where women are not allowed to sing.

But I came to this country 15 years ago and I heard grandiose stories of freedom, unlimited, infinite freedom, freedom of speech, freedom to choose how I am governed, freedom to voice my opinion. Freedom to do this, without fear, to write without censorship, freedom to sing.
I am grateful but...

This freedom is not as I imagined. This freedom is racist and sexist. This freedom is homophobic and Islamophobic. This freedom is inequality. This freedom has a class system. This freedom gives guns to kids. This freedom is mass shootings and tragedies, teaching boys how to kill, teaching boys how to disrespect women. This freedom demands a woman’s smile. This freedom bullies. This freedom suppresses a man’s tears. This freedom says, “You’re not man enough.” This freedom taunts, and prescribes prescription and illegal drugs and guns for protection, and self-defense and depression and domestic abuse.

This freedom is tainted. This freedom kills. This freedom kills unarmed youth because of the color of their skin. This freedom decides it is okay to let a man go free after he takes another's breath away. This freedom arrests the voices of disappointment, of anger, fear, pain. This freedom is corrupt. This freedom reminds me of the very place I left.

This freedom breaks my heart. What do we do with this freedom? Tell me. What do we do?

October 19, 2014

The bitter taste of immigration

Everything has a taste, a smell, a connection to the body, to the mind.

Immigration- the state of moving from one body to another, but carrying the same soul.

For the first few years, immigration was my mother’s home-cooked, saffron-infused Persian meals, bland due to my father’s non-fat diet. Bland and spice-less, saltless, forgettable and yet unforgiving of forever remaining the bitter taste of immigration.
Immigration was my father's state of being, my father, whose fragile veins led him to America where doctors repaired him. His survival led way to his permanent residence in the States. My father, whose hatred for the Iranian regime stained the living room, the walls of our home when he cursed the television as the national anthem played.

My immigration embarrassed me, shamed and belittled me, made me feel inadequate, incompetent, insignificant. I had no words to express anger toward losing a country that at the time had done me no wrong. My mother always recalls those first years, “you stopped laughing,” she says with guilt, as if my inabilities were all her doing.

The discomfort of unfamiliarity constantly tore at my heart, like when we went grocery shopping and my parents' English faltered. I stood watching words slip out of my father's mouth, slippery and unconvincing. I watched my father struggle, and it was worse than his weak knees when he was ill before the surgeries, when his pace became slower, when he had trouble walking up stairs. This struggle, the one I related to, would remain a barrier for him, for as much he maintained and obsessed over his health, he never once attempted to mend his broken English - maybe because his heart too was broken beyond repair from the years he fathered his children alone, he the husband of an imprisoned wife. My father didn’t try to learn the new ways of American living. Instead he sank deeper and deeper into an unbreakable silence. He gave in to his new acquired power: his unspoken words.

Immigrant soul is weighted with loss and it’s tainted and filled with chaos
Immigrant soul has anger, and sorrow and melancholy
But also beauty and joy and freedom
Immigrant soul is heavy with nostalgia
But when it reaches lightness and contentment and confidence
Immigrant soul is at peace,
No longer at war with itself, its surroundings

Today, my immigrant soul is at peace.

June 8, 2014

Amendable heart

An immigrant’s heart is amendable. It sees a lot, goes through a variety of stages, changes, permutations. From one country to another, through different cities, towns, alleys, streets, corners, an immigrant’s heart is constantly moving.

An immigrant’s heart is always in battle, looking to belong, to love, to find a home. It seeks desperately and with passion, for it’s been torn from its homeland, from the familiar, the known. It seeks stability and certainty; it’s tired from being on the run.

Its wounds are open, never quite healed. Sometimes this heart begs for the homeland, begs for a familiar smell, a touch, even a name like the local pastry shop. But it learns, rather quickly, that there is no point dwelling on something long gone. There is no point in sorrow, in what’s lost, for the new heart has much to gain in the new land.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

I have fallen in love, but only once hard. I’ve encountered possible loves, but they were only fleeting. My heart then learned to amend itself, to reopen and renew itself. I always think nothing is as hard or as bitter or as painful as immigration. If I can find a new country, a new language, a new version of myself that never existed before, if I can teach to love myself as two beings, if I can teach myself the confidence to use my freedom to become a version of myself I enjoy being, then I can amend a broken heart. It hurts still when I think hard about it. When I remember the memories we made, the words we exchanged, even the silences, it still hurts. But my heart refuses to close up. I won’t lock it up. I will forever love, and love and love.

I walked out of the J train the other day. It was early evening and suddenly I was shaken by a very familiar, sweet smell: the smell of the ocean and fire burning at the end of a summer night. It wasn't nostalgia for the Caspian Sea, but a comfort knowing that I was able to recall an old smell without wanting to burst into tears. It was a comfort knowing that I still remembered, but no longer with pain.

It's been a hard battle of the heart to learn to let go in a positive way. It's been 15 years of struggling, of amending, of recreating a different version of myself. It was always imperfect, the vision I had. I was constantly depriving myself of pride and joy, thinking I wasn't good enough, that I wasn't assimilated enough, that I didn't know enough, that I hand't accomplished enough. But enough was enough. I had to learn to love myself and accept that it would never be perfect.

New York has helped me find that love. I've challenged my heart and soul in many ways. And I feel at home now, alas. I feel more at peace with what I've become. I still long after love, I chase it and curse it for always being so fleeting. But as I am stubborn, I refuse to give up. I leave my immigrant heart open, and I let it breathe in all of which I witness and experience.

My immigrant heart always beats.

April 9, 2014

Letter to an artist

I hope you are okay, and if you don't feel okay, that's okay too. I believe you will be one day.

There is an epidemic of depression among us, but I don't believe it is only within our generation. I have met and know older people who suffer from it. I won't excuse it then by reducing it to a "generational" issue. I feel that if you live with your mind and your heart, you will naturally feel the depression. You know you want more. You want to make a screwed up world a better place. You want to make a change, a difference. You told me you don't feel successful and I think you've created unrealistic definitions of "success" and "normal." Who told you what normal is? And at the end of the day, why does it matter when you are what you want to be. But in order to be what you want to be you have to get help to get rid of all that sadness that blocks you. You think you can't see beauty anymore. I think you can. Beauty is within you and even the ugly things we see, underneath there was once beauty. So just acknowledging them is significant. You see beauty when you create music, when you spend time with your family, when you smile at a stranger on the train, when you are touched by someone's voice, even if at the end of the song you are saddened.

You have to accept your shortcomings and inexperience. It's not your "flaws." There is nothing wrong with you or your soul. I know that you care, for I have seen it.

You've got friends who love you, let them love you. More importantly love yourself. If you don't feel successful, then take a piece of paper and write down your dreams, the things you absolutely must do before you die. I know you have dreams. There is nothing wrong with you but if you believe there is, then you've created that wrongness. I don't want to preach here. I just want you to live fully because i hate to see you sad. I hate to see a talented person feel so down that his talents don't get shared with the world. Share your love. Someone out there will be inspired, believe me.

I think creating music alone, creating beats and rhythm is making a difference. It's the little things that add up to something great and magnificent. You share it with a singer or a rapper and you don't even acknowledge what a gift you gave them, bringing more life into their words.

It's okay to be sad. I feel it within me everyday. But I don't want you drowning in it. It's really not worth it, for this life is too damn short. And age is just a number my friend. You have got so much more ahead it is silly to even dwell on two digits.

If you take nothing away from my ramblings at least take a minute to think about it. Think about the bigger picture and the things that really matter, like YOU.

February 23, 2014

Silences

Silence weighs me down the way my father's absence did when I was eight and terrified of a suddenly unstable home. Silence weighs me down the way my father's empty chair did, and the short, distant, broken phone calls we made across seas. My father left Tehran for the States not only to heal his physically ill body, but to escape a country whose bloodshed had wounded him so deep he didn't, couldn't imagine his children continuing to live there. Upon a visit to Tehran, his lungs could not manage to sustain the polluted air that everyone else breathed day and night. Silence weighs me down recalling the night of his second departure where I stayed up all night crying, praying to a God that existed then.

Silence weighs me down the way third grade did when we wrote essays in our quiet classroom, and the moments after daily prayer where I could hear everyone breathing-in the somber, heavy air. I recall the cold winter mornings when I walked alone to school, my stomach in knots, dreading the awful silent walls of the classroom.

Silence weighed me down all throughout childhood when no one in my family explained why every cousin had a prison story to tell, why my mother appeared so nonchalant after having lost three siblings to the brutal bullets of Iran's dictators. Or why she couldn't remember most of what happened to her during her five years of imprisonment. No one spoke about the dead, no one reminisced. Silence weighed me down in such a censored world where we were taught to not trust, to not express, to not remember the past.

Silence weighs me down now as an adult, when old friends disappear without cause, when lovers run away with fear, when my mother hesitates to tell me someone has passed away.

So I break this silence with my words, for I do not wish to be weighed down any longer.

September 18, 2013

Break

It's hard to break an immigrant, and by "break", I mean make her feel defeated. You can break her heart, for that's universal. But you can't break her soul; she has worked too hard to get to where she is. She endured many transformations and assimilations. She had to make sense of everything in a new way, and as a child immigrant, love was never her concern. Her concern was learning to accept her new self, to love the person she was now free to become. Her concern was to learn to speak up, to break her family's silence, to break limited traditions and find her voice in a country that banned individuality. Those were her concerns, not love.

Once adulthood hit, she then realized "love" was becoming a concern. It was like another battle she had to win. Her heart broke at a later age than her non-immigrant peers and she had a harder time accepting that people could be deceitful, that they could lie, hurt, cheat, and abandon her. She despised, dreaded the feeling of abandonment. It was rooted deep within her as a child, and grew as more people left the country that was once a homeland. Abandonment is a common event in an immigrant's life.

...

She goes for runs across the bridge. On the island, she is surrounded on both sides by water, and the beautiful sights that make New York what it is remind her that she can not break. She must keep going. A heart can eventually heal; people come into one's life, not necessarily to stay, but to inspire, or make one realize something they hadn't known before. People, she learned, were not always permanent. And as much as that truth hurt in its own way, she decided to cope with it and remain strong, and when she ran she felt the strongest. Unlike the permanent tattoo below her heart that contains the names of loved ones she never met, most things are impermanent. Some are worth fighting for to keep, others are best abandoned.

Yes, abandonment was now a word she accepted.

August 18, 2013

Dancing with Strangers

The older man who danced with me taught me how one holds his partner's hand properly. You don't interlock your fingers with your dance partner's, but leave your hand open, palms touching loosely, thumbs touching so that when he spins you around you find your way back, in his arms.

"Nice, good!" he said a few times after I learned.

I danced with this stranger and as I leaned my head against his chest, I had the desire, though fleeting, to close my eyes. We didn't exchange anything, just sounds resembling a name, a few nods of affirmation, and smiles. We didn't exchange truths; we exchanged a dance that will remain a sweet memory of one Saturday night.

I like dancing with strangers.

June 24, 2013

Love Me Love Me

My mother was never in love with my father.

"We didn't concern ourselves with "love" the way your generation does," my mother said.

We are too consumed by love, with falling in love, being in love, wanting to be loved. Every morning as my train moves across the Williamsburg Bridge, I see the graffitti on a building that reads "Love Me. Love Me." It makes me smile, but it also makes me sad as it reminds me of broken hearts- not just mine, but of people I know.

I was telling a friend that I want to be in love, that I don't want my mother's kind of love, the kind you grow to feel without much thought. Despite her seemingly satisfied self and contentment with my father and her grown children, I rather have the heart breaks than be just satisfied and not "in love".

And yet who defined this idea of falling in love? If no one ever bothered defining it, we wouldn't be so consumed by it, and there would be no broken hearts. After all, how can a heart break?

"Love Me. Love Me". It's a demand we make when really, we should be loving ourselves first.

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