The Greatest Gift I Ever Got

When I was eight, my whole life turned around (for the first time in what would be a few more times to come). I left home, school, and country behind to start life in a different home, school, and country. The most important difference though was that my dad became a daily part of that life, with everything he had to offer.

My dad wasn’t the ‘I’m gonna tell you what to do and you’re gonna do it ” type of dad. He liked to give incentives! And he hated seeing us watch TV. So,  one day he made us a deal (my little brother and I). For every one hundred pages we read we could ask to do or get anything we wanted. I remember my first one hundred pages – they felt like Everest. Eventually though, it became a part of who I was. He found that soon enough he had to move the target up  - to five hundred pages, and then one thousand pages. And, somewhere near the end of elementary school he silently quit! His mission had been accomplished.

Soon enough, I realized that my dad’s gift to me wasn’t the teenie-tiny gifts, and neither was it the entertainment I got from reading short stories and novels. His gift to me was that of empowerment. It was the knowledge that was only a few pages away, the language with which I learned to express myself, and it was power and insight all in one. It was the gift of a brilliant parent to an unsuspecting child. It was the greatest gift of all time.

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Random Musings after midnight – about truth and existence

In an effort to define the undefinable and understand the indescribable, I write to ask a few questions about existence, truth, and reality and the imaginary thread that weaves the three words together in our minds…

As we look upon the words through the narrow lenses of our existence, we perceive a reality that we deem to be a truth… yet the ultimate truth – the bare object facts requires an unbiased onlooker, most likely God or a god depending on your beliefs and your own version of the truth.

And so it is from this thought that I interact with those around me. There is no reality, no ultimate truth, and no real undeniable universal reason for our existence; only a faith that some invisible world balance must be kept, and we are all revolving particles in this balance.

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How you changed my life

Here is a list of things I never told you, and I don’t know if you would have guessed or not. But before I met you, I was just another girl, nothing that stood out, not in my own mind’s eye at least. I was okay looking but I had my good days, I was awkward but I’d gotten used to it, and I was smart enough to get by but never felt I had the extra push to make me different. (In retrospect, I realize I cringed at the very idea of standing out)

Sure, I joked about an inflated ego and boundless brains and beauty, but that was a cover. Maybe some saw through it, maybe others believed it. I never cared. As long as I had a cover. And as the years progressed I worked on that cover, and quite well I can say. I learned what clothes looked better on me and wore them, I pruned what I said; I learned to smile big for pictures, and to turn my insecurities into funny jokes.
I worked until I liked what other people saw. And I felt safe. It was not lying and nothing fake, but just a painted picture on top of the black and white sketch. I always saw my flaws and instead of working at fixing them, I worked at covering them first and
saved the fixing for later.

Here’s what happened when I met you though. You saw straight through the cover. The problem is you did not stop at the flawed picture in my mind, you reached deeper. You saw the person. You saw someone beautiful despite the awkwardness. You saw someone smart. You saw someone capable. You saw someone I never met. You brought to my eyes a picture closer to the truth (as I later learned), and a picture I had never seen. You appreciated my every quality, you saw my highest potential. And so I told you that you did not really know me that well.

Even more you wanted me to play a role center stage in your life where I would be an active member not a passive observer. But after a decade of practice I certainly preferred the hiding.  I liked being the person right next to the center. My comfort zone. I never had reason to step out.

The reasons I am telling you this today are two.

One – it took a tremendous change in life experience and roles like the one I have been through this last year for me to be able to see the person that you saw.

Two – So that you would understand why I don’t think that idiot is good enough for my best friend. He does not give her the confidence, and strength  that you gave me in myself as an intelligent proactive beautiful young woman. He does not appreciate the beauty of her qualities, and it’s unfortunate that she’s unaware of them herself. ( We are all haunted by images of our weaknesses, and we forget that others are imperfect too). You’ve changed my paradigm, what I expect for myself, and what I believe women the world around should know they deserve.
A lot of this is cliched, but the sincerity is in the experience .

I am writing this here today to say thank you.
And to ask you to forgive me the pain I’ve caused you as I grew up and out of my shell.
And to let you know that with all of my heart I love you and wish you the best.

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Random Musings II – Madness, Reality, States of Mind..

A rush of Adrenaline….A drop in Serotonin….

excess Dopamine……. a bit of Morphine….

.

Simple chemistry your state of mind?

 

…Inspiration……….

…………..Happiness….

Imagination……..

……Dopamine?

…………………Boredom…Hopelessness…

………….Sadness….

Serotonin??

…Wonder….Passion…. Excitement…

Adrenaline??

 

……How about Love…?Trust….? Awe…?

…………………..Hope….Fear……Faith…Loss?

Pain……..Anxiety….? Loneliness….Resentment?

 

Simple Chemistry. Easily fixed.

 

Freedom in my madness.

Imprisonment in your sanity.

 

Tamed Imaginations…

………….Altered worlds.

Feelings forced to yield.

…Wild dreams made to kneel.

 

Lacking authenticity.

 

………I am the puppet. My mind, the puppeteer.

 

With my Imaginary hopes,

and my Repressed fears…

..With my Tailored dreams…

I’m Holding on.

 

My groomed reality.

Now Worthy of your world.

 

My mind, now a puppet.

Your drugs, the puppeteer.

 

My lost reality.

Freedom in your sanity.

 

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Random musings I

The sad truth is that with all our  accomplishments as a species, human beings like all living things must and will always die. Our lives are filled with meaningless goals because we overlook one tiny detail – that is that between this life and the next lies a single breath.
Inhale. Exhale.

Taking a look at what really matters …

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My Week as a High School Teacher!

I’ve been experiencing this really eerie feeling lately; where every time I walk past any of the first year buildings on campus, I feel surprised that these places are still alive and bustling; and that people still come here to learn. Being as self-centered as human beings are, I think places are only alive when my life touches them. And when I move, they either automatically shut down or remain untouched until I come back; as if they have no other function to serve.

I walk in between the students carrying books, and realize that they look and dress and act just like we did, yet I recognize no one and no one recognizes me. Of course, it’s been eight years! It’s been so long!

This last week I substituted for a high school science teacher at the AIS (American International School). I used to be an AIS student myself (at a different campus); so for one thing, it felt very funny to walk the halls out of uniform, while everyone else was wearing it – the same navy blue pants and white shirt with the navy blue logo, and for another thing it felt very funny to be at least ten years older than most people there. And the students, well they looked, acted, and dressed in much the same way my classmates did  when I was in high school! I felt like I already knew them. And finding myself on the other side of the picture, I realized that high school is one story that repeats itself over and over and over. No matter, how ‘new’ you think you are, you’re really not – it’s all been done before. Self-centered human being that you are though, you think you’re novel!

As a student, I was pretty geeky, and I always saw the picture from that point of view. Sometimes I wished I was more outgoing, other times I wished I was more athletic. And at all times, I thought everyone that was more talkative or outgoing or athletic had it easier than me! However, this last week, I got to play teacher; and I got to see the classroom from an unbiased outsider’s point of view.  And I realized that for a class to be whole, it had to have the geeks and the athletes (athletic girls are my favorite!), the princesses and the tomboys, the class clown, the goofball, the ladies’ man, the cheerful, the quiet, the outgoing, the shy, the smart kid, the achiever, the musician, the artist, the one person that never seems to fit in, and the one person for whom it seems to come naturally. Each one of these guys is important for the picture to be complete, in other words, important in making everyone else’s experience whole.

With all their apparent differences, though, one thing was common – they were all simply children trying to figure themselves out; and they were looking for inspiration anywhere they could get it. It was no easier for the princess than it was for the geeky girl in glasses; neither was it easier for the athlete than for the goofball. The fact of the matter is high school is a tough experience – it is a daily battle between you, yourself, and everyone around you as you begin to understand your adult self (which by the way, still has a few more changes to make!). And, it is exactly the same for your peers. High school is where you start to prove yourself, and claim your rights to existence. Of course, it’s not easy. It’s the strength you develop here that you’re going to use in the real world later on. I think it’s an experience strangely similar to childbirth – fetuses have to puts up a fight to enter this world and become living breathing infants – claiming their rights to existence.

Despite its toughness though, I found I was in a place full of hope – much more than the world I’ve been living since I entered the workforce; and it was a most welcome change! This week I met presidents, ministers, psychologists, and world-class football players in the making. I met kids who seemed like trouble makers on first impression, but later proved to be very smart, very mature young adults. And,  I met sweethearts who reminded me of the sincerity of a first love, and who restored my faith in the whole romance thing, slightly! These guys all spoke with the confidence and positive energy of high schoolers, with that funny faith that if things are happening in our imagination now then they’re bound to happen in our future real life!

Being a high school teacher was by no means an easy task, but it was definitely inspiring. There are professions that give you a reason to get up and go to work in the morning, and there are those that don’t. I think it’s safe to say that high school teachers belong to the former group, and in that sense are quite lucky.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to share this with them yet, but just in case you were in my class this week and are reading this at any point in time, thank you grades 9 & 11 for a truly inspiring week. It is much appreciated!

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Quote on Patience

“Creativity is tolerating the unfinished long enough for you to sprinkle magic on it”

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2012 Book Reviews – I

I had the opportunity to read a lot of books in 2012; many were worth sharing, and some no one should waste time on. So, I’ve decided to take some time this month to post reviews for all of them.

They’re a total 16 books. Since this is fairly time consuming, I’ll probably be posting them in groups of 3 or 4.

Here are the first 4:

1. Children of Gabalawi,   Naguib Mahfouz

2. How to Find Fulfilling Work,   Roman Krznaric

3. The Psychopath Test,   Jon Ronson

4. Lost at Sea,    Jon Ronson.

1.    Children of Gabalawi     أولاد حارتنا – Naguib Mahfouz , 1959 Children of Gebelawi

First, a note about the author: Naguib Mahfouz’s (1911-2006) career spanned 70 years, in which he wrote 34 novels, 350 short stories, and 5 plays many of which have been adapted into films as well as translated into various different languages. His works are set in Cairo where he spent most of his life, and most are in the eras before and after the 1952 revolution.

In 1988, he was awarded the Nobel prize in literature for the “forming of an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind”. Mahfouz remains the only Arab writer to have received the Nobel prize in literature.

Now, a note on the book: The controversial theme of the book, in which God, Adam, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad are allegorically depicted, caused an attempted assassination on Mahfouz in 1994, when he was stabbed in the neck. This attack injured the nerves leading to his right hand, and subsequently affected his ability to write with it for more than a few minutes at a time, nevertheless he continued to write. The novel was also banned for 50 years from many countries, and only started circulating in 2006.

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1988/presentation-speech.html

This was the first time I read a Naguib Mahfouz book in Arabic; actually it was the first time I read any book in Arabic! The book is 500 pages long, so it took me a while, but it was worth it. A simple story on the outside, but the analogies inside won’t be missed, and neither will the message. Whatever religion you belong to or even if none at all, the imagination with which this book was written definitely makes it a worthy read.

Mahfouz takes the story of the creation of mankind, starting with Adam (whom he gives the Arabic name Adham) & Eve, followed by Adam’s rivalry with his brother – Satan/ ‘Iblees’ (given the Arabic name Idrees), their subsequent expulsion from heaven, followed by the rivalry between their sons, and the emergence of prophets and civilizations from among their grand-kids and great-grand-kids and turns it into a simple tale. The representations of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, their stories and obstacles although different, won’t be missed.

I found this book to be an ingenious portrayal of the continuous cycling of human civilization between prosperous times and crumbling times. The rivalries, betrayals, deception, and weakness at some points, balanced out by honesty, strength, and fairness at other points is the infinite character of the human race.  It also captures the continuous shift of power from one people to the next; and the ease with which the newly powerful will forget that they were once weak, and how they will readily oppress their weaker neighbours.

The message, as I see it, is that all of civilization sprang from one man – Adam, yet in the pursuit of money and status – we, his children have forgotten that we are brothers. And thus our world is plagued with poverty and war.

Mahfouz concludes with an analogy of what is today the conflict of science versus religion – where the rise of scientific advances has been met by an increasing distance from God, faith, and religion.

This was one of the most creative books I’ve read in a long time. I’m also glad that I was able to read it in Arabic, it taught me how much Arabic literature loses when translated into another tongue. So, even if you know very little Arabic, I still recommend you try. And if you don’t, I’m sure the English version would do. Reading this book felt like someone had summarized for me, in 500 pages, thousands of years of humanity past and maybe given me an understanding and a glimpse into the thousands of years to come.

  1. 2.    How to Find Fulfilling Work – Roman Krzanaric , 2012

Short. Effective. Insightful. Truly a mind-opener.

The best thing about this book is that it is not your classic self-help, 7 easy steps to success and happiness, sort of book. Rather, it opens your eyes to different perspectives and stimulates your mind to think and come up with your own solutions for your own life. Some of the stories inside are very inspiring. My favourite is the girl who for her 30th birthday, realizing that she had been undecidedly jumping from one job to another for too long, gave herself the birthday gift of trying out 30 different jobs, until she met the perfect one.

This book tackles a lot of the confusing feelings many people (including myself) have towards work, success, and fulfillment by presenting to us the origins from which these feelings emerged, and creative ways to motivate yourself to do that which you find most fulfilling.

By adding live examples from a myriad of people and professions, Krznaric shows the reader that if he’s confused about work and life, then he’s not the only one out there and that his/her feelings and rationalizations are justified. Afterwards, he follows up with ideas that help you change your life toward a more positive direction, such as having a ‘bespoke career’ in which you invent your own job to suit your lifestyle and talents.

One of the ideas presented in this book that really struck a chord with me is that contrary to popular belief, there is no one perfect job out there for each of us. Rather, there is a best suited job for us in each field, and it’s only a matter of finding it. For example, if one chose to be an artist maybe they would do best as a photographer, but say they had a computer science major, maybe they could work in internet marketing, and so on.

How to Find Fulfilling Work is part of a series of books written by authors from an enterprise called The School of Life. Their aim is to give good advice on dealing with every day worries and intelligently fixing them. I stumbled upon this book by chance, but seeing the positive effect it has brought on my mind-set and my approach to my career, I’m sure I’ll end up reading more of their works.

This book is a must-read to anyone at any stage of life. I’ve added the link to the talk given by Roman Krznaric on his book, as well as a link to the books page on the School of Life website.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1y6417fnIKU

http://www.theschooloflife.com/library/?Types[]=ProductRedirectPage

3.    The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry – Jon Ronson, 2011

I reviewed this book 2 posts ago but here are the links to the author’s TED talk and to his interview with Jon Ronson.  http://www.ted.com/talks/jon_ronson_strange_answers_to_the_psychopath_test.html

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-may-16-2011/jon-ronson

4.    Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries – Jon Ronson, 2012

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-october-31-2012/jon-ronson   

I first heard about this book on The Daily Show ( link above); I decided to read this one and The Psychopath Test, because I found Ronson’s description of his adventures rather amusing. I started with the previous one – in which he was literally following mad people around the world trying to interview them and bring to us the human side of them as much as he could. Lost at Sea seems to be a continuation of his journey after madness. It’s also organized as a collection of articles, only it has less of his thoughts and anecdotes than does the Psychopath Test.

The opening chapter is rather funny, it’s an interview with the band Insane Clowne Posse, but the book is very dynamic. It moves from one topic to the next – some plain bizarre, some pretty serious. But all in all, he doesn’t lose his subtle humor or as Jon Stewart calls it, his sense for ‘investigative satire’!

Reading this book, you’re certain to meet some pretty interesting people; some are trying to create robots with a conscience (cyber-consciousness), others are parents who believe they have Indigo children. There are people who spend their lives waiting and preparing for the first signal of extra-terrestrial life; and people trying to donate their kidneys to random strangers. There’s also Jonathan King, Stanley Kubric, the founders of amazon, and the so-called psychic Sylvia Browne.

What I love most about Jon Ronson’s style is how he challenges his interviewees’ bizarre beliefs with direct questions, then his objective presentation of the facts albeit mixed with his own sometimes humorous thoughts; and most importantly his ability to see past the  weirdness and present these people to us as fellow human beings.

If anything, this book is certainly entertaining and enlightening. It’s long, but since it’s organized into articles, you don’t have to read it in one go. Definitely recommend!

___________________________________________________________

Next on my list are:

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell  

Fe-mail: The Trials and Tribulations of Being a Good Egyptian Girl – Amy Mowafi

Tuesdays with Morrie – Mitch Albom

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

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