Sons of Roses

I recently had the honour of writing an article for Must be Kismet (a leading South Asian magazine & bridal show in Toronto) about queer weddings, featuring Haran Vijayanathan and Humza Mian, two amazing South Asian men who portray two grooms on their wedding day.

The entire article and accompanying photos can be found here:
http://blog.mustbekismet.com/index.php/2018/06/19/sons-of-roses/

It’s funny how things come about. My friend Saira who I met at one of my favourite coffee shops, Balzac’s, many years ago when I’d quit my job and was looking for adventure, always complimented my writing and told me that she’d love to have me write about some of her projects. She does henna on brides and on women just looking for adornment (who needs a reason to glam up?!), and she also profiles men and women who have stories that need to be told, through art and makeup and photography and a whole lot of love and inspiration.

Saira asked if I was interested in this project, and of course I said yes! (even though I was freaking out because of the short timeline – 4 days!) and because I didn’t want to let anyone down. Also, the subject matter really touched my heart – highlighting queer weddings and the challenge in reconciling religious/culture identity with coming out.

I received the notes from the interview that Saira and Rajen from Must be Kismet did at the shoot, and then reached out to Humza and Haran in order to clarify some of the points and get to know them better. Writing based on personal connection is the best! I’m so glad I called them, because I learned so much and was even more inspired. Haran mentioned to me that Hinduism is gender fluid and gave me a few surprising examples involving Krishna and Shiva. It reminded me of a book I’d read called the “The Two Krishnas” which actually touches on those themes. He also talked about how gay couples can be hyper-sexualized and exploited, and how he tries to stay away from that, and projects that are looking for that angle.

Humza was ordering lattes while we chatted on the phone. We talked about his journey and how his parents still don’t know about his alter drag persona (Manghoe Lassi) even though he’s public on Instagram and has a zillion followers. He also said that he commonly receives negative comments on posts, but he’s learned to ignore them and not let it get him down. Life is definitely too short for that!

My sister Roshni helped me out a lot with the article, thank god she was around! Feedback is so important, because when you’re writing it, you can only see it from your perspective, you really need a fresh set of eyes (and someone with patience) to review it.

Overall a really fun experience… looking forward to the next article! (does this mean I can call myself a ‘writer’? Hee hee).

A Tale of Four Illnesses

Lately I’ve been seeing the slogan of CAMH’s new campaign, “Mental Health is Health.” It is very true – mental health is a critical part of our health and there is no difference between mental illnesses and physical illnesses, although they are often treated much differently and there is still a lot of stigma with mental illness. I have personally suffered a lot from depression and anxiety, and have many friends that have too. A good friend of mine suffered from schizophrenia and she took her own life a few years ago – I miss her still.

In my journey, I’ve received a lot of amazing support – from friends, family, and the system, and it is my hope that everyone is supported in this way. We have a long way to go when it comes to fixing the system and ensuring everyone has equal access to care, no matter where they’re from, how old they are, or how much money they have.

It’s time we said no more discrimination, no more ignorance, and no more funding gaps. It’s time for every Canadian to rally together to ensure mental illness gets the same priority as any other illness.
– CAMH website

I’ve written these four short descriptions/poems that from my understanding, describe a little of what it feels like to be suffering from these four illnesses. These are just four disorders that come to mind… there are so many others, and so many variations.

Depression

A creation of the human mind that plagues us, brings
us down into the mud, further away from natural joy,
further away from who we really are. The black hole,
the spiral downward,
the point of no return, when it feels like nothing is good and nothing is bad, and everything is just nothing.
numbness.
It’s dark in here, darker than it’s ever been before
I used to know joy but now I can’t remember the feeling,
Has anything good ever happened to me before?
Is there a purpose to my life?
Sometimes I wish I’d never been born.
Sometimes I wish it would all end.
I am so angry. I want to squeeze every last drop out
of everything I love.
Depression is rage turned inward they say, and
I know it to be true.

Anxiety

A state of racing, rushing, worrying,
running, ruminating,
over-excitement, giddiness,
breathlessness, unsettledness
hurry hurry hurry
the thoughts say
You will never have enough time.
You will never get it all done.
It will never be perfect.
The dreaded “What if?” that runs the show 
always one step ahead, predicting scenarios
that only the most imaginative of souls
can dream of.
“What if, what if, what if?” the question repeats itself
and you have no choice to answer every question,
and plan for every outcome.
But at least there is still hope in the form of worry —
trying to make it right, trying to make it all perfect.
Because it’s all so important, everything matters so much.
So much so that there is nothing that can be left undone.
At least I haven’t given up completely.
There’s no time for that.

Schizophrenia

What are those voices in my head that speak to me and tell me what to do,
that make me suspect you, that make me not trust you or anyone else.
Why do I find it such a struggle to get through the day or justify why it’s worth existing this way?
Without my meds the voices scream louder,
but with them, I am void of personality,
I am no longer myself.

PTSD

It happened so long ago,
yet why do I feel like I’m still there,
as though it is happening all over again,
as though it is happening right now?
Why does the body remember what the mind
so desperately needs to forget?
I can still smell him, see him, my fists
clench when I hear the tires screech against the road,
the sound of footsteps, and the clock
striking 12 in the background.
Why can’t they make a pill that makes me forget.
I see the world around me,
yet I still feel trapped inside.

In Between The Pauses

Embers of fury

follow me, creating pathways into

the fissures of my heart,

unrelenting in the face of my

determined despair.

Why does the wind blow in the

direction of passivity?

Why do the red birds take me on a

journey without any clues?

The beauty of life seems to radiate the most

in between the pauses.

My soul awaits,

gasping for air,

overwhelmed by the pain and the virtue,

that interlock and intertwine,

and enhance each other through their filters.

The beaten path makes me weary,

yet knows me more than I wish to admit,

reveals more of me with every turn.

National Poetry Month

April is national poetry month. Usually I wouldn’t even notice something like this, but ever since I took Poetry II at U of T last year, I’ve kind of fallen in love with writing and reading poetry. There is something about crafting a poem, putting words down on paper (or on your computer), expressing an idea, a notion, or truth on any topic that interests you. Poetry has a way of cutting through all the nonsense and touching the soul.

There are soooooooo many poems that have changed my life, that play through my mind when I’m faced with a difficult situation, experiencing a moment of joy, or in need of some inspiration. Here is one of my favourites, by Mary Oliver, called The Journey:

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The Journey, Mary Oliver

Is there a poem that has changed your life? :-)

Books I Read and Loved in 2017

Here are the Top 10 books I read and loved in 2017! It was a wonderful year for reading, with lots of memorable stories, twists and turns, and inspiring prose.

1. The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin – I initially chose this book for my Toronto book club, long before it became a bestseller. I was intrigued after reading the first few pages at Chapters; at the time I thought that it was some type of dramatic romance novel. When I eventually got further into it, I was amazed to discover that it was actually about reincarnation and past lives. The three main characters, Janie, her son Noah, and psychiatrist Dr. Jerome Anderson are on a journey to uncover what is haunting young Noah, and to help prove the truth about reincarnation. The story is a page-turner, and makes you think about your own beliefs and encounters with the paranormal. I read this book mostly on my phone, nestled in my bed late at night.

2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – This startling memoir describes a man’s end of life journey with terminal lung cancer. I first read an excerpt from Paul’s book in a famous article, which included a poignant letter to his daughter. My friends got me this book as part of a care package before I moved to Ottawa. Reading about Paul’s gruelling days while his body was wracked with pain is astounding – I have no idea how he did it, other than that he was so immersed in his work that he literally forgot himself. Kalinithi writes: Every morning at 5:30, as the alarm clock goes off, and my dead body awakes, my wife asleep next to me, I think again to myself: ‘I can’t go on.’ And a minute later, I am in my scrubs, heading to the operating room, alive: ‘I’ll go on.’ I read this book mostly on my phone, while travelling with my Mom to a wedding in Boston. It’s a story that will stay with me for a long time.

3. The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami  This is a really beautiful book. It’s written as if the author is an artist painting a beautiful landscape. It’s about a man named Sripathi Rao, who undergoes a huge life shift when he discovers that his eldest daughter has been killed in a car accident, and him and his wife must care for their granddaughter Nandana, who arrives from Vancouver to Sripathi’s home in Toturpram, India, shy and scared. The characters in this book are memorable – Sripathi himself, his cantankerous mother, his loyal yet fed-up wife, and his son, who is a source of disappointment in his life. I first heard of this book when I attended the taping of Canada Reads at the CBC studios in Toronto, and watched in awe as actor Vinay Virmani defended it (it ended up losing out to Lawrence Hill’s The Illegal).

4. A Space Between by Ranjita Ghosh  Oh my ghosh this book was good. Haha, see what I did there. It’s not every day that you get a read a book written by a friend. This amazing book is a tale of romance, conflict, and the impacts of breaking societal norms, with a shocking twist. Daniel falls for Aahna, an Indian girl who works as a cleaner at his company in India. They fall in love but it is forbidden by society and their families. I read this book mostly at the kitchen table at home in Kanata, while having tea or eating breakfast. Being rebellious by nature myself, I found myself getting irritated every time that Daniel and Aahna ‘couldn’t’ do something because it was forbidden, and also very impressed by their courage to risk everything for true love. The twist made my jaw drop, and added to the depth of the story – it’s at this point that the story became a real page-turner for me; I couldn’t wait to find out how it ended! I was inspired not only by the story itself, but also how Ranjita found the time to write it, given her busy schedule! Definitely a sign that anything is possible.

5. The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh – This is a book for all of us math geeks and nerds, especially those that are fans of the Simpsons. Did you know that all the writers on the Simpsons are mathematical geniuses? Many of them chose a career of comedy writing over a path of academia. It’s because of this you will find hidden references to mathematics throughout episodes of the Simpsons, from Bart’s calculus equation in his first class at a private school, to Maggie’s blocks spelling out E = mc². I learned so many cool math tidbits in this book, many of which I shared with my students. The author, Simon Singh, manages to take us on an intriguing mathematical journey, with humour, insight, and creativity. You definitely don’t need to be a math whiz to enjoy this book.

6. The Buddha in Brooklyn by Martha Sherrill  I discovered this book in the Religion section of the Toronto Reference Library (a place that brings me great peace). I sunk into it immediately. It’s written as part journalism and part biography. Martha Sherrill follows the unlikely path of Jetsunma, a Jewish-Italian woman from Brooklyn who becomes a Bodhisattva after a high-ranking lama sees divinity and great leadership potential in her. In what begins as a journey to document the building of a stupa, Martha discovers shocking secrets about Jetsunma and how she treats those that believe in her. This book is well-written, informative, and provides an in-depth portrait of a complex person who in desperately seeking perfection, which paradoxically heightens her flaws.

7. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh  I read this book for my Ottawa book club. It is written by Clare Mackintosh, a former police officer who was greatly moved by a case in England where a child was killed in a hit-and-run accident. She used that incident as a basis for this fictional novel. The main character, Jenna Gray, is harbouring an awful secret, and hopes to rebuild her life anew in another town. Yet the memories of the accident cannot stop playing through her mind. I want to fix an image of him in my head, but all I can see when I close my eyes is his body, still and lifeless in my arms. I let him go, and I will never forgive myself for that”. Meanwhile, two police officers are investigating the case, and will stop at nothing to uncover the person responsible. The book touches on themes of mystery, betrayal, domestic abuse, and the quest to uncover the truth. Highly recommended.

8. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce  It’s a good thing I don’t list these books in order because this one might’ve been my favourite. Harold Fry is on a journey to save his friend Queenie, and he is going to do it by walking from his home in Queensbridge to her hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I read this in the summertime, mostly at home and outside near the Beaver Pond. One afternoon, I sat on a bench at a park and a man walking his dog saw me reading and said “that’s something I always want to do but I never get a chance to. Enjoy.” Another lady smiled and said “Good for you”. So friendly and nice!! Harold’s journey starts out as a one-man show, but eventually it becomes much larger than he anticipated. It is up to him to remember why he started and not get carried away by all the fanfare. One of the best parts of this book is Harold’s relationship with his wife, and how they both discover how much they mean to one another.

9. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh  I read this book in the fall, and it lingers with me still. It is about Victoria, a broken girl in the foster care system, who is trying to find purpose in her life through her love of flowers. Sometimes the flowers say things that are trapped inside of her, and at other times the flowers allow her to communicate with others, and say more than she could ever say in words. The book could be frustrating at times, because, as one reviewer put it, you continually find yourself wanting to shake Victoria and say, “Why can’t you just let yourself be happy?”  Time and again, she lets love slip because she feels unworthy. The book is extremely well-written, emotional, and beautiful.

10. The Girl With Seven Names by Hyenseo Lee – This book was selected as the November read for my Ottawa book club. I literally could not put it down. It’s a book about a girl who escapes North Korea and goes on a long, arduous path to reunite with her family and find her identity in a new country. We had a lively book club discussion about this book, and wondered how one person could possibly endure so much, and if she feels as though the pain was all worth it in the end. I posted a picture of all of us from the book club, and it was so cool when Hyenseo herself came across the photo on Instagram and liked my picture! (yep I am easily excited). Hyenseo Lee (her seventh name) is now a human rights advocate and has given one of the most-watched TED talks of all time. This book shook me to my core. It was equal parts inspiring, tormenting, and riveting. I highly recommend it.

Notable Mentions

  • Ruling Your World – Sakyong Mipham
  • Brain Rules – John Medina
  • Save Me – Kristyn Kusek Lewis
  • Proof of Heaven – Eben Alexander
  • The Path of the Dreamhealer – Adam McLeod
  • Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff