Thursday, July 28, 2011

[uncensored]: Flashback: Vou Ficar Famoso e Casar Com Você

As salaam alaikum,

I just visited my xanga with the hopes of archiving it finally and putting the page to rest, maybe. However, I still get footprints on my page. The same person goes to this one entry, which I do like very much (maybe they're stealing the story idea, I don't know), so I decided to post it here to. The entry is pretty much self-explanatory. I'll give it with the date.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

On my "Aguas de Março" (Elis Regina) station on Pandora, there's a live version of "Agua de Beber" by Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim.  At the end of the song, after applause from the audience, he speaks into the microphone, "Vou ficar famoso com isso (I'm going to get famous off of this)."

The audience laughs, of course, because Tom Jobim the world-renowned father of Bossa Nova, already famous, so the statement was very tongue in cheek.  Then he continues into what would be a segue into the next song of the set, probably "Luiza."  He says, "Luiza, eu vou ficar famoso e casar com você no Carnaval (Luiza, I'm going to get famous and marry you during Carnaval)."

Luiza is a very pretty song about the subject's love for this woman named Luiza.  My host mom in Brazil, Pilar, has a granddaughter named Luiza, I think after the Luiza of that song.

But I just thought that transition was so poetic.  It captures the love of an idealistic boy who finds himself having feelings for this girl, Luiza, probably a balance between lust and love, or at least what he believes love to be, and what he believes to be the natural progression of things.  And in that sentence is his ideal, his plan, and it shows how young he is.  His life would be made, he thinks, if he could get famous, thus impressing Luiza and defining his own personal success.  And the perfect place to marry would be Carnaval, a reflection of his perception of love, highly carnal, highly fanciful, a veritable fantasy of costume, color and dance.

He likes a girl, he believes he loves her, and his dreams would come true if he could become famous and then marry her during Carnaval.  With that one image, I see an entire story: a skinny boy of 18 or 19 with a violão (Brazilian guitar) composing a few songs in his room after work each day, sitting out on the ledge of his window.  He's written his best songs for Luiza, the neighbor, the little girl he's seen blossum into a woman as she walks to school, who for years shot him furtive glances but he's just now noticing, and he's not the only one.  But Luiza only has eyes for him, as he accosts her in her path with his violão, singing for her silly samba tunes that he's made up on the spot, that make her laugh, though she tries to hide her amusement, as she tries to hide her admiration of him.  She giggles to her friends as he passes.  He only sings her the silly songs, and keeps the more serious ones to himself.

A dreamer, he lives away from home to avoid the disapproval of his father, who thinks he should be more serious about his work and give the violão a rest, that music would not feed him well.  So he lives in what is barely a flat in Rio with some of his coworkers, former school mates of a similar age.  They tease him about his music, but he has a dream.  He's one day going to be discovered, his music is going to make it.  He's going to make records, he's going to play in concerts, on the radio, maybe even on television.  He's going to be famous, and if Luiza is impressed with his little sambas, she would be floored by his fame then.  Then she'll for sure say yes to marry him.  And it will be perfect.  He'll marry Luiza during Carnaval, and what an ecstasy that would be.

And at the end of this story, I don't imagine this boy marrying Luiza.  It takes him time, but his goal is to become famous, and he works hard and while he doesn't become famous in the way that he aspired to be, he finds himself in the music industry, he finds himself doing something that is fulfilling to him, and it all starts with a song that he writes for Luiza.  Years pass, he moves about, and his goal is to go back to Rio and find Luiza and propose to her marriage, Luiza existing only as an idea at this point and him losing track of time and not realizing that Luiza may no longer be in school, that Luiza herself may no longer be there.  And in the course of all of this, he moves forward in his career, finds satisfaction beyond fame.  In his path of songwriting he meets a singer who he befriends, but it doesn't go further because she perceives that there is someone else on his mind.

He eventually sees Luiza again.  She lived in the same neighborhood she grew up in, and is walking the same path she walked many days to school with her child, who she's named after the boy with the violão.  He is amazed that when he first sees her, though he recognized her, he forgot that he was supposed to have loved her.  He is happy to see her, and is suprised as she introduces him to her son, his namesake.

She'll tell him that he was the most beautiful person that she's ever known in life, and that she was so in love with him as he danced around her with his violão.  She liked their furtive glances, their flirtation, the brief interactions, and always imagined that they'd end up together.  He moved away, promised he'd return, but she reflected on how young she was.  Things had happened in the meantime, and now she found herself a single mother and had a son.  She thought it only appropriate to name him after the love of her life, so that maybe with his name he would grow up to do great things, to dream big, as did the boy with the violão.

The boy, now a man, will see her cry and feel like crying to, for saudades, out of being overwhelmed for the nature of life.  "Luiza, eu queria casar com você, sabia?" (Luiza, I wanted to marry you, did you know that?) he would tell her.  "Sim, queria casar comigo no Carnaval, como sempre disse." (Yes, you wanted to marry me during Carnaval, like you always said.)

He'll then say, should I marry you now?  Be a father to your son, my namesake?  And she'll say no, I'm not the same Luiza that you fell in love with.  And he'll ask if it matters, and she'll say, yes, it does.  She loves that she ran into him, she says, but she wants to keep the image of him that she once had.  Their story goes no further, she says.  She lives that moment and wants it to stay...[him] as the young boy with the violão dancing circles around her and her friends, singing silly sambas just to make her smile.  What we had was innocent, she says, and that's where our love best innocence.  He gazes at her and agrees.  Their love is best in innocence, the fascination with the carnal without the realization of it, the cusp of all of those feelings that they have both since realized.

He kisses his namesake on the forehead and the boy smiles.  He says goodbye to Luiza and somehow he knows that he'll never see her again.  He comes back and the singer, now his bandmate, sips on water and gives him a knowing look.  I saw Luiza, he'll tell her.  She nods.  I'll always love her, you know, in that moment in time.  And she sighs, admitting that this was the stuff of life, to love many in time and recall their past essence with affection and amazement of the false reality of time, the experience of life, the [elusive] nature of the Divine.

He perks up, as he thinks of the singers sentence and comes up with an idea for a song.  They sit in the studio and begin working on the song, writing the song togther, using her vocal talents as inspiration.

And there the story ends.

There's a reason why I wrote this, thought all of this out.  I'll share later.

To be continued...


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Congratulations on Waiting Until Marriage!

As salaam alaikum,

About a year ago, before B and I were together, my mother did this strange thing. She congratulated me for having waited so long to have sex, for not having had sex...for having preserved myself for so long, something like that. To that, I said, "Uhh...thank you?"

I then told her that, really, the only reason I had is because I hadn't had the opportunity to do anything. I hadn't met a guy that I really liked. I couldn't say the story would have been the same if I had actually had even one suitor in the first 7 years of my adult life.

So then B happened...and while I did have my first kiss(+), I did not have sex.

And now, there's someone else...I'm not exactly seeing him, but he's trying to be in my life. I'll call him K (hehe, if I stayed true to the patter, B should have actually been O, but that's neither here nor there). And no, I still haven't.

And I know my fellow Muslimahs right now are all like, wait a second, of course you're not having sex with these men! You're Muslim, we've gone over this, you seem (semi-)dedicated to the deen and Ramadan is less than a week away. Are you even alone with these guys? Shaytan is the third!

Yes, I know...I'm just putting that out there...

If you can tell, I don't like using the term virginity. I'd like to prefer that the word didn't exist. I've disliked it since I was 15 years old. I feel like there's too much BS attached to it, too many false expectations, too much patronizing and too many antiquated ideas linked to it to use it.

And calling myself a virgin sounds dirty, sounds like I'm something to be exploited, sounds like I have something to give up.

It's overall a construction I dislike.


Most of my female friends in medical school are waiting until marriage to have sex (or waited...some of them are married). One of my friends in particular intended to not even kiss her then-fiance before marriage, or share any intimacies at all...

Haha, the kissing part, she did not succeed in doing. The rest, she actually avoided until she was married.

After which she was like...hmm, sex was not what I expected.

Haha, that's because she was told lies about the wedding, it'll be more special if you wait, so she was expecting to fly amongst the clouds John Legend style...

"Ooooh, it feels so crazy. Owwww, this love is blazin'..."

I love that song, by the way.

She's really into me waiting until marriage. When I was dating B, she begged me to please, please wait. This was before she was married. I wonder what stock she has in it.

In fact, I was going to talk to her and see what her perspective, as a Christian woman, is.

Because honestly, I don't value beign a "virgin" at marriage as much as I value marrying a good man. Not saying I'd sacrifice the former for the latter, but I don't see virginity at marriage itself as the key to a successful marriage or even more security of Jannah. Chastity is important on several levels, yes, but say a woman has had sex before in life but she decides to wait with her next relationship until marriage. I don't see that as any less valuable.

Because you can be a virgin and end up marrying someone who wastes your time, get divorced and now you are not a virgin.

So what am I getting at?

I think, in the end, people attach meanings to waiting until marriage that are unnecessary, untrue and ultimately misleading. Am I saving sex for marriage? Insha'Allah. But it's not because I'm expecting it to be better, or more special as someone who has never had sex before. It's because sex is so important to me that I want it only to take place in a protected environment, and that protected environment can only be marriage, which is the only relationship between an unrelated man and woman recognized by God.

Without that paradigm, I feel naked, haha...pun intended.

No, it's not glamorous. As my friend's relatives told her the day of her wedding, don't be surprised if you are disappointed, be prepared for it to hurt, and if the guy also doesn't have any experience, expect that mess to last all of 5 minutes. And it'll take a while for it all to come together.

But I'm not going to be mad at people who wait for those reasons. It's like, whatever gets you there. For me, for a while, it was easy to avoid all questionable contacts with men. It's harder when you call yourself in a relationship with a man...they try to be sneaky, but since I'm home schooled in street smarts, I know most all the lines.

I do appreciate the ability of going into a marriage with a clean slate, not having the memory of random, undeserving men floating around your marriage bed. I appreciate not having baggage otherwise.

Now, I just have to have faith that Allah (swt) desires marriage for all of us, and that even in these times, it will be promised for those of us who want it. I have a hard time believing that it can work, but I have to hold out and have faith and pray yet another Ramadan for patience and strength...

But in the meantime and forever in the future, please do not congratulate me on being able to wait until marriage. Congratulate me instead on being able marry a wonderful, God-fearing man for the sake of Allah (swt). Don't think of me as a virgin bride, think of me as a dedicated Muslimah who struggled through life to stick to her standards and marry someone who is a worthy life partner, and congratulate the two of us on beginning our lives together and growing in our understanding of our Creator.

Congratulate us on finding each other and making it work in these times when it's so hard to find someone with similar values.

Because while sex is definitely important, it's significance is often distorted, and I think some of that has to do with what people tell themselves to justify waiting until marriage to have sex.

I also think that people need to approach marriage with a greater sense of duty and less of a sense of marriage as a source of happiness, because I think the latter encourages people to go out and look for that happiness elsewhere during the hard times of marriage, like cheating.

Marriage is protection, protection that is there whether we waited until marriage or not.

May Allah (swt) forgive us our transgressions in the course of this life!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Beats On Another Day

As salaam alaikum,

I have one load of laundry in the drier, waiting on that to finish tumbling, then I'm going to sleep. I'm really sleepy.

Anytime I have too much free time, I start thinking about life, about how I'm aging, far from childhood and into adulthood now. I think about how I could read more, be smarter than I am. I think about how I could be married by now, but apparently God didn't want for me to be.

I think about how I don't know the way things go.

But my heart, full of doubt, beats on another day, and whatever the truth of it all is, it beats on another day. So I have to make due with what I have, being single possibly for the rest of my life.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Favorite 60s Concert Clips

 As salaam alaikum,

These 60s concert clips almost make me wish that I was born around the time my mother was (my mother said that if we were age mates, we would have been friends...yeah) so I could have attended these concerts, even as a preteen.

The first is from the incomparable Otis Redding, who was my age when he died. "Try a Little Tenderness."

The second is by Chico Buarque, a song whose first stanza I often quote, a beautiful song that expresses the frustrations of life, losing control in the course of life, with hints of the frustration of living in a dictatorship, "Roda Viva," or The Wheel of Life.

What's your favorite 60s concert moment? Haha, if you have one.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

[uncensored]: Mega Mass Choir / Black Moz

As salaam alaikum,

When I was a kid, this used to be one of my favorite movies: "The Preacher's Wife," the remake of "The Bishop's Wife," which I have never seen. I'll see if it's on Netflix.

It was a musical movie set around Christmas time. I haven't seen it since I was maybe 13 years old or so, but I think it's about an angel who comes down to help mend the relationship between the preacher and his wife, but he ends up falling in love with the preacher's wife in the process. Yeah, oops.

But I used to really like the soundtrack to this movie. Here's one of the songs I thought of just the other day...this was towards the end of the movie.

This is back in more of Whitney Houston's heyday, after "I Will Always Love You," from the Bodyguard soundtrack, which was voted the best soundtrack of the 90s, I think, in one of the countdown shows that I have on VHS somewhere (another one of my favorite soundtracks from that time is the one from "Boomerang" with Toni Braxton). Anyway, this song is "I Love the Lord," with a lively reprisal of "Joy to the World," at the end which is pretty cool.

Insha'Allah Whitney Houston recovers from her addictions. She tried to come back, her voice isn't the same...and I think she checked herself back into rehab.

But my mother owns this soundtrack on CD. She used to play it in the car as she shuttled us kids around. I actually grew up on a fair amount of gospel music...not a lot like those who would go to church every Sunday, but a lot for someone who was hearing it from her Muslim mother.

My mother loves devotional music. Some Ramadans, since my mother fasts music (something that I may try to do again this Ramadan), she would just listen to gospel. There were a few artists in the 90s that she really, Fred Hammond, Dottie Peoples, reaching back and getting it with Mahalia Jackson (one of the best female vocalists of all time).

Background for those who don't know, my mother was born into a Southern Baptist family. My grandparents are from the South (from Arkansas) and traveled up here for a better life in what is known as the great migration. They had 10 children. My mother is the youngest one that remembers church...the rest of them were too young. My grandparents began investigating the Nation of Islam in the 60s and joined shortly before Malcolm X was assassinated. My mother was 10 years old when they joined the Nation with their entire family, and she still remembers the first Christmas when she couldn't tell the other children what she had gotten because they no longer celebrated. She was called "Black Moz" by one of her classmates.

And things were not the same again.

Fast forward to 1975, when Elijah Muhammed died. Shortly thereafter, when his son, W. Deen Muhammed took over things, many NOI members began to convert to Islam, or what they called "Orthodox Islam." My mother's family was one...everyone converted to Islam. My grandparents changed their last name to an Arabic last name, so everyone who was not already married, my mother downward, changed their last name. Like, they legally changed their last name. My grandfather (who was a grandfather at the time), Charley James, changed his name to Abdul Rahim. My mother, who was Patsy Ruth, changed her name to Khalilah Sabreen. My uncle, who was David Allen (a name that my mother really still likes and regrets that he changed it) changed his name to Dawud Alim. I'm not sure why my mother and uncle decided to change their first names, but at this point, my mother has lived longer as Khalilah than she did as Patsy.

I love that my mother lived in such interesting times. One of the family pictures is signed by Muhammad Ali, who of course was in the NOI before he converted to Islam. All of their names are signed with the last name my mother as Patsy Ruth X. I guess at one point, he came over to my grandparents house and listened to my uncles play the piano.

I look up to my mother and her siblings...they've lived so much more life at my age than I think I'll ever live. I should ask my uncle sometimes about his trying to form a band. My uncles are musicians, and throughout the years have tried to form ensembles, but have not yet made it big. But that's another story.

And after that, my family grew in Islam, then receded. My grandparents, particularly my grandmother, were the Muslim base. You came into their home, removed your shoes and said, "As salaam alaikum." You still do, everyone did, even those who weren't Muslim. I remember my grandmother up early for salat, and then she would begin her day, making breakfast, and that short time that I lived with them, helping me make my lunch for school. That's the dominant memory of my grandmother...up, cooking, talking fast, cracking jokes, cursing yet tying her hijab around her head when it came time to go out...

My grandmother and aunt wore hijab in a way so natural, I didn't even think twice about it. And I love them for it.

Anyway, I digress. All of that to say, my mother grew up in the church. She grew up hearing records of Mahalia Jackson in their home, until they converted to the Nation and threw all of their gospel records away. But Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke, among others, were standard gospel that they listened to in the home. A pivotal point in my understanding of how strong of a Christian upbringing my mother had was when she played for her brothers and sisters, when we were planning our 1997 family reunion (fun times!), "Jesus Be A Fence" by Sam Cooke, and all of my older aunts and uncles and my mother (six of them remembered it) just started singing,

"Jesus! Be a fence all around me every day..."

Myself and one of my cousins were standing there, mouths agape. Then he said, "Wait, I thought we were Muslim!" Which is the grand irony for us kids, faced by our Christian classmates on a daily basis and having to defend our identity as Muslims, and here were our parents, throwing it up in their faces that they once belonged, once were like everyone else...

Because that was a challenge when I was a kid. Everyone else was Christian. I was the only Muslim in my entire school until the 7th grade, when I moved. I never really desired to be Christian or to be like everyone else. I had a little brother with autism...I was already not like everyone else, so that helped me be resolute at 11 when I decided that Islam was the religion for me, though I had already been raised in it. But that didn't meant that it still wasn't hard being set apart, being pitied because I didn't know Christ, being excluded sometimes. I was mainly afraid to go to church because I didn't know anything about the Bible, so I gleaned any information I could from those around me and learned a bit about Christianity through osmosis.

But the one thing I always liked about church (which I went to a few times...I have a great uncle [who has since passed] who was a preacher, and we always went to church for family reunions, except for the one hosted in Flint, since we were Muslim) was choir.

I wanted to be in a choir for the longest. I love to sing, and if my school had a choir, I would have joined it.

And my mother listened to her old favorites and new favorite gospel music in the car. She'd do this thing were she'd skip songs that were too "Jesus-y," and then in songs that made one or two mentions of Jesus, she'd usually change it to "God" or "Allah," since Allah has two syllables, since often the songs would use God and Jesus interchangibly.

But there were some gospel songs that just talked about God, which my mother felt were appropriate. She told me that if there was one thing that she missed in Islam, it was the existence of devotional music, with the spiritual catharsis that you can get from lively gospel music.

So I grew up with these songs. I still sing Mahalia Jackson songs sometimes as I go about my day. It's a perspective, I realize, my children won't have. They won't be the children of a convert. The Nation of Islam will be something their great grandparents, who will exist for them more as pictures or faint memories of really old people, did. Pictures of my family in the Nation will be black and white and yellowed artifacts that have little to do with them. So will be their story in Christianity to Islam, something to be told in the history books, likened to the moth-eaten pages of their grandmother's copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X that may or may not be on their school's reading list. And their mother's occasional affinity for old-timey gospel music will not be unlike that 90s music that she occasionally has them listen to as she drives them off to their engagements.

Maybe I'll have in a daughter or a son a kindred spirit as I was for my mother. It would be nice. She would understand and listen with rapt attention, when I was talking to her or not, the history of my family in Islam, the juxtaposition of my father's family in Christianity, and it will inspire her to be whoever she aspires to be in life, but even stronger, as my mother's, as my grandparent's story has for me.

But in the meantime, I'm childless for a while. I just listen to the music whose emotion is complex. I don't yet know God as much as I will as I struggle more through life and come to him more through life, so the catharsis is not as complete as it will be 20 years from now, as I will be a practicing physician for 15 years with my own family, worrying about my parents' health, my brother's place in the world, making sure he has as full of a life as possible while supporting my husband and raising my children. It's a complex emotion because all of this music reminds me of my mother, it reminds me of my family's story. It's emotion is complex because as self-regulating as many of us Muslims are about music in general, I will still listen to these songs and remember God as we are all called to do.

And I'll have no shame in it.