Every year that goes by I really do know less. My father used to repeat that Socrates quote (“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing” …lmfao) to me so much when I was younger which is funny now that I think about it… because I talk like my father, I talk with authority. Even though I know nothing. It’s something I saw men do from a very young age and because I didn’t think I had beauty or value I got really obsessed with sounding smart. So through time I’ve learned to mimic men, which is why I’m a pretty good debater. I guess a lifetime of doing mock legal trials and model UN (just some regular teenage after-school activity) throughout my years at school taught me to observe how people speak with confidence… mainly because I had none of my own.
That in itself has many complications because I don’t think I was a traditionally smart child, so I was constantly feeling downtrodden by my own brain. I was also definitely not smart in a South Asian way—I did art and drama and rebooted the social justice club while going to detention centers to speak to inmates. I was a particular brand of teen—I would’ve fit right into these times, protesting ecocide. I feel like this part of me has come back like a lost portal, returned back in its full blazing form.
I always wanted to find ways to trojan horse regulatory bodies that were supposedly creating world peace or whatever. I hate authority too much to have ever existed within the confines of an institution which surprises me, sometimes, because I still craaaaveeeeeee the validation of certain institutions so much. Which sneaks up on me and I guess is something I (still) dislike about myself. The perils of being a Capricorn let me tell you.
It’s hard to publicly question your wisdom when everyone projects different interpretations and versions of you back to you. I’m so used to thinking I’m wrong about something so it’s been hard to write about things and pretend I know anything. Every day on the internet I’m like OK here’s another thing I don’t know and the pace, despite the quickening of information, still doesn’t appeal to me. To be an intellectual in these times feels immense. But I guess it probably always does. The stakes in human civilization are high… and vast.
Because the nature of my abuse questions memory, I have often thought: what if I’m an unreliable narrator? There’s a spiritual labor it takes to really speak from both authority and openness and accountability. And when you’re in that place it’s easy to see how complex our interpersonal ecosystems are. I’ve accepted that there are two sides to everything.
I just had a very violent rupture with a friend (the 8th in the space of 6 years, can you imagine?) again and I realized after my therapist kept reminding me that it wasn’t about me, that a lot of us need to be right. But, within the equation of life, that only one of us can be right is an absurd contradiction when in any given situation (or in particular, in relations between people) there are always two or more perspectives. Unless it’s a moral issue (and even then that can be and is nuanced) we’ve come to believe that there can only be one way of being at any given moment which simply isn’t true.
I’ve had to walk away from this line of thinking so many times but I still seem to encounter people that need to narrativize in a certain way where they are the only victim to life’s cruelties and are therefore owed. My therapist reminded me that it seems to be a theme that people feel owed by me and when I don’t give what I’m expected to give… people turn on me and believe it’s OK to take from me. If they want a life like mine, they’re willing to take mine if they must. When I question or speak to my own value that’s when I infuriate them. Unrelated, I’ve realized that the thing I need the most these days is respect. If others can’t give it to me then I surely must give it to myself, but I’m tired of undervaluing myself only because others do. I’m tired of being in company where I need to be small so others can feel big.
These days I question narratives where there has to be a bad person. In accepting that I know nothing I also have to accept that we all know nothing… which means we have to exist with humility. When one party can’t meet you with vulnerability, openness, a willingness to speak about uncomfortable truths, and if both parties are not able to air their grievances then what are we working towards in community? It takes accountability and awareness on both/ all sides.
I am not here to be right. I’m here to speak, to maybe sometimes mess up, but to get back up again and speak only with truth and conviction… which means I’m always challenging myself, my own mind. It makes me a rigorous researcher but sometimes it’s hard to be my own friend. I am a panopticon always considering the many different possibilities and options.
Though, by accepting I know nothing, it becomes an easy detour when I find myself spinning on hyper-vigilance. I’m finding relationships that will hold me in my flaws, and not ones that want to use them against me. I’m also strengthening relationships with people who truly want to get to know me and hold me, and are willing to hear about my side of life. There’s been awakening here, there’s a hunger to be myself completely, and I’m trusting those that can hold me will come forward when others can’t.
At the end of last year, I watched We Are Lady Parts which just completely blew me away. My friend Vivek reminded me to watch it and I couldn’t believe I had waited a few months, too.
Many many years ago I watched a movie called The Taqwacores in that theatre on Second Ave in the Lower East Side. I watched it late at night with my then-partner and when we walked out into the brashness of NYC in 2010 I left with distaste, fully wanting to vomit out the trash I had seen on screen. I was so angry at the film. It felt offensive in the name of being interesting or radical in an intellectual way… instead, I was faced with an embarrassing, nihilistic circle jerk orchestrated by none other than a white man who had converted to Islam. I was an alt-Muslim hungry to find a community of other Muslims like me — people that were proud of being Muslim but also queer and sex-positive. Back then it was hard to believe that I could find community, I had spent my entire youth meeting other Muslims like me who all preferred atheism (really don’t miss the snide Christopher Hitchens And Bill Maher debating Islam days, no offense) which bored me to death because I love God so much, and felt God via my Muslimness. I resented that I had been made to feel un-godly because of my sexual proclivities and inversely misunderstood by my peers who found my love and devotion for God unseemly, corny and unrelatable.
We Are Lady Parts merges all that I sought back in those days. Camaraderie, defiance and just the right amount of drama (which is drama not at the sake of another). I love that the narration is done by Amina who very well might be a Jane Austen prototype, she longs for romance (the Ahsan/Amina B+W scenes are epic, as are the dancing scenes between them à la Gurinder Chadha in Bride and Prejudice) and seeks life in a way that was riveting to watch. Every episode is almost unbelievably perfect — funny, nuanced and honest. Written from a complex perspective of what being Muslim really means when you do have a connection to the faith. I understand not everyone had a positive relationship with religion growing up. I know a lot of us have been scarred in our own ways. For me, because I had a non-traditional upbringing, and was by-and-large neglected (whilst being hyper-surveilled, very confusing) I rested in God as a way to find an anchoring that family couldn’t give me. I guess I needed a reason to be alive and God, and Islam, became one of the only beacons of hope I had as a child. I think my relationship is therefore strong, as it was always mine, I always had it in my possession. Even when I felt it was taken away from me, it was always me turning away from it because I felt undeserving of mercy, because I felt as if I needed to punish myself for my actions.
So it’s nice to see five Muslim girls encounter themselves in honest ways. To laugh (but most importantly) — TO SCREAM — and be angry and loud. There’s something so empowering about using our powers for good… but with definitely a fair bit of tongue and cheek. I think it’s an important reminder for Muslim girls that they can always find the fun, that there’s something immense in sisterhood, but most importantly (for us) girlhood… which is something so many of us were denied, our bodies becoming vehicles for sin faster than we knew what to do with it. Even though I had a good relationship to God, I didn’t have one with other Muslims. I resent that I felt as if I had to have a connection that was rather detached than what it felt like in my heart… just a raging fire of deep, divine love. I mean isn’t that why any of us fuck with Rumi, Hafez, Kabir… the way they long for God is how I do, too.
Speaking of, I absolutely loved the song titles in the show, my top highlights:
“I’m Gonna Kill My Sister” (It’s an honor killing! It’s an honor killing!)
“Voldemort Under My Headscarf”
“Bashir With the Good Beard” )
and enjoyed getting to delve into a world I wish I had when I was growing up, but is something I’m extremely fortunate to have, now — Muslim siblings who are all like me. I realize how lucky I am that I have this. That there is a queer mosque in Toronto and a gathering of queer Bangladeshis in Dhaka. We are here, everywhere, and I’m glad for it. I’m glad we are finding each other through work, through poetry and lyric and for our love of this misunderstood and yet deeply profound faith.
I actually got asked to audition for the role of Saira in 2018 but I turned it down because I didn’t trust my British / London accent and slash was going through another unfurling of my complex relationship to meat (do I eat or not?) and was like “I can’t hack meat in a butcher’s shop.” So watching Saira was a really interesting experience because I could see her in me. It felt weird to be represented knowing that I could’ve also been in that role and it’s truly phenomenal to see how the landscape has completely changed for people like me both as an artist and an ardent lover of art and audience member.
When Zeba and I started Two Brown Girls in 2012 we could have never believed that things would this rapidly change. Even still, I know it feels glacial, and it’s OK to feel frustrated when the world is still fucked……. like we are not OK Joe………… and yet there are moments of hope, there always are. I couldn’t help but think what an honor it is to experience art that is made for me in mind. I felt that way when I recently finished Sort Of, as well after my friend Def asked me about it. Bilal Baig and Nida Manzoor are both paving such a unique way of being South Asian — queer, alt, trans, non-binary, sex-positive — and still Muslim, even if it’s in a way that is inexplicable, detached, confused or even devout… We have to accept that there is room for many different definitions of us, I’m just tired of representations of us that don’t support our own visions of ourselves, the visions of beauty, majesty and power. I’m moved, though, to see how things have changed and excited by the truly revolutionary and BRILLIANT work that my peers are making! What a time to be alive that Sort of and We are Lady Parts are out there. For us.
Something kind of embarrassing is that I actually really enjoyed reading The New Yorker profile on Jeremy Strong who plays Kendall Roy in Succession… because… sadly I related so hard. My friend Shriya told me about it on our way to the temple a few weeks ago and when I got home that day I read it on the toilet seat, my jaw to the fucking floor.
When Adam McKay says Strong isn’t playing Kendall Roy he’s playing Hamlet I was like……………… same. My life is less Shakespearan but I’m definitely running my life on an iambic pentameter. I was legit reading that profile thinking it me and every time they passed the mic to Brian Cox (who basically treats Strong exactly like how Logan treats Kendall, with a huh, who?) and Rory Culkin who is like haha he’s annoying haha wish he let us know his stupid plans haha I was like this is how I feel everyone else feels about me… like they’re putting up with me and my very intense and annoying habits.
…But, honestly, the older I get—and the more I trust that my friends like me, and the more I feel safe in them—the less I feel this way… so this is an important note about ~evolution~
When Strong says he carried Daniel Day Lewis’ prop mandolin “like a knight errant guarding a relic” I felt turned on by his dedication. I mean this in a theoretical way.
I like how much this guy tries. The way he commits to roles. I think trying at things is really fucking sexy and I don’t think we talk about that enough. People want you to be laissez-faire and twirling but the truth of it is that most people who are artists not for fame or money have to try so fucking hard to get an ounce of real recognition from ourselves because we are in the pursuit of this abstract thing known as “real art…” and in the bid to find it, to really have it in your grasp, I think it takes deep, deep contemplation, persistence as well as a honest devotion to the craft.
Also, I’m sure Strong is annoying af btw… This isn’t a defense of Jeremy Strong. I’m not Chris Crocker, it’s fine. Also, I recently found out some shit news about Jason Sudeikis (womp womp womp) and this is after I wrote a very loving take on Ted Lasso… so you know white men in power keep being white men in power (I’ll leave it there) …so I’m definitely not defending Strong’s antics, there’s something sort of maniacal about some of the details in the piece, but there’s something also about the earnestness he employs that’s deeply moving. Ok, side note, the man owns 5 Prada suits, is this man a Capricorn? (He’s not!)
This from Cox is kind of funny though because I read it in his extremely deadpan gaslight-y Logan Roy sorta way: “It’s the cost to himself that worries me,” Brian Cox told me. “I just feel that he just has to be kinder to himself, and therefore has to be a bit kinder to everybody else.” Now this feels a bit Shakespearean.
The truth of my career is that I have tried really hard to get where I am, and did it all through my hard work. My fourth book comes out in a few months (make sure to pre-order Who Is Wellness For? pleaseeeee) and I just turned 32 last month. And yet some days I still go around asking, “Am I secretly a worthless piece of shit?” There’s still so much shame, anger, sadness I’m wading through and sadly it’s still very hard to feel good about myself consistently. But I guess what keeps me going is that I put my 10000% into everything and yes it shows. Most people think it’s a bit much when they get close to it and you know what I don’t blame them, I’m me all the time. And I take myself and my work seriously (…enough… like a healthy amount) !
But I want to admit I like people who try because I wish more of us tried and kept trying even when we feel we have been betrayed. After dating people one after another who made me feel like I was asking for the world when all I was asking for was love—a love that I give and gave readily—has made me realize it’s sexy (in a non-sexual and sexual way) when people try. When they put in their all. Into healing. Into art. Into sex. Into friendship. Into life.
This has meant that I’ve realized I need to find true mirrors and honest reflections. The great thing about getting more honest about who I am — and thus my own boundaries and limitations — has meant I’ve found people who can actually (and want to!) meet me halfway. I want big love and I’m hungry for it. From everything and everywhere. I will take the love from whoever will give it to me with purity, without hindrance, without expectation. I’m trying to create and generate a wholesome, healed network of love. Of people who love the same. Who can give love and accept love with an equal kind of hunger. And urgency. I love urgently, like it’s the only thing I was brought to Earth to do. Isn’t that erotic? To be on the same page as people, to have a flow, an equilibrium. To love and receive love equally. Shout out to the mycelium network for really showing it takes communication and action to be this reliant on one another. It takes vulnerability. Openness. It takes trying.
I just finished watching The Power of the Dog by Jane Campion this morning. I had been meaning to watch it for a while but had been avoiding it because I hate Westerns. They’re so American and it just reminds me of a time in America that I don’t want to access in all honesty. It’s so white and dark… but two of my good friends Kiva and David told me it was highly recommended (David does a countdown every year (that I live for) and for 2021 The Power of the Dog was high up there...) needless to say, I knew I would have to eventually watch it.
I’m fucking glad I did. Because boy oh boy. Firstly, Jane Campion … THAT’S MY GUY. The Piano, Bright Star and Top of the Lake (part one, but part two is good too…) are some of my favorite films, works of art, of all time. I watched The Piano when I was like 7 (not recommended) and it has forever been seared into my brain like an imprint. It’s a film that feels very formative for me, maybe because I’m Australian and though Campion’s a Kiwi she went to school in Sydney and I feel like I sense that in her work. There’s a familiarity of environment. When I think of that film, I think of the trees, the dark wood, I think of the smell of fresh mud.
The landscapes are so erotic in The Power of the Dog, these great big Montana mountains (shot in New Zealand) arching like the curves of a body in elation. Everything from the firm hold of a braiding rope to the bullying of a wooden stump into the ground are all metaphors for sex. I love the rise of homoeroticism that permeated every angle, every brush against Benedict Cumberbatch’s denim (those pants were also fire, would love a shaggy cover for my boot cut jeans, thanks) … in relation to the ingenue of Kodi Smit-McPhee’s construction. The doe-eyed ness, the lisp, the gentle and sour of it all. It felt like a similar tempo of Phantom Thread, equally languid, hell-bent on the seduction and intrigue of near-death experiences… but Campion’s film felt more violently still, the landscapes posturing with grace against the darkness of Cumberbatch’s performance.
I kept thinking that the power of Campion is that she harnesses (the most with this film out of all others) the tenderness amidst the harsh terrain of bodies and geography. There’s softness, agility, that’s never stark and felt so feminine. It made me excited to see more filmmaking from a femme perspective, as in work that understands that the most erotic things are often what’s unseen.
These days nature turns me on the most. Its pulse is in mine, veins against mine, I feel this Earth gives me exactly the kind of sacredness I desire in relationship. I want to feel it all all of the time. And maybe that’s the other part of my dedication… because I do… feel it all... all of the time. And I designed my life that way. I committed to living it fully, as myself.
Last week, after a really shitty encounter, I reached out to my therapist for support. She told me to step into my wise-woman self, a self I’ve been actively cultivating in EMDR. At first, when she was introduced as a part of my “team” of helpers I was apprehensive. I’m realizing I have a hard time taking myself seriously even though I think I do. The last time I did an EMDR session she was clearer than she’d ever been, this wise-woman version of me, and funnily enough, she looked like a brown version of Holly Hunter in Top of the Lake, who oddly looks like Jane Campion. With that flowing white hair down to the small of her back, or to her knees like Hunter. I’ve seen my mother with photos of her hair straight down to her ankles. I never understood how she did it (lots of Omega 3? Vitamin D?) but my god was she so beautiful. I wish I knew her then. So maybe that’s a version of me I’m beckoning, an unperturbed wise woman self that’s just a healed version of my mother.
As I finished The Power of the Dog I thanked God. These days art moves me more than it used to. Immediately after I found a compulsion to read How To Cure A Ghost. Which I never ever read and almost want to laugh at when anyone mentions it. Maybe because I was moved by the arc of Campion’s career and wanted to face my own, one I regularly dismiss, yet today I decided to sit with my words.
I think I’m traumatized by discussions of HTCAG because of the atrocious Goodreads reviews it’s gotten (lmfao, if you like my work and have some time please write me a nice Goodreads review, thank you) even though I never read them anymore (learned my lesson) but someone inelegantly brought them up to me recently and it just made me so embarrassed to remember, again, with a lurch, that they’re out there… ugh how wretched it is to be perceived (and inevitably? purposefully? misunderstood). It’s such a shame, though, because this instance completely sullied my relationship to my own work… until today. Until something major happened. To my own surprise, I read almost half of HTCAG in one sitting and I could’ve kept reading it… I was hooked by my own words and I suddenly admitted… wow, I’m one of my favorite writers. Here I had convinced myself that I wasn’t smart enough, poet enough, intellectual enough to be a poet when Muslims literally invented poetry (this is factually incorrect but you feel me) and I think this newly installed self-respect that I somehow shot into my system finally seeped deeper into my pores, penetrating me gently. My Ayurveda constitution says I lean toward dryness because my body has a hard time absorbing nutrients.
Looking at my life, especially while doing these final edits of Who Is Wellness For? I kept having to confront the fact that I had survived my life. No rounds of applause for not dying but maybe I wanted that applause, and that’s OK. I could give it to myself and these days I finally see what a big deal it is to know who the fuck you are. Everything I write happened to me. All these things I’m writing about I’m working through. So many people will try and convince me I ain’t shit, but these days I feel less compelled to believe it. Because the proof is in the pudding. Nobody can take that away from me. This weekend I turned to one of my beloveds, Safia, and told her, “I finally get that I’m a big deal.” She smiled sweetly and said, “I’m so glad to finally hear you say that. It’s such a relief.”
A small victory.
+ Another one of my beloveds, the incredible Fatimah Asghar, is raising a Kickstarter for her new film Retrieval.
Fati made this incredible film with Jess X Snow as cinematographer and producer, Jamila Woods as Assistant Director and Producer, Jordan Phelps as Editor and Producer, Natalie Harris as Producer, and Vincent Martell and VAM as Producers. We also got to work with an unbelievable crew in New York to make this happen, mostly of people of color and queer people of color.
I know this film will be incredible. I know it will be so moving. Fati’s work is so necessary and as queer South Asian and I’m so proud of her. This film will be huge and it will be very important. Please donate, please share, let’s meet this goal!!!
+ Another note is I will be teaching a “Writing With Nature” class on Friday evening (PST time) and there are still a few tickets left. But sales for the tickets are ending Thursday!
+ Lastly, please continue to support me by becoming a paid subscriber to this newsletter. So many of you read me but not a lot of you pay for a subscription! Almost 20,000 of you read my Nazar newsletter, and yet I still have only about 388 paid subscribers. If you can’t afford to pay please pre-order my next book Who Is Wellness For? I really need all the support and I cannot do it without you <33333
I love how you write about love. It's so relatable to me. I've been trying recently to find the power in loving like that, rather than just feeling the raw vulnerability and sensitivity, and your words are giving me so much inspiration. Thank you thank you <3
I am so so so so so glad that you came back to your old work and loved it. Tears actually welling in my eyes as I read that you are your own favorite writer! Fuck yeah!
Okay, this - “The great thing about getting more honest about who I am — and thus my own boundaries and limitations — has meant I’ve found people who can actually (and want to!) meet me halfway. I want big love and I’m hungry for it. From everything and everywhere. I will take the love from whoever will give it to me with purity, without hindrance, without expectation. I’m trying to create and generate a wholesome, healed network of love. Of people who love the same. Who can give love and accept love with an equal kind of hunger. And urgency. I love urgently, like it’s the only thing I was brought to Earth to do.” - is totally fine, just completely fine, unrelated please excuse me as I pass out for a sec right. over. here.
Samesamesame. That is all.