33 THOUGHTS ON READING; A MANIFESTO OF SORTS

Syedakomalshah

  1. I will make time for reading, the way I make time for meals, or brushing my teeth.
  2. I will make an effort to carry a book with me at all times.
  3. I will read whatever interests me. I will read novels. I will read poems. I will read essays. I will read short stories. I will read memoirs. I will read magazines. I will read newspapers. I will read comic books. I will read self-help. I will read street signs. I will read ads. I will read instruction manuals. I will read old love letters. Etc.
  4. I will read whatever the hell I feel like. No guilty pleasures.
  5. I will try to clear my mind of expectations before I sit down to read. I will give each book a chance..
  6. I will be a good date, but I will not let an author waste my time.
  7. I will turn off…

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THE THINGS WE USED TO SAY IN THE LETTERS WE USED TO WRITE!

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My friend and I recently decided to start writing letters again. The kind that involve a pen and paper and dropping a thin rectangle into a red box on the sidewalk.

 Our optimistic effort to roll our communications back to the pre-Facebook Age stemmed from a recent attack of nostalgia that had me rummaging through cards and letters mailed back when it was perfectly normal to scrawl out a note to a friend while waiting for the subway or trying to stay awake in organic chem.

Some of the letters were surprisingly hefty, the kind that require at least one extra stamp and almost demand that the recipient pour a glass of energy drink or any soft drink before digging in. The lined notebook pages bled with scribbled tales of long-forgotten friends, parental conflicts and other glimpses into our not-yet-Instagrammable lives.

As I sifted through the pages, I felt a pang of sadness that we wouldn’t have any of these tangible memories from the current chapter of our lives. After all, who has time to write an entire letter when there’s so much tapping and swiping to be done? And in the era of technology who has the minutes it would take to look at all those words? My friends would probably prefer that I just “like” something to let them know I’m thinking of them, right?

Don’t get me wrong; I have no plans to trade in my Nexus for a stack of stationary. It’s kind of the coolest thing ever that my friend can WhatsApp me a video of her baby cousin proudly exercising his newfound walking skills across the kitchen floor. But I also want to sit on the floor a decade from now and open a box and physically touch crinkled, ink-smeared paper that reminds me of that moment. (And if you tell me to just screenshot text messages or save stuff in the cloud, I will beat you mercilessly with the nine-page letter that same friend mailed to me.)

Admittedly, I can be overly nostalgic. I was horrified to recently learn that my mom had thrown out my paper-made artwork I made for a fifth-grade book report, so it would be fair to say that perhaps I get too attached to things. But it pains me a little that my teenage brother will never pull that box from atop a shelf in his closet and see a former version of himself reflected in the faded handwriting of a friend. (Is there an app for that?)

I know this may seem silly to those who grew up in a world of hashtags and status updates. Saving words and pictures forever is basically the opposite of Snapchat; I get that. But trust me, once you’re old enough to have “a past,” you’ll want to be able to look back on it. And once enough years have gone by to make you truly appreciate lifelong friends—the ones who not only accept that you’re crazy but remember what made you that way—you’ll want to remember the silliness and heartbreak you’ve shared along the way.

A few months ago, distraught over the death of a childhood friend and weighed down with guilt over losing touch years before, I began sifting through mementos, looking for anything that would represent the person who existed before he was a body covered in coffin. Before I had become so “busy” with my own life that I hadn’t bothered to call as his slipped away.

There were photos from school skits and performances with youthful declarations of eternal friendship written on the backs, a note referencing our first post-school Thanksgiving, a fridge magnet of a foamy latte he had given me when I changed my first house.

I wasn’t sure what I was looking for until her tiny, careful cursive jumped out at me from the pages of a school yearbook:

“I hope that no matter what we’ll (you & I) be friends as we are always. No matter if all of us separate, go our own ways. Don’t worry, I don’t blame you for anything. We are friends forever.”

 He was most likely talking about some overly dramatic teenage fight, probably involving boys or who sat where at the lunch table, but I think he’d be fine with my more liberal interpretation.

And there was something uniquely comforting about being able to see his words in his own handwriting, something personal that can’t be transmitted through a screen.

A few weeks later, another (very much alive) friend and I were talking about how we want to remember our lives through more than humble-braggy Instagram photos. Just as we unwittingly documented the genuine moments that defined our early lives, from the impulsive cross-city moves to the awkward moments, we should have a messy, authentic scrapbook of the gray hair and career changes and dead friends and all of the real life that is rushing past right now. (If you refer me to my Facebook timeline, I will rip out my prematurely graying strands and strangle you with them.)

My friend decided he would write the first letter. It came through the post office a week later in a cream-colored envelope,with the same handwriting as years ago. It began: “I keep thinking that anything I write in this note, I have to make sure to not bring up on FB.”

  He’s right—this may take some practice.

A BRIEF NOD TO GRATITUDE!

We could be dead, but we aren’t — we’re right here. Sometimes I look back on my short but long yet strange however boring life and think, “I could’ve died”—the histrionics balancing out the tightrope act of life. I think about death a lot. Death is a lot. It happens. A lot.

I also think about life. I think about living. Life is a lot. It happens. So much. Life is such a beautiful and tragic thing. To think we’ve been preternaturally created with such a jarring capacity for cruelty and kindness is overwhelming.

I think about how grateful I am to have survived what I did and I’m glad that what could’ve killed me, well, didn’t, and what should’ve killed hasn’t, and that I’m living, finally—breaking forth from traumas and childhoods, aggressively forging some sort of compromise between nurture and nature.

I’m so grateful and overwhelming thankful to my family. To my family and friends—fictional, digital, and real. I love you so much from dial-up to DSL, from flesh and blood to the ties that bind, so much stronger than biologically linked co-dependencies. I love you so much.

I’m thankful this year to be somewhere in between. I once described my life to a friend as “the most oddly overwhelming peculiar series of events where the good and the bad come in pairs.” I am thankful to what has sucked me up because without those struggles I wouldn’t find the rare air so sweet.

I’m on this weird cusp, you know? I’m somewhere in between, you know? It’s like right now, if life were a club called Momento Mori, I’d be dancing to a song called “Carpe Diem” and it’s a real banger. Even if there’s just water in my cup I’m lifting it, dancing in my circle, alone yet happy, surrounded by people I love—I’m happy.

It’s odd to write this to you. To say, “I’m happy.” I haven’t been in a long, long time. I’m happy and I’m struggling. I’m happy and I’m here. Do I have to be happy to have this profound sense of gratitude? No, not at all. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out if I’m okay, if I’m fine. The truth is I’m not sure how I’ll know but I’ll probably write 20k more words about it.

Sometimes I think I’m needlessly dramatic like when someone you’re talking to via texts suddenly starts to use punctuation and it throws off your digital intuitiveness—it’s unsettling. Those suddenly curt letters portending disinterest, so unnerving.

I’m thankful for these motions, rituals, and off-off-off-Broadway performances I go through. I’m thankful to the madness and the hysteria. I’m thankful for these chemical imbalances and these blemishes on my skin because without them I wouldn’t be able to tell you who I was with such ferocity and pride. I’m happy for this off-beat sense of humor that haunts me. Someone once texted me, “you find a silver lining in everything, a joke where there should be none.”

I think life’s a joke, honestly. It’s kinda one of those side-splitters. It’s one of those lip-pursing, brow-furrowing jokes. Life is the joke I’ve been telling after I introduce myself at a party and whoever laughs I’m friends with for life. Sometimes no one laughs. It’s a good thing I like to laugh at myself, at my own jokes. Life is being on stage at the Apollo.

When I laugh it sounds like a wind bellowing through an empty house. The floorboards shriek and it’s a haunting thing and I laugh a lot. It’s one of those laughs you have to hope you’ll go out with but then realize it’s not your time yet and you sigh because you’re still here.

THE PROMISE OF CLOUDS.

The hills to the east reflected the setting sun and turned a deep plum. Above them stretched a thin gauze of clouds, as pale pink as spun sugar, like the world was slowly being wrapped in a tuft of cotton candy. The cloud that hovered over the bay was a great hand-shaped streak that glowed all the colors of the sky and held the last of the light.

And then as the sun continued to set, the sky darkened and with it the cloud. The colors deepened into indigo and charcoal. The cloud’s glow dulled into a dark violet edged in fuchsia, like an angry bruise barely hidden in the night sky.


Have you ever stayed too long and watched everything go dark?


Many things start out with promise. Not all, and not most, and certainly not as much promise as a cloud looming like a great piñata, ready to spill candy-colored tangerine-streak dreamlike sunset over the water’s surface. But promise enough.

Maybe we’re just fooling ourselves, and promise is a privilege. The promise of potential, and of possibility. The promise that this will be something good, and it will not end, certainly not in tears, is not elemental. It is not a given or a guarantee. Instead the promise is what we do to and with each other.

Those bright flares that burst into a bruise and fade into a sad memory: we did that. You did. I did.


I used to say I hated promises. Promises could be broken, and would be. That was how we got hurt, by making and breaking promises.

Of course that was naïve. Promises don’t hurt people. People hurt people.

There is no guarantee in this world. A promise is a foothold, a way of keeping the uncertainty at bay. I can’t be sure nothing will go wrong. I can’t be sure I won’t falter. I can’t be sure the world will not make it very hard to do what I set out to accomplish. But I can promise to remember the joy and the light. I can promise to help keep the bruises at bay.

DESPOPNDENCY!

THIS IS NOT THOUGHT PROVOKING.

I’m sad. This is not funny, I’m literally feeling sad. If someone would ask me to grade according to the severity of my sadness on the scale of 1 to 10, I would probably go for 6 or 7. I’m not sure, because I’m sad. It’s taking up a part of my brain, consuming my time literally making me feel sad.

This is seriously not  thought provoking.

Surprisingly, I can’t recall the last time I got sad.

Homer crying his heart out. Don’t worry! he is still married to Marge and has three beautiful kids.

It’s particularly hard to identify the cause of this sadness. Maybe, a therapist can help me, talk to me like I’m the nicest person on the planet earth. But, the thing is I’m apprehensive of such instances. They make me awkward. I wish I didn’t feel this way, but I do.

Who am I to blame?

I acknowledge gloominess, it’s a close and striking part of me which leaves me asking a few questions, questions so big even those who consider answering are left with bedlam. I wonder.

Fond yet gloomy memories of childhood. Oh mother!

I’m different, I’ve always felt this way. I think I am because I think. I have grown passionate about the topics of humanity and love and from my experience, many don’t acknowledge these factors.

Please don’t do that!

Some would say that this needs to be solved, that I have to take some kind of mild sedatives or soporifics to solve this kind of anomaly but I think this is different, probably because I have tried this before. These mood swings haunt me. But,they are one of a kind experience that happens to the best of us.

Fry doesn’t want to entertain his dreams anymore.

The thing that I badly wanted to explain is that it’s okay to be sad, because life is a mixture or remix in a sense that it’s an amalgamated form of both happy and sad moments.

I try to write about the moments that make me wonder and ponder critically yet sometimes overtly. But, it is hard. I don’t have the guts to write my heart out. I am different, only if the world could understand me better or if I could make them understand some of my unusual traits. That, this extroverted world needs to understand that introverts too exist side by side, living with them, trying to find a way out.

Stan’s parents temporary separation.

Life is not a bed of roses. A pure example of clichéd idiom that doesn’t make you feel better yet saying it makes you understand the gravity of this situation.

I don’t feel good. But, I don’t feel very bad either. I think it’s the averageness of the situation that saves me every time from falling down the rabbit hole, the deep pit.

Mufasa taught Simba how to survive, now he must strive for the greater good.

Believe me once, when I say that we are all alone.Because it’s the bitter truth that we need to accept, that we sometimes cling onto and never want to let go of. But, life moves on. It never stops, it won’t stop for you. Change is inevitable and we all need to evolve, to leave our comfort zone and to think beyond ourselves. Showing a little philanthropistic purpose might help in the long run. After all, all that matters is our attitude towards humanity in general and behaviour towards every creature in a widely respected manner.

YOU DIDN’T SAY!

You didn’t say.

THE THINGS IN LIFE YOU WANTED TO SAY AND YOU DIDN’T.

I’m perplexed. I am often easily demotivated. I’m easily manipulated into making harsh decisions. And, sometimes I go off the road, slightly wander into the rabbit holes far from escaping. It’s just that bad. I have less control over my emotions and often they become uncontrollable, unbearable.

I don’t know what to say.

I really don’t. My problem with the world and myself is probably undefined. I cannot tell you that. I can’t tell you that not because issues like such are hard to define but because I can’t find an easily approachable explanation. I am fumbled by words and attitude. And, I wish people became more humane over the time, isn’t that the age of science and technology has enabled us to do? To become more humane.

Not everyone agrees. Some oppose.

I’m one of those. I face trouble translating my thoughts into an eloquent speech. I sometimes stutter not unknowingly or because I am bad at language or have less than a usual vocabulary. But, because I stand in the state of nervosity.

I’ve been reading Dale Carnegie’s book to find solace after finding the disturbing fact that I have a fear or phobia of unrelated things like speaking publicly. I can’t face the crowd and sometimes my system simply shuts down. I don’t have a trouble thinking about a topic, just that the thought of facing a crowd gives me a bumpy feeling.

 Your purpose is to make your audience see what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt. Relevant detail, couched in concrete, colorful language, is the best way to recreate the incident as it happened and to picture it for the audience. — Dale Carnegie

Being diligent and interested

The promise that I made today to myself is that I will practise, practise my heart out. Become more confident, believe in myself that nothing is insurmountable or insuperable, even the fear of speaking can be conquered and seeing the eloquent speakers just makes my point stronger.

Trying is not bullshit.

ANXIETY!

RESISTANCE IS ALL IN YOUR HEAD.

I can normally relate to the usual anxiety attacks. Throughout my life, I have been intimidated by many things, those aren’t life-altering in any way but anxiety makes them so.

It turns, it’s all in your head. Well, technically everything is. And, humans in a certain way are bounded to be afraid of such happenings. Like, speaking at a public seminar, or to make new friends, or even in the worst cases breaking the ice.

Resistance takes all kinds of form to hurt you, to haunt you. And, you have no choice but to vary this contender and change your life. Therapy does wonder, I have heard. But, I have never gotten any time to apply myself to such resources..

Frankly, this is all too much. Even if I’m writing this thoughtfully, I can’t talk like this. I stutter during the transition of words, and sometimes let a Freudian slip occasionally.

TAKE ACTION

The only way to resolve this complexity is through taking action, any action that will similarly help in taking control of your anxiety problems.

Anxiety is a serious disorder that we can relate to all (most of us).

The cure for depression/anxiety/panic/malaise etc. is to, first, believe you have a career-in-potential (I guarantee that you do) and, then, act upon it. — Steven Pressfield

IT’S OKAY NOT TO WRITE!

The writer faces many complexities throughout his life. His life is basically a written anecdote of dilemmas and gloominess. But, my friend he can write. I bet he can and has written many pieces before.

Speaking through my experience, I am not an experienced writer but let’s be honest, who is it? What kind of experience really does matter when it comes to writing? To me documenting my life as it progressed through the ages of late high school years till the beginning of college has been phenomenal. It has helped me laugh, cry and ponder over myself.
Seeing life as of recent, I am indeed in a state of confusion.
To begin or not, to write or not, to state or not.
These aren’t roughly the questions that come to my mind when I start my day. I am worried about the bigger personal problems, and in dire need to change myself and work on them.
Have I long desired to do something on my own? Yes. Have I ever had the courage to follow my passion, my dream? No.
They say life lies ahead of you, when you can’t make a predicament what will happen the very next day. I am worried that my life will become mundane containing no spiritual mandate whatsoever. And, it scares me because I believe in goodness and graciousness.

Saddened with tears,
A longing desire,
Without cause.

BACK TO LIGHT!

The only truth about depression is there is no truth in depression.
Everything is a lie.

Everything your brain tells you is false. You are not a failure. You are not unloved, nor are you a social pariah. You are not doomed to a mediocre existence, clinging to some false hope while those around you claim glory and joy that should have been yours, living lives you had always hoped for.
You are not. Do not believe it, any of it.And yet of course you will. How could you do otherwise? Your brain is very clever. It wraps you up in a cocoon where it can whisper to you in the dark. It keeps you in there so you cannot look down at yourself, your beautiful self, and see the truth, see the extent to which you have been tricked. It keeps you bound up tightly so you can’t escape. Why would you want to, when you could so easily sleep? You imagine how peaceful it might be to sleep all the way to the bottom of a great ocean and to float in the dark, no longer weighted by this invisible force.
Everything is a lie except the way your body seems to give in to that invisible force. The way you sink into a quicksand, your limbs weighted down by something you push against feebly. You will think about it, wish you could move. How, you will wonder, and when did it all become so impossibly difficult?
From a well-meaning friend will come the exhortation to “get some exercise!” and you will hate the way that truth sounds, how alien and unwelcome it feels. Any truth will seem like the enemy, like an invasive species you must destroy before it takes over, a vine that threatens to overrun the landscape and work its way back to the light.
The truth will exhaust you. Everything will exhaust you, except staying very still and contemplating the vastness of the many lies your brain tells you. How real they seem, how inescapable. They’ve been here before, and maybe this time they’ll settle in for good.
You will count the days in a row you cry and try to remember how many exceeds what might be considered “normal.”
Maybe it’s all true. Maybe I should just hide forever.
And then one day, you will think: maybe forever is a little too long. You will let someone in, and they in turn will let in the light simply by being there with you.

FROM MY PHONE TO ME: A LOVE LETTER

Dear Nauman,

Wow. What can I say? I’ve never been in a relationship where love was expressed with such reciprocity, a standard, on-going affair with mutual admiration and respect.

I. Complete. You.

You take me everywhere. When I’m not with you, you notice right away and panic, afraid you may have missed a call or a text or an email. You think about me constantly until we’re reunited, wondering what I might have in store for you. When you wake up, you check me. Every night before bed, you make sure you plug me in.

Could anyone else in your life say the same?

I’m such a part of you that sometimes you even feel yourself vibrate when I’m not with you. I’m a part of your being.

This morning your brother was playing with his toolbox when he finally demonstrated the dexterity it takes to screw and unscrew that large plastic bolt. That’s a big deal.

And you missed it because you were looking at me.

The way he looks at you, looks up to you with an admiration that only a younger brother can possess for his brother… it’s awesome. Everything he does, he checks to see if you’re watching him, whether it be Dumbo eating imaginary peanuts or running over the dog with his toy tractor. He watches you.

And in return, you watch me.

He’ll even come over from time to time and push me away from you, trying to block your vision of me with his hand. “Rehan,” you tell him, “you don’t do that.” If you looked up from me long enough, you’d be able to see the disappointment in his face.

So many people in your life have told you, “cherish these years. You don’t get them back.” You smile, nod, and tell them you will.

And then you come right back to me.

Even when you do feign the role of caretaker, I’m a part of it. Remember the breathtaking view of Skardu with the family? You saw the display through me, because you were so concerned with getting a profile picture that you watched the entirescene through my lens. And I did my part; you got some great pictures.

And managed to miss the entire thing.

Birthdays, Eids, anniversaries — you watched them all through me, never once stopping to realize that the reality of what was going on was so much bigger than my display screen.

How many nights have you come to me to read instead of talking to your brother or any other family member about their day, your day, their life, your life.
Nauman, this means so much to me. Thank you.

I’ve enabled you to live your life vicariously through others, checking the statuses of what other families are doing, keeping you from really having to do anything with your own. The lives of others, after all, are so much more interesting — at least the lives they choose to present as reality on the blue website.

Just between you and me — it’s total bullshit. We phones talk to each other, and gossip flows like wine. Those are just the lives they want you to think they’re living. In reality, they can’t get off their phones anymore easily than you can.

But shhh… that’ll be our little secret.

Even the one thing I was originally made for — talking to other human beings — you’ve bypassed. Do you realize how many of your friends would give anything to have just one, let alone two, of their parents still around? Just one more day to spend with them? Yours are not only alive, but apparently still in the stone age, because they actually call you. Often. But I help keep you too busy to accept those calls.

Push red, slide left.

Instead you choose to use my texting features. When you get around to it. If you remember.

I make it possible to keep in touch from a distance. You use me to stay distant and never touch.

So I’m here to say thank you. As life passes, I’m the passenger-side window you lean up against, staring off into the distance at everything, yet not really seeing anything.

And to me, that means more than I’m capable of expressing. After all, I am just a phone.

XoXo