A Slanderous Phone Call

Grrr, I really really hate the backbiting and slandering that is so prevalent in my culture, especially from the older generation. Yesterday I went to a dinner event with my friend and her mom, at the house of an acquaintance of theirs. While we were there, some awful old uncle saw me, recognized me, and then called my dad to tell him I was at this event. Say what??! Yes, you heard right. He called my dad. The phone call wasn’t a “oh, it was a nice surprise to see your wonderful daughter” type of call. Rather it was a “why is your daughter at this event without her parents/family – she is a bad daughter who must be up to no good to be here” type of call. This upsets me so much. Who does that? I have a few heated comments to make before I state my reasons for sharing this experience.

First, Mr. Fake “Devout” Paragon of Piety and Unblemished Character, lower your F-ing (excuse my language) gaze. Why are you ogling hijabi women, young enough to be your daughters, when you are at an event where the men and women are deliberately separated? Did you see me trying to check out the men while I made my quick walk past the living room, where all the men were gathered, to get to the dining room? No, I did not. Why? Because I respected that this event called for certain religious behavior, specifically to avoid contact with the opposite gender. I respected your religiosity, and wanted mine to be respected as well. Therefore, if I somehow fell in your line on vision while trying to make a discreet visit to the kitchen, you should have averted your gaze because that is what Islam calls for you, as a Muslim man, to do in the presence of Muslim women, who are not related to you, as a sign of respect. Yes, as a Muslim man, you are held to higher standards than non-Muslim men, by our religion, because you are of the same religion and know what the rules are. This expectation is warranted specially when you put yourself forward as the epitome of pious man.

Second, What type of significant or familial relationship do you have to me that made it necessary for you to make such a phone call? What valid reason do you have for trying to besmirch my character in front of the other guests and consequently, my parents’ name by insinuating some imagined fault on my character for attending an event? Mind your own F-ing business.

Third, This is not the Motherland, where ridiculous traditional standards apply, that define a woman as being from a “bad” family, and one of ill repute if she goes anywhere without a male relative. This is NYC, in the year 2015. I am past my mid-twenties; I don’t need my parents to accompany me to events like I am a 10 year old. I think by this age I can live my life however I want and my parents don’t need to know what I do unless maybe I am off doing drugs or committing a crime.

Fourth, Ugh, you just disgust me. Trying to make your life more exciting by playing the role of a tattle teller is just rude and childish.


I decided to share this experience because this is not the first time I have experienced someone trying to slander me and I have many friends who have experienced the same. Often the slandering is done by people with very traditional mindsets, who harbor some sort of antagonism towards the person’s family that dates back by several generations, or some other stupid reason. Sometimes it’s jealousy. Sometimes it’s just pure maliciousness for the sake of it. I don’t know what all the motivations are that drives people to make slanderous comments. That is not the point. The point is that such awful behavior needs to stop.

There are so many people creating difficult situations for others by making things up and butting their heads into things they have no place in being. It’s hurtful, damaging to one’s reputation, and creates division within families. These experiences are especially frustrating for those of my generation who are not very traditional but still cannot sever their ties to the South Asian community, and the rules that govern that community, because of our parents and family. In the South Asian community, your reputation is (unfortunately) everything. Even the hint of a whisper of something “bad” (rolling my eyes ugh) can be damaging because everyone knows everyone, and the gossip spreads like wildfire. And it is especially damaging to the reputation of unmarried women. Why? Because when it comes time to get married, the first thing your prospective in-laws will do is ferret out if there are any hints of blemishes on your reputation. And who does this affect the most? The parents and the family name. Oh the shame, the shame! (More rolling eyes).

While I couldn’t care less about what others think of me, I know the family reputation matters to my parents. Out of respect for my parents and their traditional beliefs, I don’t want someone besmirching my character in the community to indirectly embarrass my parents. If you have something to say about me, be a mature adult, and say it to my face. Don’t try to shame my family name with your slander. Otherwise, the next time I see you, I don’t care what people say, I will give you a piece of my mind, loud and clear.

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Third Time’s a Charm: “Where is the Second Page?”

12:45 AM. I flopped down on my bed.

I came home a few hours ago after a cheering up session with my friend. We sat on the curved benches near the sprinkling water in Columbus Circle. My friend ate a slice of pizza while I apologized for being such a Debbie Downer and shared my anxiety. It was the last week of October; the results were going to come out any day. I was on pins and needles. Having gone through “this” with me before, she told me, “whatever happens, you are going to be ok. And if it is not the result you want, you are going to come up with another plan.” She was smart enough to not say, “don’t worry, you’ll pass.” We both knew better than to tempt fate. By this point, I had DEFINITELY learned that anything could happen. She was right. There was no way of knowing. I prepared myself to accept whatever was going to happen. Sighing, I turned to my side and closed my eyes.

1:30 AM. Blah. I could not sleep. I reached underneath my pillow and pulled out my phone. Yeah, I know, bad habit but I need access to my phone at all times.

Anyway, I unlocked the phone and saw there was an email. Immediately, my heart stopped. I just knew. I pushed aside the blankets and sat up, one leg on the floor (why I remember this random detail, I don’t know but I just do). I clicked on the email icon and sure enough, there was an email from the Bar Admins. I clicked on it and the message told me to see the attached results.

My heart fell. It was the same email I received the previous times when I had failed. =(

Back into robot mode. I clicked on the attachment. I just wanted to get it over with. The link opened. I immediately scrolled down to the second page to see the subject breakdown of my results. But WTF (excuse my language)? The thing, whatever the heck it’s called, wouldn’t scroll down to the second page.

Where the f*** was the second page? I scrolled three more times. Or rather kept tapping the phone screen. WTF was going on? I was so annoyed.

Finally I read the first sentence on the page in front of me. “The State Board of Law Examiners congratulates you on passing….”

Umm what??? I could not process. I read it again. Stared. And read again.

Then my face contorted into some weird shape – a mixture of a cry and smile and disbelief. I ran out of my room. My brother and dad were still awake in the living room.

I stopped in front of them and starting saying, “omg, omg….” I couldn’t breathe. Gah, I couldn’t cry or laugh. My face was doing something though because my cheeks were wet and I was making weird strangled sounds. Finally, in a cracked voice, I shared, “I passed the bar exam.”

I finally PASSED the bar exam!!! AHHHHHHHHH!!!

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The First Time “it didn’t happen.”

I do not think I will ever forget the first time I found out that I had not passed the bar exam. I was headed to a cafe after work with a colleague the night of, when all of a sudden both of us received texts from our more BOLE webpage stalker friends that the results were going to come out that night. We got our lattes, grabbed a table, and looked at each other nervously. As I looked at her, I felt a sudden lurch at the pit of my stomach, a harbinger of doom. The two of us tried to have a normal conversation but our mutual need to be alone with our anxiety was too strong to hide. We threw our coffee cups into the trash. Silently put our shaking limbs into the car. My colleague dropped me off a few blocks from home, and we departed ways, heading to await our respective destinies.

I could not function during the next few hours. I felt sick. I was not expecting the results until a few days later. I was not ready to learn my fate for the upcoming months. I did not want to know. Therefore, I went to bed around 10:00 PM because I was told the results would come after midnight and I wanted to be well rested to face whatever would happen next in my life.

I slept as long as my body would let me hide from the unknown. I woke up at 6:00 AM and opened up the dreaded email. Clicked the link and just stared. I froze for a second. Then my heart filled with panic. Gut-wrenching fear. I needed my mom. An early riser to pray in the morning, I knew she would be awake. I went outside my room, saw her in the living room, and in a broken voice whispered, “Mom, it didn’t happen.” “What didn’t happen?” she asked, confused.

“My test – it didn’t happen.”

I couldn’t get myself to say that words, “I did not pass,” because in my head all I could hear was “I failed.” I failed. I couldn’t say it aloud. Everyone else was still sleeping. I did not want my dad to know. I couldn’t cry in front of my mom. She looked at me but I needed to get back into the safety of my room. She uttered comforting assurances but this time, even her words couldn’t create the safe haven I sought. I looked back at the door of my room, darted back inside, and looked at my phone. There were several messages from my friends, with the question, “well?”

I could not. I just blinked and shook my head. After a few seconds, operating on backup batteries, like a robot, I messaged back, “I did not pass.” Then I called my closest friend and study buddy from law school. When he picked up, I whispered, “– I did not pass” and then I cracked. Tears flooded my eyes and danced down my cheeks. My friend did his best to reassure me. The thing I feared the past three years had come true.

The next I looked at my phone, it was 7:00 AM already. All of a sudden I was overcome with the burning question of how I was going to tell my employer. I just wanted to tell him and get it over with. I messaged my supervisor at work and asked if she was awake. While I waited for her reply, I caked on makeup onto my face, put something on, and headed out the door.

While I was waiting at the bus stop, my supervisor called. I told her I did not pass and broke into tears. Ugh, I was so embarrassed. I felt so naked out in the cold but the tears wouldn’t stop falling. She tried to reassure me and told me I could stay at home that day. I told her I was already on the bus at that point and I was going to get it over with. I felt like I was getting ready to sacrifice myself- like a lamb for slaughter.

The second I stepped out of the elevator in the office building and got off at the office floor, something came over me. It was like someone turned on a switch and I was from then operating on another robot mode, with one mission in life– attack my failure before it attacked me.

It was 8:30 AM. I sat at my desk and waited. A staff member came into the office. I was thankful that this wasn’t my first time being the first one in the office because then I could pretend everything was normal. I made myself smile and made small talk with her. All the while I surreptitiously looked through the glass windows, keeping an eye out for my boss. He walked in shortly after. I gave him a few minutes to settle in. I couldn’t wait any longer. I went into his office and asked him if I could talk to him privately, as calmly as I could. He looked at me quizzically and said, “sure, let’s go into the conference room.”

We went into the conference room. He went and closed the conference room door. Oddly, that action vaguely registered in my brain as something significant, to be analyzed at some point later in my super analytical brain. I waited for him to take his seat at the helm of the table and in my best fake calm robot voice, I told him I did not pass. I reassured him I would take it again, and that I could continue to do my best to be a good employee.

To his credit, he didn’t blink and told me it was okay. He even shared that a family member of his had to retake the exam in the past. He told me I still had my job and to let him know what I needed. I was not prepared for his kindness. He was not someone who I expected such kindness from especially in a moment of what to me was such obvious failure. I don’t know, I guess I expected him to fire me on the spot given that he had been reluctant to hire me. However, he didn’t. That kindness undid all my efforts at professionalism and I turned my face away to the side as my eyes filled up, and tears streamed down.

I awkwardly wiped my tears, at that point so much more embarrassed that I let him see me in a vulnerable state, than that I had failed. I was mortified. I composed myself. I thanked him, arranged my facial features into a neutral position, and left the glass conference room, ready to do battle with my emotions.

Looking back now, over a year later, I think more than failing the exam itself, it was the fact that I was vulnerable and could not put up a shield of armor in front of others that got to me. In other words, for the first time I could not pretend things were going well when things weren’t because the bar results were public. I was overwhelmed with embarrassment and shame; I cared too much about what other people thought of my intelligence. The entire summer studying for law school, I was so stressed out and worried about how if I failed, everyone would know. Not, if I failed, I would not be a lawyer, I would not realize my dream. Just that everyone would know I was a failure.

I didn’t know how to deal with failure because I had never really failed or struggled academically (crying about “B’s” in college doesn’t count) until I got to law school. My entire identity had been shaped around my “intelligence” or academic excellence prior to law school. My family viewed me as the “smart” one and I think they added to this whole persona I had around whether I was intelligent. If I’m honest with myself, even throughout college, while other women worried about being seen as pretty, I always worried about whether I was smart enough — if people saw me as smart.

It was just too much pressure to live up to the expectation of always succeeding academically, and the pressure finally swallowed me up. And spit me out as a crumbled up mess. I failed in a huge public platform and didn’t know how to deal with it. Fear, shame, and embarrassment crippled me while studying for the bar exam and so unsurprisingly, I collapsed on the actual days of the exam.

Above_the_Clouds

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A Naked Moment of Being

I spend so much of my time pulling on the layers, to shroud myself in confidence and positivity that I have become rather good at hiding from myself.

I stood in the shower the other day, in the middle of shampooing, when I randomly stopped to just watch the water cascading out of the shower head. There was something beautiful about it, and for a few seconds, I was transported to a “moment of being” in 2008. To a morning, in a country in Asia, when I stepped out of my room at 5:00 AM, suffering jetlag, and onto the porch that overlooked the courtyard. It was the monsoon season and it was raining like crazy. I remember just standing there, listening to the rain. I think it was the first time that I had really “heard” the rain. I just watched it fall and got lost in the sound of the rain. We all know what rain “sounds” like but in that moment, I felt like I was somehow a part of that sound. The more I listened, the more I got lost in myself and in the rain until finally, there was a second where I felt like I was really present. I don’t know how to describe that experience other than a “moment of being”. The first time I heard that expression was when I read Virginia Woolf.

 “Behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we–I mean all human beings–are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.”   –Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being

In that moment, standing on the porch in 2008, watching the rain fall, and in that moment a few days ago, standing under the showerhead, watching the water fall like rain, I became transfixed in the sound and beauty of water cascading down. I was so lost in the water that I became the water itself. And in that brief second, I was present. Naked, stripped down. Physically and mentally. No longer hiding from myself.

Just like that moment in 2008, this time too, standing in the bathtub, I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. I let out a heavy sigh and accepted “it.”

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The StAGE Between the Soldier and the Justice.

Sigh. I finally managed to get my body to sit still so I can “take stock” of my life.

Life in Review: It’s been a year since I graduated from law school. I have taken the bar exam more than once, am waiting to hear back on my most recent bar exam results, have sent out many job applications without hearing back on any of them, and just deferred yet again on my substantial loans for another six months. I am counting the pennies to buy a Metrocard, and am contemplating the oddest respectable (key word “respectable”) jobs to earn a few extra bucks.

Conclusion: Pretty much, I don’t know where the heck I am going or what the heck I should do.

After being in school for so long, I guess I saw life as one thing after the other. For one thing, for me, a new year would not begin in January but after the “summer”. Since I graduated in May, technically it’s been over a year. After every summer, whether in August or September, a new stage of life would begin with the start of another semester. Well, two summers have come and gone. It is now almost October, and in some twisted way, I am so upset that there is no end to the “summer”. I should also clarify that in my head, “summer” equals the time off between the end of one semester and the start of another, and has nothing to do with the presence of warm weather.

Why am I so upset that there is no end to the “summer”? And what the heck do I mean by that? I think what it is, is that “summer” time was a time when as a student you were unofficially given permission to take it slightly “easy” (although summers during law school are a completely different story). I mean sure, I worked during the summers, had internships, took classes, and did summer assignments. And forget the summers during law school — I worked my butt off during the summer, working just as hard as I did over the semester. However, I still knew that it was a “break”. A “break” meant that these two to three months were not a permanent stage, and that if I did not perform optimally as a human being during that time, something was coming after those months, and I would once again be producing at an “optimal” level. In other worlds, I would be in the process of making something of myself once school started; I would be moving towards a goal; I would be a participant of the world; I would have a purpose.

Now September has passed and it is almost October. The “break” has no end. The fact that I don’t have to wake up super early in the morning again to rush to school or work, or stay late in the office, or awake late into the night to finish a project doesn’t make me feel thankful. I can’t enjoy the freedom of being able to go out during the work week and hang out in the sunshine anytime I want. A year ago, I would have given anything for the extra time to sleep in everyday and be out in the sunshine all the time. Now, I just can’t enjoy it because there is no end. We, human beings, are strange creatures, and I am no exception. This society has made me a creature of productivity and I can’t be happy unless I feel like I have am producing something. That I am making something of myself. That I am moving towards a goal that would make me a participant of the world. That I would then, as a participant of the world, have a purpose for being. This is the root of my unhappiness. It is driving me crazy because I don’t know how to get out of this “break” and get back into being a participant of the world. There is no “end” to my state of unproductivity. I wish someone had told me about this stage. I know it will eventually, God-willing, pass but all my years of schooling have not prepared me for this stage. I feel stuck and I want to move on. But I don’t know how.

I call this the stage, or age, between the “soldier” and the “justice.” Shakespeare wrote a poem called, “the Seven Ages of Man” haha about the seven ages of men (see entire poem below). The fourth stage is a soldier and the fifth stage is a justice. I’m not going to analyze the poem here (there are some great analyses online if you are interested) but I find it interesting that the fourth stage is a solder and the fifth stage of man is a justice. Why? Because I feel like a soldier, fighting for my life, deep in the muddy trenches, with no hope of a happy end in sight, smelling death on my clothes. In the distance, in my dreams, stands justice – or a lawyer, the “next” stage or age if I survive “life” (the irony) as a soldier. I want to be a lawyer, a vehicle for justice but I am nowhere close to it. I don’t think Shakespeare’s definitions of each of these stages/ages quite specifically apply to me for that reason. I’m not at the point where I am doing battle because I don’t even know how I should fight. Rather, there is no tangential thing for me to fight. I don’t have a concrete body to take down like a soldier does in battle. If I did, I could at least figure out a way to fight. All I have is a stage of existence at this time. It’s like fighting air. How do I fight air? Yet, I can’t breathe. So here I am. I am stumbling in a foggy battlefield, blindly staggering to put one put in front of the other, with my hand held out in front of me, trying to feel my way to determine the direction I should take to get to the next stage.

trench-warfare ————

The Seven Ages of Man

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

– Shakespeare, As You Like It (II, vii, 139-166).

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Failing the Bar Exam: My Journey to Forgiveness

After finishing law school, I worked at a firm, where I loved the work that I was doing but was incredibly unhappy. The unhappiness began while I was studying for the bar exam my second time. As can be imagined, I was super stressed about the bar exam and already feeling an insane amount of pressure to do well, without adding in the work stress. After a month of living in a state of constant panic, where I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest during random moments of the day because god forbid I messed up, from being thrown random projects in new areas of law without any instructions, training, or time to learn, and office politics, I gave in to my inner voice. I knew I would never get the training I needed to grow in this environment. I gathered up my courage and resigned. People thought I was crazy for not having something else lined up before resigning but I knew I had to leave when I still could with my self-dignity- before I lost all confidence and became a shell of my normal vivacious personality. Then I said to myself “F- it, I’m never going to have free time again, I should take advantage of it and see the world.” So I went abroad for some soul-searching but really I needed to get away because I just felt like a failure. I never thought I would be the person who would end up resigning from her first full-time attorney job.

Sooo vacation in Europe was going really well- I started to regain my confidence and joy for life. I even climbed a mountain in Bavaria and felt like I was on top of the world (literally- well…I’ll be honest, it wasn’t Mount Everest or anything close =/ – whatever, let a woman feel accomplished for a few minutes please). Then the morning I was supposed to board a bus to Berlin, I found out I had not passed the bar exam. “Great,” I said to myself, “just great- so much for being on top of the world, you are definitely NOT on the road to success.” I just wanted to crawl into a hole of shame. I felt like a zombie during the five hour bus ride. I remember sitting in the sunshine during the midway restroom stop and eating a bread and cheese sandwich that my friend had made for me. I kept thinking how annoying it was that you had to pay to use the public restroom in Germany. I mean who the heck carries around .70 cents with them all the time? And then I started reading “Dr. Zhivago” on the bus and that pissed me off before the Russian characters each had like 20 first names and I had to keep flipping the pages to figure out who was who. Sigh, I am digressing too much here.

The way we handle and process bad news is really strange. I alternate between sadness, anger, and annoyance at random things. That night in Berlin, I had dinner with my friend and her colleague and I had to force myself to put on a smile, when all I wanted to do was glower at everyone I saw and just dare them to glower back at me. This way my 5’3 self could verbally beat up someone and imagine I was fighting back against the world. The colleague asked me what I did back home and I managed to mumble something without explaining I had just failed! FAILED! Man, all I could do was look at her perfectly cut bangs and chic European self and think how graceful she was. I felt like a big blob of a pumpkin in comparison to my successful dinner companions. I tried to gracefully end our late evening tea with our chic Berlin companion but I’m sure she saw the sad look in my eyes. You see, by that moment, I was feeling another emotion- onto another stage of handling bad news. I felt alone. Here I was in a foreign city, bustling with people, and I just felt alone. Like it was me up against the world and there was no one on my side. Hold on– this is not going to be a sob story if that’s what you are thinking– I’m getting to a point– give me a few sentences– anyway, I just felt really really lonely and alone that night.

I went to sleep and the next day was a new day. Sunshine is a great remedy for forgetting or faking happiness. While I was wandering about this foreign city or rather sitting on a tour bus, I heard from a friend I had met a few years ago in another country. I never thought to see him again. We met up and he took me to this really artsy part of town. It’s not something I would have gone to on my own but I really liked it. It was a part of the city that was kind of run down before but that recently local artists had blended elements into the buildings to make them cool, artsy hangouts without changing the original structures– but rather working with them. It was a place where someone, who felt like a “misfit” in society, could feel like they belonged. By misfit I don’t mean anything negative- I mean someone seeking a place to belong. There were groups of people sitting on the ground, smoking, and doing some other stuff that I don’t even know the names of or want to know. That was not my scene but it was weird because for some odd reason I felt like I belonged. You see, I also feel like a misfit among people of my own culture, religion, and background. It was weird but I didn’t feel so lonely that night.

I had a long conversation with this friend, who put me on the path to self forgiveness. He told me that my success does not have to be on the same timeline as everyone else’s successes. I can do things at my own pace. His message was something obvious and yet I couldn’t fully realize that until he said it to me. It was like that whole night, from taking me to that artsy part of town, he was showing me that it is okay to be a misfit– that there is belonging in not belonging- that I too could evolve like this artsy neighborhood has evolved, into something strange and amazing at the same thing. How did this friend know what I needed to see and hear? I am a religious person and it was like God had sent this friend to me, at this crucial time, to show me and tell me what I needed to hear at a time when I felt like giving up forever. I didn’t want to come back home. I took out my anger towards God by missing my prayers without realizing that’s what I was doing. I was ashamed to face people because I didn’t want them to know I was a disappointment. Why? Because I was judging myself according to the successes of other people.

F-it! Excuse my language but my friend is right. I don’t need to be on the same timeline as everyone else. I don’t need strangers to approve of my decisions and with their approval, provide an indication that I’m on schedule for the bus, train, plane, or whatever to success. I’m ready to forgive myself. You can judge me how you like. You can think I’m a failure but I assure you even if I have to crawl (in a dignified way) to get to where I want to go, I will make it there eventually.

So what am I doing now? Why studying for the bar exam again of course, and self-forgiveness aside, it really sucks.

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