Trusting the Journey: How Lady Gaga inspired My Manifesto from the Past

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I’ve had a blue journal since 2003 in which I occasionally perform a brain dump of thoughts, whenever I feel like. These thoughts vary from silly ones at age eleven about the girl I supposedly had a crush on, to angsty ones at age 18 about how frustrated I am that my boyfriend is living halfway across the globe. Occasionally, however, a burst of inspiration will hit me out of nowhere, and the innocent writer from the past says things so profound that they influence and realign the me I am today. This was one such post:

Wednesday. May 18, 2011 (Age 18)

I woke up at around 10:30am today and listened to the copy of Born This Way that [name redacted] shared with me on Facebook at work yesterday. After a quick surf on ONTD, I found a new online YouTube interview with Lady Gaga on the subject of her new album. It got me thinking about why it is that I find her so interesting. I like that she worked hard to gain a worldly voice and then came up with a statement to spread, which was the equality of all humans. 

This got me thinking about a revelationary[sic] day with [my high school career councillor]. She asked me what I ultimately wanted to do with my life and after some thinking I told her something I had never told anyone before: that eventually I wanted to develop a message, that I wasn’t sure yet what that message was going to be, just that one day I would develop one, and when I knew what it was, I’d want to spread it through my art; through my storytelling. 

This, today, hit me as similar to what Gaga had done, and was a part of why I found her fascinating. I also found that I loved her artistic statements. She makes her whole life appear to be a string of artistic statements, which she explains further through the her songs, performances and music videos. Her exquisitely elaborate vocabulary makes it seem like she paints her thoughts as she explains them, it beautifies the ideas and is something I really admire, and a skill I really want to be able to replicate. Especially seeing as I feel my life is rooted in the fact that I’d like to be known as a storyteller. 

This got me to thinking about what Dad told me about education. That people often think it is the job of the institution to develop a love for the subject in the student’s mind. I feel I am already obsessed with the topic [of storytelling], and that I want to be able to widen my knowledge-base; to have a myriad of material available to me in my mind to intermingle with my art, my stories; whether they be in written, musical, or visual form. My life will be one big storytelling experience. Education will feed my passion and will not create it. Education is simply like the male emperor penguin, and not the female. [I thought I was being poetic there, because the female penguin gives birth to the egg, which is then incubated by the male.] 

Thus it is almost as though the field [of study] is unimportant in the grand scheme of things… everything can be treated as new material; can be ingested as new material to be regurgitated into the stories. 

Trust that you want what you are seeking, it’s in your nature not to feel confident about the methods in which you are pursuing the dream, but this will get you closer, in mind and knowledge, if not in the physical representation of the dream. which you will achieve when you are ready. Broaden the mind. That is what you are supposed to do now.

The resurrection of this message is very timely for me right now as I’m struggling to remember why it is I moved all the way to London in pursuit of a career that I don’t know how to begin. I’m sitting here struggling to discover theorists who can support the essays that I’m meant to be writing for my Masters in Contemporary Performance Making program instead of being the contemporary artist making the performances. But, of course, I know better than this. “Trusting the journey” is something I’ve taught my students time and time again, and now is one of those moments where I’ve got to put my money where my mouth is and trust that where I am is where I need to be, in order for me to reach wherever it is I am going. 

Scary stuff, to be honest. But if my students listened to it… why shouldn’t I?

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On being a Muslim Who’s Not a Muslim

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On New Year’s Eve 2016, I met up with a friend I’d made on Scruff for dinner and drinks. He announced his menu through iMessage: honey-glazed gammon, pigs in blankets and pork stuffing with sweet winter fruit chutney.

Oh, I thought to myself, pork? I don’t usually eat pork.

I’m curious as to why I have this reaction when it comes to pork being served as part of a meal. I’ve never been a practicing Muslim, and neither are my parents, yet it’s an instinctive reaction in me, even though I’ve eaten it before.

Growing up in Dubai, Islamic Studies was a mandatory part of my elementary school curriculum. This was because my family was of Islamic descent. Similarly, because I was born into an Arab family, I was defaulted into a stream that taught the subject in Arabic, even though I wasn’t fluent with the language. I hated this, because those who didn’t have to take Islamic Studies got to study History or Music, while we learned about the prophets and their teachings.

When it came to Islamic Studies, I was unfortunate in having teachers whose teaching methods were a bit archaic. Or atIslamicGalleryBritishMuseum3 least, what I hope is archaic now. A typical lesson comprised of a retelling of one of the stories from the Quran, followed by reading comprehension questions. (And we’re not talking thought-provoking questions, here. More like “How many camels did they have in the desert?” or “What types of animal protected Mohammed in the cave?” kind of questions.) Once a week, we’d be required to memorise verses from the Quran, which were to be recited in front of the entire class for assessment. This was especially difficult for me, seeing as English was my first language; Arabic my second. Even then, the Arabic my family would speak at home was of a Lebanese dialect (a mixture of Arabic and French… sometimes even English with words like ‘okay’ or ‘yes’ casually inserted in)—quite different from the old poetic language of the Quran. There are still a few suras I can recite from memory, without fully understanding their meaning. In addition, the teachers I had didn’t generate a space for active learning; difficult questions were often debased with a simple “the Quran says so”, and differences in thought were often guilt-tripped with a “that’s how the Kuffar would think”. ‘Kuffar‘ they would describe as being a [derogatory] term for ‘non-believers’; essentially those who don’t believe in Allah and therefore will be sentenced to hell once they pass away. Heaven help me if a star I sketched into one of my notepad doodles happened to have a 6-sides… This, of course, not being a reflection of what Islam as a religion teaches its followers, but being a reflection of how my teachers chose to discipline their students: through guilt and fear.

I remember riding backseat in our car one day as a child, and my parents having a debate in the front. Nothing particularly heated, but something through which they were bouncing opposing perspectives off of each other. I began to cry, insisting that they stop their fighting out of fear that Allah would sentence them to an eternity in hell. They pulled me out of the Arabic-stream and placed me in the English-speaking stream soon after that, to much backlash from the teachers, of course (“An Arab student who doesn’t want to study Islam in Arabic?!”). The English-speaking stream was a slightly better experience, not only because I could better understand the lessons, but also because my teacher happened to be young with a much gentler approach to the topic.

As an educator, myself, I always try to first establish an open and safe environment for my students to explore themselves in. Particularly in Drama where any possible topics from life may be brought up in improvised skits, or plays that the students put on. I wish that I had had that for myself when I was in my Islamic classes. I wish they’d placed you in courses not based on cultural presumptions, but based on personal choice and interest. I wish that they’d encouraged questions, and that the courses were focused more on self-driven learning, as opposed to memorisation and recitation. Suffice it to say, I didn’t have a very healthy introduction to Islam, and I believe this to be the reason behind why I feel weary of being associated with it today.

When I look at it, the real reason pork doesn’t make frequent occurrences in my diet is because it isn’t a commonly used ingredient in my mother’s recipes. Recipes that would have been passed on to her by her religious parents, and which I, in turn, would have grown up eating. While it may have started out as a religious aversion in the past, the reason for its absence in my life today has since evolved. But when it comes to telling people that I rarely eat pork, I worry that they’ll mistake it for a choice rooted in religion. I’ve even gone so far as telling people it was an allergy; but that’s not the truth…

Diet isn’t the only thing that people can use to assume I practice Islam. Some people can do it by name. What’s your last name, they ask. I tell them. Oh, so you’re Muslim, they presume. I’m not a Muslim, I always want to say. Not that I have anything against Islamic faith. It’s just the truth. I’m not. Religion isn’t something that’s imposed onto you, after all, is it? It’s something you choose to believe in; to follow. I think…

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At the end of the day, there’s nothing behind my technically non-existent aversion to pork. I’ve eaten it. I’ve cooked it. It’s just the string of thoughts that arise in my head when it’s offered to me. Because in my head, the question is much bigger than “Do you eat pork?”

I may be living in my own little make-believe world, but I assume with the growing numbers of second and third-generation immigrants being born around the world, internal struggles like these must be shared by more than just me.

Do you ever find yourself battling with predispositions that are placed onto you based on your religion or cultural background? I’d love to hear about the ways in which you may relate to the topic.

Til next time,

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On Saying “I Love You”

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Cast of Characters
Felicity & Candour — Me! Author of this blog.
The Canadian One
 – My first boyfriend of 2 years
The Romanian One – My second of 7 months
The Irish One — My third of 4 months

. . .

I consider myself quite lucky to have had a happy and healthy first relationship when I was 17. I had met The Canadian One—my first boyfriend—and although we hadn’t known that either of us were gay at first, the relationship was fairytale-esque in its execution from day 1.

We had just finished working on a theatre production of High School Musical, and weren’t particularly close cast-mates. I remember exchanging phone numbers at the cast party and realising that we had a lot in common (only after having spent 4 months working on the same show and ignoring one another). We hung out once, one-on-one in my basement, and I remember resting my head on his lap, while we were discussing A Very Potter Musical. To me, it was as brave as I was going to get in terms of showing a boy I liked him. I could only hope that he was feeling it, too.

The next day, I flew on a trip to Florida with my best friend and her family. Throughout the whole trip, I was thinking of this guy, and how strong of a crush I was beginning to develop for him. This was back when MSN was still a thing, and popular apps like Whatsapp and Kik didn’t exist to help you stay in touch through your phone. I remember relishing in the little moments I had to communicate with him on Facebook. Although he hadn’t said anything out loud, I was beginning to think: Maybe he’s gay, too. And maybe… he likes me? 

By the time I came back to Canada two weeks later, we had spent quite a bit of time (in the night-times) chatting back and forth and getting to know each other better on MSN. There was a massive snowstorm in the area we landed in, and it was another 9-hour bus ride to reach home. I spent the whole time texting him flirtatiously. Or at least, what I considered to be flirting—sending him the lyrics to Your Love is My Drug by Ke$ha and praying he would read into every word, the way I had; particularly her “I like your beard” afterthought at the end of the song.

After finally arriving home, I remember swiftly hugging my parents, giving them their gifts from Florida, and then rushing over to MSN for even a few moments more of talking with The Canadian One. I don’t know what brought us to this moment—maybe it was late and we were getting tired, but the flirting was ruthless and at an all-time high. We had both reached a point where we both knew we were interested in each other, but were both too scared to say it first.

[Verbatim excerpt from our MSN conversation. April 11, 2010; 1:22AM]

The Canadian One: Its just between you and me

Felicity & Candour: oh kay — Well together we can conquer anything
: ). We’ll be fine ;)

The Canadian One: yeah?

Felicity & Candour: Yes.

The Canadian One: I think im just going ot say it

Felicity & Candour: I’ll let you borrow all of my courage for a couple seconds

The Canadian One: imm gay
The Canadian One: and i love you

The Canadian One: fuck what am i doing
The Canadian One: god, please dont hate me

Felicity & Candour: lol — its okay. I don’t hate you. Trust me. I think I’m in the same boat. but I don’t… know how to deal with it

Scared as we were to admit that we were gay, and that we were attracted to one another, we didn’t shudder at the thought of admitting we were in love. I think about that often, because today, I’ll spend months dating a person before I tell them that I love them, and I wonder where that fear has come from. Especially considering I had told The Canadian One I loved him before we even started dating. It seems to be an unspoken rule that I’ve adopted for myself.

Some people may say: Well you were too young, and didn’t quite understand the implications of saying I love you like you do now. 

Or: It was an act of innocence; now that you’re older and understand what love really is, you’re less likely to say it until you know it’s certain.

But I don’t like the idea of chalking it up to an act of innocence, and agreeing that I’m wiser for it today. The optimist in me likes to believe that we should aspire to be as emotionally open as we can with one another. I want to be the 17-year-old who isn’t afraid to tell people he loves them, even if he doesn’t hear it in return.

With my second boyfriend, The Romanian One, I became careful with using the phrase “I love you”, because I didn’t think it was something I was meant to say so early in a relationship. But at the same time, I didn’t know how long you were “meant” to wait. What you were “meant” to feel before admitting it. I found myself wishing that the phrase “I’m in like with you” was a thing. It seemed to safely help me express what it was I was feeling, without the pressures or anxiety that may arise from confessing your love to someone who wasn’t expecting it.

How ironically innocent and naïve does that sound now, thinking “I’m in like with you”, is a wiser way of expressing myself at 23…

With The Irish One, I knew I had been falling in love after our third date-kind-of-sleepover-thing, and would have been comfortable telling him so. We had spent a lot of time talking to each other through social media, and because of distance, we didn’t get to see each other very often. He had also shared that he feared commitment when it came to dating other guys—with a particular aversion towards the words “love”, “relationship” and “boyfriend”. For whatever reason, I told myself “three dates isn’t enough to tell someone you love them”; even though we had technically been dating one another exclusively for 3 months by that point; even though I knew that this was someone I could see myself potentially spending the rest of my life with.

I think back on what may have influenced me to move from openly expressing myself with those I’m dating, to sheltering them from such serious words as “love”, “relationship”, and “boyfriend”. Maybe its to protect myself from getting too hurt, should the relationship falter. Maybe its because I don’t want the other person to think I’m crazy, even though they’re likely only worried about coming off as crazy themselves. Perhaps its because my many years of playing The Sims has taught me that the progression from friends to dating goes as follows: Aquaintance > Friend >  Best Friend > Going Steady > Dating > Boyfriends > Marriage; and I haven’t properly surpassed the “Going Steady” portion of our relationship. Or even worse, perhaps, I’ve jumped to “Going Steady” without first going through the necessary “Aquaintance > Friend and > Best Friend” steps.

Who knows?

If the last few months in the dating game have taught me anything, it’s to worry less about the multitude of possible negative outcomes that may arise from speaking from the heart, and to essentially Just Do It.

Have you undergone any of these self-inflicting forms of paranoia surrounding the word love?

How do you know when it is and is not appropriate for a partner to tell you they love you?

Forever learning,

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