Life Cycles of Blogs

My favorite free theme, Fruit Shake, is no longer supported by WordPress. I would never have changed it, except that my list of followed blogs and Arabic language resources  had become out-of-date. Most of the links no longer worked, and most of the blogs had not been active for years. I realized that the period of time during which I was writing and reading blogs has now passed, not only for my blog but for most of the ones I used to read.

Because the Fruit Shake theme was no longer supported, I was unable to customize it, to remove the defunct links or add active ones. Reluctantly, I perused the free themes that supported custom colors and headers, and was disappointed with the pickings. I finally settled on one, and when I activated it, was dismayed to see that all my links have been eliminated. The only list now present is my archive list.

After getting over the shock, I decided not to add a list of Blogs Followed or any other reference to other bloggers or links, at least not now. I wonder, though, what happened to all the blogs I used to read. Why have their authors stopped writing? What has happened to those authors?  We sort of got to know one another through blogging. We became familiar with each other’s stories, and we looked forward to each other’s posts.

One of the facts that contributed to the dispersement of my particular circle of bloggers was the passing of Carol Fleming in 2011, whose blog American Bedu formed a hub around which so many of us fluttered. She succumbed to breast cancer, two years after her husband succumbed to leukemia. She blogged about her illness, as well as his, but she always maintained the purpose of the blog, which was to educate and entertain Westerners who found themselves in Saudi Arabia, and to inform those who remained behind. No successor emerged from that milieu. No one could have taken her place, but why did most of us drift away from blogging? I don’t know, and I am one of those who drifted. Maybe I did feel the hole left by Carol’s passing, and simply did not return to my blog after a time of getting used to her absence.

I am happy to see that two of those blogs are still functioning. I am also happy to report that I have continued an on-line friendship with another blogger, who spends more time on Facebook than she ever did on the the blogs.

Has Facebook superseded blogging as the way to socialize and reach out to kindred souls? I have spent more time on Facebook during the past few years, but I do not feel nourished by writing short Facebook posts in response to someone else’s comments or links. I do not feel inspired to start my own discussions or post my own links, because my Facebook page is visible to all who know me.

I would never want the people in my life to read on Facebook some of the words I’ve published on this blog. My blog is deeper and more honest than anything I would write on Facebook, and for that reason, my identity behind Marahm is not discernible by anyone who actually knows me. For that same reason, my blog is more valuable, even though I have neglected it for months a time.

Maybe the other bloggers whose blogs I used to read lost interest. Maybe they moved out of or into the Middle East or divorced their Arab husbands or decided to leave Islam. Maybe none of that happened, but they merely moved on, in terms of interests and activities.

The important point is not that a whole group of bloggers moved away from their blogs after a period of intense involvement, but that they did it at roughly the same time, as if an invisible energy flowed through each of us but then slithered under another door, leaving us flat and disinterested. None of us planned that, discussed, or even noted it, I daresay. Could blogs, as entities, as vehicles for the transmission of news, emotions, ideas, and narratives of their writers, be subject to a sort of life cycle, much like the persons themselves are subject to the life cycle?

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Synchronicity

Have I written about Synchronicity here before? No matter. It is a phenomenon that occurs multiple times, if one is attuned to its features, and I’ve just enjoyed another episode. Synchronicity is a concept introduced by Carl Jung, the pioneer practitioner of Depth Psychology. The heart of Synchronicity lay in meaningful coincidence.

Coincidence might seem meaningful by definition, but ordinary coincidence does not carry the significance of Synchronicity. Let me bypass definitions that are readily available, and tell you about my most recent experience of it.

Several months ago I found an Arabic language class offered by our local university. The class was entitled Arabic ll, a second semester class, and I knew it would be too easy for me, but I needed a refresher. With the possibility of going back to Riyadh later this year, I wanted to renew my study. I enrolled, and attended the classes.

Only three students had enrolled. One night, two of those students did not show up for class, so I was the only one, and the teacher asked me if I wanted to review any specific aspect of Arabic. I told him I’d like to review Tajweed– the special rules of reading the Qur’an in Arabic. He gave me a fast and furious refresher course in just an hour, and I felt energized. He told me about a system called The Qur’an Pen, and he said he would get it for me.

The classes ended. I forgot about The Qur’an Pen, but my interest in Tajweed had been renewed. One week before Ramadan, I received an email from the local mosque informing of a sister’s Tajweed class commencing soon. I attended the first class, and felt as though I’d come home.

Two days before Ramadan, I received an email from my former Arabic teacher saying that he had obtained The Qur’an Pen and wanted to give it to me. I was surprised and pleased. I met him at the city’s main mosque after Friday prayer, the day before Ramadan, and he showed me how to use it.

These coincidences– the teacher’s refresher class, the new class at the local mosque, and the teacher giving me The Qur’an Pen– all occurred within two weeks of Ramadan. Ramadan, as all Muslim know, is a time of giving increased attention to the Qur’an.

Why would these coincidences occur this year, when nothing like that has occurred in all the nineteen years I’ve been repatriated? I had actually abandoned Ramadan. My faith and practice has never been strong enough to observe Ramadan in the midst of the non-Muslim society in which I now live.

If Synchronicity is about, “meaningful coincidences,” the meaning of these coincidences for me is clear. The time is right and proper for me to return to the Qur’an. I now have support. I now have tools. I am weak; I need to be bolstered, and I have been bolstered.

I am happy.

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A Figure-Eight of Sorts

From time to time, I get spam post notifications for this blog. If I hadn’t gotten those notifications, I would have forgotten this blog altogether.  I have now apologized to myself for observing yet again another one of my life’s patterns— to turn away from something that feeds my passion and renews my energy. At the time I turned away from this blog, I resumed another artistic passion– photography– which I had neglected during the period of posting regularly to this blog.

Riyadh, the Middle East, and Islam, have never flown far from my consciousness, however. I still have “Return to Riyadh” dreams. I’m still in love with the Middle East. I still call myself a Muslim, albeit with adjustments, if such a thing is possible. As the years pass, and separate me further from my twelve year residence in Riyadh, my memories congeal upon the positive aspects of those years, the aspects I will never lose, and never live again.

Here I am, approaching the center of a figure-eight of sorts, with respect to this blog. I ebb and flow, spin and turn, and then shoot forth, but I do not fall off the far end of the figure-eight. My artistic nature must be expressed, but the form of expression is not important. Writing, photography, music, knitting– yes, knitting!– are all part of me.

However,I am not one of those dedicated, tenacious people who do not lose sight of their path. I will never stick with one activity long enough or deeply enough to achieve notoriety in the world. That is not my purpose, yet I envy those who apply themselves unflinchingly to their artistry, over time, to achieve mastery and authority. I envy them, and wish I were able to apply myself to passions without becoming lured and seduced by other passions. The important thing for me, however, is that I engage in some sort of artistic expression every day for several hours at the minimum…and better, all day long.

I am happy to post here again. Perhaps I will continue posting regularly for a time.

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Another Ramadan

Ramadan begins today, another Ramadan. I’ve been a Muslim for maybe twenty Ramadans, but none of them have enriched me like those first ones in Riyadh. In fact, I actually dislike Ramadan in the United States, astaghfiruallah (may Allah forgive me).  Here, in my home country, fasting in Ramadan would make me ill, and I’d hate to admit that I’ve not even tried to fast.

This Ramadan, the fasting day lasts approximately eighteen hours, longer than any fasting day we endured in Saudi Arabia. That’s because of geography. America, especially the state in which I live, is located farther north of the equator than Saudi Arabia, so days are much longer in June, and nights are long in November.

I’ve hoped that as I got older, I might acquire a medical dispensation to excuse me from the fast. In fact, I believe I now have such dispensation, though I have not consulted a Muslim physician or a sheikh, because I am confident enough– some people would say arrogant enough– to decide for myself that fasting eighteen hours while remaining awake and functional would be detrimental to my health. Even the “authorities” of Islam will admit that fasting is not supposed to compromise one’s good health. Certain people do merit an exemption, according to their state of health and whether or not fasting would challenge it.

Nowhere in Islamic sources, however,  do we find the instruction to carry on with our normal daily routine during fasting. Correct me if I am wrong. Therefore, while I was in Saudia, I followed the example of the Saudis, who had been fasting for many more years than I had, and who had established the habit of sleeping from Fajr to Dhohr, thereby accomplishing the tricky requirement of keeping daily prayers while fasting, and not taxing their bodies more than necessary. Those who worked during the mornings received an exemption from completing the workday while fasting. During my working years, I was excused at the time of the Asr prayer, and I thankfully went home and napped or remained quietly reading until the time of breaking fast. Fasting is not a pleasant experience, especially during the first days of Ramadan before you get used to it and develop strategies for tolerating it during the day.

The Saudis know all of this better than anyone, but I’ve heard Muslims criticize the Saudis for changing their routines during Ramadan. I, too, used to criticize them until I experienced for myself the wisdom of  doing so. Besides, changing one’s routine does not occur consciously. The body responds to fasting by slowing down metabolism, and then consciousness. When a Muslim breaks fast at the end of the day, he/she experiences a surge in energy, a physiological response to an influx of nourishment after the period of deprivation. Staying awake during the night becomes easy, and sleeping during the morning hours becomes natural.

The Saudis accommodated this physiological fact by adjusting their regular daily activities. In the hospital, for instance, surgeries would be performed either very early in the morning or after breaking the fast. Businesses closed during the day and remained open at night until well after midnight.

During the last hours of each day’s fast, Riyadh looked like a ghost town, with only an occasional car, and a rare pedestrian who performed a necessary outing, or people driving to attend breakfast invitations. After Isha, the city lit up with worshippers praying Taraweeh, families shopping and businesses offering sales and new merchandise. By the end of Ramadan, everyone’s circadian rhythm had been reversed. The Saudis knew how to do Ramadan, and I came to appreciate their habits.

Unfortunately, many Muslims think the one’s fast becomes less valuable, or even invalid, by changing the daily routine. These people think that the discomfort of the fast should not be alleviated. Even here in the United States, where very long days and unforgiving work environments make the fast difficult at best, impossible at worst, many Muslims think that observing it brings more blessings because of its difficulty.

Yesterday I attended the Friday prayer at the city’s largest mosque, not our neighborhood mosque. The khutbah (sermon) focused, predictably, on the necessity of staying focused and strong during the fasting hours, and of resisting the temptations of nightly television and entertainments after breaking the fast. Ramadan is supposed to be a time of drawing closer to Allah by reading the Qur’an more frequently and doing extra prayers, and of purging oneself of bad habits. One does not fast only from food and water, but also from all sorts of activities that do not bring one closer to Allah, such as unhealthy eating habits and unproductive social habits.

I left the mosque feeling depressed, as I often feel after such a khutbah.

In Saudia, I did read the Qur’an more frequently, and I made a dedicated attempt to curb overeating after breaking the fast.  Reading the Qur’an enriched my faith in some ways but challenged it, or, to be honest, wrecked it, in other ways. Religion, in general, apart from its distinctions, has always produced this dual response in me– an increase in faith concurrent, or alternating, with a decrease in belief. Sometimes, the increase prevails, and at other times, the rejection takes hold. Neither pole is rigidly bad or good, neither is necessary, neither helps or hinders me, except when I try to maintain one or the other. I circulate around and through them, always approaching the middle, and thereby aiming for an ultimate balance, or maybe simply a holding of the tension of the opposites, which isn’t such a simple position to maintain, after all.

A more interesting blog post would delve into the specifics, would produce a narrative that would take the reader with me along this figure-eight of attitudes, and perhaps I will address such a project in the future, but for now, I will continue to write generalized comments, in an effort to accustom myself to writing regularly again. Apart from any religious  practice or lack thereof, a regular writing habit has always cleared my mind, set my heart straight, and quieted my anxieties. As for Ramadan, I will go back to reading the Qur’an. Jung’s theory of Synchronicity has shown me that a return to the study of the Qur’an is appropriate now, and I’ll write more about that another time.

 

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Learning Tajweed– Again

The Internet is awash in web sites for learning tajweed. I am amazed and impressed, but not tempted to use them. I first learned tajweed the old-fashioned way, by sitting at the foot of a master. Now, I have returned to that method.

My local mosque has begun a tajweed class that meets once a week for two hours.  The Egyptian teacher knows her subject and how to teach it. I look forward to that class. It’s better than nothing but I admit to craving more, needing more.

In Riyadh, I walked to a local madrassa every weekday to attend  a class that began promptly after Asr and ended at Maghreb. The teacher, also Egyptian, taught us not only by explanation but by beautiful example. She would recite, to illustrate the technique she wanted us to learn. She would explain in Arabic. I loved her velvet voice and her determination to teach well. Tajweed needs intensive practice over time. My life in Riyadh offered the perfect milieu in which to learn. Every morning before class, I would review and practice. I learned well.

Twenty years has passed since those golden days of sitting at the foot of a master, and I’ve fallen away from the practice of tajweed. The reasons are many and banal; you can imagine them and you won’t be wrong. Now, however, retired from the necessity of working for money, I’ve decided to resurrect the inspiring and enriching practice of reading the Qur’an with tajweed.

Surprisingly, I have not forgotten all of what I’d learned. I am rusty, to be sure, but the foundation is well-entrenched in my brain and heart. It’s like riding a bike, or swimming. Once you learn thoroughly, you can revive the skill after a hiatus. I look forward to reviving my practice and my skill.

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Too Much of a Good Thing

When I was a child, and I wanted something, and asked my mother for it, she would invariable refuse, with the admonition, “You know what will happen when you have too much of a good thing.”

This admonition was most frequently applied to my desire for sweets and second helpings of regular meals, but she also said it in response to my desires for non-edible delights.  She said it so often, she shortened it, saying, “Too much of a good thing…” as a standard response.

My mom is most comfortable in controlled circumstances. She lives according to schedules and duties, and she does everything according to the directions. She was the perfect adjunct to my father’s extremely controlling nature, and reinforced his repeated,  “Not no, but HELL, no!” attitude towards all the activities and behaviors– normal, I might add– in which I wanted to participate as a young adolescent.

Having two such controlling and restrictive parents, I eventually stopped asking, but I vowed that, “When I grow up, I will never…” (apply any restriction whatsoever on whatever I wished to do, feel, think, eat, accept or reject.)

I grew up with what they called, in those days, “a weight problem.” In the beginning, I might have been a fat kid for several reasons, but as an adult, I kept myself fat, partly because of my childhood vow— so strong and well-entrenched– never to deny myself, restrict myself, hold myself back, for fear of reliving my childhood sadness of having been denied the experiences of peers. My adherence to this attitude towards food has been obvious, but only now, during my sixty-seventh year, do I understand that I have  applied the principle to all areas of life. When younger, I applied the principle of permission to experiences, risks, and limits. As I got older, and more financially able, I applied the principle to the acquisition of possessions.

Now retired, and looking around with an eye towards the down-sizing that all older people must attempt, I see before me the evidence of my self-indulgence.

In the attic is a long, low bookcase of two shelves, packed with books I’ve accumulated over the years and haven’t yet read. In my closet, several dozen shoes are stacked and line up, but I only wear six or seven pair of them. Also in my closet hang clothes I haven’t worn for years and never will. On a tall bookshelf in the hall, I’ve set two dozen packs of audio courses in all the subjects that interest me, yet I haven’t listened to more than several of them. As for music and film, I don’t know how many DVDs, CDs, and even cassettes from before the CD era are packed into corners of shelves and closets. Even the hard drives of all my computers are filled with music I haven’t yet screened.

Images take more space than music; that’s one reason I bought an iMac with the biggest hard drive available. My Flickr header says I now have more than 6,ooo images in my photostream.  While I’m on the subject, I confess that I’ve also accumulated a large assortment of frames, having planned to print and mount some of these images, but I’ve done so for only ten or twelve.

I usually own three to four swimming suits, ten to fifteen handbags, and three dozen scarves at one time. My latest example of profligate accumulation has been in the enrichment of my yarn stash. I now have enough wonderful yarn in all colors and natural fibers to feed my knitting frenzy for the rest of my life and the lives of those who come after me.

You get the idea. I’m not a genuine hoarder, however. I hoard objects in only the aforementioned categories, and maybe several more that have escaped my attention. I don’t hoard empty containers or knick-knacks or anything for which I have no use or care or no foreseeable function in the future. I throw-out garbage and empty waste baskets before they get very full, and I’m good about shredding old financial statements.

This behavior, I’ve now realized, reeks of my entrenched attitude of not denying myself anything I desire, if I am able to get what I want. If I cannot get what I want, I find a way or I forget about it, but I focus on that which is in my control.

Last week, a friend of mine confessed to a common anxiety. He said, “I often feel guilty about enjoying myself when I have tasks to complete.”

Without missing a beat, I replied, “Not me. I have the opposite affliction. I enjoy myself, and let everything else go.”

Even my political persuasions run counter to those in which I was instructed while growing up. I’m a left-of-center liberal, and Mom always thought I adopted that stance in rebellion to my father’s Tea Party position before the Tea Party existed, but she’s wrong. I did not rebel against anything, I merely let myself go, intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually. I wandered far, and I’m still going.

Perhaps this vow, to never restrict myself in any way, if I can possibly avoid restriction, is  partially at  root of my being able to convert from Christianity to Islam. Surely, it is at the root of my bristling in front of all the behavioral imperatives that most Muslims adopt as part of Islam.

While living in Saudi Arabia, I tried to adapt myself. I set my mind towards acceptance of performing the five daily prayers, as well as the myriad little behaviors everyone else did as matter of sunnah (the example of the Prophet). I willingly covered myself completely, even my face when appropriate. I successfully fasted the months of Ramadan.

As a person who makes a determined effort not to restrict myself when I don’t have to by force of law or social pressure (and even to chuck those imperatives when I can get away with it), I easily pulled off the headscarf when I travelled outside the Kingdom, and I’ve never, to this day, been able to make all those daily prayers.

Even the dietary rules have gone out my window when not convenient, I confess. No, I do not restrict myself unless I choose to do so, and I rarely choose to do so. This year, I am hoping I qualify for a medical exemption so I can withdraw with impunity from the fast of Ramadan. As you can imagine, my lifelong commitment to immoderation has not always enhanced my health or well-being.

Now, however, in my second year of retirement, I am realizing for the first time how profoundly my principle of hedonism has infiltrated my entire existence, not just my dietary practices and religious track-jumping. It has exceeded its capacity for satisfaction, and has actually hindered me from enjoying its promises.

I must re-evaluate the adherence to excess that has marked my life in many ways. Actually, re-evaluation takes only a moment. What lies before me, practically, is the effort to voluntarily restrict myself, to appreciate and make use of what I already have, and to not add to the collections. I must now rein in, whether I like it or not.

I’ve taken steps, not easily, not thoroughly, not with pleasure but with an unfamiliar sense of obligation. As Mom says, “Who wants to sort through all of this stuff when I’m gone?”

She is right. I have an obligation now to face this lifelong commitment to extravagant living, and to atone for it.

I’ve given as many clothes to others and to Good Will as I still have unworn in my closet. I’ve weeded the book collection and parted with those I’ve read, giving up the intention to read them again, but adopting the intention to read those I haven’t. I’ve contributed to Mom’s rummage sale. I feel lightened, and I don’t miss what I’ve sent out into the world. I still have such a large pile of possessions to sort,  and I’m not looking forward to the task.

The amount of money I’ve wasted on possessions that have not benefitted me makes my stomach turn. Recently I gave away a lovely jacket that had cost $60 even back fifteen years ago. I’d never worn the jacket because I’d never lost enough weight to fit into it. The only way I could give it away was to regard it as a sort of charity.

As far as my mental and emotional excesses, I’ve already suffered and benefited by many of them, but the bill has not yet been paid in full. The most difficult habit to change will be eating too much. I don’t know if I’ll succeed or even if I’ll make a prolonged attempt to do so. Maybe, as I practice restraint in the more outward areas of my life, I will strengthen my capability to restrain in inner aspect.  Maybe, as I get comfortable with not increasing my yarn stash, I will learn how to get comfortable saying no to dietary excess. The rest of my life promises to be longer and more comfortable by reversing the guiding principle by which I lived since I left my father’s house forty-five years ago. Can I, will I, do it?

We’ll see.

 

 

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Return to Riyadh?

As soon as I retired on New Year’s Eve of 2015, I knew I was free to travel. I could buy a ticket to any place for any day of the week, stay as long as I wanted, and return on any day of some other week in the future. What a relief! Anyone who knew me expected me to take flight rather promptly, but I have remained earthbound, and happily so.

Strangely, as soon as I became free of having to work, I also became free of the strong desire to travel. I am happy, and content, sitting in my chair, or outside when the weather is nice, knitting, reading, listening to music, watching Italian movies and writing to Internet friends. Settled in  this new situation, I received an invitation from my friend S. to come to Riyadh with her this year. Her (Saudi) husband could get a visa for me.

We’ve been talking about it for months, now, reminiscing about the days when we both lived there as younger women, studying Arabic together at the Ladies Community College in Riyadh. Wouldn’t it be lovely to go back together, visit our favorite bookstores, markets, and traditional suqs, see old friends who still live there, and even to go Mecca for Umra? Wouldn’t it be exciting to see the fancy new malls we never imagined could exist there?

I sent her a copy of my passport so she can pass it to her husband.

We are intending to go during the latter months of this year. Ironically, I feel neutral towards the potential fulfillment of my twenty-year longing to see Riyadh one more time. Sure, I would like to go, and I will go, inshaAllah, providing my health and finances permit, but the desire no longer burns, because I’ve gotten old rather quickly, and I’ve learned one of the secrets of being old, a secret that old people never talk about but young people perceive as a certain fading of enthusiasm for life, a decrease in desires, an indifference to appetites that once demanded fulfillment. Young people eschew what they perceive as the withdrawal from vibrant life, but old people know– if they are healthy and secure enough to know– that the last years of life need nothing more than a continuation and indulgence of the comforts one has built during the preceding years. These last years need only a move toward reconciliation with the foibles of years past, maybe a correction of unhealthy habits that gripped one during those early years but now serve no purpose. These last years need also to remain open for opportunities to fulfill intentions that never got satisfied earlier because of the obligations of vocation. Nothing new, exciting or drastically different needs to infuse a life already as secure and content as is possible within the confines of the human condition.

If I get the visa, and my life situation still permits me to go to Riyadh, I will go, but if not, if I or my mom or any one of my family suffers blows that need my support, I will give up the dream of this trip, and I will not lament. After all, my memories of those twelve years between 1986 and 1998 are far sweeter than any new ones I might create.

 

 

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