On Minimalism–Part 1

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If it weren’t for my husband and kids,  I would own nothing.

Well, not quite nothing. But almost.

My dream decor isn’t quite what is pictured above, but it comes close. For the record, it is my husband A who is the TV addict, not me. I would gladly give it away if I could. Otherwise, the room is perfect–crisp white walls, windows framed by white curtains, a few plants, a few candles, a brightly colored rug. What is not pictured is seating ( a sofa and some floor pillows) a bookcase (with fewer than 100 books and some art supplies for the kids), and a small side table for the laptop. Otherwise–nothing. I need nothing.

Minimalism lends itself well to both living abroad and living with anxiety. It eliminates all the extras, leaving you  to focus only on what is most important.  For someone living abroad, this is imperative when moving to a new continent when on a budget. And when you have anxiety, it contributes to a sense of calm..or at least it does for me. No worrying about where possessions are or adding to a collection.

But lately I have been thinking about the dark side of minimalism, the OCD side, where people feel compelled to count items and control their spending to the point where they agonize over how many pairs of shoes to own.  There is something very, very comforting in being able to control at least a small part of this uncertain life…

So the jury is out right now on how much minimalism is healthy. For now, though, it brings me a sense of security to know I can leave the country with just a few bags and feel as though I have left nothing behind.

 

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Persephone Rising–Part 2

Bending over forwards and backwards, all the time.

The spoon bent at an unnatural angle. Broken. The all natural, organic fair trade ice cream had bent it.  It was gone. I quickly tossed it and chose another–a strong Oneida–and continued spooning out ice cream into the whiskey.

What a joke. How many cups would it take to truly cover up the pain?

Linguistically. Culturally. Morally.

So began a long journey to figure out what was more important; fulfilling my own needs or catering to those of a man who always thought of himself first. And me second. If at all.

And so it worked–I would express a want or need, a thought or dream. If it was convenient or relevant to him, he would help me and express verbal support of me. If it even remotely interfered with his free time, own ambitions, or own needs and wants, it was promptly dismissed as inferior or ridiculous. The problem was that most of what I wanted was dismissed as ridiculous.

I…?!

Like not smoking or drinking. Not hanging out 3-4 times a week with friends. Being as honest as possible with things like taxes and government forms. Later, with our children, it was putting kids to bed on time, brushing their teeth, enforcing rules. None of that was important.

It took me years to learn that the only ridiculous part of all of this was that I myself began to believe that it was ridiculous.

I wanted someone who would love me and spend time for me and not count away the minutes until it was time to go. Someone who could devote himself to me the way I would to him, who would want to stay home with me and watch TV with me not because he had to but wanted to. Who would talk to me about deep, important subjects not because he had to but because he wanted to.

At some point, in most women’s lives, it gets tiring to always be dismissed. And then is when the Demeter emerges, fighting for what is rightfully hers–her own best interests. The moment this warrior comes on the scene,  weak men get defensive. In their attempts to regain control, they pull out all the stops. Oh, the insults they hurl! The threats they wield!

Persephone Rising–Part 1

I have never met anyone who, as a child, had any ambition to get divorced one day. No one enters into a marriage, or any union for that matter, anticipating the day it will fall apart.

I used to judge people who divorced as  being fickle, as not having the willpower to tough it out, as somehow being too naive in the beginning to really understand their partners. How could they marry someone they didn’t want STAY married too? Were they blind?

Until my marriage began a slow descent into dysfunction, I was very, very judgmental. This series of posts is my attempt to apologize to anyone who was subjected to my stupidity, and to show others going through the same thing that they are not alone.

It is also an attempt to sort out the very, very confused feelings I have and have had, feelings of guilt and shame and obligation. I’ve spent 17 years trying to figure out what is right and wrong about being American and a woman with some ambition, and how to make that fit into my boyfriend’s, later husband’s, life. Now, as I approach 40, I am realizing that being an ambitious American woman is actually something I just AM and that I can’t change that enough to make him happy. EVER.

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It takes only a moment to change a life, to move a destiny in an unwarranted direction. For me, it came the moment I saw a checkered scarf wrapped around his thick neck. Somehow, that piece of clothing meant worlds to me, –Palestinian revolution, leftist ideals, a rebellious heart . A world of depth, one so much more attractive than than the one I came from–the malls and large American-Italian dinners and loud TV featuring moments that could not (should not?) be attained. The perfect moments in which blond Mother, dark-haired Father, older dark haired son and younger blond haired daughter converge on Disney World. Or Disneyland, it doesn’t really matter which . The laughter, the fun. The thin bodies wrapped in fashionable clothes. Ohh, so inviting. So far yet so attainable. If only I could be smarter?prettier?more moral? I could go there, too.

I felt hollow after watching those countless commercials boasting eternal happiness in the moonlit nights near Cinderella’s castle. Beyond the hollowness lay longing–longing to leave the stark reality of two anxious parents in a world which offered nothing but worry. My working class family rejected consumerism and valued history, but also struggled with feelings of inadequacy. I inherited that inadequacy and took it  with me to my elite women’s college. The people around me had a lot more money, a lot more experience, and were better educated than me.

When I met A, I was searching for something in between the malls of popular culture and anxiety in my family and elitism of my school. I somehow thought I would find it abroad, in Germany. He was an Iranian exile, a dodger of the Iran-Iraq war, a self-proclaimed leftist-atheist-pacificist who embraced world culture. Or so he claimed.

And I–I was a college student 15 years his younger, fascinated by social causes, driven by a need to do good, and by a strong ambition to prove myself to the world. I was a very, very good girl–no drinking, no drugs, no sex. No desire to so.

Looking back, I was the perfect fodder for  manipulation. In between the cool parties with intellectuals from around the world and the fantastic moments in which we discovered how much we had in common, I was being manipulated. I was told I was naive, that Americans know nothing of the world, that women can be so selfish when they only think of studying. I was told I was uptight for not drinking until I collapsed, and fascist for not voicing the opinion that not everyone should be on welfare. But I didn’t realize it at the time. I simply accepted that I wasn’t as worldly as A and his friends and that my American working class background had somehow brainwashed me. I never even considered that they were wrong.

So when did it first dawn on me that maybe they were?

Perspective

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The partial lunar eclipse  seemed to inspire all the crazies to crawl out into society this week.  I saw them on the streets as I rode my bike to school, in the school itself, hanging around my daughter’s pre-school (called a “kindergarten” here in Germany) , and even in my own home. Dear Lord.

They cut me off in their BMWs, even though I had the right of way. They chastised me for asking about schedules (what a nuisance to have to answer!) and challenged me in my description of language levels; apparently, neither being a native speaker of English nor having a Master’s degree qualifies me to assess them. They grunted out hurried greetings and refused to make small talk (what a nuisance to have to chat about the weather!) They complained about lack of food in the house and about the food that was actually cooked.

Days like today drain me and test my (fragile?) psyche.  After all, there is no shortness of crazy in MY mind. I am powered by anxiety quite often, only to be run down by depression. What sets me apart is that I KNOW it. Right? Right…

What I struggle with is how to maintain perspective, especially when things seem out out of whack.  How much is due to me, and how much is due to them? Where does their craziness start and mine end? Are they crazy for cutting me off or am I for letting it annoy me so much? Are they weird for snapping at me when I ask a question or am I for asking it in the first place?

So are the thoughts of an anxious person like me.

A Letter to the US

It has taken 37 years to come to terms with our relationship. And I am still tortured by it.
How strange, the feeling of relief and fear I feel every time I return to your shores? As the plane descends on New England, I am overcome with emotion–love for the deep, dark ocean shoreline, joy at seeing those I love most–but also anxiety. The abrupt, military questioning of your border guards, the suspicious way I am questioned–how I hate that. You are my mother! After all this time…how could you treat me like that?
And this, more than anything, characterizes our relationship. A love/hate relationship. How I love the amnesty you’ve shown the masses coming to the shores, the progress in humanities and sciences, the passion of your people to push forward.
If it weren’t for your violence and lack of humanity, I would never doubt you. But violence is the hallmark of your history–it shaped the borders and still determines the size of the military and prisons around the country. You show no mercy to the poor or the indigent. How I hate that.
But you are my mother–only I can say this. When others utter these words, I am filled with anger. And honestly, I will come home. Because these other places aren’t the paradise I wished for either.

Oh America–do something great again, so I can defend my choice to return to you.

Love,
PersephoneImage

A Letter to Iran

A Letter to Iran

Dear Iran,

You overwhelm my senses like no country ever has. Tart pomegranate paired with smoky walnut; the vibrancy of your turquoise and maroon art and architecture; the steady beat of a hand drum, contrasting with the strain of a setar– it is so, so beautiful. And the mountains–the mountains! Their mighty presence leaves me in awe.

But I struggle to decipher not only the script of your language but also the cultural script of your  people.  There are so many contradictions…where to begin? The extremely well-educated women who cook and hand wash dishes until late in the night to please their husbands–YES, their husbands. The friendly people who ask what you want and then ignore the answer and tell you what to do. The poets and film makers who make brilliant art within your borders right before fleeing. The crazy proclamations from your government…I don’t get it.

Yet I feel a strong need to defend you here in the West. They don’t get you here, but for different reasons. They don’t see the people behind the media, the crowds of poor going to an anti-American rally for the free food being offered, the shy old woman who wears the headscarf for privacy, the diversity in your cities, the amazing dance parties behind closed doors.

I am Iranian by marriage and the mother of two American-Iranians. You will always hold a place in my heart–help me show the world how wonderful you can be.

Love,

Persephone