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My Mother

My mother and me in Tehran

Some years ago, when I was lost and alone in Spain, my mother found me in Barcelona. We escaped our tawdry hotel room by walking around that mysterious city for hours, just being together. I was too thin but probably beautiful, and on busy streets she sometimes lagged behind me, observing the way people reacted to her once baby daughter.

One hot day that August, while eating tapas by the Mediterranean Sea, she finally asked about this man I had been doting on, whose love I was trying to contain and escape at the same time. My mother probably had many things to say about him, and him and I together, and the direction my life seemed to be going in. Instead, she listened.

Pure love beamed from her eyes as she resisted the urge to try and inject the wisdom she had gained from her experiences into mine. Only after I had finished explaining all that I thought I knew did she say a few words of her own.

“Just be yourself,” she said. “No matter what you do, don’t change for anyone.”

I had heard that before, but not from someone like my mother, who has always been herself, in the face of crushing pressure and against all odds, in circumstances that surely would have moulded me into another.

Being myself has been the greatest challenge in my world, which has always been too full of contradictory expectations and unattainable goals — all set by me. My mother knew this long before I did.

I’m sure she has also felt alone, but I can’t imagine my mother being lost. In my mind she is like a Himalayan mountain — rooted, enduring, absolute and unfathomably beautiful. I thought I’d never uncover the source of her seemingly natural strength, until I realized she only gained it from striving to be that way for her children, so that one day they could be mountains for their own.

I don’t need Mother’s Day to be grateful. I think of my mother every day, especially when being myself is the hardest — the only — thing I need to do.

First published on Medium.

View Of The Earth From The Moon















In 1971, Edgar Dean Mitchell, a retired US Navy captain and the sixth person to walk on the moon, summarized international politics while describing his experience of seeing the earth from the moon:

It was a beautiful, harmonious, peaceful-looking planet, blue with white clouds, and one that gave you a deep sense … of home, of being, of identity. It is what I prefer to call instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

– Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14

American Skateboarders in Iran

The short film posted above is part of videographer Patrik Wallner’s Visualtraveling series, which features skateboarders in countries that people wouldn’t normally associate with the sport. In “The Persian Version,” an international group of professional skateboarders take a truly unique trip to the Islamic Republic.

The two Americans, Kenny Reed and Walker Ryan, were prohibited from skating in Iran, except once when they visited a skatepark. So, while their colleagues glided through one of the oldest and most restrictive countries in the world, the Americans had to travel with a 67-year-old tour guide.

“Just being told what you can and cannot do, 24-hours a day. I mean, we had a babysitter the whole time,” said Ryan.

French skater Michael Mackrodt saw the Iranians as engaging in tit-for tat behavior, “They want to show the Americans that you give Iranians a hard time when they come to America, so we do the same…”

While exposing some of the country’s many contradictions, the film invites viewers to arrive at their own conclusions. It also provides a glimpse of Iranian young people, many of whom have very different world-views than their parents and grandparents (who lived through the hardships of the Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq War).

M.J. Rahimi, a pioneering Iranian skateboard manufacturer, was jubilant after hanging out with the athletes.

“This is the best ten days of my life,” he said. “I’m really excited about your trip and to see professional skateboarders here. My biggest dream is one day, I can make a skateboard for a professional skateboarder.”

Skateboarding, rooted in rebellion, is an American sport that has gained international appeal. Despite decades of hostility between the governments of Iran and the US, Wallner’s documentary reveals that skateboarding is now also an Iranian sport, and the stuff of some Iranians’ dreams. As skaters would say, that’s just “sick.”

“For in this sleep of death what dreams may come…”

My grandfather, who helped raise me, passed away peacefully on August 29 at the age of 93. I couldn’t decide at first whether it would be right to post my letter to him here. It’s so private; would publicizing it take away from its sincerity? But I want everyone who wants to know me to learn about him and the important role he continues to play in my life. Here goes.

Baba Bozorg, (Bazorg to Damon and I, who called you that for much too long!) of course you’re watching us now, wishing this rare occasion of being together wasn’t full of heartache. You always wanted your loved ones to be happy; we all know this. And in a family of ambitious, excitable people you took pleasure in the “simple things in life”: cooking before Sunday dinners with everyone around you, watching your favorite TV shows uninterrupted, witnessing your grandchildren grow up and especially good in all those moments: sweet, delicious things.

But of course we’ve been crying dear Baba, ever since you left us. You have been the arms around this family; your patience and kindness a constant reminder to slow down and focus on what’s truly important.

Baba, my memories of you, no matter how random and scattered, define you as a person for me:

Once, when Damon and I were too young to know better, we played with a bird’s nest until the chicks fell out. We fled and watched the area from afar, only then aware that what we had done was horrible. And suddenly, there you were, walking through the garden with the chicks in your hands.

(Your strong hands. Those rough-skinned fingers that you used to run through my hair when I was a little girl. And how you used to twirl your thumbs when your hands were clasped in you lap — that simple movement was so comforting for us children to watch. Yes, I will always remember your hands, Baba).

How did you know that the chicks had fallen from their nest? You couldn’t have possibly seen what happened from inside the house where I know you were. But you returned those babies to their nest, Baba, and never said anything to anyone about the incident. This may be memory playing tricks on me, but I seem to remember them being okay. If any human could have convinced the mother bird that it was possible for her to safely return to her nest, it would have been you.

In that yard’s house, where we all lived and you helped raise Damon and I, you showed us what love means. When it snowed, you would collect a fresh layer of it in a bowl and pour maple syrup on it for us to enjoy. What a joy it was to just sit there in all that warmth and eat sweet snow while a bitter winter raged outside. And when it was summer, you tirelessly helped Zari Jan in that massive garden she had cultivated because that was her art and her flowers needed you. I have never witnessed a man love a woman like you loved her, Baba. You grew up together. You made your lives together. You were never apart. And Baba, you were so grateful for the way she loved you, pulling you with all her strength away from death’s grip every time you were ill. I don’t think any of us can think about Zari Jan without also thinking of you; that’s one way you will always be together.

We know that your own grandfather was stern and unaffectionate, Baba, but you were the opposite with your grandchildren. I remember your laughter, your smiles. I always welcomed your hugs and kisses, even if your bristly beard scratched me every time. Yes, your silver beard, which had black hairs in it until the very end, just like the full head of hair you somehow kept. You were always lovely to look at, Baba, even at 93 years old.

I know I am supposed to say goodbye to you now, but I can’t. I need you with me as I go through this life to remind me to be kind and generous, patient and sincere. So I will keep you alive through these memories I have of you and store them among the new, beautiful ones I make as time chisels away at me too. Let me say good night to you now, instead, dear Baba, and thank you for living a life that everyone who knew you could celebrate.

I will love you forever,

Speaking at Woodstock Film Festival Premier of “Dinner at the No-Gos”

I was a guest panelist this weekend at the Woodstock Film Festival in New York discussing issues that “Dinner at the No-Gos” broached on, such as international views of US foreign policy in the Middle East, Islamic extremism and the US media’s role in shaping prevailing narratives about Arab countries. The event was sold out and filmmakers Marco Orsini and Bilal Mekkaoui generated a heated discussion following the film’s screening.


1977, Tehran

Things that are beautiful include photos of your parents when they were young.

Once again

There isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.

—Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1921

Anxiety protects you from reality. It keeps you on the edge of a cliff, the force of a million fluttering butterflies preventing your fall. But the feeling of impending catastrophe is unshakeable and eventually the real world—no matter how much you’ve been trying to avoid it—becomes preferable. It guarantees some kind of end.

Next week I have to make a trip that I’ve been dreading for months. An average person with extravagant power will decide my fate within one hour. Much of what I’ve been doing since last year has been leading to this and now I’m overcome with dread. What if it doesn’t happen? What if it does. Am I wasting my time pursuing a life that’s almost impossible? Perhaps it was always a fantasy and not a dream. Fantasies are desirable as long as they seem unattainable.

And my writing. The endless put off. A dream that I’ve treated like a fantasy. In a few weeks, a few months, one more year, tops! So here I go again. If this doesn’t happen, it’s back to writing, or rather, my writing will finally begin. Real writing unlike anything I’ve published, much of which I’ve hidden because it’s so terrible. Even this paragraph fumbles.

Listen. I have spent the last two years traveling. Ten homes in 6 countries. Art, politics, living idols met and shattered before my eyes. Love sought, love had, love lost. Friends who came and went and the one who was never there. Mistakes—I made too many. Some were dangerous, but I survived. I’ve gained more than I’ve lost because experience is priceless.

What does my life look like now, during a brief pause in the embrace of people who love me? Two suitcases can hold all my possessions. Yet I walk like there’s a locked metal chain around my neck that hangs down my spine and stretches for miles behind me. I don’t want to know what it’s attached to, or how long it will be before it stiffens and doesn’t allow me to take another step. That’s because I want to keep stepping towards another trip that’s as likely to take me anywhere as it is nowhere.

How else does one go everywhere?

Unsettled, with Amira Hass

I am learning the art of interview while crawling with those who have been walking for years. This time with award-winning Israeli journalist, Amira Hass. An excerpt from my piece in Guernica Magazine below:

When it comes to her coverage of Palestinians, Israeli journalist Amira Hass is one of a kind. Yet she blends right in at the Canadian bus station where I pick her up. Vancouver is the second stop on the nationwide speaking tour organized for her by the advocacy group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. She greets me with a warm smile and lifts her small but heavy bags into the trunk of the car. Hass is used to taking care of herself while traveling, doing it weekly as she navigates through Israeli military checkpoints while tracking a story or simply trying to visit a friend. Before I can help her with her bag, in fact, she helps me with mine. When she sees me struggling with my bag outside her lecture venue, she takes it from my shoulder, laughing, “I know. I do it too.”

Hass has worked for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz since 1989. She left her academic roots during the First Intifada and started her media career there as a copyeditor. A few months later, she convinced the paper to send her to Europe to cover the Romanian revolution. In Romania she proved her skills as a writer, and in 1993 her editors assigned her to Gaza. She had become familiar with the area while volunteering with a group that had her visiting Gazans to deliver money they were owed from Israeli employers who’d withheld their pay. It was during this time that her “romance” with Gaza began.

No one encouraged Hass to live in Gaza; in fact, she was specifically told not to. But determined to learn about the occupation from the inside, she moved there in 1993 and made a permanent home in the West Bank in 1997. This initiative made her the only Israeli journalist to live and work among Palestinians full-time.


‘Romeo and Juliet is a great plea for peace among men’

My leisure book (the book I read when I tire of trying to understand politics) is an incomplete collection of Pablo Neruda’s essays and letters. His prose is similar to his poetry, imbued with his passion for love and his Communist spirit, but it is more personal, more direct. For example, in “I Refuse to Chew Theories”, Neruda explains why he can’t get through poetry disquisitions, which are written by “overly learned persons” who “obscure the light, to turn bread into a coal, a word into a screw.” Most infuriating for Neruda is the way these “adulators” isolate “the poor poet from his brothers” by telling him “fascinating lies” such as “You are a magus”, and “You are a god of obscurity.”

One of the great pleasures of reading this inimitable poet’s prose is the insight it provides into the way he saw the world and how his own experiences and convictions informed his readings of literary classics.

What is Romeo and Juliet about? Most people will answer with something along the lines of love and death. But Neruda’s description goes further than that, pointing out something which on second thought seems obvious but has been overshadowed by the story’s plot, or, by our simplistic exaltation of it.

Excerpt from ‘Shakespeare, Prince of Light’

This Autumn I was given the task of translating Romeo and Juliet.

I accepted the request with humility. With humility, and with a sense of duty, because in fact I did not feel capable of decanting that passionate love story into Spanish. But I had to do it, since this is the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, the year of universal veneration of the poet who opened new universes to man.

Translating with pleasure, and with honor, the tragedy of those star-crossed lovers, I made a discovery.

I realized that underlying the plot of undying love and inescapable death there was a second drama, a second subject, a second principal theme.


Live Loudly

The final scene from Vier Minuten, a 2006 German film by Chris Kraus that you never watched but really should have.