I wake up at 5:00 a.m., too late for suhūr. I had a dream the night before that I am gliding perfectly on my hands on the floor. Wide, confident handstands stretching from one end of an empty room to another. I do it easily and without strain.
I stay with my head on the pillow for a few more minutes, trying to visualize the effortless handstands again. I do not draw the dream.
I re-read an essay by James Baldwin called “On Being White and Other Lies,” from a 1984 issue of Essence.
No one was white before he/she came to America. It took generations, and a vast amount of coercion, before this became a white country.
“GENERATIONS and A VAST AMOUNT OF COERCION,” I text a friend.
“Jimmy B., right as usual,” he texts back.
One of the final days of teaching this semester. I am going to miss these fervent discussions, which are the highlight of my morning. As we do a debriefing of two contemporary future-pessimist short films based in a fictional Palestine and Kenya, respectively, one of my students quotes me back to myself. “One time you said that a nation is a record of births and deaths.” I blink a few times, searching my memory for when I said this and in what context, grateful it got written down somewhere because I have not been able to write explicitly about the nation-state in some months.
I read the Wikipedia expliqué of the mesaharati, a foregone figure in Islamicate cultures. The mesaharati was a waker for suhūr and dawn prayer during Ramadan.
According to the history books, Bilal Ibn Rabah was the first mesaharati in Islamic history, as he used to roam the streets and roads throughout the night to wake people up. “My duty during the holy month of Ramadhan is to wake people up in the old city of Damascus for prayers and Sahur meal.” According to Abbas Qatish, who is considered Sidon’s best mesaharati, the attributes every mesaharati should possess are physical fitness and good health, “because he is required to walk long distances every day. He should also have a loud voice and good lungs, as well as an ability to read poems. A mesaharati should supplicate God throughout the night to wake the sleepers.”
The tradition is practised in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and Palestine. However, there has been a gradual disappearance of the mesaharati due to several factors, including: Muslims staying up later; using technology such as alarm clocks to awake for suhūr; and louder and larger homes and cities that make the voice of the mesaharati harder to hear.
I think fondly of my mestre who during capoeira conferences used to startle us awake at 5:00 in the morning by playing his berimbau loudly and singing corridos at the top of his lungs as he sauntered through our collective sleeping quarters. It’s a feeling impossible to describe—dread at the thought of waking up after only one or two hours of sleep, and relief that everyone else will be going through the painful awakening process with you. Per usual, everyone dresses in semi-darkness while one person brews corner-store coffee. No one speaks or complains. We are all choosing to be in this wonderful shit together.
Positivity is given a bad rep. The puzzling machinations of USA-American culture have created a caricature out of the idea of wellness within oneself no matter what into a sordid perma-smile of cheerfulness. But one of the things this month is revealing to me is the importance of being less guarded. Undefended. To create a more positive space between oneself and other people despite their perceived indifference, hostility, animosity, or other external factors beyond one’s control. To access a larger part of oneself, to let an expansive self (not the small self) choose the next word or action in interpersonal relationships. To do this repeatedly in order to cultivate an iron-clad inner guidance system.
I open a library copy of the Qur’an at random, superstitiously deciding to assign personal significance to whatever passage my finger lands on.
Sūrah XCIV, “The Opening”
“Have we not opened thine heart for thee?
And taken off from thee thy burden,
Which galled thy back?
And have we not raised they name for thee?
Then verily along with trouble cometh ease.
Verily along with trouble cometh ease.”
The repetition of the last line seems natural. It’s one of those things you really need to hear more than once.
The Islamic Center of NYU hosts iftār dinners every night in two locations. It is generous, expensive, and committed. I ask a friend whether the vegetarian option includes a vegan option. “Probably not,” she texts back with an upside-down smiley face. I decide not to attend.
I am not hungry at iftār time, though I have a piece of toast to settle my stomach. Instead, I have sex. After sex, I tally a list on two hands of all the versions of sexuality I witnessed growing up among various Islamic communities. Cross-dressing, same-sex live-in companionship, homosocial gestures of love between men openly expressed in the streets, femme-on-femme touch, sexual shaming, gossip, rumors, pregnant brides, discussions of abortions, multiple miscarriages, the ethics of masturbation, the importance of conjugal oral sex.
My epiphanic moment is the realization that my intellectual and sexual facets have not yet overlapped. They are separated by a cleavage I can’t account for, but want to acknowledge to myself exists. After a date last year, a man challenged me, “You’ve never been with an intellectual equal, have you?” Instead of disregarding this I took it personally and allowed it to agonize me for weeks, long after I cut off contact with him. I am compartmentalized. My mind and my body operate in different modes, divergent registers. “Text me more,” I whisper to one man. “Text me less,” I whisper to another. The just-right congruence is still out of reach. Maybe I am idealizing the unity of intellect and sex, but I can’t discount it.
There is nothing wrong, not a thing. I accept all things fully. I don’t harangue myself any longer. I just observe, and if there is room, I operate toward productive change. Who needs baggage?!
I watch the Singapore episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show. Where “everything is true and nothing hurts,” he laments. Unlike my own observations about the nation-state, I remember to write this down.