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Monthly Archives: April 2013

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Because caterpillars turn into butterflies

Genghis-Khan---Mongul-war-007

Genghis Khan- conquered Asia and left his eyebrows behind.

My father very proudly says that we are direct descendent of Genghis Khan.  I believe him, and require no other proof than the eyebrows I inherited from my ferocious genealogy.  Regardless of whether I have Genghis Khan’s eyebrows, I definitely have my father’s eyebrows, and while they look perfect on a cuddly, hairy, white-bearded man, they’re a bit out of place on his daughter.

When I was 14, my mother sat me down- unprompted- and did perhaps what blonde ladies do tidy up their eyebrows- she shaved off the top half of them and told me to keep it up.  Being a non-blonde though, my Genghisesque eyebrows started growing back in right away, and I consider myself blessed to have very little photographic evidence of that awkward, stubbly phase.

Noor Jehan is a classic example of classic Pakistani eyebrows.

Noor Jehan is a classic example of classic “bow & arrow” eyebrows.

Later that same year, my sister and I went to spend the summer with our cousins in Pakistan, and being non-blonde descendants of Genghis Khan and his many savvy wives, they said: “What the heck have you done to your eyebrows!?” They staged a proper intervention, and a wise elder cousin immediately sat me down and threaded my eyebrows into the Pakistani equivalent of the bow that was meant to shoot the arrow of my glance straight into a young man’s heart.  That was my introduction to threading.

It was years before I learned that reshaping your eyebrows is not permissible in Islam, but by then, two things had already happened:

  1. I had forgotten what my real eyebrows actually looked like.
  2. I had grown to believe that my real eyebrows were hideous and that growing them out would cover the top half of my face.

It has taken me almost fifteen years to finally stop reshaping my eyebrows, and for the first time in my adult life, I now know what my real eyebrows look like, because I actually have them. I no longer have “eyebrows,” I have Mybrows.

It was hard at first to stop shaping them- they grew in seemingly random places and kept straying further and further from the invisible boundaries that I had assigned to them.  I would look at myself in the mirror and sigh- and during those months of transition, it was very difficult for me to stick with it.  My one source of encouragement- believe it or not- was my husband, and he had no idea what an emotional ordeal I was even undertaking.

He walked past me one day and casually said; “Hey, have you done something to your eyebrows?”

“What? Me?” I squeaked, my conscience guilty for wishing that it had, “I’m letting them grow in.”

“Oh,” he said approvingly.  “They look really nice.”

I was dumbstruck.  It was another few weeks before my husband noticed the next boundary grown over, and this time he said, “I like your eyebrows this way.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, “Don’t you remember what they looked like when we were married?”

“I do,” he said. “I thought they looked…fake.”

I glared at him, completely sure that he was somehow part of a conspiracy to pretend like my eyebrows didn’t actually look like caterpillars inching across my forehead.  So I went back and dug my wedding photos out of the important archive that is my sock drawer and guess what? My old, thin, highly manicured eyebrows struck me as looking… fake. And while I wasn’t yet in love with Mybrows, I was at least disillusioned with having their artificial looking alternative.

Sisters talk about eyebrows sometimes, and the conversation usually goes like this:

Helga: delicate. lady-like. pow.

Helga: delicate. lady-like. pow.

Sister 1: “Oh, my eyebrows are so unruly! I know we’re not supposed shape them but I feel like such a Neanderthal!”

Sister 2: “What are you talking about? Your eyebrows look fine! Now, MY eyebrows… they make Helga’s from Hey Arnold look delicate and lady-like.”

Sister 3: “You’re both crazy and your eyebrows frame your eyes perfectly! Now *my* eyebrows, they look like two handlebar moustaches without a sense of direction…”

The circular consensus seems to be everyone has a real problem with their eyebrows, but everyone ELSE looks fine and they’re just stressing for no reason.  In recent fashion, heavier (relatively) eyebrows have come back into the spotlight, I think this is a great time to piggy-back on the bandwagon and wave the flag for more natural looking eyebrows.

This tumblr account is, simply named- Thick eyebrows, and you can go here for an assortment of gorgeous ladies with luxuriously large eyebrows- models like Cara Delevinge, Brook Shields, even Audrey Hepburn- looking lovely with eyebrows significantly thicker than the media has previously shown us.

While Muslims, of course, don’t wait for fashion to agree with religion before deciding to become religious, it is nice when the media can do a part- even a teeny tiny one- to help boost our natural-looking self esteem when it comes to eyebrows.  Yes, the women are all still uncovered, photo-shopped, artfully painted and arranged by professionals- but the point is, they have big eyebrows and they are daring you to make caterpillar jokes about them.

*filed teeth, anyone?

I haven’t come as far as to say I’m in love with Mybrows, but who am I to even suggest that Allah made a mistake in how He made them?  Allah Himself designed what my face and eyebrows were going to look like, and it should go without saying that His designs for what humans should look like are Divine (with a capital D) and everything else that we do is just “fixing” what isn’t really broken.*

Please note- this doesn’t mean I’m saying that things like cleft palates are Divinely created and who are we therefore to alter them. No.  Defects in the original human design are permissible to correct, and that’s like replacing a lost eye or reconstructing a face after an accident or congenital birth defect.  There’s a difference between correcting a defect to meet the standard and redesigning the standard altogether.

Deciding that all of femalekind has been designed with the “wrong” kind of eyebrows is something else entirely.  But, seeing as how society in general still has a problem accepting women themselves in different shapes and sizes, maybe starting with a tiny part of women- like their eyebrows- is a tiny first step?

In any case, I’m not waiting for society to accept my eyebrows before I do, so here I go.  Alhamdulillah, my eyebrows are perfectly designed for whatever it is that Allah has destined for my face.  Whether my naturally drop-dead gorgeous arches are meant to be a life-long battle with ego whose victory could yield me Jannah, or whether my hirsute forehead is an exercise in accepting the Qadr of Allah that can be rewarded with a place among the Sabiroon in Jannah- either way it’s fine for me.

And since, in the back of your mind, you’ve been wondering what Mybrows actually look like, and you’re looking forward to having that circular conversation where you tell me that my eyebrows are fine and YOU’RE the one who should be in mourning, here you go.

Mybrows

  I’d love to see your natural brows (so I can tell you they look fine), so if you feel like sharing them, I’ll post them here too.  Let the conversation begin.

 

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Three shades of crazy. And locusts?

AssalamuAlaikum Blogistan, hope you’re doing well! It’s been a while since I’ve written, and like most of my letters, this one starts off with an apology for being late too. So yeah. Here’s an update.

Alhamdulillah, my children are gorgeous and amazing. Check!

Alhamdulillah, HF is the perfect trophy-husband as usual. Check!

Alhamdulillah, we are all safe, well-fed, and reasonably within the limits for health. Check!

The bad news is, I’ve discovered that I’m a crazy person. Seriously. It’s taken me so long to realize it that I don’t even feel like sugar-coating it. I run a business where I feel guilty about taking a salary, but I wouldn’t expect other people to work without salaries. Then, I get tired of getting no return from my hard work and I get annoyed with my job. I make investments of my time with little thanks and zero financial return. So then I think about getting a “real” job as someone’s personal assistant instead of the director of my own organisation, because at least someone would say thank you and I would have some pocket money at the end of the month. As a business strategy, I call this: Crazy.

I count the hours down between when the kids wake up (6am) to when they’re all in bed (8pm) while turning over projects in my head- things I’d like to write, emails I’d like to send, presentations I want to design, an online course that I am excited about launching- but once their little heads hit the pillows- I rush to my computer and open- crap.com, or a wasteoftime.bla, or internetaddiction.meh and three hours later, I hate myself for missing opportunities to be creative and to PRAY ON TIME and I wake up the next day and guess what? I DO IT ALL AGAIN. Crazy.

I make it a point to eat healthy during the day and limit myself to fruit salad and salad and the kid’s dinner leftovers, but once they’re asleep all bets are off and I eat whatever sort of junk I can get my hands on. As a health strategy- to exercise effortless discipline over my food in the day and then throw it all to hell in a chocolate-covered handbasket at night is illogical as well as… crazy.

I feel like I am pretending to be a productive, disciplined, and professional adult, and as long as there is someone watching, keeping up the act is effortless. Once people turn away though, I revert to the wicked sloth-monkey that my momma used to complain about, and I cancel out all the “good” I did during the day- setting myself up for a cycle of failure, guilt, overcompensation, and burnout. I am, frankly speaking, disappointed with myself, and my first impulse is to lament how I want to change but don’t have the ability to, but then I remembered a conversation I had with my former boss just last week or so.

He asked me whether I knew what a “Locus of Control” was. I told him the only locusts I knew flew around and ate crops. He’s a nice man, he laughs at my jokes.

 

Locus of control is a theory in personality psychology referring to the extent to which individuals believe that they can control events that affect them. Understanding of the concept was developed by Julian B. Rotter in 1954, and has since become an aspect of personality studies. A person’s “locus” (Latin for “place” or “location”) is conceptualised as either internal (the person believes they can control their life) or external (meaning they believe that their decisions and life are controlled by environmental factors which they cannot influence).

Individuals with a high internal locus of control believe that events in their life derive primarily from their own actions; for example, if a person with an internal locus of control does not perform as well as they wanted to on a test, they would blame it on lack of preparedness on their part. If they performed well on a test, they would attribute this to ability to study.[1] In the test-performance example, if a person with a high external locus of control does poorly on a test, they might attribute this to the difficulty of the test questions. If they performed well on a test, they might think the teacher was lenient or that they were lucky.

Thank you, wikipedia.

My boss, or DPO as he is known, introduced me to the Locus of Control as such: people who have an internal locus of control take ownership of the situation around them. People with an external locus of control are victims of the circumstances around them. Which would you like to be?

I was embarrassed that he asked me, because I realized right away that I was talking about higher-level issues with work that were due to allowing the locus of business control be external vs internal, and it was a bit of a kick to the organizational teef. I was messing up the business by letting other people dictate what the business did and did not do.

Now, moving that observation forward, it’s nice that having other people around makes me more productive, but once their presence is removed, my productivity is out the window. My locus of control is so crazily external that without other people pushing me- to email something on time, to complete a sheet in excel, or to make dinner before their homework is finished- that when they’re not there, I do nothing. Absolutely. Completely. Nothing. If- on the odd occasion HF has all three children out to give me some time off, I do absolutely, completely, nothing. I won’t even feed myself properly. I’ll plop some peanut butter and marshmallow fluff on an old piece of pita (true story!) and call it dinner while I watch anime until my eyes crust over. This might be ok if what I really wanted was to eat peanutbutter on pita while watching Fullmetal Alchemist, but that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to feel accomplished- like I had four hours to write a week of activities in a subject that I love writing about- I wanted to feel renewed, and accomplishing something creative does that for me- but instead, I did wasted my time, ate unhealthy, and resented myself for it later.

My locus of control is stupid. It needs to be internal. If I accomplish something, it needs to be for my own sense of productivity, self-respect, accomplishment, and personal pride in what I do. If I eat right, it should be because I care about my health even if there’s no one there to scoff at the marshmallow fluff jar. If I make a decision for the business, I should stick with it and push it forward, because what the parents want* is not enough to grow the business and give their children what they need instead.

*(customer wants can be broadly defined as: everything. free. yesterday.)

I need to make a decision and stick with it. Now, my mind is saying- oh no, but I don’t have enough self-discipline for that! Well, that’s a statement reflecting an external locus- that I would blame someone or something else for my lack of action rather than saying Ok, I know I have weak self discipline, so how do I make it stronger?

Once upon a time, I didn’t have the self-discipline to pray regularly. I would pray maybe once or twice a day, and make excuses for it- I don’t have time, can’t get out of class, there’s no prayer room in my highschool, I’m not dressed properly, etc- I made myself a victim of the circumstances I lived in (American public highschool) and it wasn’t until I made the choice to pray five times a day that I was able to change the factors around me. I was still in exactly the same environment- same school, same friends, same me- but I made the changes necessary to accomplish what I wanted to and disciplined myself to stick with it.

I started with keeping a chart of how many prayers a day I missed. The goal was zero. I started off missing three and four prayers a day though. Over time, and with forcing myself to update the chart daily, I built prayers into my daily routine and there’s been no looking back since, Alhamdulillah. Yes, my Fajr shifts around, and that’s a failure on my part- but I don’t see it as being out of my control. It’s my fault, and I’ll fix it. I’ve fixed it before, and I can fix it again.

The same needs to happen with my personal standards of what a productive Muslim and grownup does with their time, their resources, and their health. I need to stop victimising myself in all three areas and take control of a situation that is well within my power to do so, InshaAllah.

For my next act, I will activate the TinyFilter feature in Chrome that HF kindly installed for me. It’s a Chrome plugin that blocks URL’s completely and puts a custom message in their place. It can be password protected as well, and I’m going to enter a list of time-wasting websites in there and ask HF to lock it down for me. He’s done that to me before, but because I hadn’t asked him to do it, I resented him for it and badgered him until he gave me the password. This time, I’m making the decision myself, and I will maintain the self-discipline to not beg HF to unlock it.

That’s going to be my first step. My second step is to start taking measurements again- for eating healthy, for working out, for keeping my inbox at zero and my house running smoothly. Please make dua for me, because I know my self-discipline muscles are weak and my locus of control has been external my whole life- this is going to be hard for me, but I want to do this. I want to take back my locus of control from the rest of the world and make it my own again, because the alternative is not acceptable- I start hating myself for falling short of my expectations and I lose respect for my own self.

So here we go.  Updating blog.  Activating TinyFilter. Now.

By Abez, The End.

A non-poem.

I want to write a poem
I want to turn this pain
Into something beautiful
But my hands are tired
And my tools are bent.