Soniah Kamal

Writer. Editor. Speaker.


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Moved to a New Home

I have moved to

www.soniahkamal.com

where I’m a dot com.

Look forward to your visit!

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Such a Nice Face. Too Bad About the Rest of You! The Politics of Skinny and Fat

Love yourself. Is it really as simple as that. The truth in this era is that a fat angel will be considered an overweight, out of control slob and the skinniest of devils a veritable angel. It’s so not fair to have our morals equated with the girth of our waists, but the hard fact is being fat apparently makes us ‘not good’.  And calling  fat or overweight adults or kids names– Fatty, Blubber, Fatso, Hungry-Much, Hippo, Gross– is considered no big deal.  Before I get clobbered by skinny people who say they have it just as bad if not worse– I’m sorry but having been both fat and thin at various times in my life (that is fat for most of my life with the occasional thin), in my experience being fat is always a case of ‘such a nice face, too bad about the rest of you‘. What the hell does that mean!!

Have you ever seen a fat person eating cake, laughing, having a good time, only to think: should they be eating that? Skinniness just doesn’t carry the same judgement call. Moreover the over-reaching social mantra is that losing weight and being thin will solve all your problems as well as the problems of the world. Not so (as skinny people well know). But fat people are  duped into believing their only impediment to happiness is their fat.  You can lose the weight and still not be happy as Jen Larson also found out.

The absolute worst thing is watching your child grow up fat or overweight  and trying to teach her/him to love themselves and be strong no matter what ‘names’ they are called by other kids, or what ‘nice, considerate’ grown-ups have the audacity to say:  now should you really be eating that slice of cake?  (even as they encourage the skinny child to have another big, fat slice). FYI cake is not nutritious and therefore not good for the fat or the skinny). My two cents courtesy of a gorgeous article by Jennifer Wiener about herself and her daughter  .  As well as the fourth grade boy who informed me today, while I was volunteering at his elementary school, that Stanley Yelnats in the amazing novel Holes is a ‘bad’ character and has ‘no friends’ simply because Stanley is  ‘fat’. Kid got a lesson of a lecture he never saw coming. I’m not a skinny person, I will never be a skinny hip bones sticking out person and I’m sick of people assuming all I do is eat all day long. And even if I did, why should that make me lesser than a skinny hip bone person?

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On Parental Abuse and Forgiveness

Slate’s article on abusive parents and their grown children often ‘needing’ to forgive them is, to say the least, disturbing. How is a woman supposed to forgive a father who sexually  abused her or a mother who turned a blind eye? In my culture to be anything other than thankful to your parents is considered a great sin and  to blame them for anything is often a black mark against one’s own character no matter what the situation. Religion also hammers into the goodness of parents since  Prophet Muhammed said heaven lies beneath a mother’s feet while respect for a father is pretty close behind. And so a dichotomy of sorts, if you will between my two cultures, one which makes a child break into hives if they think anything but good thoughts about their parents and another which encourages a child to judge their parents. And then there is the gray area: a parent who will not allow their child do such and such a thing for the child’s own good. I will not let my child smoke, some other parent will not want their daughter to choose her own spouse. Does abuse rest on how far I am willing to go to make sure my child does not disobey for their own good? And what do you with a parent who believes you will be miserable if you do not follow the rules and thus it is their duty to make sure you follow. For some of us, the struggle between social mores versus individual desires started at home at a very early age. I know girls who were not allowed to be air stewardesses and guys who were not allowed to learn musical instruments and they are bitter and resentful and really do not like their parents but this thought causes illness inducing guilt– in my culture there is no such thing as hanging up the phone or a clean break. (Not just my culture– In the film Waiting to Exhale a mother has just told her daughter why she’d be a fool to break up with her married lover no matter how he was treating her, and when the frustrated daughter (played by Whitney Houston) hangs up, what does she do: she calls her up mother to apologize for being rude).

“Those who refuse to make peace with a failing parent may also find themselves judged harshly. In his memoir Closing Time, Joe Queenan writes of the loathing he and his sisters felt for their alcoholic, physically and psychologically abusive father. When they were grown, Queenan writes: “We talked about him as if he were already dead; such wishful thinking was rooted in the hope that he would kick the bucket before reaching the age when he might expect one of us to take him in,” although they agreed none would. When the father finally died, he wrote, “Clemency was not included in my limited roster of emotions.” In a review of the book in the Wall Street Journal, Alexander Theroux writes, “It is a shameful confession to make in any book.” read rest of Slate article here

 

I could not help but be reminded of Philip Larkin’s poem ‘This Be the Verse’

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.


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The First Boring Bad Episode. HBO Girls Season 2, Episode 5-

I love HBO Girls. It’s different because

1) the characters in Girls say out loud what most polite people only think

2) the sex is so unsexy. And therefore so much more real than five million candles and scattered rose petals all the freakin time

3) Hannah, played by Lena Dunham, is not your quintessentially pretty, skinny, flat assed, flat boobed white girl that the rest of us are, unfortunately, duped into thinking is the best way to look and be.  Hannah is pretty in a plain way, like most of us, and does not have a perfect body, like most of us (is there any such thing as a perfect body considering beauty is in the eye of the beholder.) Groundbreaking, huh, that a pretty plain girl has the lead in a show, a show which is everything Sex and the City was not i.e. gritty and perplexing– no voice over here telling us what amazing epiphanies have visited Hannah or any of the characters this week.

Which is why last night’s episode was such a let down.

1) It’s not in the same vein as a Girl’s episode–i.e. it was bright and shiny in a dull and miserable way. Hannah ends up at a rich middle aged doctor’s brownstone and she has sex and realizes a few choice things. It was BORING. Not because Hannah was not her usual narcissistic self, she was, but because the camera, the angles, the acting even were so not up to standard– the guy’s place is too pristine, too rich, and Hannah notices nothing that her character usually notices: i.e.  does the guy leave the tube off the toothpaste? She can’t figure out the shower system, and faints (WTF!!! Hannah-fainting- yuck). Hannah was a woos- of course her character has got to grow, but please, not like this– not in this boring, mundane, gray colored, world. Her episode was as drab as the beige and white thingy Hannah had on. And as for the end shot with Hannah walking down the brownstone stairs, tossing the trash, crossing the road and then making her way down the street: how Sex and the City can you get??? Boring. Boring. Boring. And there was no symbolism. Nothing to remind us of Hannah’s life in general. Even the whole silly fainting in the shower scene did not harken back to her sitting the bathtub moments.

2) Hannah may be the main character but Hannah does not carry the whole show. At least not in this way.  I want to see the others- Jessa and her husband, Marnie and her fuck-ups, Shoshanna and her boyfriend, and of course all the rest of them: this is an ensemble act and watching Hannah be most un-Hannah like the entire episode made me realize, unfortunately, how easy it is to stop watching any show, and how high the stakes are when you want to keep your audience. Too many of these– and well, it was sweet while it lasted, but see ya. Next time you want to do a Hannah only episode- send her back home, or have her parents come. Just don’t give us anymore staid shit.

3) If I want to see the life of middle aged doctor’s and all the things they can afford, I’ll go visit one. Jessa and Marnie visiting Mr. Self-Made’s (Thomas-John’s) apartment was a treat because the rich colors and camera angles worked  because the situation was both ludicrous but ultimately relate-able. And given Jessa, her subsequent marriage seems so apt. Hannah would never end up marrying the doctor– at least not yet, not given how cynical and wise she is despite her relentless selfishness: so showing her all googly eyed and ‘coming out’ to him with her insecurities is such schlock. And really shots of the fridge and fruit bowl and knifes. Oh! Really!

Last year’s episode, when Hannah’s goes to her parents, was fantastic and fresh– this episode where she once against travels ‘within’ and discovers herself a bit was crap-shoot– What exactly did she discover– that she would like to be wealthy?  Unfortunately she’s not going to become a doctor, and her parents, while comfortable, are not about to hand her an estate of her own….So Hannah probably felt like shit for realizing that, for all her quirkiness, she’s not going to have all this unless she gets her shit in shape, or marries well and then if she does she is going to have to turn into a boring, mundane, responsible adult– the type of person she’s resistant to become because it’s meh.  Of course in real life Lena’s done the exact opposite– but that’s coz she’s hardworking and knows what she wants (I’m not going to get into how much her parent’s privilege must have helped– but the fact is plenty of peeps have rich parents and still don’t go achieve any self-satisfaction). This episode could literally have been a small part of a larger one– and in fact sort of mirrored Jessa in the last one: when John-Thomas tells her how he sees her, and for the first time she weeps because she’s smart enough to hear the truths in what he’s says and realizes that her ‘cuteness’ is cute right now, but twenty years from now, she’ll be an object of derision as unsuccessful bohemian older woman are (it’s not fair, but that’s a separate issue).  The show doesn’t have to be frothy and Jessa’s quiet weeping was a powerful and fitting moment which Hannah in this silly episode was not.  As for seeing an average woman with a gorgeous man. I come from a country of arranged marriages, and this is pretty common, so did not phase me: am used to seeing beauty and beast couples whether its man and woman, or woman and man.

I’m going to go faint in the shower now

1) because my obsession with Girl thrills me

2) because my obsession with Girls alarms me


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Pakistan, America, Taymiya Zaman and the Conflicted Soul

Professor Taymiya R. Zaman’s essay ‘Not Talking About Pakistan’ in the excellent Tanqeed is disturbing to say the least. I think my heart broke somewhere around the point she realizes she’s on every side, on no side, that there are no sides per se. Please do take time out to read this beautifully written and candid piece.

Two instances of kindness stand out because each happened when I was feeling more ragged than usual. In the first, a Palestinian shopkeeper offered me his condolences on the disintegration of my country. “I’m so sorry, at what you must be going through,” he said, “being this far away from family, reading the news, and dealing with everyone’s stupid questions.” I had responded by saying that things had to be bad if a Palestinian felt sorry for me. “I had the same thought myself!” he had exclaimed, and we had both laughed uproariously. read rest here

 


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Too Good to Be True by Benjamin Anastas

I picked up Benjamin Anastas’ memoir Too Good To Be True to read about his particular version of how a writer can fail in this day and age.  Because failure is very simple:  your book either doesn’t sell to an editor, or even if you do get a publisher, the sales are poor and there goes your career. Which is what happened to Anastas except it happened after he’d had a bite of the literary life gone right: graduating from Iowa’s prestigious writing program, signing with good literary agent, getting a three book deal, getting critical acclaim, getting invited to the right parties, contributing to the right journals, being feted and then feted again. Until of course you stop making money and suddenly your agent is not answering your calls and your publisher doesn’t remember you at all.  But Too Good To Be True is much more than simply a writer’s nightmare. Anastas writes about his debt ridden existence, his affair, his wife’s affair, their son whom his wife allows to be someone else’s son, and underlying all this, growing up in a time when parents forget that they were the adults, that is the sixties and seventies.  My favorite chapter, in fact, is the eponymous Too Good To Be True, when Anastas relates the time he and his three year old twin sister, their seven year old elder brother and their  mother spent a summer in a residential group therapy program called Freedom To Be.  Anastas seemed trapped by the memories of that time, especially the trauma of the sign hung around his neck ‘Too Good To Be True’. His sister’s said ‘Crybaby’. And his brother’s ‘Mr. Know. It All.’ This is a beautifully written and tender chapter and Anastas’ stark candidness,  refreshing throughout the memoir,  is here gut wrenching as the reader imagines what these three little kids must have been through psychologically. However the chapter that blew me away, by far,  is ‘Old Friends’. For this chapter alone, please read this memoir. ‘Old Friends’ is a beautiful meditation on a parent/child, father/son, writer to writer relationship rolled into one. Anastas’ father also wrote fiction and, forty years after having written it, sent him a story called ‘Old Friends’. Till he sent it, in fact, his father even says he’d forgotten about the story, that the story had lain in a box with the divorce decree.

from the chapter:

I remember that oak tree where we mobbed my mother that day. Where we held onto her so tightly– all of us– because we wanted her to feel better about the garden, we wanted her to live. But we also held onto her for selfish reasons, to feel safe from the dangers that were closing in around our family. If we could just hold her under the oak tree long enough, pin her there with our arms and legs, then maybe disaster would never reach us. I used to go back to that oak tree without knowing why. I had never read my father’s story. I didn’t remember the garden and my mother’s tears. It was an old pain. It was ancient already.

To read your life on paper written by your parent, except it’s not your parent only, that is that parent is also a writer, and it’s not really about you, it’s fiction after all, after all it’s fiction, how strange, disconcerting, amazing and awesome reading something like this must be. I can only imagine perhaps forty years from now Anastas’ son reading his father’s memoir, that is his own life, in the same vein. Perhaps Anastas’ son will write a memoir too.  Too Good To Be True doesn’t give any new insight on the publishing industry that most writers aren’t aware of: when you’re up, you’re up, and when you’re down, you’re fucked. (unless of course you happen to write another book that breaks out and then you’re up again). But then it’s more than simply a memoir of a writer who was once up and then learned what it mean to be down: Too Good Be True is a story about, up or down, how to go on.