Serenity Prayer

Last week, I shaved my head. Many friends and family members have asked why. Many have assumed.

Perhaps it’s an assertion of freedom, a visualization of Zero-Fucks-Given. It is not. I give many fucks about many things and don’t go through life with a sense of entitlement about absolute freedom. I find this idea to be irresponsible. As a person on this planet, consuming massive amounts of oxygen and food, and outputting tons of waste and debris, each one of us better give a serious fuck.

Perhaps it’s a statement about how a woman’s worth does not lie in her physical appearance. This topic is certainly relevant, as we continue to suffer the Trump presidency and to be horrified by the weekly exposés of powerful men using their powerful platforms to wave their dicks around (literally and figuratively). As much as I’d like to say that was my motivation, it was not.

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This is about sadness at profound loss, about the inability to accept what cannot be changed after 38 years of railroading my way through life’s toughest challenges. This is about looking on the outside how I feel on the inside – being trapped in a straight jacket, ever-tightening, inducing panic, inducing madness. The mind is impotent in such a state. The heart is broken in the clench of it’s own pain.
This is about returning to prayer, because rationality only goes so far.

 

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
And the courage to change the things I can

P.S. A difficult post to write, especially as I didn’t provide any specifics, which is annoying to anyone who reads it. However, it’s not my story to tell. The reason for sharing on a public forum is to process my own thoughts and feelings, and also remain emotionally honest with people who interact with me on two fronts

  1. I do not want to take credit for noble missions I am assumed to be associated with, but are not my motivation in this instance.
  2. I don’t want to just write about things that make it seem like I have my shit together and life is a string of perfect sunsets, travel and quality time with friends and family. The struggle is real.

The diversity echo chamber

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I was not planning to comment on James Damore’s Idealogical Echo Chamber “paper” because everything that needs to be said has already been said 150000000 times by people a lot more accomplished and articulate than me.

Until Google fired James Damore. While it is legally within Google’s rights as an at-will employer to do this, I find this persecution to be dangerous. Growing up in a country where people mysteriously disappear or get slaughtered in public for voicing an unpopular perspective, I suppose I’m sensitive to this very precious right we enjoy in the US. If I were the VP of diversity at Google, my call to action would be to make James Damore a member of my team (if he was willing) and employ that sharp albeit narrow mind to understand and solve the range of discriminatory problems that plague our industry, and our society, including racial, gender, political, religious and non watchers of Silicon Valley (we are an endangered species).

Am I offended that he labelled my kind as biologically less fit for the industry I have built my career? Of course!

Do I want to point out all the logical fallacies and lack of facts and data in his arguments? Of course I do.

Will any of this convince James or the tens of thousands of dudes out there who actually feel exactly the same way? Of course not.

I appreciate the honesty that James exhibited in his beliefs. I wish more engineers, more VCs, more exec teams, more HR leaders, more CEOs would have the courage to look their biases in the eye and claim them. I suspect James doesn’t have a whole lot of real contribution to the dismal diversity statistics at Google, and Facebook, and Amazon, and Microsoft and the rest of them. Yet he’s the one whose firing we cheer! I’ve interviewed at each of these companies, been offered roles by each of them, and every role has been below my capability, my prior experience, my value. I’ve seen my peers and guys much more junior than me get significantly better deals at the same companies. James wasn’t the one the one that did that. He just got to be the poster boy for our collective rage. What he says is an accurate description of how people make decisions. The thing that sets me apart in interviews, in meetings every single day is the “biological” differences between us – the boobs, the lack of a bulge of leadership between my legs. And perhaps something innate about my personality that’s defined by my X chromosome?

I am in violent agreement with James – men and women are different. We look different and we feel different and there’s a strong biological component to both. However where we diverge is that James may not realize that purely from a scientific standpoint, the complex relationship between identity and genetic makeup is not fully understood.

Penis –> Y chromosome – CHECK.

Leadership —> Y chromosome – SCIENTIFICALLY UNKNOWN.

Less than 100 years ago, women were considered unfit to vote in this country. Their frail and fickle minds, lack of worldliness and frivolity meant they were unable to understand or effectively make the choice of who should lead the nation. Less than 100 years ago, fewer than 10% of gynecologists and pediatricians in the US were women. And now more than 50% are women in both categories. Less than 100 years ago, populations of gypsies and Jews were poked, weighed, starved, measured, gutted because of a pre-supposition that their biological differences made them unfit for European society and unfit for the master race.

At the end of the day, it’s not our minds that protect us from the logical and heinous conclusions of eugenics and discrimination. It’s our hearts and the compassion and empathy they hold within them. The very empathy James took a shit on. The very empathy I see missing in what has happened since his paper came out.

Being smart is easy.

Writing papers is easy.

Firing people is easy.

All logical. All simple. All boring. And entirely wrong.

Being in touch with our feelings and those of others around us, and letting them be our guide in decisions – that’s FUCKING hard.

Not having a black and white resolution like they do in the movies – that’s FUCKING hard.

If James had allowed empathy into his heart, his perspective would be richer & deeper. He’d understand that this conversation isn’t just about “good for business”. It’s about our moral center.

If you allow empathy in your heart, you may also see that this conversation is not about James Damore. It’s about a truth that pre-dates him and will live on long after he’s forgotten from news feeds. Someone’s freedom of speech was curtailed, someone was made a poster child for a problem that is infinitely more pervasive.

Diversity is a place of perpetual discomfort, curiosity and acceptance. Do you think you live there?

 

 

On Father’s Day

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He was larger than life – booming laugh, sharp wit, deep voice, sinfully handsome face, his long beautiful fingers absently playing with his smoking pipe and tobacco tin box. Eyes followed him around the room, the party moved to his rhythm, women turned into teenage girls, men into adoring young pups seeking patronage. Growing up, I watched my father cast his spell on thousands of people at our extravagant parties, musical gatherings and literary events. I was in awe of his performance.

Today, as my Facebook feed fills up with Father’s Day tributes, I wonder what this day would be like for us if he were alive. Would we do brunch together? Would we go for a walk and discuss the books we were reading, the politics that was on our minds? Would I ask for his advice on a difficult relationship or whether to buy a house? Would he ask me for advice on whether to sell his impractical gas guzzler in favor of a Tesla? Would we talk about life and death and all that’s in between?

Or perhaps we would not see each other at all. Perhaps we would pretend the other did not exist.

I can’t say.

My father died shortly after I turned twelve.

I cried for weeks, confused by the grief that was pouring out of me. I felt guilty because I had prayed for that very phone call that told us he had ceased to exist. I felt gutted even though I had gotten exactly what I had prayed for.

I recall the same inner conflict clenching at me as a kid every time someone told me I was just like my dad. I wanted to be just like him. He was powerful. He was in control. He was admired. He was invincible. At the same time, I loathed the idea of even being related to him. He was unpredictable. He was unfair. He was violent. He hated women. And he had the sinister discipline to only reveal this dimension of his personality to the people closest to him, the people that were bound to him through blood and dependency, the people that couldn’t escape.

In my early twenties, I figured I’d processed all that there was in this complex relationship. I had concluded that my dad was not a good person and therefore not a part of my mind or my heart. So imagine my surprise when I heard myself raging at a friend’s father who felt “bad” about me not having one and offering to be a “father figure” to me. I told him I was not in the market for substitutes and walked out of their home. How dare this motherfucker suggest he could replace my dad. Wait, what? Where is this anger coming from? Why get so prickly about an innocent offer of kindness, especially given how much I disliked my own father?

Because he’s my father. Un-substitutable. Irreplaceable. Irreplaceably mine.

A man of many faces, many moods, a brilliant yet unhinged intellect, deeply flawed, infinitely sensitive, and entirely worthy of my love. Over the decades, I have learned accounts of his quiet generosity, supporting family, friends and strangers with his wealth. I have heard how he was an inspiring professor. I have read his letters to my mother when they were in love.

Who was my father? Was any facet more true than the other? I don’t know and I can’t know. The trouble with posthumous relationships is that the conversation is entirely a monologue. No one ever answers back. Unlike the movies, there isn’t a tidy conclusion, so one must be fabricated. So here’s where I choose to let this conclude.

Mohammad Akmal set many lives on a higher path, much like my own. And he left deep scars. His truth lies in his complexity. His capacity to be whoever he wanted to be lives within me. We have chosen very different lives. We manifest in the world very differently.  But his song hums in my blood and I know that I am my father’s daughter.

Musings on ….

My journey of rediscovery continues as I continue to put myself in unfamiliar situations and test personal limits. In the same vein, I set intention in 2016 to stick with circumstances that are not ideal, paths that are difficult. This chapter continues and has started to yield interesting insights.

Reclaim your story

Nadya (my oldest childhood friend) was there as I lived out a fairly troubled childhood and watched me suffer along several dimensions as an adult because sometimes our demons are all we know and they scare everyone else away. She reminded me that I am not the product of my past and have the choice to be whoever I want to be. That didn’t resonate with me until I discovered forms of therapy (NLP, Lifespan Integration, EMDR) that helped me understand the nature of our memories.

2017-04-11_1606Every time we recall or relive a memory, our mind alters it, adding a translucent layer of our present vantage point to the picture from long ago. Layers upon layers until the story in our minds is as much about who we choose to be every day as much as who we were when that mental postcard was captured. A violent event can become increasingly less damaging in our memory if we relive it from the position of safety and empowerment in the present.

It is incredibly liberating to know that our past is not static, etched in stone, that our experience of time is not linear but rather circular. The present informs the past as much as the past informs the present and we can use this cycle to be exactly who we want to be.

While we can’t re-write the facts of events that have transpired, we can absolutely reframe the meaning we made of them, and in doing so reclaim ourselves. Knowing this has given me renewed vigor to explore the story of my life, the good, the bad and the ugly – to dwell on all of it (contrary to shitty advice) because in it lie the deepest truths of who I am and who I want to be.

Hush now, let it go

On my dad’s living room wall was a painting of a lost war ship, moment before the ocean swallowed it. I suspect all of us know what it means to be that ship. Scary as fuck!

We build large structures around us. We fortify. We amass wealth so the foundations can be stronger, the walls higher. We latch on to our communities. Safety in numbers. We insure our lives against the ravages of the ocean with pedigree, Linked In profiles, powerful friends, religious dogma, political affiliations.

All fine investments to make. Except for one debilitating flaw.

We’re trapped inside our forts, holed up, waiting to be swallowed up. We do jobs we don’t like, put up with people that take our light away, follow norms we don’t believe in, live in passive or active fear.

For a moment, let’s not be afraid. Let’s confront the baseline nature of life. We’re all in a dinghy a lot more frail than the lost war ship. The ocean we skim is infinite in all dimensions, and infinitely unpredictable. Any of us is one wrong turn away from heart breaking loss, long term disability, unemployment and homelessness, life long suffering, humiliation and abandonment. And many of us have gotten that call and lived through the horrors of drowning. The calmness we may be experiencing in our lives is only because of us in a small way. Let’s chalk up the rest to just a good weather day and not our silly little forts.

Let’s find gratitude for the sun that shines upon us, be humble for the prosperity we receive, step out of the controlled environments we’ve worked so hard to create and invest our time in the people and activities that bring meaning to our lives.

Resist and Rejoice

Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday.

Gagged. Stabbed. Raped. Slashed. Fucked.

These “executive” orders have attempted to pillage the rights of refugees, women, immigrants, those that can’t afford healthcare, those that are not yet born but look to us to leave them a thriving planet instead of a rigged and barren wasteland.

This greed is not new. This violence is not novel. Men have attempted to swallow the world whole before. And they will attempt to do so long after the phallic Trump towers are reclaimed by nature. But the world endures. History is painted scarlet with the blood of the innocent. Forests turn to flame. The earth cracks with thirst. Rage has it’s day in the limelight.

But love always prevails. We let the earth soak up our tears, our blood, our pain, and she brings spring back to us again. We lose our lives and ourselves in the process but we know we’ve secured the future of our planet and our humanity.

This is our time to sacrifice, to lean in, to let our blood flow, to let our love wash this malevolence away. It will get worse before it gets better, but we will prevail.

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I’ve done research on how you can get involved to turn this tide – every step helps. Please take action. Not tomorrow, not next week. Today. Now.

My criteria for selection of these non-profits are:

  1. Directly working on issues that have been assaulted by the federal government
  2. All non profits score high on financial reporting, transparency and have low operational costs (which means 80%+ of your donation goes directly to the cause)
  3. Some are focused on relieving the symptoms of tragedy, others are focused on solving root causes

Civil Liberties, Immigration & Refugees

AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION (ACLU)

For almost 100 years, the ACLU has worked to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States. This includes women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights.

https://www.aclu.org/

THE WHITE HELMETS

Barrel bombs – sometimes filled with chlorine – are the biggest killer of civilians in Syria today. White Helmets’ unarmed and neutral rescue workers have saved more than 78,529 people from the attacks in Syria.

https://www.whitehelmets.org/

INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future.

https://www.rescue.org/

Environment

EARTH JUSTICE

We fight for the right of all to a healthy environment. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to take on critical environmental issues and bring about positive change. We exist because the Earth needs a good lawyer.

Site: http://earthjustice.org/

CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

Site: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/

GREENPEACE USA

Defend the natural world and promote peace by investigating, exposing, and confronting environmental abuse, championing environmentally responsible solutions, and advocating for the rights and well-being of all people.

Site: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW ALLIENCE WORLDWIDE (ELAW)

The Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) helps communities speak out for clean air, clean water, and a healthy planet. We are a global alliance of attorneys, scientists and other advocates collaborating across borders to promote grassroots efforts to build a sustainable, just future.

Site: https://elaw.org/about

UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS 

Our scientists and engineers develop and implement innovative, practical solutions to some of our planet’s most pressing problems—from combating global warming and developing sustainable ways to feed, power, and transport ourselves, to fighting misinformation, advancing racial equity, and reducing the threat of nuclear war.

Site: http://www.ucsusa.org/

NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL

We combine the power of more than two million members and online activists with the expertise of some 500 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.

Site: https://www.nrdc.org/

ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND

Clean air and water. Abundant fish and wildlife. A stable climate. Our work protects nature and helps people thrive.What sets us apart is how we make this happen: By creating solutions that also carry economic benefits.

Site: https://www.edf.org/

Women’s rights

PLANNED PARENTHOOD

Planned Parenthood is a trusted health care provider, an informed educator, a passionate advocate, and a global partner helping similar organizations around the world. Planned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide

Site: https://www.plannedparenthood.org

EQUALITY NOW

Champion legal equality for women and girls around the world including ending discrimination against women in law, and preventing female genital mutilation

Site: http://www.equalitynow.org/

GUTTMACHER INSTITUTE

Advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in the United States and worldwide through our interrelated program of research, public education and policy analysis.

Site: https://www.guttmacher.org/

Cheer up, rejoice, you’re not alone.

Take action, we’re all in this together!

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To my people

A few weeks ago, I was standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for my turn to check out. I turned away for a few moments to grab a Burt’s Bees lip balm, only to have my basket shoved to the side by an older white woman. I smiled and said “Sorry I was in line”. She looked at me like I was a piece of dog shit that was stuck to her shoes. Nostrils flared, disdain contorting her face, she spat

“You people!”

I felt shame and anger rising up my neck and into my face, forming words, words asking her to explain what she meant. The girl at the till was beet red. The woman denied saying anything at all and asked me not to make a scene. I told her what she was referring to as a “scene”was just me calling her out on something she thought she could get away with. As she walked away the girl at the till and the lady ahead of me asked if I was ok and apologized on behalf of our racist friend.

On the drive home, “You people!” echoed in my head, over and over again. It reminded me of another time, another slur, when I first moved to the U.S.

It was 9/11/2001. I was at work, frantically reading the news about the towers, confused about what it all meant. My office mate walked in, more withdrawn than usual. This is the guy that had told me in my first month at Microsoft that people like me worked too hard, and made people like him look bad. He sat down in front of his monitor and pulled up a news website, shaking his head, muttering under his breath. I looked back at him several times because it seemed he wanted to speak with me. But he didn’t engage. A few minutes later, he stormed out, then stormed back in and blurted

“This is your fault. You should apologize for what your people have done to this country”

I remember the shame coming over me, in hot and cold waves. I got scared. I didn’t want to lose my job and go back to Pakistan. I apologized. I went to the restroom and cried and longed to be home with my family.

A lot has changed in these 15 years. The scared immigrant who couldn’t make sense of racism and discrimination can now make a “scene” in a public place if needed because she knows her community has her back. The girl that left Pakistan because it didn’t represent her values of equality, freedom and civic duty is now an American. She’s created a life she loves, because America has given her the space to do so. She’s surrounded by friends of all colors, ethnicities, genders because they too are welcome in the America she calls home. She cast her first vote as a citizen two weeks ago.

She wore a pantsuit to work yesterday, as did many of her incredible friends and coworkers.  img_0357They baked cakes and burgers to celebrate an incredible new milestone in America’s progress –  to shatter the highest glass ceiling and welcome Madam President Elect to lead the country. A President who represents millions of women trying to create a world of equality after centuries of suppression and control. A President who actually knows her shit, is smarter and works harder than anyone else in the room, who understands nuance and diplomacy instead of rhetoric, who has  the resilience to prevail despite countless setbacks and rejections because she’s a woman.

And yet here we are. For Hillary and all the people that supported her, this loss is profound but something we can ultimately get over. But to be beaten by Trump cannot be couched as “losing”. It’s an active Fuck-You to women, to immigrants, to people of color, to LGBT, to Muslims, to peace and alliances, to free trade, to the liberties we non-white-non-males have come to rely on.

My friends told me he would never win the Republican nomination. He did.

My friends told me he would never win the election. He did.

My friends tell me it’s just 4 years, we’ll get back. I don’t believe them.

Denial got us here. Denial will not  get us out of it.

So I say to my people (fellow Americans that share the same values as me – women, men and all in between, democrat, republican and independent), please please please don’t look the other way. Reflect on prior world wars and investigate how the world came to unravel then. This is scarily similar. Unless we take action every single day, to vocally stop discrimination whenever we encounter it, to challenge our own biases, to elevate each other, to participate in this democratic process, to create more opportunity to share wealth, to change minds with positive experience, we are all fucked.

Lyft me Up

7:47 AM. Urban woman of curious ethnicity, petite but certain, dressed fashionably monotone, asymmetric hair shredded masterfully, being Ubered in a sleek black car up 5th Ave, perhaps heading to an important meeting.

7:47 AM. Me. Petite and less certain, masterfully shredded hair hanging like limp wet noodles, black top covered in cat hair (really shouldn’t have hugged Boo Boo on the way out), frantically checking my phone to see how far my Lyft driver is. I see the pink mustache heading towards me and I know I’ll make my 8 am 1:1.

Each morning, I briefly contemplate walking to work, then I prioritize a longer snuggle with my feline flatmates or 20 additional minutes at work (in startup mode, every minute counts). But what has been a mere means to an end, has fast become one of my favorite times of the day – my daily dose of human connection in the backseat of a Lyft.

I don’t like strangers. I also don’t like small talk. I’m not very good at it. If I was in a usability study for a car service, I’d strongly relate with the persona of the quiet (mildly stressed) passenger who doesn’t want to be spoken to beyond “Hello, are you Mona?” and “Going to 2200 on 4th?” If anything, I wouldn’t even like to be asked those obvious questions that I’ve already answered via the app.

And yet here we are, Jaspir Singh and I, reminiscing about old Indian songs (he’s surprised that I know them, I tell him my father was a fan), driving through Seattle, transported to the Punjab of 1985. He’s been here for 15 years, much like me. Neither of us thinks we’ll go back. We share our enthusiasm for the American dream, we see it being more than just a dream. We see it realize in our own lives. We value our safety. We laugh about how petty crime in India and Pakistan is usually instigated by the cops and how they’re the last people one should involve in civil disputes. We worry about a Trump America. We worry about us in Trump America. We speak about violence against Sikhs after 9/11. My building approaches. He reminds me of my grandfather. He says Khudahafiz as I say Namaste. I begin my day at work.

On the way home, Youssef, the Moroccan bachelor picks me up. He thinks I’m Iranian. We discuss the meaning of Mona. He tells me it’s a common name in Morocco. I tell him that’s what his countrymen told me when I was there. He’s elated that I’ve been to his home town. Mission accomplished :). We discuss the merits and demerits of various tagines. There is no authentic Moroccan food in Seattle. He’s going home in October though. And he will be bringing a wife back so perhaps there will be more tagine and couscous in his life after that. She’s a professional lady though, he tells me. We discuss visas and green cards. He won the green card lottery. His family thinks he’s the luckiest man in the world. He doesn’t feel lucky, his ex-wife cheated on him. But the new lady, she is more mature. He’s sad when I answer his question about children. Gives me advice that I should reconsider. I wish him luck with his lady. It’s time to go and feed my cats.

Jake, the musical nomad picks me up after taking several “2 minutes away”. I’m his last ride of the morning and it’s just 7:30 AM. He targets the early morning airport crowd, then heads back to his basement apartment in Edmunds and writes music. The scene for composers isn’t all that great up here. He moved here from Idaho with his girlfriend, then she broke up with him and two years in, he’s ready to try his luck in the city of angels. The Seattle Freeze is real, we agree, especially for people like him and I, people that don’t like to climb up mountains or go kayaking. Whatever happened to good old conversation?  He’s tentative in asking about where I’m from but I can tell he’s curious. That’s so RAD, he tells me when he finds out. Time to open the door and walk into another day.

You work and you work and you work and then you die, my Somali Lyfter tells me as he picks me up from Amperity’s CEO’s house at 11 PM (late pow-wow for the leadership team). I’m tired. I don’t think I’m going to enjoy this conversation, but then he takes a different direction. And once you make your peace with that, life is good. Why else would you and I both be working at this hour, he says as he laughs at the ultimate hack that is life. He’s out driving me around so his mother, his wife and three children in Berbera don’t have to worry about food and rent. I think about my mother, puttering through her morning in Lahore, probably in the kitchen making something garlicy. I long for her food. I’ll go home in 6, 7, 8…8 months. We’re at the front door of my loft. Time to snuggle and sleep.

Friday, Jorge is my companion this morning. His cologne is overwhelming. I wind down the window just a titch, not wanting to offend him but still get some breathable air in. He’s receptive and profusely apologizes. I tell him I’m from the east, we like to bathe in cologne. Tonight, he will reunite with the love of his life after 30 years. They were high school sweethearts. Her father did not approve since he was Mexican. They moved away. Two separate lives, two sets of marriages, two sets of children, two sets of cheating spouses, two broken hearts, one Facebook Friend request, thousands of frenetic messages back and forth, two souls united. He shows me a picture. I tell him she looks like someone who would love Gardenias. He’s shocked. That was her favorite flower. We agree he should get off work early and buy some.

 

It’s a hard day at work. Most days are. The pressure of delivering value to customers, the need to get shit done, the intensity of going fast and being right often, the fear that any one decision could be near fatal – that’s the stuff our daily grind is made of. I think about Jorge – excited, freaked out, wreaking of cologne. I think about Youseff and his new professional lady wife. I wonder if Jake has any useful connections in L.A. It’s time to go home. I tap tap tap on my Lyft app, watch the same animations notifying me of nearby drivers, route optimization, blah blah blah. My driver pops up on my screen. 2 minutes away. It’s Jaspir Singh.