I recentlty wrote two pieces on this topic when I was forced to unplug for a while. As we get closer to the People's Climate March I thought it might be a relevant reflection on our relationship to stuff and things. We all need to consumer less. Maybe giving up our devices is a big part of the deeper, inner, climate movement?
Life without a phone has allowed me to reflect on everything I used it for: pictures, email, navigation, text, phone, and music. I also used it to check prayer times, search quick facts online, take notes in meetings, and record audio at lectures. Basically, I’ve been filtering my entire life through this one device... origonall published with 7 other things I learned. Read more here.
And other piece with this segment:
I am anonymous. For the first time in a long time, my location is not immediately traceable. I am not immediately reachable. I am literally outside of the matrix.
A couple months back I wrote about our generation and climate change. In the run-up to the big Peoples Climate March here is a little taste of that piece...
Once, while working on behalf of the Bloomberg administration, I was sent to Staten Island to talk to community leaders about climate change and the city's sustainability plan. Before I was allowed to talk I was told, "We don't believe in climate change."
You don't have to believe in climate change to want to take action to protect our coastlines from rising sea levels and temperatures and more extreme weather. We have to be prepared for it. The climate change deniers and those who incessantly warn that we are barreling towards the end of the world have a tendency to do the same things: paralyze us into inaction. This is a moment for action. No matter if you believe in it or not we have to be prepared for the future and have to leave the planet better than we found it.
I have been busy writing in other places + spaces. Here is one that is relevant again:
...I played college football and know first hand that it’s largely a culture of stressed out men – players and coaches alike. But for players especially, their entire sense of self-worth is inextricably tied to their performance on the field. Many athletes turn to drugs, alcohol, and other risky behaviors to deal with the pressure. Younger, impressionable athletes learn from the older, “experienced” players. Much of this learning takes place in the locker room. I remember telling my teammates as a freshman how I was a virgin. I remember being chastised. I remember older athletes boasting about their sexual conquests. I remember later learning from female friends that not all of these moments were consensual...
There is so much that happens in the course of a business day that sometimes we do not get time to just think quietly. We are in meetings, on conference calls, stuck on emails, putting out fires, raising red flags, dealing with palace intrigue, and politicking. Thinking is often reserved for smoke breaks, sitting on the can, standing in the shower, being stuck in traffic, while trying not to touch anyone on the subway, or on the late night walk home. But when you get up early, you can just think. Quietly. Sitting still. No other distractions. Your brain is supple and ready to expand in the early morning...
The day began with Fajr. A sweet fajr at home. Afterwards, I sat for some meditation. While I was in my state, my one-year-old, Yousuf, climbed into my lap. We sat there for a moment, still. Then I leaned to my side, put our faces close together, and closed my eyes. He closed his. We slept another two hours that way. We woke up to the sound of my older son, Ismael, calling for his mama - my wife Fatima. He then came out and laid down with me and Yousuf and we played until we we decided it was time to wake my sleeping wife.
The question of travel to Eid prayer was a big one. Drive or train? Is it raining? What’s traffic like? We drove. The Bowery was a mess and we parked in a garage.
The question of staying for Eid prayer was a big one too. It was packed beyond comprehension at Judson Memorial Church. Do we stay or do we go? Do we pray on our own or find another mosque? We stayed. Fatima and Yousuf went across the street to the ICNYU to wait out the crowds. Ismael and I toughed it out and prayed on the stairs. We joined the masses briefly for food and fellowship, then hurried towards home.
The question of brunch or naptime was serious. Yousuf was deteriorating fast. The rest of us were hungry. We decided on brunch as a family. We went to an old Fort Greene staple, Olea. We ate heartily.
We headed home, returning to our daily routine. I changed and headed out quickly to work with plans to return by 4pm. At which point, Fatima would head to work.
These days, I’ve been spending time at BRIC. Today, it was an eventful walk. I came across a bird that was unable to fly. It had webbed feet and a long beak. The poor guy was thirsty, hungry and totally lost. A woman from Brooklyn Hospital went inside to call Animal Rescue. I decided to stay there until they came. They never came.
I learned that the City of New York has a very unclear animal rescue system. I called the zoos, bird rescue, ASPCA - no one knew what to do. I finally, skeptically and hesitantly, hailed down some cops. They were annoyed and angry as they watched a convoy of NYPD cars race down, sirens blazing, clearly upset they weren’t on a more “interesting” call.
“Why don’t it fly away?” they asked.
“Its hurt,” I say
“How do you know it’s hurt?” they asked.
“Birds fly. If it could fly, it would.” I replied.
Another man, one with a clear connection to a traditional African religion and a clear connection to the natural world, also stopped to help the bird. He, like me, felt compelled by his faith to not leave a stranded bird, alone. It had been almost 2 hours. The bird began looking to us for direction - listening as we called it back from the street to the sidewalk, listening when we told it to stop drinking dirty, stagnant street water. The building maintenance crew at Brooklyn Hospital were useless - they laughed when I asked if they could bring out a hose or a bucket of water. Eventually, a new crop of cops came to assist. I looked one of them in the eye and said, “Please do your 100% best to make sure that this bird is taken somewhere safe so that it has a fighting chance. Please do not let him die out here.” The officer promised. I had to go.
Returning home, I retraced my steps and saw the scene was cleared.
Later, I was with my sons. We finished lunch, got dressed, and ran out the door. I stuffed them in their stroller seats and power-walked all the way to Brooklyn Bridge park. We went to the grassy oasis between the bridge and Jane’s Carousel. Waiting for us was a group of friends - old and new. We were a gaggle of Eid celebrants cooling out, relaxing. My sons played safely, chased a kite, kicked around a ball, ate fruit and organic fig cookies. We adults talked, laughed, and prayed together. It was beautiful.
Dinner was simply tofu and broccoli. Both boys ate heartily.
We transitioned into bedtime mode which included washing, dressing, cleaning up, praying, storytelling, and me telling them over and over again, “Daddy loves you very very much. Daddy loves you very, very much.”
Before I went to sleep, I thought about the children of Gaza. I thought about their fathers. I thought about how they are packed into ever worsening slum conditions until the ghetto they are forced to live in becomes so unbearable that they will either leave or become a piece of rubble within it. I thought about how those families celebrated Eid today.
I thought about genocide, holocaust, and how my tax dollars are funding this “final solution” or this “mowing of the lawn” of the Palestinian people or problem. I thought about my Native American ancestors - wiped out. I thought about what those who were relegated to the ghettos of Germany would have to say to the Palestinians now. I thought about the people who lived during other historical holocausts - the ones that saw something - like us - and did nothing to stop it - like us. We are just like them. We make excuses for the slaughter. We make excuses for what is blatantly known around the world as murder.
Yes, after a glorious day, I went to bed with a heavy heart. I will likely sleep ok. I won’t wake up in the middle of the night. I won’t toss or turn. I certainly won’t have to evacuate my home at a moment’s notice.
Rarely does something pull on multiple emotions at once. Cowboy's Girl, a tense drama about a father/daughter reunion does just that. They have (as of this writing) 68 hours to get this effort fully funded via their Kickstarter campaign. Check out the campaign here.
Cowboy's Girl is inspired by Diahnna Nicole Baxter’s relationship with her own father, and her struggle to obtain truth and forgiveness. We all know a little bit about forgiveness. It is one of the most elusive and important aspects of the human experience. For religious people we often want forgiveness from God from sins we have committed but the greater thing to do is to forgive the ones that have scorned us, broken us - indeed it is by forgiving that we become whole and start on the path towards healing.
I was struck by the story, how it was inspired by real life people and also reflects the reality of so many people that we already know. We all have hurts, we all have secrets and places where we are scared to get exposed. I think this movie will allow us to, at least to ourselves, acknowledge our own person hurts, our own deep secrets and perhaps - maybe - we might get on a path to forgiving not only the people that have hurt us but also to forgiving ourselves.
(see the promo video below. I especially hope that you new dads out there pay close attention)
The first paragraph, and first chapter of 100 Years of Solitude made me never want to write again - it made me think that everything that I wanted to do by writing had already been done.
I have read and re-read that book a dozen times AND consumed many of his other works including one of the most incredible little books about the will of the human spirit: The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor. Thankfully, I have not stopped writing and I have often returned to his works for continued inspiration as to the power of words and storytelling and honesty and passion on pages.
I am not sad at his passing. In our tradition we understand that the written works of a person continue to be part of their record long after they have passed. In essence, one as prolific as GGM was will never really die. His voice and his imagination will live on for as long as we have an earth and the earth has us to shed blood on it.
It was a dark and stormy night. I left my meeting in midtown and looked up into the sky sensing that snow was coming, but seeing only cold droplets shimmering against the empty office building lights. My family was about a mile away and I ran. You may have seen tippy-toes, jeans, and my black puma jacket, bald-looking head, glasses, soggy, soaking, sprints across avenues and down streets. A chill had descended on the City – a confusing cold. Is this what climate change looks like?
Later, when running with my wife and sons from the car to the apartment door I clutched my older guy and told him to keep his face down on my shoulder. In terms of weather, there is nothing worse than cold rain. If you linger it could kill you. How do you train a little one not to fear the elements but to respect them and to react accordingly?
photo: to bloom and not to bloom in Central Park
Truth is I am sure someone was wrestling with the cold. In some shadows they huddled against pavement, brick, and metal trying to shield themselves from the onslaught of wave after wave of the stinging rain. Eventually, and at some point unknown to most of us who go to sleep at night, warm in beds with loved ones, the rain turned, menacingly, to snow. It is this dusting that I see spread across those newly budding trees and freshly flowered petals. I think of the flowers that were blooming the past few days – the forsythia of Brooklyn. I also think of the homeless guys and gals and the man I saw yesterday on the subway platform heroin-nodding away. Did it really snow in New York in mid-April?
Right now the house is quiet. The sky is clear and the clouds move swiftly while the moon is just brilliant. My boys stir a bit, my wife tussles and turns. They all seem a bit uncomfortable. I am awake keeping vigil until the Morning Prayer...
There was a time in my life when I was more lost than I am now. In fact, I was dreadfully sad. My decisions cost me a great deal of opportunity and I stood looking at the pieces of my existence as a man looking at shards of broken glass. Back then, I sought help from few people. One of those people was my father.
My father and I do not live in the same city. Therefore, he advised me to seek companionship with elders in the community. He said I should regularly sit with them, ask them questions, and observe them.
Yesterday, I took my sons to sit with some of these elders. Before this outing however, we had fun running around the house. I made them some delicious quinoa patties (quinoa, onions, garlic, bread crumbs, eggs, and spices) for lunch. Lightly fried in avocado oil, my oldest had his pattie with cheese. My youngest had his with a healthy dollop of Greek yogurt.
We ventured out and they immediately fell asleep in the car. The plan was the museum and normally, I just press on and wake them at the destination. Yesterday however, I decided to let them sleep for a bit and rolled by Masjid Taqwa, the mosque my father helped establish over 30 years ago. Many of his friends and co-founders still worship at Taqwa.
Once naptime was over, we went inside where the kids politely munched on snacks - yogurt with jam and poached pears - while I sat near the office of one of the elders discussing issues of the day.
Far too often we reach out for support in tough times, but maybe the greatest benefit comes when you reach out regularly.
When I was a little boy, I gravitated towards adults and serious conversations during community and family gatherings. I wanted to know what was really up and down in the world. Like father like sons because yesterday I noticed that my little guys had their heads on a swivel as I talked with the elders.
I do not want my boys to receive knowledge from their elders only when something goes awry. God Willing they will have healthy relationships with their elders fom the start and they will feel comfortable going to them in whatever state or condition they are in.
I just dropped a group of musicians off at JFK today. It took forever beacuse of heavier-than-usual traffic, but it felt like my civic duty. This group of musicians represent a tour of artists that are working in concert with the US State Department as cultural ambasadors. Check them out here.
As they prepare to cross the pond, the UK is also sending over some less-official cultural ambassadors of their own to our shores. The duo - Native Sun - has US tour dates where they will bring their critical, eye-opening, and serious sound to our drug-addled and overly anti-soul saturated musical scenes. Call me old school, but I want an MC that has a POV and is not the same as every other schmuck on the block.
I am also a little biased. One half of the Native Sun duo is Muhammad Yahya - my brother from another mother. Before I was married with children, I hosted Muhammad Yahya during one of his NYC sojourns and we really connected. So yeah, check the dates below and hope you can make it out to the shows.
People have asked me what I ate to end my sugar fast. Well, initially, Fatima and I had some chai. She added in 2 girl scout cookies (which she later regretted). I was too afraid to go that far (for good reason, as I later witnessed). Instead, I sipped a glass of apple cider. The next day, I sampled some hand cut fries, drank an orange juice, and then succumbed to a cider donut and a piece of olive oil foccacia. With each bite/sip, I noticed how the food made me feel, whether or not my thinking changed, and whether or not I wanted more.
If nothing else, the diet reminded me that the traditional South Indian diet - the food my mother-in-law has been teaching me by example - is a damn good diet (if done right, like it's done in the subcontinent).
In an effort to maintain some semblance of sugar free, we went shopping yesterday and picked up more brown rice, some (strange, new) black bean pasta, agave, onions, eggs, unsweetened rice milk, almond milk, clementines, st. croix sparkling water (it's delish), and some frozen veggies: broccoli, green beans, and peas. In general, we bought the main things that we will need to power ourselves with little to no sugar and keep healthy the two little guys.
Today, we will probably walk over to the Arab-owned shops on Atlantic and get some olive oil from Nablus and dates from Medina. The sky is overcast, but the weather is said to warm up later. My boys have been talking about going outside all morning.
The most significant thing I since finishing my cleanse relates to something I started almost a year and a half ago. In a flurry of creative energy in 2012, I pounded out a 50,000 word manuscript - the rough, very rough edges of a novel. I wrote it and looked at it for the last time sitting in an airport on my way to Malaysia.
Two days ago, while sipping on my chai sweetened with bee pollen (I was afraid to use honey), I opened the manuscript and started reading. Now, when people ask me what I am reading I say, a book I wrote.
This is a book that no one else in the world has ever seen. I have a few of those. I have three novels, a book of poetry, one non-fiction book percolating, and a pretty damn good idea for a movie. Part of my focus for the post-cleanse is to make traction on all of these fronts - to make some headway doing what I really want to do more than anything else - write.
Today is the last day of my 21-day sugar cleanse. For the past 3 weeks, my wife Fatima Ashraf and I have embarked on a quest to gain better control and a deeper understanding of our relationship to sugar. We have learned, above all else, that sugar is ubiquitous and that we are addicted to it the same way a drug addict is addicted to drugs. Truthfully, sugar is a drug and the whole world needs rehab. We quit cold turkey but only with the understanding that on April 1st we could “dip in” or “push off."
There is a thing called carb cycling that I am looking into where I would plan out times that I will allow myself some of the things that I have been missing the most: fresh baked bread with olive oil, granola and rice milk, homemade cookies, pancakes, bran muffins, and biscuits from scratch.
Another way to manage our relationship to food (and sugar) is something an old buddy of mine, Jee Kim, used to do which is to not eat after 7pm. It is hard, but can certainly help manage the way your body processes food.
In these last 21-days, Fatima and I gave ourselves a template for how to interact with food, the food system, and society in a new way. At times it was frustrating. Others times, we felt liberated and full of energy. I am a bit sad it is over. It was kind of like Ramadan. During the Muslim month of fasting, I get into a groove and food becomes less crucial. I reorient my spirit towards a deeper nourishment. As I adjust to no food and water during daylight hours for 30 days, I feel like it is difficult. However, the sweetness that accompanies Ramadan is exhilarating. There is nothing quite like it. By the end, my heart is sad because soon, this holy month, will pass.
So today, as the sugar cleanse ends, I am sad. Maybe this Ramadan, I'll go sugar free again, except of course, for the dates.
photo: a little mushroom, bell pepper, red onion, garlic, olive oil and eggs - my standard breakfast over the past few weeks.
This century will be about cleaning up the mess and mistakes from the last century. This “mess” relates to how our overconsumption has wrecked havoc on the natural world. The waste and byproducts of overconsumption has polluted the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that we all share. This is a spiritual and temporal crisis and we will be held accountable for how we treated the planet along with every other action we have done.... read the rest here
photo: an international gathering of green muslims - folk from all over the world - who just happen to have encountered with one another in Stockholm, Sweden...
As I approached the corner of East 29th and First Avenue I noticed a desperate looking homeless man on the corner asking anyone and everyone for money for something to eat. I looked him and dug into my jacket pocket and then my side pants pocket and told him that sadly, “i’ve got nothing today”.
Then I searched my back pocket. What I was looking for were loose coins or even a dollar. What came out was a fist full of bills, crisp ones. I knew those were there but did not want to put them on the table for him. As I had been searching he was coming closer - like men of his generation do, they like to stand close to people. Seems the older you are the less offended by nose hairs you become. “nah”, i told him, “I can’t give you one of those”.
Then came the wind. In a flash a burst from the downtown swept one of the large bills uptown. I turned. The cash was still within reach and I pounced to scoop it up. Clearly the universe was telling me that cash was not meant for me. I gave him the bill and he started thanking me profusely. Being a man on a perpetual quest and journey I started by saying God Bless you and he blessed me back. I instinctively said, Alhummdulilah or All Praises Due to Allah.
That blessing shook him. He straightened his back. He looked at me and said the shahada: There is nothing worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah in Arabic, La ilaha Il Allah, Muhammad ur Rasoololah. I cross the street as he flung verses of arabic and duas to me with his hands cupped to the sky.
I relate this story because it relates to my sugar cleanse. I had no reason for being on that corner. I also did not have my cell phone. For some reason I felt the need for fresh air and I was, in the back of my head, applying the principles of work laid out in another famous diet - the Information Diet, where my college nemesis Clay Johnson points out that sitting is killing us and that we need to adjust our work regimes to allow time for walking, standing, and movement.
I needed to move. So I walked and walked in a straight line until I got to the intersection I told you about and further, to the edge of the City overlooking the East River and the FDR Drive.
There is a urban farm over there and a glass enclosed storefront for Witchcraft. I think the glossy mini-high-rise overlooking the witchcraft building is some biotech facility. For a small second you are in a New York that people envisioned in the 1940’s when they thought that the City’s growth was exponential and they could not foresee crack, aids, corrupt cops, white flight, and the destruction of neighborhoods that needed to happen to get to the future.
Thanks to the sugar cleanse for giving me a information free moment that allowed me the clarity to soak in the sights and sounds of the neighborhoods around me, the water we are surrounded by, and the humans that normally would be forgotten.
photo: early one morning in Richmond, VA. I was walking and noticed this paper stapled onto a pole.
What DO we eat? That was the question of my sister yesterday when she visited us. For the record, I am sorry to my sister for not making our typical Abdul-Matin Family breakfast items: pancakes and french toast, etc.
This blog is not intended to be deep. For the past few weeks I have posted pictures of the things I cannot eat. Today I am going to share a few of the things I have eaten recently.
Lets’ start with breakfast. The other day I was in DC and was treated to scrambled eggs made expertly by one of my hosts -Paul Kim. His method was virtually flawless and with a little hard work, instant stirring, putting the eggs on and off the flame, and some olive oil I managed to re-create his creamy egg masterpiece. Yum. Add some stir-fried onions, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, and brown rice and you have a slamming breakfast.
Tonight we ate in a pinch. We attended an event and the young son was already sleeping when we got home and the older one was tired. Fatima rustled up some tuna with lemon juice, onions, bells peppers, pickles, mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper and she presented it in a lettuce wrap.
Now, that would be a very interesting Master Chef challenge - cooking a meal that has no sugar but is savory, yummy, and totally filling!
Fatima made a bowl of mixed, salted nuts, with goji berries and coconut flakes for a yummy trail mix.
Sheddy is her name. At least that is the name I knew her by. She also went by Cheri “Sheddy” Rollins Sanchez. She was quiet and fierce, clever, and daring. She was a warrior who connected with whomever she met. She had soft eyes and made you lean in. Plus, Sheddy was fun!
It is with sadness that I found out recently that at the ripe age of 28 she passed from this plane. It is yet another reminder that this life is but a fleeting moment for our soul. I have a framework for which to put death in context so I am not sad about the passing more about the loss of being on the plane with her. Death happens. But those of us who are left without our friends, companions, and others we feel the missing space and there is nothing that can fill it - she is gone and we cannot bring her back.
On this cleanse of sugar the woman who designed it noted that one of the outcomes would be the resurfacing of old memories. For Sheddy I think of Brasil, Detroit, Philly, and the now defunct BLOC network. She was someone that I connected and checked in with from time to time. I am sad to say I was out of contact with her at the present time but I am happy to say that she was someone that I considered a friend as I had more than a few times confided in her - I can recall one conversation where we shared insecurities about ourselves. At the time it felt like a breakthrough and I recall learning more about who I was at a crucial time in my personal development. Thank You Sheddy.
A wise man recently shared that if we are on the path that we are meant to be on then death does not scare us. He shared that each of us has a spirit that came to the earth to fill some void. And those that are on the path of fulfilling that purpose in fact are completely OK when death comes knocking. In fact, they know when their time comes. They are at peace with it.
Let us pray that Sheddy was one of these people. I do not know the circumstances of her death and I am curious about it. A 28-year old passing is an odd occurrence and we, the living, want answers - primarily because we selfishly do not want what happened to her to happen to us. However, the bigger question might be: am I living my life completely to the fullest - being honorable and being true to myself?
Today I did what I have been given permission to do: educate and engage the Muslim community to think critically about their relationship to water, waste, energy, food, and transportation.
Now, I am sitting back on an Amtrak train headed home. Along the way I stopped at the Reston Town Center. A massive walkable zone of generically named streets, mall-styled shopping, restaurants and babies and young slightly stressed out families.
It was there that I had one of the first tinges of temptation with sugar. It is pretty obvious that I have a weak spot for cookies. Well, I happened to walk by the final Girls Scout Cookie stand of the season. I surveyed the Samoas, Thin Mints, Caramel deLites, th peanut butter sandwich cookies and thought… “maybe I will just buy them for later…”
One of the things that Adrienne Marie Brown suggested when doing the cleanse is that you tell people - tell everyone. So I did. I shared with the Girl Scouts and their moms that I was on a sugar cleanse and they laughed and said that this was probably the last place that I wanted to be at.
Anyways, I did not fall temptation to the annual cookies. Instead I pitched in the price of a box as a donation and told the Girl Scouts and their moms, “God Bless you” smiled and went on my merry way.
It felt good to give and not need anything in return.
ps- to the lady on the train who got on and proceeded to tell a college kid her life story and then continue to talk to him when he had put on his headphones, hoodie, and leaned his head against the window… “sigh”
Khaled Hosseini: A Thousand Splendid Suns this is the next one on the list. My wife read it in like a day and a half, i read a little slower but it is already going fast, so far it is painful but i like the writing.
Colum McCann: Let the Great World Spin: A Novel what i am reading right now, such an amazing book and a great fiction offering to start a new decade by devouring. It was the first thing i read this morning and last night before i went to bed. it is a book of souls.