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When people tell individuals with mental illness that “it’s all in your head” – well, yes, it IS in their head. And did you know that the head is a part of the body? That the brain is an organ of the body? That the ways your brain cells work and function determines how YOU function and exist? In fact, without the brain, you wouldn’t be a CONSCIOUS living human being. So yes, cancer and diabetes destroys the physical body and of course can have destructive effects on your mental well-being – but so can mental illness such as depression and anxiety because it IS your ENTIRE mental well-being. It IS your very existence. And you can’t even tell people when it disables you from functioning in everyday life, at work, school, everywhere, because it’s invisible to them, invisible to the naked eye. To them, it’s an “excuse.” To you, its life.

This is something that even I have had to come to terms with myself too, because I used to think that maybe it wasss my fault because it was just “all in my head.” But it doesn’t mean that it’s not real – in fact, that’s exactly what makes it real.

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As a kid, you believe in fairy tales and stories and imagination and live in a world that is beyond the real. They try everything they can to hide reality away from you. They lie to you. Oh, such elaborate lies. And then – then you’re supposed to grow up and face reality. But when you grow up, you realize that the reality is that nothing is real – it’s all bullshit. It’s all a facade. A fiction. A veneer – shiny and smooth and packaged all nicely so that only the “naive” and the “innocent” fall for it. Because to be naive, to expect the world to be honest and good and real and true, is apparently foolish. Only an idiot would believe such things. Only an idiot would fall for the fiction of ideals and principles, because apparently they’re fairy tales. So you realize you’re right back to where you started. Nothing ever really changed, except that now you have to wear suits and crisp clean ties to hide the fact that underneath it all, you don’t really give a damn.

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Ava DuVernay, I love you. But please stick to making documentaries like The 13th, because this adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time was utterly absurd and undeniably one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Don’t get me wrong, because I am a huge fan of you. I integrate your film The 13th in every single one of my classes when teaching about mass incarceration- to the point that I’ve probably seen it about ten times by now. I have practically memorized lines from your work.

And yes, I had been so excited for Wrinkle you don’t even understand. I was even excited for the diversity. It looked different from the book but I thought I could appreciate the vision of the film as its own entity distinct from the book. But the essence of the story was COMPLETELY ERASED. The tone and setting of the book captures the Darkness, and it emphasizes quirkiness, almost in a Tim Burton- way. The book incites such deeply entrenched philosophical questions and engages scientific thought, to the extent that when Madeline L’Engle tried to publish it, publishers couldn’t tell if it was a book for adults or children. The film, on the other hand, was glamorized to the point that glitter and glitz were more prominent characters than anything else- while cutting out actual characters that enlivened the story in the book. I kept hoping and thinking that it would get better- at least by the climax, by the time we get to Red Eyes. But, nope, the scene was a joke. If I wasn’t watching the film and someone showed me that scene, I would have thought that it was a mocking parody. I kid you not.

I am a sucker for interracial couples and families (like Meg and her parents in the film). I am a sucker for diverse representations in art, media, culture and the public space. But I realized DuVernay tried way too hard to diversify it up – AT THE EXPENSE of the story. It felt forced. And that is when you need to take a look and question how we are approaching this whole “diversity” plan. Diversity simply for the sake of diversity doesn’t do much. Part of the movement for diversity within art is telling diverse stories, not just merely inserting a diverse cast in place of otherwise supposedly white characters. This could have even worked as a completely re-imagined story/spin-off of the original, to integrate the experience of diversity and blackness and brownness with the themes of love and acceptance that is at the heart of the original story. But even that wasn’t the case. To really begin to spur the diversity movement, we don’t need to insert ourselves in the stories of white characters- we can create our own. But we can also continue to appreciate other stories – yes, even with white characters – for their own sake. Let the stories speak for themselves.

I left the film reeling with disappointment and to be honest, glad that L’Engle isn’t alive to see it. Ava, I look forward to your next work that hopefully isn’t with Disney. Until then, I’m going to go and hold on to my own vision of wrinkling in time.

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Excerpt from one of my current works from the perspective of a young disillusioned character:
I was looking at the moon the other night, luminescent in its orb, suspended in the sky. But it was of course New York City, and it was one of those nights when the moon is bright, yet the stars are nowhere to be seen, no matter how hard you scrutinize the sky. And it made me think about the beauty of people – how everyone walks around with a misty, veiled smoke around them, a facade they put on for the sake of society, pretending they’re so bad-ass or so darned brilliant or confident or sane or okay. Just okay. But by the unwritten, unspoken laws of society, everyone must hide what makes them truly beautiful – their flaws, their quirks, their sadness, their insecurities, their insanities, their frustrations, their urge to scream. To be real, or show emotion, or be different, is social suicide. And so they hide this beauty behind their veils of smoke like the way the beauty of the stars are veiled by carbon dioxide and monoxide and nitrogen and I don’t even know what other oxides in this city of a thousand lights and smokes.

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Yet again this is one of my many attempts to comprehend the nature of hate and social aggression. Just two chapters in and I am already blown away by how much Staub’s every precise word is saturated with insight into the psychological inclinations in conflict, on an individual and societal scale.It is a manifestation of the irony of our times, of the declaration of the mantra that we as a human species are the utmost epitome of civilized, advanced beings.

So far the most intriguing element that I’ve broken down is this:

-Continuum of Destruction: The reason extreme “evil” is possible, that even seemingly “regular” people are capable of committing atrocities towards another outgroup in a conflict, is not because they commit it outright. But because there is a gradual accumulation of minuscule, less harmful acts, which builds slowly until it reaches an ultimate form that no longer feels unnatural to the individual, but natural; until it reaches an established systemic proportion. Because we must remember that such things do not occur simply by the machinations of a power structure/government/system but functions precisely when it is enabled by and carried out by other people within the society.

This can be applied not only to the larger scale of forms of conflict that Staub attributes to such as genocide (which we must remember is not merely in the past but still continues to this day in such as with the Rohingya people and other similar forms). But it can be attributed to other systemic persecution as well such as systemic racial injustice- gradual, slow accumulation until reaches grand systemic proportion. In some ways this to an extent can be similar to the birdcage metaphor that Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow) mentions, where a few different bars, brought together in a certain structure, creates the overarching systemic structure of oppression. 
One of the other things that I find most interesting about this Continuum point that Staub makes is that this is described in the Hadith (Islamic narration) as one of the major concerns of Prophet Muhammad s.a for his ummah (people)- not that we would be committing massive large-scale wrongs and sins, but that gradually, slowly, minuscule sins that we would brush off as nothing would accumulate and build until it changes our hearts and our souls until we feel dead inside, until it becomes the norm. And this happens to so many of us. This is such a reality for us now from this perspective as well.

I totally veered off but this concept is applicable on so many levels. 

Just as when I attempted to read Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect, I know this will be a difficult, excruciating read for me. But even as I try to comprehend the nature of hate, I will always be seeking for the corners and crevices where love and compassion hide as well. 

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“I scanned my eyes furtively over my fellow patients. There was a woman in about her late 40s, with soft, dewy-looking eyes that seemed like they were ubiquitously watery, like she was always on the verge of tears. She was sitting there, looking down and fidgeting with her hands. Mid-life crisis? Anxiety? Depression? Or the latter two as a result of the former, or vice versa? You never can tell, these emotional and psychological things can get quite tricky. At least, I think so. If biological factors get in there too, it gets trickier. You never can tell where the personality ends and the illness, disorder, disease, whatever you wanna call it, begins. That’s the real reason why people find mental stuff so scary, I tell you. That’s the real reason why they don’t understand it, don’t want to understand it, or are in denial when someone they love or know begins to crumble underneath the weight of whatever chaotic mess the chemicals in their brains become entangled in. Because when the invisible, phantom illness begins to mesh with the personality, and you can’t tell one from the other anymore, people begin to define you by the phantom. The phantom becomes you.”

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We live in our secluded worlds, our phones, our houses, apartment buildings, and every day rush through the door, down the stairs, and about our daily lives. It is incredible that many of us do not know the very neighbors around whom we live. And yes, I am guilty. As an introvert all my life, it is something that rarely occurred to me when I was younger. But I regret not interacting with my neighbors now that I’ve gradually come out of my shell a bit more now.

In my building, there is an elderly lady who lives alone, across from my apartment. I’ve said my hellos and how are yous and in middle school once asked whether she wanted to buy any sweets for my school fundraiser. That is about it. For the first time today, I had the opportunity to help her with some groceries, and she invited me inside. 

The commonly held notion of “old people” is that they ramble on about their times, the good old days, meandering words that seem arbitrary and people say/think “What is he/she even talking about?” Because we never take the time to really listen. If you listen closely, it is usually always about the aspects of their past that they are most proud of, their accomplishments and their kids’ accomplishments, and so on. And what I noticed today is that it is an attempt to retain the life you had – the life you lived. It is an attempt to retain a sense of dignity and pride when you are at a stage of your life in which you’re incapable of or feel deprived of “dignity” and a fulfilling life brimming with activity. It is an attempt to grasp onto those memories and accomplishments when you live every day with the knowledge that at any moment, you will expire and all of it will be gone. 

Lately I’ve been becoming more cognizant of the transient nature of life. I mean, really aware. Not just understanding the mere words, the mere concept. The extent to which the entirety of our individual lives are merely one short life in the midst of time. In the pages of history, we are all but merely just a blip in time. 

When we’re on the threshold of being/starting a new stage of life where everyone and everything changes, it all seems to be happening all at once: getting a job/starting a career, getting married, starting a family and all of that – at the same time seeing your parents/grandparents age. Right now for those 20-somethings my age, it feels like we’re already getting older and haven’t accomplished enough, but at the same time it also feels as if we have so much time left, like we are just beginning to really take on life – yet the older generation must have felt that way too when they were our age. But time crept up on them before they knew it. One generation withers away while another generation replaces it, over and over and over again throughout history, for all of humanity.  

Listening to my neighbor made me realize just how much we neglect the elderly – they who are testaments and witnesses to history and to a life lived. We neglect their words. They hold such rich histories within them, such rich stories – like a treasure trove of memories. And I think acknowledging them is so essential, for the sake of being human, and for the sake of recognizing what such a transient existence means.

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