My daughter is both a vegetarian and a Lady Gaga fan. I told her a few months ago that one day when I am famous and about to win an award of some import, I will wear a dress made out of tofu to make the statement that wearing a lady gaga meat dress to an award ceremony is as tasteless as tofu.
I am feeling mighty victorious these days. Having just finished writing my first novel fills me with a sense of fulfillment and triumph. I am swimming in a dynamic sphere of lava, sun light and melted gold, both disintegrating into my surroundings and taking form by them. All while learning how to cook vegetarian to boot.
OMA! (Oh My Allah) I want to scream, what a journey it has been.
I remember my attempts at to explain my decision to my family. I left work as a computer programmer to dedicate myself fulltime towards writing this novel. Everybody around me was bewildered by this curve-ball. Here is one conversation I had with my mom over a cup of coffee.
Mom: Sooooooooo! this novel … is it going to be any good?
ihath: I don’t know. I never wrote a novel before. How can I possibly know if it will be any good or not.
My mom silently pondered the next question hardly able to disguise her cynicism.
Mom: Sooooooooo! this novel …. how long will it take before it is finished?
ihath: I don’t know. I am not even sure I will be able to finish it.
More silence followed and more hesitation before the next question came. My mom is not exactly famous for holding back what is on her mind.
Mom: Soooooo! this novel …. will you make any money from it?
I exhaled accompanying a dismissive hand gesture with a shoulder shrug.
ihath: Who knows? Most likely not even a penny.
Now the silence stretched between us like spandex and we both focused on sipping our coffee. I can only imagine what colorful discussion was had between my parents later that day. I am certain that the topic of insanity popped up at least in a cursory fashion.
That lady gaga meat dress must have gotten similar attention.
I also remember a phone conversation I exchanged with my husband early on in the journey. He called me 11 o’clock one morning at home.
Za’atara: Soooooo! what are you doing?
Za’atara: No no no! I want to know what exactly are you doing …. like right now. Where are sitting?
ihath: in bed.
Za’atara: What are you wearing?
ihath: my pyjamas
Za’atara: It is 11 O’clock in the morning and you are still in your pyjamas and in bed.
ihath: I have my laptop in my lap and I am writing in my pyjamas our bed.
I could hear the panic in his voice. His inner monologue was probably screaming: “OMA! my wife has gone bonkers and I have no idea how to save her.”
The transition from professional life working in a regular job earning a salary into the fuzzy wuzzy world dreaming about becoming a writer was hard for those people that I love. It was also during this time that my daughter declared that she is a vegetarian and I had to learn how to cook vegetarian on daily basis. You have no idea how difficult it was in the beginning to cook both meat and meatless dishes especially that I care about feeding my family well. That is when I purchased my first block of tofu. A white brick of congealed substance that is devoid of taste, smell, color or any distinguishing characteristics. “What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked myself upon initial inspection. It is like cooking with foodless food.
Then came the more pertinent question from everybody in my family “Sooooooooo! …. this novel …. what is it about?”. “It is about a young woman that hacks into websites to install elaborate designs on them.” was my standard response. The family members with high degree of self-restraint winced and made strange facial expressions. The ones with less self-control said “That sounds so weird”.
When my family gave up on dissuading me from my path of weirdness, they decided that they would become helpful.
My father: Soooooooo! ….instead of writing this weird novel, why not write a novel about a man that is growing up in Iraq and as a result of political turbulence is forced to leave his country only to face other set of difficulties.
Essentially my father was asking me to write his life’s story
My Mother: Sooooooooo! … instead of writing this weird novel, why not write a story about an east European woman who falls in love with middle eastern man and ends up travelling all over the world with him as historical events interject with their private lives.
Essentially my mother was asking me to write her life’s story
Za’atara: Soooooooooo! …… Why not write a novel about a young Palestinian boy who is growing up inside Israel facing discrimination and dreaming about one day becoming a big shot university professor and giving lectures all over the world.
Essentially my husband was asking me to write his life’s story
My Son: Hey! Mom! why not write a story about wizards and magic or maybe vampires. These things are really popular these days.
I thanked each one for their suggestion and assured them that their story was worthy. “I have to write what I feel inspired to write” I said on each occasion.
It was painful to see myself become a failure in the eyes of all those that I love and care about. I become this weird woman that was writing a weird novel about a weird woman that was doing this weird thing. The word weird became a constant theme in my life.
As weird as making something from nothing. Did you know that you can deep fry slightly floured wedges of tofu and add any sauce or dip on and it will taste alright. Sweet and sour sauce, soya , teriyaki, guacamole, tomato …makes no difference …. everything goes. You can also steam, stir fry, bbq and bake tofu. Vegetarian variations in endless colors of the rainbow. You can even smoke it. You can add it to stews. You can ever crumble it with a potato masher, fry and substitute the result for ground beef.
All this made me wish I could wear a lady gaga meat dress.
Half way through the novel I came to the realization that I was writing a piece of trash. This is not some form of false modesty. The problem with being an avid reader most of my life is that I at least know the difference between brilliant, good, mediocre and bad writing. Mine was the lowest of the low. It was painful enough to become a failure in the eyes of all those around me, at that point I had to face the pain of becoming a failure in my own eyes. I was swimming in a dynamic sphere full of manure, mud and dead foliage, both disintegrating into my surrounding and taking form by it. Great! I antagonized everybody, wasted my time and I had nothing to show for it.
I don’t hate tofu, I don’t hate tofu, I don’t hate tofu …. tofu is my friend. I can crack this vegetarian curve ball.
Right outside the sphere full of different shades of brown, I discovered something new. I said OMA! a few times. I stopped caring about what anybody thought. I stopped caring about what I thought. Put away all notions of what my novel was supposed to be like, all the purposes it was supposed to fulfill, all the other novels I was attempting to emulate, all expectations, all judgements all of it went out the door. I sat down again and began to write for the heck of it. Simply because I felt like writing. With no other purpose other than the shear childish joy of performing the task.
As weird as the idea of an Arab woman cooking vegetarian with tofu.
In the process I discovered my own unique writing voice. It is nothing like any of others. I don’t know what others will think of it. But, I love my resulting novel. Love, love, love loooooooooooooooooove it with a capital L.
Lady gaga meat dress ….. here I come.
True to the theme of this blog post, my novel is weird. It doesn’t have the standard beginning, middle and end, instead it is circular with chapters referring to each other. It breaks all the rules of what a novel should be like. It tells the story of the east-west cultural clash without talking about politics, religion or anything else you would expect the topic might bring up. It has stories inside stories inside stories. The most important aspect of the story is untold and left for the reader to figure out.
I have written this thing with one hand holding on to my laptop’s keyboard and with the other hand holding on to everybody that I love. Bringing them along this crazy ride kicking and screaming. I have crossed the finished line and I did not let go of either hands. This is something that I feel proud of. I feel like doing the victory dance. And I learned how to make vegetarian dishes. Yay! come celebrate with me.
The lady gaga meat dress is starting to make sense.
Now as I send out this thing to publishing houses, I have no idea if anybody will pick it up or not. And no idea what readers will think of it once it arrives into their prized hands. I don’t know if I am about to become the Lady Gaga Meat Dress of Canadian literary scene or the indie band that is so indie their own members can’t agree on a name. But I do know this. I am an expert at everything to do with tofu. I am a vegetarian guru. I might as well figure out how to construct a lady gaga meat dress like from the darn stuff. Anybody with expertise in making garments out of food items please share your expertise with me. Whatever might come …. I want to be prepared. I feel like I have won the biggest award in the world already.
If you were to build a lady gaga meat dress, what would you build it with? Let me know in the comment section below.
A shorter version of this story was published in The Globe and Mail on April 17, 2013. You can read that version here.