About nazishdholakia

Avid people watcher, couch-potato-multitasker, Northwestern alum.

Steering into the sunset.

After all these years, it sometimes feels like I have only a handful of memories of my father. A memory of him turning our back seat into a tent on a road trip to Disney World. A memory of him helping us create our first AIM screen names. A memory of the two of us, dancing around the living room, my feet placed carefully on his. And memories of him teaching me how to ride a bike, in the parking lot of our apartment complex.

Fourteen years later, I still haven’t learned how to ride a bike. Audiences are bewildered by this; it seemingly rivals “I didn’t read Harry Potter” and “I’ve never watched Office Space” for most appalling fact about me.

Opportunities to learn have abounded, and yet I’ve thwarted others’ attempts to teach me. In college, walking down Sheridan, a bike in tow, my friends volunteered to give me a lesson. Or so they claim; I have no recollection of this, but their testimony to my adamant refusals rings familiar.

I turned another offer down by simply stating that I had no intention of pulling a Phoebe in Central Park, ever. (Undoubtedly, a lesson in the light of day at a public park ranks high on the Public Humiliation Index, but for me, it was mostly just an easy excuse.) Walking around the East Village one day, another friend pointed out that we were within feet of a Citi Bike station. But I declined that proposition, too. A fourth forced me to sign up for a Bike New York class with her, and I did it. But as I registered, I made a mental note that if slash when I cancelled, I needed to do so more than a week in advance to avoid the $50 cancellation fee. Eventually, predictably, unapologetically, I sent that cancellation email.

People ask me why I’m so reluctant to learn, and I can only muster a vague, terse nonresponse: “It’s personal.” For a long time, my own hesitation stumped me. I want to learn—or I think I want to—but my actions indicate otherwise.

***

My mom and I are finally alone, the flurry of relatives and strangers, shuffling in and out of our apartment, offering their condolences, has momentarily ceased. I can’t remember whether I’m crying or not, but I know it’s one of the first moments that I’m letting the gravity of what’s happened settle in. I’m finally contending with the moments that would never be, the things we’d never do. All that would forever remain unfinished.

When I finally break the silence, I ask solemnly, “Who will teach me how to ride a bike?”

Maybe it’s a silly and stupid and superficial question. Maybe it makes me sound self-involved. I wished I could take it back as soon as I said it. I don’t know exactly what I was thinking, but I know I didn’t care about whether I ever learned how to ride a bike, and I sure as hell did not care at that moment. The bike lessons, after all, had been daddy’s idea, and one that I don’t think I’d ever been particularly enthusiastic about. Instead, I think the question embodied my sense of loss, in the only way I could express it at the time. Because now I knew that this story—of my dad teaching me how to ride a bike—wouldn’t end with him watching me finally fly on two wheels.

I know that the day I finally learn how to ride a bike—and I think that day will come—will be a Big Day. A day that I remember forever. It’ll be the end of the story that begins with my dad, me, a pink bike and a parking lot. It won’t be the ending I originally anticipated, but I want an ending that lives up to my reformed expectations. I want an ending that’s perfect.

Where the heart is.

While they say a home is not the walls and beams that hold it up, there is something to be said for the familiarity of it all. The remaining bits of sticky tack on plastered walls where posters of teen heartthrobs once hung, the paint on the carpet from an art project gone awry—these are the catalysts for memories evoked.

My mom moved away from the home I grew up in while I was at school. She left for San Antonio, only to return to Sugar Land the following year. But my bedroom is no more, the posters and stuffed animals long gone or boxed away, who knows where. Home is where the heart is, they say. But I didn’t feel this way when I moved back in June, into a home without a shared history, where I could still count the cumulative weeks spent.

Instead, home was the block on which I ran wildly to catch shuttles in the blistering cold. Where I made more almost-midnight runs to Taco Bell than I care to count. Where I first discovered what snow tastes like. Where I walked down the block to [Panera/Cosi/Unicorn] to do homework, but really did everything but. Where I caught a whiff of Indian food every time I stepped into the stairwell, courtesy of Bombay Indian Grill next door. Where the buzzer startled me almost every time. Where all the crazy shit I did those nights, those were the best memories.

Sometime over the course of the past five months, I was having the conversation I’ve had more than any other conversation in the past five months: the What Are You Doing With Your Life conversation. And I was giving the same well-rehearsed spiel. But this time, he asked me if I’ve learned to appreciate it more, being at home. After all, you want what you can’t have, and I hadn’t had a lot of time at home in the recent past.

Preparing to answer, I issued a disclaimer—I didn’t want would follow to be misinterpreted. But no, I couldn’t say that I was particularly enjoying the “time off,” or that I’d discovered a newfound appreciation for home.

For lots of reasons. I couldn’t bask in the comfort of knowing the expiration date this time around. And while I love spending time with my mom and noting all her quirks, I couldn’t (still can’t) ignore the silent monologue, the one that made me feel anxious and restless and ready. Home had always been an interlude, a hiatus between this and that. I wasn’t ready for that to change…

I’m still not. But as my first Thanksgiving at home in four years approaches, I’ve realized that home is fungible. And I’ve come to appreciate this one, to embrace this relenting time, and the days during which my most laborious activity involves putting milk in my cereal and pizza rolls (delicious) in the oven.

Home is about more than a zip code. It’s where we regroup and replenish, discover and rediscover. And I’ve learned that home can reinvent itself, as we unearth gems on previously unknown corners down previously untraveled streets. Great hole-in-the-walls and their grease-laden Tex-Mex; friendships, old and new. Sure, home is a place of comfort and familiarity, and it’s also the one place where we will inevitably return. We go off to college; we take jobs in far-away cities, for the allure of exploring an undiscovered city more than anything else. As we check off these sites on a map of the world, home always gets a second chance, and a third and a fourth and a fifth…

And, lucky for us, we can have more than just one.

On wishing I was once a part-time thief.

While I have been accused of stealing (a traumatic incident, to say the least), I’ve never actually stolen anything. Nothing I can recall, anyway—nothing that counts in my mind. Sure, I’ve eaten grapes while I’m dallying at the grocery store, and one time we accidentally packed a spoon in a to-go box. But these instances were of the bird-stealing-bread sort. They lacked any accompanying sense of nervousness; there were no sweaty palms, no arrhythmic heart patterns, no moment of hesitation before the plunge, no thrill of accomplishment. (All of this is how I imagine it should be.)

Growing up, I was the teacher’s pet of the class, the Goody Two-Shoes among my friends. But now, in an about-face, I wish I had. Stolen, I mean. An exciting tale of thievery, whether masterfully executed or not, almost always makes for a good story.

Stephanie Georgopulos writes about how she stole 100 books from the Brooklyn Public Library when she was ten. That’s a cool story. I wish I stole library books. Most of the library books I ever checked out were of The Boxcar Children or The Baby-sitter’s Club sort. In fact, in elementary school, I sneakily purchased a subscription to The Baby Sitter’s Club from a book order flyer. Every month, a set of books would arrive in the mail. But my mom got tired of watching the books collect dust once I’d finished reading them. So one day, unbeknownst to me, she donated them to the library. That’s the opposite of stealing.

So why on earth do I wish I’d done a brief stint as a kleptomaniac? At the least, it’s writing material, a potentially great story that will forever remain untold thanks to my straitlaced ways. Aside from this, stealing is one of those things that are only permissible when you’re young, when your missteps will land you in time-out—not prison.

I might even venture to assert that many, if not most, have stolen something at some point in their lives (hearts excluded). At the tender age of 9, you’re allowed to be messy, to get glue in your hair and paint all over your clothes. Mistakes and missteps are second nature. Society doesn’t encourage theft, but it won’t blacklist you for it either. When you’re 9. But now, my window of opportunity has passed. In an inverse relationship, the larger those double-digits get, the less admissible the screw-ups become.

***

When is screwing up no longer simply dismissed, something that you’ll grow out of like you would a pair of shoes? When are you expected to have all your shit together? I don’t know. I feel like Oprah—the fount of wisdom that I turned to as a teenager—would say it’s okay to not always have it all figured out, if watching a box set of DVDs and too many episodes to count has taught me anything. We’re constantly growing and learning and changing, she’d say. That the whole point of being alive is to constantly evolve into the person we’re supposed to be. (Cheesy enough for you?)

Well, if Oprah says so, then maybe I can afford to not have my shit figured out for just a little while longer.

The (un)welcome discovery.

In the bathroom, I’m executing a well-rehearsed routine. It involves brushing my teeth, washing my face, putting my contacts in, diligently applying my mascara—a force of habit despite the fact that it’s hardly noticeable to anyone but me. I turn to leave, but then a silvery something catches the light. Perplexed, I lean in, inches away from the discerning mirror in front of me. My fingers tenderly clutch what I now know is a coarse strand of gray hair. Another one?

The first strand I found years ago, when I was still a child. Then, my mom offered comforting words, reassuring me that a single strand of gray hair was nothing more than “a symbol of a mother’s love.” A confirmation of her undying affection, in exchange for the guarantee that someday, I’ll be hitting the bottles of hair dye. Great.

But this second strand came with no pithy explanation to alleviate my concern. And its unwelcome discovery coincided with this feeling I’ve been having. It is a visible manifestation of a sentiment that’s been festering in my gut: this sense that life is passing me by, that it’s up to me to do something about it, that when it comes to time, there is no rewind, no pause button, no time-out. “I’m getting older,” the strand reminds me, forebodingly.

***

Lately, I’ve imagined time as a whirlpool-like black hole, the minutes and hours and days and weeks and months disappearing forever, crushed at the singularity. I’m plagued by this restless feeling, a feeling I know I’m not the only twentysomething to feel.

And I’m consistently reminded of this person I met once upon a time. As I mentioned then, Nathan may not have known what the grander plan was, what his picture perfect storybook would look like, but he went for it. After saving up for months, he boarded a flight to Joburg. Beyond this, much remained unplanned. But he followed his instinct. When I met him, we were holed up at a hostel in Maputo. At that moment, he was clearly frustrated, on the phone with a bank that had frozen his account, leaving him nearly metical-less. But in conversations over the course of the next 24 hours, it became clear that he was having the time of his life.

I think about him every now and then, for he’s one of those people whose life yours intersects with for just a brief moment before you go your separate ways, ships that passed in the night. The harsh reality is that, despite this indelible mark that he—and others like him—have left on my life, in all likelihood I will never see him again. In a world abounding with interconnectivity, we aren’t even Facebook friends, and I can’t remember his last name. But I wonder how the remainder of his travels through southern Africa turned out, what he’s doing now, what he might say to encourage me to go for it. Graying hair, I guess, offers a convoluted form of encouragement. And I ache to take a similar risk.

***

Recently, I had a phone conversation with someone I’ve never met, living a million miles away. He said that we—my fellow recent grads and I—have been coddled, living a baby-proofed version of life, until now. His astute observation upset me then, but I’ve come to appreciate it since. There comes a time—after the all-nighters, the Mondays when your gravest internal strife revolves around whether or not you should go to the Keg—that we begin to face the real challenges that require real leaps of faith. Plural, because there won’t be just one, but many smaller leaps along the way. And there’s no guarantee that it will all work out in the end. But if you’ve tried and it doesn’t go according to plan, at least you’ll have one hell of a story to tell about how your ship went down and how you refused to desert the dream, for better or for worse.

The apple and the tree.

I am my father, according to my mother. She has a habit of telling me that I’m just like him, in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. A teasing look creeps across her face; her eyes widen, lips purse. Usually, I’ve just done something she doesn’t approve of—something my dad would have done—and now she’s found a way to elicit a reaction from me. It’s an old technique of hers, tried and true.

I should clarify that she’s not lambasting my dad by any means, if it sounds this way. I think she just sees a lot of my father in me, that’s all.

I won’t tell her (and since she’d rather read Voice of Asia than this blog, she’ll never find out), but I look forward to these little revelations now. They are the remnants of a past life, mementos that have been packed away in a shoebox that now sits in the corner of a closet we don’t open enough. But when we do, we find forgotten gems—like a beloved old cassette, its magnetic tape wearing the wrinkles of a few too many plays.

When my mom uses this retort, I know I’m about to discover something about my dad that time, the usual suspect, has forced me to forget. I’ve annoyed my mom by doing something bad, subjectively speaking. She’s going to punish me with a reward in the form of a history lesson.

It’s 4:00 a.m., why I’m still awake? I’m a night owl, just like my dad. He never wanted to go to sleep, never did when he had the chance, but then he’d whine about being sleep deprived, just like I do now. When I complain of starvation because I’ve been too lazy to walk to the kitchen and prepare a meal, I’m just like my dad. He never set foot in the kitchen willingly, his preferences in food determined by whatever required the least effort. And again, when I’ve been home for hours but I’m ruining the brand-new and not-inexpensive outfit I just bought by wearing it still, I’m just like my dad.

***

Seemingly, I’ve adopted all these habits I never knew he had. But I have news for my mom. It took an intermittent four-year separation for me to realize that I’m just like her. Maybe the brief intermissions between quarters at school and summer plans weren’t enough to realize this, but it’s become impossible to ignore now.

I’m klutzy, just like my mom. When she drops a bottle of nail polish on the carpet, my inability to get through a meal without spilling something on a freshly laundered blouse is explained. Someone finds a way to irk me, and I launch into a no-holds-barred tirade, just like she does. The words spill forth, and I find myself reiterating and regurgitating. (See what I did there?) And I’m just like my mom when I ask an endless series of seemingly pointless questions, often to the exasperation of others. I’ve been on the receiving end of this now, and I apologize to those who have been my victims. (Nonetheless, as a creature of habit, I probably won’t stop.)

Arguably, these traits aren’t encoded in my DNA. Some might argue that this is mere coincidence, or explain it away by referencing the nature versus nurture argument. I won’t dispute this. But whatever it is, I’m thankful that I harbor these characteristics of my parents, even the perceived weaknesses. They are the keys to a treasure trove of delightful memories.

In the meantime, I’ll keep probing in search of the next habit that will vex my mom, with the hope that she has a few more revelations up her sleeve.

What The Weepies, Kid Cudi, Iron & Wine, K’naan and Emerson Hart have in common.

It’s a question that often comes up when you’ve just met someone, and you’re going through that list of superficial questions you have to ask before you can get to the good stuff.

“So, what kind of music do you listen to?”

Some might argue that they can tell a lot about a person based on this question. But I like to think that all of my dreams, desires and delusions aren’t so explicitly revealed by what songs and artists make regular appearances on my iTunes (and now, Spotify) playlists.

When asked, my initial reaction is always to cringe. Usually, I can see it coming, the second a conversation veers toward the topic of that concert that’s coming up or that song that’s barely audible at a noisy restaurant.

I never know how to answer it. Should I list genres or artists or specific songs?

After the first few dozen encounters with this question, I decided to rehearse an answer. It needed to be one that would exhibit my eclectic tastes, that wouldn’t allow any interrogator to categorize me (or my music preferences) with ease. I decided to pull artists from various genres, listing them in an order that created obvious juxtapositions: The Weepies, Kid Cudi, Iron & Wine, K’naan, Emerson Hart. Five should be sufficient.

Theoretically, this sounded like a great idea. In application, it didn’t work so well. I’d either rush through a list that clearly sounded rehearsed, or I’d fumble, forgetting artists and orders. So after a sufficient number of failed attempts with this strategy, I decided to go with what’s widely regarded as the best policy—honesty. So now, I’ll usually tell the inquirer that I hate this question, and this may or may not be accompanied by an inadvertent eye roll.

Why does the question stump me? It’s because I don’t have many longtime favorites. Where I am, what I’m doing, how I’m feeling—these dictate my preferences in music. And all of these change with some frequency. If you asked me what my favorite artist of all time is, I’d say The Weepies, but this answer beckons a questioning and confused look all the time, and this partially explains why I dread the question as much as I do.

Why the look? The reason, I think, is two-fold. First, despite the fact that their music has been featured on various television shows, movie soundtracks, and even a campaign ad for President Obama, The Weepies remain relatively unknown—at least within my circles. And second, I think it’s the name itself, The Weepies, that sounds depressing and forlorn to unfamiliar audiences. I can’t say that I disagree. They explain that the name “came from wanting to make music that reaches people in that feelingful place where tears come from…for joy or sorrow…that intensity of feeling is why we’re drawn to music.” (Feelingful?) So there you have it. Personally, I wouldn’t be completely opposed to a name-change, granted it’s for selfish reasons.

So no, I won’t snap at you if you ask me what is officially my least favorite question. But if I hesitate, this is why.

The longest relationship I’ve ever had.

My love affair with Writing began in fifth grade. Every day, Miss Haig posted a prompt on the overhead projector, and we dutifully responded. At least, I did.

On the rare occasions that we didn’t write in our journals, my peers celebrated the brief hiatus while I wallowed. I knew then that while I had a crush on Writing, everyone else was far less enthralled by him; he was the kid on the playground who would rather conduct private excavations in the sandbox than play a game of chase. So I decided to keep my crush a secret.

Ten years, a Xanga, a few WordPress blogs and countless articles later, this crush has turned into a full-fledged relationship. And just like any other relationship, we’ve hit our rough patches, and Writing has its faults (I, on the other hand, am always irreproachable).

***

A few weeks ago, I serendipitously stumbled across my Xanga, still floating around in the abyss that is the Internet. It was the first time that I’d visited it in about four years, I’d say. Upon rediscovering it, I found myself battling a serious case of nostalgia.

I blogged before I knew what it meant to “blog.” On my Xanga, I carefully crafted my words and developed a voice that has significantly evolved in the six years since, and thankfully so. My only vow then was that I would not use my Xanga to recount the day’s activities in chronological order. Unfortunately, instead I often descended into paragraphs filled with ostentatious observations: musings on everything every girl is looking for in the perfect guy, complaints about how hard high school is, declarations of love for Ryan Gosling (I guess this one hasn’t changed).

I am most surprised, however, by my own candidness. I wrote letters to unnamed friends, conveying sentiments I know I never had the nerve to profess out loud. I betrayed my own heartbreak, as I contended with my inability to come to terms with change. At times, I sound like an angst-filled adolescent who is completely unrecognizable to me now. But there’s a sense of sincerity in my confessions; I know that these are the sorts of professions that I would go to great lengths to conceal today.

There are sentences, paragraphs even, when I begin to think that 17-year-old Nazish knew a thing or two about life that 23-year-old Nazish has since forgotten (yeah, I’m referring to myself in the third person). But then, lo and behold, I’ll spot an emoticon and a discussion about something so twee I can’t keep reading, and suddenly I’m grateful that I’m not that person anymore.

Preachy pomposity and grammatical errors aside, I’m really glad that this account of who I was still exists. It is the kind of blog that an aspiring journalist should conceal at all costs (I realize the irony in the fact that I’m writing about it now), but it serves as a reminder. Of how much has changed and how little has changed, how the passage of time can play tricks on our memory. They, the all-knowing, say that we, as human beings, are forgetful creatures, that we have a tendency to remember things differently from the way they actually went down. My Xanga serves as proof of this.

***

I communicate best by writing, for it requires the diligence and contemplation that sometimes come only by putting pen to paper, finger to key.

Generally speaking, I love writing. But sometimes our relationship disintegrates into the love-hate kind. Do I love every minute that I spend writing? Of course not, just like the athlete doesn’t treasure every minute he or she spends running suicides or lifting weights. At times, writing feels like a compulsion and an obligation, even when it’s not. It’s my sport, and without it, something just isn’t right.