Ram Ram Ramy

Hi, y’all.

It’s been very hard to write this week. Feeling blah and everything I write seems to go nowhere and the post I’ve been working on for Out of the White Nest for months is just hard and sad. Not your concern; but I’ve committed to averaging a post a week in 2022, so this is why you’re getting…

a TV show review!

Sort of. There’s a vague spoiler or two in this, but nothing you couldn’t see coming once you jump into it. Ramy is such a good show, and so groundbreaking for Muslim-centered media, that I strongly recommend you give it a try. If you hate vague spoilers, go ahead & skip this in lieu of the show itself.

Is Ramy the first TV comedy centered on spiritual development? I think it’s the first I’ve seen. Of course there are sitcoms that deal with spirituality in an indirect manner – there are spiritual elements to some of my faves, like The Good Place and BoJack Horseman, but any centered on spirituality? Enlightened! Yes. Excellent show, but it wasn’t a sitcom. I’d heard good things about Ramy (awards, etc.) but it wasn’t until a friend told me that the spiritual quest was the plot of the show that I started watching. The Muslim focus was also intriguing for me, because I know so little about the religion, because I do have some Muslim acquaintancefriends, and because I lovelovelove irreverent approaches to any religion that outsiders perceive as arbitrarily rigid.

Ramy is a 20-something second generation (American born) Egyptian-American Muslim. Neither his mother nor sister wear hijab, no one in his family prays regularly, his parents drink wine and bother him about marrying a Muslim girl in the same way a high-holy-days-only Jewish family would harass their kid about marrying a Jew. Ramy dates lots of Jews. And others. But not Muslim women. Except his cousin. He’s admittedly fucked up, but not exceptionally so, and not in any exceptional way. He’s very American: hungry in the midst of plenty, unable to be satisfied with what he has, and looking for answers. What’s exceptional about him is his persistent attempt to not be fucked up, to do the right thing, to be a better Muslim.

This fixation doesn’t stop him from sleeping with married women, lying to his Imam, offending his parents, neglecting his friends, and compulsively masturbating. In fact, almost everything he does wrong is the result of a messed up attempt to do the right thing. Some of these mistakes are laughable, some have serious consequences. Almost all of them are understandable, even if you are shaking your head in frustration as he falls into yet another ironic predicament.

The show is very funny, very educational for the non-Muslim, and just a quality piece of work all the way around, but what has me so excited about it (enough to share it with my Socially Engaged Buddhist group, appropriate or not) is how the show demonstrates, again and again, that there is no Answer. The Ramy on the screen is ignorant of the lesson he is teaching (at least so far – I’m only partway into season 2).

His attempt to remake himself during Ramadan reminded me of my desires around meditation retreats. I feel for him when he tries to “do good” and ends up in a morally questionable situation. I, too, have tried to get the people around me to dwell on spiritual matters when they had no interest in doing so. I have thought myself both better and worse than my peers in focusing on spirituality more than other elements of life. I have thought that a change of environment would get me up the next rung of enlightenment, that a different kind of practice would move me forward, that deprivation would help, that the right teacher is all I need, etcetera. That’s all fine. In fact, it’s all good, but it’s not a solution. As the Sheik says, “Nothing in and of itself is haram [forbidden]. It’s a matter of how we choose to engage with it.”

Those of us with a spiritual drive so often hope for that One thing that will solve it all or us, or enlighten us, or make us less irritable, more focused, less egocentric, “better” people. But we know, and we are forced to see again and again, that it’s a continual process. It’s day in and day out practice, returning to the cushion again and again, returning to the present moment, returning to love and empathy again and again, the pausing and listening and letting go of our ego and recognizing our interbeing moment after moment after moment. It’s not easy. And I love how the relatable mess of young Ramy demonstrates that again and again.

Can’t Find My Way Home

blind faithLucky happenstance brought me to Can’t Find My Way Home, a onetime alltime favorite song of mine.

Onetime? Only because I fell in love with it at first listen, but knocked it down an unmeasured number of positions once I decided that the lyrics didn’t contain the depth of analytical, tortured meaning that my reaction to the music required.

What the fuck is wrong with me?

I mean, seriously. What did I want? Why I can’t find my way home? Who the you is? What the throne represents? Where I am now? I’ve said that I want to get into opera someday, to have that experience of connecting with the power of the music itself, without any understanding of the foreign and exaggerated words; to have a potentially lifechanging experience. Y’know, like Cher in Moonstruck. But I’ve been surrounded by music my whole life. I have been moved by music my whole life. There are countless songs that make me cry if I try to sing along with them – and I always sing along, and find new heartbreakers All the Time. Most of those have lyrical meaning for me, but certainly not all of them. There are definitely a handful of tear-wrenching songs that I do not understand at all. I have no control over or justification for my reaction.

And yet I have still clung to this idea that the words in a song have to have explicit, profound meaning if the song is to be considered a complete success. What more could I possibly ask of Blind Faith than what they gave to us? What more could I possibly ask than Stevie Winwood’s haunting vocals, Ginger Baker’s percussion, Eric Clapton’s guitar (and the other guy – I’m not going to pretend I know who he is). What more could I even ask from the lyrics? The impression and the transmission of loss and longing is inescapable, and the sound of the words is the perfect . Even the content of the lines is perfect. It’s just enough to support the soft whirl of the quartet without forcing a narrative. The song as a piece is the story, and it isn’t a story you read, but one you experience.

I chalk this stupidity of my ways to White Supremacy.

Some White people have a hard time identifying ways in which whiteness hurts their lives. They may have a great understanding of how it fucks over Black people, but other than segregating everyone and hurting our fellow humans, they struggle to pinpoint how whiteness hurts them.

It reduces the joy I get from art.

Among other things, whiteness is about (what it perceives as) logic and critique and rankings and the actual literal (literally). It encourages the rules of religion, but not the surprise of spirituality. Whiteness is materialist, and does not suffer experiences left to their own devices, untranslated into words. I’m good at logic, which is one reason I veer into that whiteness. Another reason is a continuously negative mediated experience of the spiritual growing up.

To be fair, I also connect to lyrics because I don’t play an instrument, so it’s my most intimate bond with the song. I’ll always be a lyrics junkie, but I really have no excuse here. Please, welcome home to one of the greatest rock songs ever.  And leave your body and mind alone. Haven’t we had enough of them, already?


I’m Not Religious. But I’m …

I lied. At the end of my last post, after writing about my problems with the word ego, I promised to steer clear of any more wonky language rants and post my next update instead about the concept of separateness. But as I started researching that topic, I ran into a snag. I came across another word I realized causes just as much confusion and raises even more questions than the word ego, and I decided the meaning of this troublesome word ought to be clarified before I move on to other subjects, because it’s so central to what this whole blog is about.

The word I’m talking about is “spirituality.”

Continue reading “I’m Not Religious. But I’m …”