Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Month of July

Mahbubur Rahman, Time Warp

The Month of July

Written by Basel Al-Aswad, the father of Escape into Life founder, Chris Al-Aswad

Thirty-two years ago on July 16th, 1979, I received a most special gift, a son. Little did I know this gift would not last the rest of my lifetime. On July 27th, 2010, mother earth took back her precious gift leaving me stunned and devastated. Both occasions, his arrival and departure were profound and life changing events, seared indelibly in my memory.The years in between were filled with all aspects of a full life. There were joys and sorrows, successes and failures, accomplishments and disappointments, but most of all, there was that everlasting deep bond of infinite love and maturing friendship that exists between a father and son.

In spite of the immense loss and sadness that permeates me today on July 16th, 2011, I am most grateful to have had the privilege of caring and nurturing this extraordinary gift along with his deceased mother, Roz.

As I acknowledge the anniversary of his birth and his “escape” in this most solemn month, his spirit continues to occupy a central part of my life.

His sister Mandy and I are dedicated to continuing his legacy in Escape into Life. His light shines brightly guiding us to a most sacred task, that of bringing beauty and radiance through art and literature to a world desperately in need of it. By building on the foundation he laid down for us, we hope to be worthy of this endeavor.

Finally, we’d like to acknowledge the Escape into Life writers and contributors who have volunteered their time, effort, and support this past year. It has been truly inspiring to witness individuals from across the world, coming together to carry on something they believe in. Thank you all.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Escape Into Chris - Father's Day Special

June 20, 1993 – Father’s Day

Loving, living, and giving are three gifts which you continue to give me each day. A blanket, you are, which holds me at night and frees me in the day, and this is important because a holder is not a keeper. You will hold until I grow up, the greatest gift I could ask for. And this seems odd, because I ask for too much. You are my sun, you are my star, you are my everlasting thoughtful leader. My wishes are to give you more, for I have given you so little, you have given me so much. My words mean nothing on page but in life they mean everything. Thank you father on this father’s day I could not attend.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Escape Into Chris - Entry 22


Winter 2006 – Normal, IL

Last night at Borders I picked up a book by Osho about aloneness and after reading the last four chapters of the book, my perceptive on my current state changed dramatically. Aloneness according to Osho is a gift, not something I should run from. Ever since I started reading the Art of Seduction, I got it in my head that I was going to meet a girl or many girls. The desire for a mate was controlling me. Not until a couple days ago did I realize how much I was suffering. I created the idea that unless I found someone, I could not be happy. Osho says that the ego’s need is never satisfied. After one woman, I will need another because I will never feel as though the other needs me, which is what this whole thing is about. It is not about love and it’s not even about sex. I need to know I am needed. When I feel needed by others, I feel secure. But this is a fantasy. Aloneness is not something to be afraid of and it is not something to want to change. This is the human condition and now it is my opportunity to accept it.
My mind did change after reading Osho. I was no longer having thoughts about women, it was that easy. All I had to tell myself was to give it up, the desire, the fantasy. I was only unhappy when I had the desire. I am not fixated anymore, I feel more relaxed. I’m not on a mission nor is my happiness dependent on an external focus. I do not look outside myself for affirmation of love. I must show and give love to myself – not wanting more than I have right now.
I see how desire and attachment cause suffering. I am not natural and I am not being myself when I am trying to manipulate people. The whole seduction thing was necessary to get to where I am. There is no point to try to alter myself or my life. Osho says practice choiceless awareness and follow the rhythm – I will be aware once I put down the egotistical needs and let the events of my live follow their natural course.

“If you run after things, nothing will come to you. Let things run after you. The sea never sends an invitation to the rivers. That’s why they run to the sea. The sea is content. It doesn’t want anything. That’s the secret in life. Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness”.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Escape Into Chris - Entry 21

Stefano Unterthiner

Early 2007- Normal, IL

10 minutes before work, I’m sitting in the front hall of Heartland College, eating my apple. A man, middle-aged, wearing a sport jacket and a baseball cap with a briefcase, says hello to me in a placid tone. He stands looking out the window and then comes and sits by me. “What a glorious day” he says. Now I’m assessing his character; I peg him as a Mormon. Something about the phrase, “Glorious day”. But I was sitting in this very spot not too long ago, in fact, I was writing a poem about the day from this window. “So where are you on your journey?” the strange man says to me. Now I am convinced he is a religious nut. My voice is hesitant… how do you answer that kind of question to someone you’ve never met before? “My journey?” I say. Well, I’ve gotten clean from drugs and alcohol about three years ago.” He does not congratulate me or applaud. The man’s face is egg-shaped, his skin is freshly shaven, his baseball cap is fit tightly over his egg-shaped head.

“Are you content?” he asks. Now I’m skeptical, just waiting for the Christian segment to come in at any time. “Content”, I say, “Do you mean in a permanent sense?” “Yes, I mean permanent, sustained contentment.” “I don’t believe in permanent happiness. That’s a false happiness if you ask me.” My voice is rigid and defensive. “There’s a difference between contentment and happiness”, he says. “Well, what’s your definition of happiness?” I ask. He takes a moment to pause and then raises his hand in a gesture. “At one end, you have euphoria and happiness, and on the other end misery and suffering.” He holds his right hand directly in front of his nose and he is looking down at his hand as if it were a ruler. “In the center of the spectrum,” he says, speaking slowly, “Contentment.”

I jump in – “No, contentment is just a little toward the more positive end – but just a little. That is where you want to be. But in life, you’ll probably have certain events happen to you – such as the death of a family member or economic setbacks. And you will lose all that contentment. Or you may be thrown into ecstasy or elation. His hand is now directly in front of his nose and he’s staring straight down at it, his voice very slow and hypnotic. But I listen to him because he is talking about emotions. And I am surprised a Christian or Mormon would be so interested in “The spectrum of emotion.” However, I’m still fearful he would bring up some information about his church or about Jesus. So I tell the man with the baseball cap that I have to go to work, which I did. I had to go to work. “Well, it was nice to meet you,” he said, “And good luck on your journey.”

Sunday, May 8, 2011

In Memory of Rosalind D. Al-Aswad

The Swan, Rosalind Al-Aswad

Christopher Al-Aswad’s Journal Entry – March 14, 2003

My mother died on March 13, 2003. She died so peacefully, is what I told my friends. I said she died without resistance. And that’s how I want to live my life, without resistance. Easing up into the ceiling, without resistance. Sliding into the sky, without resistance. Her body; simple a case that imprisoned her soul. Now that soul journeys through the sky. My mother is liberated. She moves and speaks. Mother, you have unlocked a part of my soul and allowed me to see beyond what I could see before. I let go, there’s no point in carrying all that weight. Mother, I’m beginning to think that you’re in every room that I pass through. I can feel that spirit that passed out of your body and dissolved into the bedroom spread through the apartment. I thought of how it would move through the city and out to Indiana by the morning. All along rising as you spread. I’m imagining you here with me now. There’s nothing to perform mother, this is just the beginning of a very long conversation, we’ll speak more often now.

Speak Up

Alter of Revolution

Spirit Mother, Christopher Al-Aswad, 2005

The spirit that dwells in my
mother, trickster and artist
alike, prods and pokes its way
into all of our lives. She likes
to cause problems, to upset
balances, to displace realities.
The conventional is her foe.

Her presence almost makes
you nervous with the sheer
abundance of energy dancing on
her force-field. At any moment,
this abundance of life can rise
to an unheard-of pitch, and
suddenly, mysteriously, break
into a marvelous crescendo
of hysterical and contagious
laughter. Laughing in the
company of my mother is an
experience of ecstasy, complete
unconscious immersion
whirling in the absurdity of life:
crackling, squealing, shrieking
laughter. She feels her emotions
from the center of her being;
total emotion, not inchoate
half-feeling. Complete pain,
complete joy, complete anger.

My mother cries in a movie
theater like no Jewish mother
has ever cried in public before.

She lives at the maximum
threshold and her life is
overflowing. She lives, not apart
from the world, but within the
tumultuous movement and
ever-changing flow of it. She
lives without regrets, without
even the longing of unfulfilled
desires. Anything she wants
to do in this life, she does.


Good Morning America

Portraits of an Examined Life

In 2005, Lisa Wainwright, Dean of Graduate Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, curated Rosalind Al-Aswad’s Portraits of an Examined Life, an exhibit featured by the Art Institute shortly after her death in 2003. The exhibit depicted the three phases of Rosalind’s artistry, clearly portraying the progression of a career regrettably shortened by illness. In a review that reveals the strength and spirit of feminism that was evident in her art, Wainwright gives the artist a voice that conveys not only the meaning of her work, but the soul memorialized within each piece.

The legacy of Rosalind Al-Aswad resides in the dozens of paintings and drawings she made of herself and others from 1985 to 1999. Like many before her, Al-Aswad became an artist later in life, bringing to her canvases the complexity of myriad roles as business woman, mother, wife, daughter, citizen, friend, and artist. Her life’s journey informed the paintings and gave them their poignancy and critical edge. Al-Aswad gazed deep into the world of human relations and chronicled the dynamics she found there. Using models and props within her reach—family, friends, and the trappings of suburban life—she probed the mundane as a code for unlocking a deeper moral message. The work could not be made fast enough to accommodate all that the artist wished to say.

Meet the Collins

Left Behind

Rosalind Al-Aswad was an expressionist of sorts. She faced her demons whether in the workplace, on the domestic front, or in the face of death. And all of this made its way into her painting for us to behold with wonder. We should all have the strength of purpose that Al-Aswad demonstrated in so many ways. Her children do. And along with the painting, her legacy is alive in them. I never knew Rosalind Al-Aswad, but I know she was an extraordinary woman. She once claimed, “I guess I have always seen life as a series of parts you play,” and now these parts, and all that they entail, will linger in my imagination for some time to come.

In memory of my mother, Rosalind Al-Aswad (1942 - 2003)

During her studies at The School of the Art Institute, Rosalind Al-Aswad was concerned for her fellow classmates who were working hard to make ends meet. Many times, Rosalind would purchase art supplies for students who were experiencing financial difficulty. In memory of Rosalind, the family has created a fund for student assistance, and in building upon her legacy, it is the hope that one day this fund will also provide scholarships for students residing in the Middle East. If you are interested in making a gift in memory of Rosalind and benefiting art students for many years to come, philanthropic contributions may be made to The Rosalind D. Al-Aswad and Christopher Al-Aswad Memorial Fund at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and mailed to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Office of Development, 37 South Wabash, Suite 814, Chicago, IL 60603. For information about the memorial fund, please contact the Office of Development at (312)899-5158.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Escape Into Chris - Entry 18

Frank Caico

Jan 1, 2007 – Chicago, IL

Last night was a hell trip. But a good one, and I am glad it happened.

On New Years Eve in a bar in Naperville, you should have seen the looks that hung on the faces of both sexes. After twelve o’clock, everyone was thoroughly intoxicated and their eyes like burnt out candles, like empty shop windows and the nervy chaotic crowd aswirl elbows bumping elbows, the showy mirth, the condescending glances fell chopping up everyone. Me and my friends, they were drunk but I was not. We tried to have fun. We played crazy fools but I was self conscious as I always am. The empty vacant stares hurt me though very few really cared what I was doing. I swear I could feel the overall crippled spirit of that bar on New Years Eve. Constraint and shallow cupidity – no one loving, just angry lust feeding everywhere. Could I be guilty too? Of wanting “my share of fun?” Women like sirens with bare attractive thighs and indifferent eyes. Cold objects without souls. I drifted in this bar for an hour or so – the weight of people’s judgments on my mind, the weight of unhappiness or greed. Was this where I had chosen to spend my New Years Eve?

Later, my best friend and I driving home – escaping the hellish spectacle of that place – rejoiced. It was 4:30 am when we were on the highway but never had I such good manly company. Never before had I heard my best friend speak so plainly and so true. We talked about how lucky we were to have each other, to live in such a good place and to have jobs and friends and money – grateful. We arrived at our respectful homes and said a prayer for the coming new year.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Escape Into Chris - Entry 17

Jeff Luker

February 2006 – Normal, IL

A letter to my father on his 60th birthday

It is hard for me to believe that my father is 60 years old. Memories from when you used to take me to my soccer games, or sit with me in front of the computer helping me write my papers, or when we took the road trip to visit colleges – all of these memories have the quality of immediacy. They say that our capacity for memories is infinite, that once you begin digging into your past, there is no end to it. You are embedded in my past lives, through infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. There was a golden age for our family and that was perhaps before my 10th birthday. I have fond memories of riding with you and mother in the back of the car. I don’t know exactly where we were driving to – perhaps out to dinner or to a movie. And as we were driving through the Midwest Club, I remember telling jokes to you and mom and making both of you laugh. I don’t know what I said that was so funny but mother would laugh hysterically. Our family was gay, cheerful, and young.

In my childhood and early adolescence, you instilled in me a rare gift which I am grateful for. I imagine that most parents, as they are raising their children, do not analyze the effect such and such a behavior will have on their children. Whatever you taught me at an early age, you taught to me by instinct. What you have given, that I cherish and employ to this day, is a freely-chosen self discipline. Without self-discipline, I doubt whether I could have stayed clean from drugs this long. Without self-discipline, I doubt I could pursue my literary ambitions. Without self-discipline, even staying in shape and quitting smoking would have been impossible. Now I have received many gifts from both you and mother but this is the gift that stands out to me as being directly from you.

The other gift, which is a close second, is a love and appreciation of literature. About a month ago we were reading Shakespeare together – how joyful was I to be in your company reading again. And what a stark contrast from my childhood years when I used to throw tantrums to escape the “reading hour.” But time and patience transform everything. Here I am today thanking you for what I felt you had imposed upon me as a child. The irony implicit in this life – the story speaks for itself.

Though for a good many years mostly when you made me read out loud to you – I imagined you as an overbearing tyrant which of course you were not. But a child sometimes sees his parents through a distorted lens. And as an adolescent, especially during my addition and during the divorce, I imagined you as a personification of evil. I might have made you into a voodoo doll if I had access to one. This of course is an exaggeration but I had a lot of resentment to you and many others during this period. What still baffles me to this day is not only the spiritual strength you must have had stored in you to protect yourself from me, but also the warmth you kept burning in your heart. Never did you grow cold, never did you reject me – but always loved me – and therefore this is the best model of unconditional love I have ever been shown. And it is this model of unconditional love that I emulate toward myself and others.

After the fog of my addiction cleared, after I began to mature into early adulthood and started taking care of my body and my health, you can imagine how my view of you began to change. In a way, I immortalized you – lifted you up from the ranks of man to the tier of godhood. You became a living hero to me and I sought to model my life after you. Indeed, I had transformed my life. I was living from what many would call a second birth and after years of abusing you, I must have wanted to pour a special salve on the relationship that would heal the wounds between us. But just as during my adolescence when I made you a voodoo doll, after my recovery, I was making you into my Buddha, my idol and I was near worshiping you. But neither of these images of you matched your true relation to me.

So today, on your 60th birthday, I ask the questions – What is your true relation to me? If you are not the man I blame or the man I praise, then who are you to me? And without being too philosophical, too entangled in speculation, I feel I can make the judgment that only now am I coming to see you as you are, and to love you for the man you are. For the first time, I am not inflating or deflating you – but really starting to get to know you. When I came over a couple weekends ago and we hung up pictures and organized your books, I saw a glimpse of who that man is who I call my father. No adjective will describe him. Not because he has no qualities – but because he is of a spirit that transcends qualities. He is an individual but not an ego. He reminds me of myself but overflows beyond myself.

Dad, I love you. A gratitude is present in me right now as I pen these final words. The mystery is so inconceivable – so infinite – it surrounds me like a dream. All I am thinking – this life is too short, too short, too short…

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