On discipline, or how I’m learning to stop self-flagellating

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I started bullet journaling over winter break. It has been one of the better decisions I have made in the past few years, and I’ve seen the direct results of embarking on this organizational journey in my day-to-day life. I’m less anxious, more organized, I remember both short-term and long-term goals; the act of putting together my bullet journal spreads is something that soothes me immensely. I use my bullet journal to track my habits (badly), my spending (mostly retroactively), the books I read (which is awesome!), my research ideas (also incredibly useful) and to chart my goals for the coming year and how far I’ve gotten in attaining them. Part and parcel of this was deciding what I wanted the defining theme of this year to be – not a resolution (I would most definitely break that out of sheer defiance) but a broad theme under which I would operate myself.

I chose discipline and creation. Creation because that has always been a part of who I am, and discipline because I need it in order to keep at my creations. I was proud of this. I felt like “discipline” would capitalize on the momentum I had garnered the semester before – my long-awaited 4.0 semester where everything would finally fall into place and where I wouldn’t let set-backs hurt my grades. Neiha today is a far-cry from the girl who loudly proclaimed in high school that grades aren’t more important than extra-curricular activities and what you do (or the girl who wanted to be pregnant and married by the time she got to grad school, which now makes me feel crippling terror but that’s neither here nor there).

…I mean, I still believe that. I just don’t really have the luxury of functioning under that one-sided dichotomy.

I have always tried to be a good daughter. I never gave my parents any trouble, I never fought them on things, I accepted the curfews and the modi operandi of the Lasharie household knowing that once I went to college, I would need to nurture my responsibility. And I did. I stayed out late, but I always got home safe or made sure I had a couch to sleep on somewhere I was comfortable. I traveled, knowing I was responsible for my own well-being and itineraries. My parents were always okay with this, with only the occasional “Be safe!”

I did my laundry, I minimized eating out, I budgeted my spending, I filed my taxes, I looked into my credit, I applied for loans when I had to, looked at scholarships without much of a result, funded my own therapy, applied for jobs – both co-op and part-time – just so that the end result was that I could be less of a burden on my parents.

The unopened monthly billing statements are why.

My parents have told me they don’t care about my grades. They want me to be successful and happy in my ambition. But my grades are a way to prove something – “Look! Your investment is paying off!”

It wasn’t that my 4.0 was why my parents were so proud of me this past semester. It was because that 4.0 included an A in math, a subject I’ve struggled with so much that it became a family joke. We measure my success by looking at the things I struggle with and seeing to what extent I can overcome them.

We.

I, on the other hand, being the loathsome and self-minimizing person that I am, measure my failure by looking at everything I have wanted to do but haven’t done. I have so many personal projects that I want to do, ideas I have conceived, research I want to undertake, plans I want to execute – but there’s always, always something stopping that. And yes, I know that rationally, I can’t do everything I want. And that rationally, not a big deal. I just need to discipline myself and then I can assess the extent to which all my projects can come into fruition.

But it feels like everything I want to do is being done better, faster, by other people; my peers at that. Or it feels like I’m not qualified to do the things I want to, and pretending otherwise is irresponsible. This blog is an example of the former. I’ve had this WordPress since – god, tenth grade? It’s been 7 years or so, and I still don’t have a format set up; I don’t have a reliable uploading schedule, and I don’t really have a theme apart from occasionally off-loading my opinions or existential crises. Hell, I’ve been playing with the idea of buying the domain name since Freshman year of college and I haven’t gotten around to doing that.

As ever, my conclusion is that I’m too hard on myself. But for every excuse, no matter how reasonable and justified, I have to wonder – will there ever be a perfect time where I can give justice to all my projects?

Probably not.

So I guess here’s a second conclusion: there is a time for everything. It will suck, and I will most definitely get bogged down by my own deficiencies, but if my goals right now are to a) give my parents a return on their investment, b) be financially independent, c) keep my mental state from fraying (again) and keep my PTSD at bay (yikes); and d) pave a way to an actionable future, then I guess I need to give this current zeitgeist of my life its due.

I’m always bitching about how it is part of the postmodern condition to reflect back on all of humanity and wonder why we don’t have a defining array of characteristics for our time, but isn’t that exactly what I’m doing? I’m experiencing the postmodern condition in the microcosm of my own life.

That’s dumb. Instead, well, I guess I’m going to try and celebrate what I am able to do by doing it to the best of my ability. Here’s to another 4.0 semester, good mental health, financial stability, and continued poems and research endeavors. The Speakeasy Symposium, personal branding and such will have to wait until I’m ready. And that’s okay.

Dormant anger in the postmodern era and a music review

There are days – more realistically, nights – where I’m so overcome by my own sudden, built-up anger that I don’t know what to do with myself. It’ll come entirely out of left-field, usually while I’m working, maybe triggered by a lyric in a song or something I read. Right now I’m reading about the Security Council’s action after the Syrian Civil War began and how its major weapon – language, in the form of resolutions – began to encompass addressing radicalization as a global concern. This coincided nicely with a closer listening of Everything Everything’s 2015 album Get to Heaven and this song in particular.

The entire album is a “love” letter to the general alienation the postmodern world perpetuates, especially with an eye to British politics (note that this album dropped before Brexit was a thing; very prescient), radicalization and the rise of ISIS, and just general daily disenfranchisement juxtaposed with the notion of being humans that have inexplicably set their own trajectory for a perverse evolution.

**

I found out one of my oldest and most loved friends has cancer. The last time I found out a friend had cancer was two weeks after she died.

**

I’m trying hard to get a co-op in the Hague with a bureau that works with human trafficking and sexual violence against children. It feels fitting recompense for all the bullshit I’ve had to stomach and read about over my life. Besides, it’s the Hague and it has to do with international law and global governance. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted.

**

My friend starts chemo the same day I have my second and final interview with the above bureau.

**

I have been trying to work through a lot of the anger I’ve felt especially as a byproduct of learning too much and not being able to do enough. Writing poetry helps. Working on research for my Speakeasy Symposium helps. Actually studying and being organized helps.

But somewhere in the cockles of my otherwise warm heart is a too-hot coal that suddenly cracks violently. And when that coal cracks, I become cognizant that there is an angry, angry Pakistani that aches to rail against the system and scream her discontent. And I’m relatively privileged and lucky, so what does that say about the rest of my 180 million-odd compatriots? What does that say about the millions of Americans living under the thumb of an institution that hates them? What does that say about people being, on the one hand, constantly bombarded, and on the other, constantly instrumentalized by the same people bombarding them for liberal humanitarian points?

And where does that put my good-will and desire to be a diplomat/arbitrator if I’m still pretending that I’m not always really fucking angry (sorry mamma and dadda)?

When I  was studying sociology in high school I didn’t understand postmodernists all that much. All that talk of meta-narratives while painting their own meta-narrative seemed absolutely absurd to me, and I really enjoyed taking that “redundancy” down in my essays. But now? Actually living the postmodern? I think I get it.

Humanity has a long and storied and sometimes really shitty history. We have been through a lot to get to the point we’re at right now. But here’s what’s different about then and now:

We can actually look back at a good chunk of our past. We have painstakingly categorized and subcategorized the movements, zeitgeists, music, politics, craftsmanship, technology, literature, art of our past and after we got to the modern, we were stumped.

What does knowing what’s come before make us now? What does it mean when we have access to more information than we have ever had access to in the history of mankind?

It means a great deal of disillusionment. It means a lot of arguments about whether or not we have any freewill. It means a lot of nights being crippled by how much the world is. We have applied so much theory to our past that we start seeing ourselves within a framework and the effect is terrifying. We cope by meme-ification. By taking the mundane and making it absurd, we give something a universal yet temporary meaning; we make it our momentary zeitgeist, but what happens when your zeitgeist are fickle and somewhat superficial?

What happens when your zeitgeist is situated in the theatre of the absurd and someone else’s is steeped in tragedy and exploitation?

I don’t have an answer for this. All these questions aside, we’re still flawed and humans and in a hundred years they’ll have a category for us too. That’s comforting. We still make beautiful art and music and literature. We still have fascinating and infuriating politics. We still fight wars and make love, sometimes with the same hand. But to contemplate us is to stoke the anger.

Is this an anger that characterizes our time? Is this the anger of someone from a country that has Seen Some Shit?

Whose anger do I nurse in my breast, and why does she erupt when I am at my most desperate and helpless?

I am afraid.

The profound sadness of living in a city

There is a man who stands outside the Park Street T entrance right on the Boston Common. He is always shaven, dressed in a black windbreaker, carrying a backpack which always has a water bottle tucked into it. He carries a cardboard sign that says “My son and I are homeless” and that’s when I can’t stand to keep reading. His eyes are weary and the gray in his hair is obviously premature.

I had change on me today, thank goodness. Cents and nickels and dimes, but it is enough to ease the helplessness a little. I am guilty and i feel guiltier writing this, but it’s easier than wishing him a good day and ending compassion at that.

“How’re you doing today?”
“It’s a little cold actually – thank you.” (I dropped my shitty nickels into his cup)
“It definitely got chillier, take care.”

He was shivering outside.

He just passed me as I wait for my train home. He is counting money and looks determined, but I can’t unsee the tired look in his eyes. I don’t know where he is going, but I hope his son is with someone he trusts.

I hate that I almost exclusively use my debit card and that I rarely have spare change. I hate the tone of this entire blog post.

There are a lot of people down on their luck near where I work, the Financial District, close to beautiful Beacon Street and its wealthy occupants. Almost all have cardboard signs. A couple are younger than me at my almost 21 years. I’ve been working at my co-op since January, and I have seen a lot of new faces.

I hate the walk to and from work, through Downtown Crossing, just along the edges of the Common. I hate that my commiseration means nothing in the grand scheme of things because I am a non-resident alien in a system that only just caters to me because of my tuition dollars. I hate the uselessness of my “Have a good day, take care” even when it is accompanied with the brassy sound of coins against coins (or coins against an empty solo cup).

This isn’t preaching. This isn’t a call to mobilize. This isn’t me lamenting my privilege or reflecting on how lucky I am. The politics of space is an ugly sphere and I know not what my role in it is.

I am sad whenever I walk to the train home and that sadness means nothing.

I need to start asking for cash-back for more than laundry money.

I hope that man’s son is doing okay.

How Hamilton ruined my life

Note: At the time that I am writing this, I have hit about 1600 words. To retain my sanity and to keep some sort of end in sight, I’m going to keep my deeper analyses limited to Hamilton and Burr (and even within those constraints I am forced to limit myself: these characters are so layered and complex I would have to devote a book to their full deconstruction. …I’m a little tempted to do just that).


 

My friends have been talking about Hamilton for a long time. And by talking about it, I mean gathering in groups at parties and singing songs from the play together as if in some sort of rapture. I was always interested in listening to the soundtrack eventually, but I have a bad habit of putting things off until I’m forced to do them; inevitable, I fall in love with whatever I’m forced to do (see below).

Jemma messaged me, saying “You have to listen to Hamilton as soon as possible.”

It was a Saturday afternoon, I wanted to veg out for a few hours, the alternative was playing Stardew Valley and totally losing my soul to it (again): it was as good a time to start listening to the OST as any. Ten seconds into the first song, I sent her a message back saying “already losing my shit.” (…like I said…)

I don’t exactly know what kind of expression I had on my face, but I imagine it must have been a little alarming. I was sitting on Adam’s bed. He was busy playing a video game while I was listening to Hamilton. At some point he turned around to check on me, did a double take, asked what was wrong and I just responded with “I’m having a religious experience.” It’s that good.

Now if rap, hip hop and R&B aren’t quite your speed, you might have a hard time letting the music itself resonate with you. But it’s the ensemble, comprised mostly of people of color telling a story of a country that has historically seen racial tensions, and academia and scholarship of a primarily monochromatic palette, that should really capture your attention; if not even that, it’s the narrative of the story doing history justice and shedding light on a forgotten Founding Father and just some really dang clever writing.

Important: I’m not American, and I know little about American history before the 20th century beyond a cursory familiarity with its founding. This musical has made me emotionally invested in long-dead historical figures. It’s a travesty.

In any case, I was straight up crying by the time “Satisfied” rolled around. It was around then that I realized this play was far more than just a fun (hah, so I thought) musical about history for me. I know I’m an emotional person – I cry at the drop of a hat over most things, particularly fictional works (you can ask basically anyone who has watched a movie with me, or watched me read books). But Hamilton touched me in a way that left me feeling like I had the wind knocked out of me. It was the spiritual equivalent of my eyes widening in realization. (Pretentiously) so much of Hamilton’s own experience resonates with me.

There’s a line in “Satisfied” where Angelica Schyler asks Hamilton where he came from, and his response is, “Unimportant, there’s a million things I haven’t done.” When I first heard that line, it made me hold my head in my hands. I was openly sobbing throughout that song. I often say I’m an easily satisfied person, and I suppose I am: all I need is good friends, good conversation, fulfilling work and I am content. But that song reminded me that true satisfaction is service, it is the pursuit of knowledge to the point of exhaustion – and for me, it is “Writing like it’s going out of style.”

And I think that’s why Hamilton struck such a chord with me. It is the story of a man who built his life from the ground up out of a hunger to be something, to do something, to stand for something or die trying; it is the story of a man who realizes that living is much harder than dying, but it is worth it so long as you live for a cause. It is the story of a man whose passion and drive nearly destroys him, and in many ways does destroy him when he has to choose between love for family and public service. It reminds me of my own fears and the human mortality of ambition.

The future excites me but often leaves me feeling grave. I cannot imagine a life where I live only for myself. I was born to do “a million things” and I am terrified there is not enough time. What do you pick when it all matters so much? Is pure drive enough? You can stand up for the right thing but not have people rallying behind you until long after you’re dead.

Is glory in life the reward? Or is it the legacy you leave behind?

And what if you become the villain of the story?

“Non-stop,” the final song of the first act, has me grinning and/or near tears for eight entire minutes. It is an exhilarating song for those of us who are relentless in our desire to work for the greater good. It is both anthem and counsel, a rallying cry and a warning: Hamilton is both soothsayer and harbinger, and that dichotomy is frightening and awesome.

Hamilton was a war vet, a politician, an economist, a lawyer, but through it all he was a writer and the most prolific of writers at that. Though he resisted it at times, writing was his strength and it was what propelled him from the slums through to New York City when he was a broken young man.

“Alexander Hamilton embodies the written word,” said the play’s creator (and Hamilton himself) Lin-Manuel Miranda [paraphrased]. That theme is echoed in the play itself, particularly in “Non-stop,” when Aaron Burr and the Company demand of Hamilton:

How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive?
How do you write like you need it to survive?
How do you write ev’ry second you’re alive?

(PS: Definitely click through to the lyrics, they’re worth reading)

At the risk of sounding self-important, I see myself in Hamilton the character/person a lot. My friend Alex asked who I was in the play and my immediate response was, “Oh, definitely one of the Schyler sisters.” And while certainly, I adore the Schyler sisters (particularly Angelica), I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anything like Alexander Hamilton at my worst. I have to be mindful to not monopolize my time with work – “Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now” – or I risk isolating myself; but I have to remember not to completely mantle myself in people or I risk feeling like I’m losing my willpower and drive.

How lucky we are to be alive right now. But to what end does this luck serve us? What will we accomplish, in the small blip of time that we are present for in the grand scheme of things?

And what if we forget, one day, to look around because we are too busy looking forward?

In short, Hamilton brings up a lot of questions inherent to the life of a political science/IR student, or someone who wishes to enter public service or governance in any capacity.

And then there’s Aaron Burr whom all I knew about prior to this play was that he was kind of a dick. Don’t get me wrong, he still is kind of a dick, but he’s one of the most human characters in a play all about humanizing historical figures. The same friend who asked me who I was professed that he was Aaron Burr – the most Slytherin of Slytherins. Maybe that was one of the reasons I found myself focusing on Burr’s lines on my multiple re-listens of the album:

“Talk less / Smile more / Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for / You want to get ahead? / Fools that run their mouths off wind up dead.”

I almost always re-listen to that entire part of the song. Beyond the fact that it sets up Hamilton and Burr as foils to one another throughout the play, and that Leslie Odom Jr.’s voice is absolute silk, it has some personal resonance. Before I gave myself the right of passage into waxing poetic (I still say mostly fluff, but at least I’m somewhat eloquent now?) I firmly believed I was always running my mouth. And really, at the end of the day my waxing is a mask; I still run my mouth.

“Fools that run their mouths off wind up dead.”

Neither Hamilton nor I know when to shut up. I all but aspire to have Aaron Burr’s self-restraint. I’m good at that when I’m in conference, representing someone else’s policy, being a politician to boot – but maaaan, my mouth is non-stop. I mentioned earlier that “Non-stop” is a warning message as well as an anthem, and Burr himself underscores this when he says “Why do you always say what you believe? / Every proclamation guarantees / Free ammunition for your enemies.”

Whoops, I’m screwed. But anyway, Burr wasn’t wrong – Hamilton made a lot of enemies with his mouth, and ensured that his own legacy would be a niche historical interest (until Lin-Manuel Miranda came around anyway).

“Wait For It”, in particular, is a beautiful testament to Aaron Burr’s entire philosophy. His sense of self-preservation is the guiding force of his life, but it doesn’t mean he does not have values and opinions he believes in; he warns Mulligan, Laurens and Lafayette to lower their voices in “My Shot” to ensure that no loyalists hear of their plot; he signs up to become George Washington’s right-hand man, only to be shoved aside in favor of Hamilton; and when he finally sees that the playing field is safe enough for him to pursue his desire to become President of the United States, he is foiled by Hamilton who mistakes his self-preservation for disinterest (for lack of a better word).

Aaron Burr at his softest is divine to listen to. The tenderness with which he sings of Theodosia (R&B at its finest in this play) segues into a broader narrative on life. It is a three-part soliloquy on love, death and Hamilton, the first two of which don’t “… discriminate / between the sinners and the saints” but all of whom “take and [they] take and [they] take.” Love, death and Hamilton: forces of nature in Aaron Burr’s world, a world where he is willing to hold his plans close to his chest. As he sees it, the fact that Theodosia is with him and no one else, and that he outlived his family – that he is even alive right now – proves he has a moment coming. He will just bide his time until he can safely secure that moment for himself. Burr does have a cause, it is just one that doesn’t manifest as chaotically tangible as Hamilton’s does. And the cherry on top of the humanity sundae?:

“I am the one thing in life I can control … I am inimitable, I am an original … I am not falling behind or running late … I’m not standing, I am lying in wait.”

If that isn’t inspirational, I don’t know what is. The entire song is Burr’s way of saying “Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now.” He has passions and opinions and ambitions like everyone else, he is just restrained and contained and so deeply R&B in a play full of rappers and beat-boxers.

I love Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr’s initial friendship. Their playful banter up until “Story of Tonight (Reprise)” is frankly adorable, particularly when Hamilton tries to encourage him to pursue Theodosia and when Aaron Burr, without any spitefulness, tells Hamilton to “smile more” – on the occasion of Alexander’s wedding, it’s sweet, kind, friendly advice.

Their former friendship culminates in the infamous duel where Aaron Burr shoots to kill and Hamilton raises his gun to the sky – showing restraint, where Burr is the one who channels death and takes, and takes, and takes. Hamilton had finally decided to slow down after his son’s death and truly look around, look around at his wife and family; Burr sees his moment and attempts to seize the Presidency, only to have it taken away from him by Hamilton’s vote. It is a scene heartbreakingly rendered. So much so that I refuse to go into it in more detail than I already have.

It is also the one song I haven’t been able to bring myself to listen to again.

Description cannot do Hamilton justice. I haven’t even watched the play and it was able to garner such a visceral reaction from me. I don’t recall the last time I became so enamored of something so quickly. It has been two and a half days since I first started listening to Hamilton, and I find myself desperately trying to wrap up a 2000+ word essay because if I don’t stop myself now, I won’t stop at all.

So I will end on this abrupt note: do yourself a favor and listen to Hamilton, because 200 years from now they will remember Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius – and how lucky we are to be alive right now.

Resisting

When fending off darkness and jadedness is resistance, you walk as if your joints are sandpaper.

There’s a constant ache in a part of your body you can’t quite pinpoint. Every time you smile, you throw the bags under your eyes into relief. You still smile with your eyes, though.

There’s tension in the tangling vines that grow in your core and stand sentry against any creeping despondence whenever you read the news. The knot murmurs nervously and your heart sinks a little, but you always make room for it to sink a little more. So long as there is room for your heart to sink, the fight against cynicism can keep on going. You can keep resisting. So you force your rib-cage to accommodate the shifting real estate. Your sentries hold vigil.

The walk from my workplace to my subway stop is about five minutes. It was raining when I left work; not pouring, not drizzling, just raining in that straightforward way you see in movies. I did not think to bring an umbrella with me.

I tend to forget my umbrella a lot.

For five minutes, I listened to Pure Heroine (two songs filled that journey: Bravado and A World Alone) and walked with my hood down. At some point I decided to unbraid my hair. I tried to imagine what a sight I must be, a small woman in a puffy jacket, dressed ostensibly in work clothes from the hips down, with damp, wild curls everywhere.

I smiled. I smelled the air and I kept walking. I never stopped smiling.

“I feel awake for the first time in days,” I texted. I cried a little on the train from how overwhelmed I was.

When pushing away futility, you try not to question why you feel the way you do. Feeling is enough; feeling is resistance.

I realized a few weeks ago that I never mourn losses or traumatic experiences. I grit my teeth, wipe a few tears that had the audacity to leak, and go straight to autopilot mode as if my productivity is more important than feeling. What this, of course, means is that whenever the emotions do come out they’re never apropos to the given situation.

The only thing worse than not feeling is misguided feeling.

I am scared of the future. I am cautiously optimistic in my generation. I am angry at the generations that have come before me. I am nervous about my place in the world, but I am sure about my purpose. I cry freely when I read news of death and destruction, I seethe in the face of injustice.

I’m afraid to say I’m sad, but I think I’m just tired.

I am fighting the impulse to numb myself as a person because I fear death; not the death of a mortal vessel, but the death of my personhood.

It seems like an exaggeration to say being jaded against the darker aspects of the world is the same as death, but I spent years in the shoes of my Pakistaniat, knowing people die because the world is cultivated by the jaded.

My feet hurt. It is a reassuring ache.

Short note: fraud

Stuck inside on this snowy, snowy day, I find myself mulling over my future and accepting, unwillingly, what I have been denying for quite a few years:

Knowing what field I want to be in does not, in fact, amount to knowing what I want to do with my life; moreover, knowing I have plenty of options does not amount to knowing what I want to do with my life; and, quite frankly (say it now, say it loudly so you can get this through your head):

Talking about how many things you want to do in your life definitely does not mean you know what you’re doing with your life.

…yikes.

Why do I call myself a fraud? Self-perception. Despite my lifelong issues with, uh, being who I am, the one thing I’ve always been proud of is the fact that I realized very young that I wanted to go into politics of some sort. And then I got complacent. Actually knowing what realm of politics I wanted to go into has changed a lot since I was 12, and even now I find myself two years away from a Bachelor’s Degree, contemplating my graduate career, slowly realizing what it actually means to be an adult, and staring down (at least) two distinct career paths.

Why do I call myself a fraud? I guess because I (think I) come across as someone who is self-assured and assertive. What would it mean to the people for whom I’ve asserted myself as a mentor if they realize I’m not as confident in my future as I seem to be.

Why do I call myself a fraud? Because, likely, the above is me tooting my own horn.

Why do I call myself a fraud? That doesn’t make much sense. Being lost is something everybody goes through. Is it part of a bigger delusion of grandeur that I think I am unique in the “implications” of my own confusion? (Actually, that does make me a bit of a fraud but in a different way.)

Why do I call myself a fraud? One day I’ll tell people (including my family, other Pakistanis) that I want to come back home as a foreign service officer like a good patriot, devastated as I am about the lost potential of a country born of trauma. Some other day I’ll be enamored with critical theory and the macro of international diplomacy and wax poetic (hah) about how beautiful the world is and what my place in it is. Is this a career crisis or a personality crisis? Who knows. Fraud.

…but why do I call myself a fraud if what I want to do with my life is be kind?

Everybody is a little bit of a fraud, but that’s only because we’re all constantly going through changes, internal or external, whether in sparks or cascades. Change is beautiful, change is human, and I suppose so long as your change does not lash out and become ugly and cause you or others pain, what’s wrong with being a fraud?

Why should I have to know what I’m doing with my life when my life is in constant flux and my decisions meld and flow to fit around a shifting framework? What you’re doing with your life doesn’t begin and end with your degree or your career choices, and if there’s anything I’ve learnt from my limited working experience, eight hours of your day are just that: eight hours of your day.

The rest of your life does not play like a gameshow where your decisions are locked in and cannot be changed or impacted by anything else. Certainly, commitment is necessary and important and I have talked extensively about the benefits of routine inthatoneTEDxTalkitrynottoremember, but considering myself a fraud because I am still growing as an individual is unfair.

Being a fraud is not an identifier. Fraudulence is an aspect of human experience fraught with flux. But you are not a fraud.

bee-stung tongue

I’ve been MIA for the past few months – but I promise it has been for a good reason. If not for a good reason, then it’s been for a reason I can’t necessarily divulge/qualify. At least not yet. I’m working on something that’ll do just that but I can’t promise when that’ll see the light of day.

I was considering whether or not I wanted my comeback post to be a poetry dump (because if there’s one thing I’ve been writing a lot of, it’s poetry) but I figured that would be a cop-out, and disingenuous to say the least. That said, if you ARE interested in reading things I should have written and subsequently burnt at 16, my instagram is where it’s at. Poetry has been incredibly cathartic for me over the past few weeks – the act of creating something beautiful out of moments of intense darkness and self-destruction is almost life-affirming in a way that can be difficult to do otherwise. But I miss writing prosaically so, well, here goes nothing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I use words recently. I’ve mentioned before that sometimes I get extremely self-conscious about how I speak, how my accent comes off, whether I sound…literate. And a lot of that is the product of perverse, internalized notions of literacy itself; as if to be literate you need to be perfectly fluent in English. But even aside from the accent aspect, language can be hard when you’re at least bilingual. You fumble your words all the time, and fumble them even more because you’re so self-conscious about how you’re being perceived – suddenly, you’re more foreign than you were before you started talking and if you’re like me and involved in public speaking, that can be incredibly stressful. I’m always worried my professors, peers and competition will underestimate me or expect less of me because they think I can’t grasp English as well as native speakers.

And then the hypocrisy of it all…it shouldn’t matter how well you speak English. It doesn’t, shouldn’t, affect how intelligent people think you are. Then why is it that I feel a treacherous tingle of pleasure at the top of my spine when someone says, “You’re very eloquent for a non-native speaker” or “Wait, you aren’t American?” That shouldn’t validate my intelligence. It shouldn’t speak to my worth as a student. But it does, and I’m still trying to unpack that from my psyche.

I recognize that as someone who operates within the realm of public speech, articulation is a large part of what I do. As a writer and a speaker, I operate almost entirely within the realm of words and that is where I’m most comfortable. But sometimes your tongue is so laden with all the ways you can phrase a sentence that you end up swollen and heavy-jowled, and all that comes from your lips are disjointed words interjected with hesitation and insecurity. You sit down, red, and pretend you aren’t being stared at by people who’re wondering what the hell you’re doing there; you pretend you aren’t pretending those people are staring at you because it’s much easier to displace the responsibility of criticism than admit you hate some aspect of your identity.

I love the English language. I love how it lends itself to accessorizing. But, as I have had to admit to my friends on multiple occasions, “Sometimes my tongue can’t wrap itself around English.” After talking to other polyglot friends, they’ve had the same struggle. Different languages require different formations, require reaching into different parts of your bodies and exhaling or inhaling just so. Speaking is a physical act, and sometimes your muscles are rusty, or overworked, or you just plain don’t want to use a language and aren’t admitting it or just have to get over it.

Sometimes I just want to wrap myself in the mantle of Urdu. Sometimes I want to court French, shy as I am after months of separation. Sometimes I want to lose myself in the full-bodied experience of Arabic, despite how little I understand it, because that is a spiritual connection that transcends speech.

Sometimes I don’t want to be eloquent.

I was talking to a (polyglot) friend in class today, and for some reason we started exchanging niceties in French. We went on for a while until I eventually asked:”Ça va bien?” “Da.”

There was a pause, and then we burst out laughing.

There is a beauty in being so full of language, so full of possible phraseologies  and syntax and unique colloquialisms, that you bubble over like an airy champagne. I want to learn to celebrate the days English doesn’t fit on my tongue because it means I have encountered, experienced, lived and loved so much. It won’t be easy, but I’ll add that to my list of invocations.

Another essay on home

They say you carry your home with you wherever you go. If that’s truly the case, then it should come as no surprise to the world that I hold within me a tempest: fire engulfing water trying to drench the flames fanned by winds trying to pull the elements every which way, and how beautiful that scene?
Home was never meant to be confined to brick and mortal. Home can be as grandiose as Versailles and as meagre as cardboard propped up by cans of refried beans. Home knows not the constraints of construction, although home is itself a construct. Home is not bound within the realm of conceptualization, though home is itself a concept. To strip home to its bare, naked self shows that at its very core it is a feeling evoked, or a series of feelings evoked, as fickle as September weather. To carry home within you is not to carry concepts or constructs, but to carry raw sentiment. Doesn’t it make sense then why people get so territorial, why nations go to war over arbitrary lines, why the diaspora, any diaspora, is such a powerful nucleus?

If trauma can be transferred over generations, then surely a sense of home can be transferred over generations as well – for isn’t home the most traumatic realization of all? It sticks with you, digs deep into your flesh, reverse lobotomizes itself into your brain – except that it can possess and inspire extraordinary love as well as extraordinary pain.

The diaspora shows that home can be found in people as well. But what words would do justice, could possibly do justice to that manifestation of home? To be so lucky as to experience home in all its vagaries – and yet, to be rent apart by it all at the same time.

Home is in many ways as much a curse as it is a blessing.

1:55am, saturday

Sometimes I read through my own blog. I read through it with the same compulsiveness with which I attend to my linkedin profile, as if I have something to prove to myself by reacquainting my eyes over and over with my own work, with my accomplishments (or lack thereof, depending on the day), and most importantly, with my writing. It’s a solemn affair: there’s no internal self-congratulation involved, and any narcissism is intended to be productive. Well. Intended being the key word. It’s a little like staring at yourself naked in the mirror – your eyes assume a critical glaze, and you find yourself holding up an invisible checklist to tally against.

Haven’t seen that stretch mark before.

Going over your own writing is worse than appraising your own body. You could pick at words repeatedly and still not feel satisfied. You hit the edit button for the umpteenth time, and get stuck on a word. Blink. Blink. The cursor doesn’t mock so much as tries to prompt, and for that I can’t find it in me to harbor any resentment towards it.

Maybe it isn’t the word. Maybe the sentence is too long.

Chop it in half. Throw in a semi-colon. Maybe get rid of the first part of it entirely.

Command z. It’s not that either.

That’s when you realize it; lackluster, matte, it isn’t the toolbox, it’s the content. And that’s when the deflation strikes. Because what is a writer meant to be if not impactful? I don’t subscribe to the postmodern. To write is to reflect, and if you cannot reflect meaningfully, your writing has little substance. Writing is meant to inspire, invoke, elicit, prompt, writing is action, it is thought, writing is a verb.

Flowery words are nothing if the flowerbed doesn’t respond to the rays of the sun.

Profundity, to risk pretense, is what I’m looking for in my critical self-assessment before the mirror. I have a responsibility when I write to write positively: not to detract from, but to add to.  Not to encourage face-value nods, but to discourage complacence: to spur discourse, never to satisfy; to start something, and to never suffer a full-stop.

Anyone can write. Anyone should write. And I refuse to let myself be complacent with my output. To write is to constantly want to improve.

Solid. I have a lot to learn.

Short note: Musings on make up

If you follow me on any kind of social media, chances are you’ll see some variation of the following, “I like politics and make up.” Granted, sometimes the variations are very varied, but the point remains the same: I have two great loves in the world and those are politics and make up, or international relations and fashion, whichever I choose to broadcast more. On its own it seems plenty innocent, but I can feel an occasional eyebrow being raised at the dual assertions. What place does make up – and, indeed, extravagant aesthetic – have among the grand schisms of the world? What use of eyeliner and lipstick in the perusal of policy and social thought? Ribbons and frills, UV lit lipstick and rouge cheeks, against the monochrome backdrop of writings established in political canon, where does the connection lie?

I guess there’s a greater meaning underneath the wonder: does something as superficial as make up deserve to be spake in the same breath as international affairs?

Sure. I don’t see why not. But there is one contention – make up is not inherently superficial. It can made to be such, but so can all things (in fact, could one not argue that much of politics is vanity and rhetoric?); but neither is make up inherently revolutionary either. Certainly, it masks and conceals and can become a tool of self-suppression, but there is a glory in it as well, an artistic pleasure in the careful brush strokes, the contouring: matte against shimmer, highlighting, defining, understating, emphasizing, a reclamation of ones own body – ones own face – that suggests confidence. Or just some high quality make up.

But I do recognize that I can sometimes subscribe to the same pretenses I eschew in this post. There is something defensive in the way I assert my loves. Politics and make up: two ends of a spectrum, contradictions (or at the very least, superb contrasts), the worldly and the vain, the masculine and the feminine, and my subconscious assertion that I embody both. That there is some kind of unique Greatness in my polar nature. Is that not a pretense of its own?

I am by no means the only one. Certainly, there is a massive population of women who study the political sciences, who take part in political processes, and who – pretty freakin’ often – slick on lipstick and have perfectly coiffed hair. Admittedly, these women may not always be taken with the same seriousness as their heteronormative, male counterparts and I guess that’s why I wax poetic about cosmetics and fashion, a testament that two seemingly polar things can exist in the same sphere without causing conflict, without spreading one too thin. There is no shame in the feminine, and certainly none when femininity and politics occupy the same framework, the same person. The two are not mutually exclusive – few things are, really. The sooner we can (the sooner can) come around to the fact that humans are nuanced creatures, the sooner we can stop creating artificial divides based on something as arbitrary as gender roles and norms.

In the meantime, I’ll be cradling my Naked 3 palette and reading about the Eurozone.

 

UPDATE: I’m done with my first year of college! Hanging out in Dubai until about mid-August, when I return to Boston. Also, as of two days ago, I’m 19 so there’s that.