I’m still here

I can explain my absence pretty well, though I can’t necessarily excuse it. For the past half-year, I have been busy either studying for the GRE or working on applications for PhD programs in political science. When not doing either of those, I work full-time as a research assistant. When not doing any of those three, I have been making time to read and write poetry.

I am incredibly, unbelievably happy. I absolutely love my job. For the first time, I feel like I have a genuine shot at a poetry side-hustle. I have an idea of what I want to do in the near-future, and that is deeply reassuring. And, since I am the way I am (i.e. incapable of taking any good news in good faith), all of this means I am filled with abject terror at the prospect of losing this happiness and, specifically, of failing. And right now, the biggest possible/plausible failure for me is a failure to get into a doctoral program in political science.

At this point, I should apologize. Not having written anything that isn’t a poem or for research purposes in months means I’ve lost my ability to write in a way that’s charming, relatable, or funny. And maybe I shouldn’t reduce this to charm, commiseration, or funniness.

I’ve talked about imposter syndrome a lot in the past. The concept isn’t new to anyone anymore, and that’s good! The more accessible this idea becomes, the easier it will be to talk about imposter syndrome and its effects on people. My specific imposter syndrome makes me feel like the best con-artist in the world; that I’ve duped everyone into thinking I’m intelligent and capable, when really I’m a slacker, a procrastinator, a plagiarist, a regurgitator. But I’ve done that concept to death, and I think what’s worse than the imposter syndrome is the opposite: if I’m not an imposter, if I truly am successful, if I truly am worthwhile, then the fall will be even worse. At least if I fail as an imposter, I’m getting what I deserve. That’s justice. That’s accountability. I can self-flagellate and feel a grim satisfaction. But if I fail as Neiha Lasharie, then what happens?

My therapist and I had a breakthrough recently. She was listening to my usual self-deprecating diatribes (“I’m a horrible person masquerading as someone with good intentions,” etc) and then, after intently scribbling something in her notes, said, “You’re gaslighting yourself.”

I felt like an old-timey bank robber, suddenly thrown into sharp relief by a helicopter spotlight. “Oh. I am.”

My therapist went on to say that it was obvious that I had picked up the language of gaslighting from people throughout my life, that it wasn’t something inherently in me, but a learned behavior. And if it was learned, then that meant it could be unlearned. I felt both guilt and relief. Guilt at the fact that I had been doing unto myself what I swore I would never let anyone else do to me, and relief at knowing. I’ve seen a change in myself over the past few weeks since that breakthrough, but it has opened up another avenue of fear. I’m assuming that my imposter syndrome – and maybe that of other people – is related to the self-gaslighting behavior that I’ve learnt. But I’ve become so used to my imposter syndrome as truth that I don’t know what is on the other side of overcoming this obstacle.

I love taking responsibility for things that aren’t my fault, and the gaslighting is absolutely the reason for that. But if I am able to suppress this urge to gaslight and be honest with myself and give praise where it’s due, then I will also have to face myself and be honest about my shortcomings, in a way that’s realistic and healthy. I will have to face my failures as a matter of fact, rather than something that can be grandiosely ascribed to a personal defect. I’ve grown comfortable in my self-perception of being a con artist. I’m comfortable being the villain in my story. I don’t know how to see myself as a nuanced person. It’s easier for me to think my boss hates me because of a mistake I made than to accept that my boss could move on with her life and expects me to move on with mine after said mistake was corrected.

I keep going back to the same question: is this a form of narcissism?

My therapist told me to write a positive poem about myself, and it took nearly a month for me to get something down. It became my favorite poem I’ve ever written, but getting into the headspace where such a poem was possible was a month-long endeavor. I felt uncomfortable praising myself, as if allowing myself to admit to any goodness in me would immediately make me fulfill my destiny as a narcissist. And narcissism, in my logic, is how you become a monster. And monsters are the reason I’m even trying to get a doctorate in political science to begin with.

Maybe that’s not it. Maybe the reason I’m reckoning with this “what’s on the other side of self-loathing” problem is that I still don’t trust myself to be responsible for being a source of good in the world. I want this doctorate because it is a way to assure my responsibility. I cannot be of service if I haven’t learnt all I can – for me, for myself, a PhD is the minimum qualification for being worthy of service, for being a truly Good Person. I’m forcing myself to jump through ever-higher hoops because I want to see if I’ll fail. I’m trying to reject my null-hypothesis:

H0 – Neiha Lasharie is an inherently bad/unintelligent/narcissistic person and therefore shouldn’t be trusted with a doctorate in political science.

It turns out, as far as I’m concerned, my testing isn’t complete yet.



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.

Short note: Contrasting passions

I don’t know. I’ve pretty much decided to give my life to the world as a vessel for the greater good – whatever that may be, it’s 6am and I’m feeling dramatic – and become a harbinger for positive revolution and sundry via studying politics and international affairs, but I really really love fashion and design. Always have, always will. My love for pink is infamous but I’ve also been told by relative strangers how great my taste in fashion is and how I seem to have an artistic eye for these things.

Look.

I don’t really care about being modest right now. If I’ve given up the desire to be a fashion designer/stylist, I’m allowed to at least gush about my own brilliance with aesthetics. And it wasn’t really an easy choice to make – going into the field I’ve decided to go into was inevitable but it didn’t come without heartache. I spent my whole life convincing myself I was going to go into some or the other creative field, only to wake up one day and realize what I actually want to commit to is something much bigger than myself. And yet, even when you decide on one thing, your other passions surface and resurface, breaking through your decisiveness and making you sigh wistfully. My dad always wanted me to go into design but he’s pretty biased himself, seeing as how I got a lot of my creative impulses from him (I mean, for a guy who has degrees in computer science and business, he sure does love his couture).

But I guess that’s why when I find an outlet for my creativity, I latch onto it like a very pink, very feminine leech and sap it of its uses until I get bored. Dress up games, make up, sewing, Polyvore, fashion illustration, whatever. My urges towards fashion are violent – as any good passion ought to be – and they demand some kind of platform to serve as catharsis.

People always raise their eyebrows in surprise when I say no, I’m not going into fashion design, I’m actually going to study the stuff of dinner table debates. And although it makes a small, traitorous part of me long for what could have been, I also take a strange pleasure in it; the bows, the frills, the lace and the pink just add to the unassuming persona I want to cultivate.

And with that unsettling thought, I must sleep.

Open Letter to Pakistani voters

I’m going to list this in bullet points rather than prose form because I don’t want to forgo my rationality in favor of digression.

  • I’m so, so happy about the fact that people are promoting the importance of voting. Especially in a country like Pakistan, we need people who will actually vote, if only to remind the government – and the world – that the people of Pakistan have autonomy over their own choices
  • …and that is where my own concerns lie. That Pakistani voters will exchange their autonomy in favor of displacing responsibility to the next government
  • I’m as hopeful about Imran Khan as the next desperate Pakistani – but I’m also beyond nervous
  • I do not want people to vote, pull him into office and then sink back into complacency because “Haan, haan, Imran Khan ka hi tau Naya Pakistan hai!”
  • Even after we vote and no matter what the result, we canNOT afford to sit back and watch the shit storm unfold because, well, we did our part so whatever
  • REAL supporters of change (and I will not cite PTI or Imran Khan here because the instruments of change are of little concern right at this moment) will stay on their toes and watch the procession with a careful, cautious eye, ready to act at a moment’s notice
  • We want a revolution in Pakistan but we have to be the people who perpetuate this revolution, through our words, acts, moments of solidarity and constant, unwavering support
  • Pakistanis cannot afford to fall back on armchair politics. That’s what we have been doing for a long time now. Don’t support Imran Khan under the guise of change if you yourself aren’t willing to do anything.
  • And please, for the love of God, do not relegate yourself into blind hope. We as a nation know better than to blindly follow the first white butterfly we see!
  • I will not besmirch this wake up call by calling myself a PTI-supporter, because I refuse to fall into the rhetoric of displacing responsibility.
  • I can’t vote here in Dubai. But that doesn’t mean I won’t play my part. And I expect the Pakistani people to do the same – and to keep it up even after voting.

This is not meant to be an anti-PTI or pro-PTI partisan statement. This is a wake-up call from a concerned “overseas Pakistan.” I’ve watched the proceedings from here and I am worried but I am nonetheless hopeful.

Don’t let me down, Pakistan. Do not let yourself down. Don’t fall into the age-old trap of politics and complacency because that’s what they want from us. Don’t give them what they want. It’s not Imran Khan ka Naya Pakistan, it’s HAMARA Naya Pakistan. Do NOT think otherwise.

Sincerely,

Neiha Lasharie.