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Fight for Writing, Fight for Love

The following is a response to “The Idea of a Writing Center” by Stephen M. North

I love writing. But, love isn’t easy—and neither is writing.

When people ask me what I want to do with my future, I tell them of my passion for Rhetoric. Their reactions are always the same: confusion, then doubt, and eventually, there is always a tidbit thrown into the conversation about the flourishing job markets in medicine, science or engineering. As if writing is merely an art lacking any academic foundation. (Not to hate on art. Art is beautiful, but writing is different.)

Slash, thanks for the advice guys, but, I absolutely hate seeing people in pain, I struggled ridiculously in Honors Chemistry in High School and I couldn’t even tell you what an Engineer does—well maybe I could—no, no I can’t.

Writing is often dismissed as a simple art form. While writing does require immense creativity and hard work, it is different than art—it can range from academically informative to amusingly creative. Written pieces can be a parody, satire, fictional story or realistic narrative. Writing is broad, it is complex and it requires intellectual, creative and dedicated work. And even though writing is often perceived as a solitary activity, a single person cannot compile a published piece of work on his or her own. There is always a draft, there is always an editing process and there is always additional involvement—the involvement of another person.

A Writing Center is a place where writers can mirror this process for their respective pieces of work, no matter the size of the paper, or the audience they write for. Stephen M. North discusses “The Idea of a Writing Center” and their actual purpose, as opposed to the misguided perception people have on their function.

It’s ironic to me that writing, as an academic discipline, is often overlooked. Writing Centers tend to get the shaft because of this very dedication to a discipline perceived as simply solitary.

Yet, people don’t realize that every professional textbook, publication, academic journal and even book, no matter the genre, has undergone intense scrutiny and editing, by a multitude of people. Especially in college—we are required to read so much for class, no matter the major or subject matter. Reading is vital to learning. Every time we read, we are dissecting someone else’s work in writing. A piece of writing that was refined through editing processes, dialogue and discussions. “Writing centers, are simply one manifestation—polished and highly visible—of a dialogue about writing that is central to higher education. [Writing Centers exist] to talk to writers” (North, 440).

Writing is improved through discourse and collaboration. No written piece was constructed perfectly on its first attempt, and sent out to publishers without intense changes—be it in grammar, style or clarity of ideas. There is always, and inevitably, a process before publication. The process allows for enhancement, so as to perfect the piece as much as imperfect humans (note the plurality) can manage. “[Writing Centers aim] to fit into—observe and participate in—this ordinarily solo ritual of writing” to stimulate growth and improvement (North, 439). Although there is usually a single author for a written piece, dedicated and responsible for the core idea and direction of his work, humans thrive in communities—we are better together. The author’s work is not changed, but rather enhanced. “The essence of the writing center method is talking”—Writing Centers aim to bring out the student’s highest potential by focusing discussions on the student, and their vision (North, 443).

“Every successful individual knows that his or her achievement depends on a community of persons working together” –Paul Ryan

Writing Centers are student-centered at their very core and in “the strictest sense of the term” (North, 443). They dedicate their practice to this complex process. It’s brave and admirable. Writing is so personal. Even though we can talk to people easily, we develop intense shyness when it comes to displaying our written work—essentially a compilation of our voice and thoughts on a concrete paper. Writing Centers require a certain level of trust. The writer must realize that the goal is “to produce better writers, not better writing” (North, 438).

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” –Chinese Proverb

Writing Centers focus on the complex process of writing. I love discussing my writing with people. I come up with my best ideas through dialogue. I have to talk to someone to help me figure out my own thoughts. Discourse helps me formulate the ideology I will present in my paper. North’s paper essentially echoed the thoughts in my head. Hence why I am not apart of the target audience—“[this paper] is addressed to the opposite [of a writing center audience]: those not involved with writing centers” (North, 433). And I understand completely where North is coming from—many of my papers “began out of frustration” (North, 433).

As a “writer,” I cannot express how useful it is to visit a community of people whose ultimate goal is to help me improve in my area of study. Writing Centers allow me to find a community of tutors “whose primary responsibility, whose only reason for being, is to talk to writers”—like me (North, 446).

“Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.” –Napoleon Hill

Yes, it is frustrating when people disregard the value of writing and urge me to take on career paths I would inevitably fail in, but, that is what love is all about. You fight for what you love, and you fight for what you believe in. I believe in the beauty of writing, the potential for it to raise awareness and incite change, and mostly, I believe that Writing Centers can gain prestige, as long as we keep advocating for it.

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Works Cited

North, Stephen M. “The Idea of a Writing Center.” College English. 46.5 (1984): 433-446.

 

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My Language Fetish

The following is a response to “The Orality of Language” by Walter J. Ong

I have a fetish for the English language. I must specify “English,” because it is the only language I can read, write and speak completely fluently. I can read and write both Arabic and Spanish, and communicate basically in both—but my level of expression and my complex understanding of these languages do not measure up to my English capability.

I say my English because that’s how I perceive the English language—it is mine.

I find it so ironic that I am a first-generation American, the daughter of parents whose first languages were Arabic and Spanish, and yet, I love English. I love how the words sound, I love discourse, and mostly, I love writing.

My father is Lebanese and my mother is Mexican and Spanish. Growing up, my father spoke to my siblings and me in Arabic, and my mother spoke to us in Spanish. Yet, they spoke to each other in Englishso we spoke to each other in English. As children, our minds are a sponge—we absorb everything up around us. Even though we understand Arabic and Spanish, we spoke English, because that was the language used primarily for actual communication. Although we are all pretty receptive to Arabic and Spanish, we never learned how to fully express ourselves in these other languages. Even though we could understand what my father was instructing us to do, or what my mother was asking us, they never forced us to respond in their respective languages. Up until this day, we are not fluent Arabic and Spanish speakers because you must practice speaking in order to fully grasp a language.

Orality is vital to language fluency. You cannot write beautifully in a language if you cannot speak a language fluently. Of course, there are exceptions in terms of disabilities that may inhibit one from communicating their thoughts—but, orality is key.

Walter J. Ong’s “The Orality of Language” (1988) emphasizes this distinction between orality, language and literacy.

I went to a private school up until the fourth grade where Arabic was apart of the curriculum. Because Arabic is phonetic, I was able to learn how to read and write the language quickly. In fact, I have fantastic Arabic handwriting. I can read complex Quranic versus, however slowly, and copy any Arabic script you give me. But I still can’t speak it perfectly because I was never submerged in a community of Arabic speakers.

In school, or any academic environment for that matter, they attempt to teach you a new language by first instructing you how to read and write the alphabet. They take a strict literary approach— yet, language is an oral phenomenon—so why did academics move away from this? (Ong) They do this to have something concrete to grade you with, but it’s ineffective, and ultimately, it didn’t help me learn how to speak Arabic. I even took Arabic again in college, but they used the same literary approach. And so, despite how well I read and write Arabic, I ultimately felt like a mute when I traveled to Lebanon two summers ago. Because I was never taught how to communicate in the colloquial dialect. Because the language curriculum is geared towards literacy.

But, writing is a compliment to verbal speech, not a transformer of verbalization (Ong).

I have the same issue with Spanish. I understand the language fluently, but it wasn’t until I studied abroad in Spain for a semester, surrounded by Spanish-speakers, that I started speaking Spanish. Language is developed and enhanced through submersion in a specific language community. Language develops through speech, and your ability to speak is what defines your fluency.

Yet, speech can be enhanced. The art of communication is multi-faceted. Ong relates how vital non-verbal communication is to mutual understanding. Body language, facial expression and hand gestures all help human beings communicate more effectively. They supplement words. This is why my siblings and I were so receptive to our parent’s instructions in Spanish and Arabic—their body language and facial expressions helped communicate their thoughts to us. We knew if they were angry or pleased with us by how they spoke to us. Their manner supplemented the words, just as writing, “the commitment of the word to space, enlarges the potentiality of language almost beyond measure, [and] restructures thought…” (Ong, 8).

Writing can never exist without orality (Ong). It would be impossible for me to write anything similar to this blog in Arabic or Spanish. I cannot write this freely in any language besides English, because English is the only language I’ve grasped orally. Writing can never dispense with orality.

As I write this blog, I realize that my fascination with language is warranted. I was exposed to three different languages in my infancy. This exposure has enriched my experiences and my knowledge of the world. This blend of Arabic and Hispanic culture has made me more thoughtful—and writing allows me to reflect on my unique cultural hybrid.

Writing allows me to have conversations with myself.

Have you ever said a word over and over again in your head? Thinking about the word often makes it sound strange. The word English seems so foreign to me right now. E-N-G-L-I-S-H. Although technically, I haven’t even said anything out loud, I’ve merely written this down. But when I write, there is a voice in my head speaking to me and narrating my writing. We talk to ourselves as we write. The words in our head are transferred onto the paper. It’s artistic. The Ancient Greeks recognized the beauty and complexity of orality and language and they referred to it as Rhetoric—literally “speech art.”

I want to study Rhetoric for the rest of my life. It is where I take refuge, both emotionally and intellectually.

Rhetoric was and had to be a product of writing (Ong). The beauty of language was thus recognized when orality was transcribed. Writing enhances orality—it makes these spoken words into a scientific “art” (Ong). Even when we study orally composed speeches, we don’t study them as speeches, but as written texts. We have to transcribe the speech in order to deconstruct the language. I took an entire class on that last semester called “Discourse Analysis.” We analyzed words and language—but we had to first transcribe the language before we could analyze it. Even though “words are grounded in oral speech, writing tyrannically locks them into a visual field forever” (Ong, 10).

Rhetoric has my heart; it is so important. Literature, literally defined “writings,” is the basis of history, philosophy, and even science. The written word allows us to read, learn and develop as a society. Without writing, human consciousness cannot reach its fuller potentials, and cannot produce other beautiful and powerful creations (Ong).

Orality can produce, and is destined to produce writing.

As a child, I embraced the English language because I grew up in the United States—around other American children speaking English. It may have been a subconscious choice at the time, but I ultimately didn’t force myself to try and speak Arabic and Spanish because I didn’t view these languages as highly as English. They didn’t seem important because they weren’t spoken around me. My father spoke Arabic to his “older” friends and my mother spoke Spanish over the phone to her family, but we barely saw either Arabic or Spanish language-speaking community. My dad’s entire family still resides in Lebanon, and we barely saw my mom’s family growing up (there’s lots of drama there). So as a child, I simply never grew fluent.

My lack of fluency in Arabic and Spanish is a sensitive subject in my household, especially now that I am leaving to teach English after graduation. It’s like I disregard the relevance of Arabic and Spanish—but I didn’t, and I don’t. My lack of fluency in Arabic and Spanish is my biggest regret in life. I make every effort to speak Arabic and Spanish now, and I am getting better every day, because I now take the oral approach as opposed to the literary approach.

I am determined to be fluent in all three languages—both in orality and literacy. I know that I will never be able to write in Arabic and Spanish the way I do in English—and I’ve accepted that. I had to relinquish my relationship with Arabic and Spanish to develop fully as an English writer. We have to die to continue living (Ong). But, as I’ve grown older, my fascination for language has grown. I love language. I immerse myself in its rhythmic aroma. I drink in the delicious flavors of its implications. And, I learn so much through the context surrounding its origin. I love analysis—even the word is delectable.

I have a fetish for the English language.

Works Cited:

Ong, Walter J. “The orality of language.” Orality and Literacy. New York: Routledge, 1988. 5-15.

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My First Love

Writing is an ongoing, enigmatic process.

Every individual has a different method they employ when they write; everyone writes with different tools—with a pen, pencil or keyboard—and on different forms—in a diary, notebook or computer. My mood affects my ability to write. I have to feel it. I haven’t been in the mood to write this for several days.

Writing is difficult. And writer’s block is a bitch.

My relationship with writing can’t be described with just one story. I’ve been forced to write my whole life for school, yet somehow, within these restrictive academic environments, I managed to discover my inner voice. This voice was powerful enough to withstand years of critique as my teachers encouraged me to embrace my individuality—all the while expecting me to succumb to their standards—but every teacher had a different standard, and it grew too complicated for me to try and fit into their mold. So I chose me, over them. I liked how I wrote; I like how I write. I am an individual, and my writing is reflective of my unique experiences.

Writing gives me confidence.

I was 10 years old when I first realized that I had a passion for writing; it came naturally for me. I distinctly remember my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Deann Sweeney, reading us The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi, in her expressive voice. The historical fiction novel recounts the story of a sheltered 13-year-old girl who embarks on a voyage from England to Rhode Island. During the first-person account, Charlotte relates how she is forced to relinquish her strict upbringing in order to survive—and she eventually realizes the dishonesty of the Captain of the ship, whom she previously respected, discovers his role in a tragic murder, which he framed as an accident, and witnesses his brutal abuse of the crew.

Writing in a diary was Charlotte’s way of maintaining her sanity as she documented her experiences.

Mrs. Sweeney assigned our class a poem about Charlotte’s transformation from a sheltered teenager to an assertive woman. As fifth graders, I’m sure Mrs. Sweeney’s expectations for our developmental analyses weren’t high, so she was shocked when she read my poem. She even read it to the class the moment I handed it to her. I don’t remember the poem in its entirety, I only remember the last two lines—they were, verbatim:

“I am no longer a weak-minded girl,

but a woman with strength I thought I’d never have.” 

Writing reveals our inner selves.

My cheeks burned as my teacher casually read my poem to the class. Their stunned faces turned towards me in envy, admiration and shock. I, myself, was in shock. I wrote the poem the night before. I sat down, cross-legged, on our living room floor, and wrote a first person account of how I perceived Charlotte’s development—with a pencil, and a piece of computer paper (that all seems so ancient now). It ended up being double the length my teacher had asked for, but it still hadn’t taken me very long—30 minutes tops. I didn’t even realize that it was well written. When my teacher read it aloud, I couldn’t fathom the idea that those were my words. I wrote that. Without any help. It was the first time in the world I felt truly special.

Writing was second nature for me.

Over the years, I forgot. I simply forgot how much I liked to write. Through persuasive essays, we were taught to think in the restrictive structure of binaries. The world was black and white and we had to back up our narrow-minded thesis statements with one-sided claims and a bunch of bullshit analysis in order to get that sought-after “A.”

Writing became a systematic task I did for a grade.

I knew what I needed to do to get the grade I wanted. Yet, I still enjoyed writing for fun. I joined our student-run newspaper in middle school and wrote opinion pieces, sports articles and movie reviews. It was a form of stress relief and it made my dad happy—and, trust me, it’s better when he’s happy.

Writing was fun.

Yet, as I transitioned to high school, my development grew stagnant. Nothing I wrote was good enough. My voice was too blatant. My papers were too comprehensive. I used too many concessions. I was too balanced. I didn’t use enough vocabulary. I used too much vocabulary. My paragraphs were too long. My paragraphs were too short. Every teacher had a different standard, and yet, they never gave me clear feedback on why my paper didn’t meet their expectations. I consistently got “B+’s” on my writing assignments until junior year—when I met Mrs. Judy Swift.

Writing made me feel inadequate.

I failed Mrs. Swift’s first writing assignment. Mrs. Swift told us that everything we’d ever learned about writing was null, and needed to be disregarded. Writing is not black and white—there are lots of grey areas, and acknowledging the gray areas would only make you seem more knowledgeable as an author; as you address the opposition’s main concerns, you strengthen your claims. But it was incredibly hard to get myself out of the systematic mind-set. It was mind-boggling. For the first time, I was encouraged to write how I wanted—I could actually acknowledge that the opposition had valid claims, and then allow myself to address those concerns with thoughtful, respectful and controlled retaliation.

Writing reflects our lives, and our lives are never simple.

I was coming back to life. Mrs. Swift challenged me, uplifted me, but mostly, she taught me to embrace my bias. As humans, we can’t ever be completely objective—especially when our lives are so subjective. We each have varying experiences that affect our identity and what we believe. Our experiences, our parents and the community of people we’re around shape our personalities, characters and belief systems. We were all constructed, if you will, by our life experiences. Yes, we made individual decisions that have repercussions, but we ultimately don’t control what family we are born into, or what happens to us as children. I learned more about myself in her class than I ever had in my life, up until that point. And I am so incredibly thankful for her (I miss you, Swifty).

Writing is manufactured, by people, and it can be improved.

After we took our Advanced Placement Exam, Mrs. Swift shifted from teaching us how to write effective argumentative essays and analytical pieces, to how to write a narrative about ourselves—especially since we were soon going to start college applications. These applications ask students to write a “Personal Statement” about themselves. For most students, this is a foreign concept; students’ entire writing experiences, up until that point, were dictated by narrow-minded assignments and structured outlines they were instructed to follow. These instructions conditioned students to hide their identity when they wrote, and often, making the switch from an academic assignment, where “I” statements are frowned upon, to a personal narrative, where adding personal beliefs is welcomed, was too complex for them to fathom.

Writing is enriched by experiences.

To counter this, Mrs. Swift introduced the Six Word Memoir project. The task was simple at face value: write a story in six words. She used the famous example, allegedly by Ernest Hemingway, “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” This short story is complete, despite its length, and it’s sad—so sad. There are so many questions I want to ask: How did the baby die? Is the mother okay? Is she even alive? It’s powerful, emotional, and proves that length doesn’t define a good story—content and style do.

Writing reveals my intimate emotions, and helps me cope with tough situations.

Even though I tend to be an elaborate writer, I absolutely fell head over heels in love, with Six Word Memoirs. I compensated for the word restrictions by writing hundreds of these short stories (some of which can be found here). These short stories helped me get through one of the most difficult times of my life. My first boyfriend and I broke up the week before the AP Exam, and meanwhile, my father had just filed for divorce. Needless to say, I was filled with lots of emotions. I didn’t know how to handle the situation—my boyfriend had been my best friend for two years before we began dating—and he was my first kiss. Mostly, he was my confidante and my pillar of support (which is what ruined our relationship). A couple of months before we broke up, Jared told me he loved me. I loved him too. I really did. But it was the kind of love that develops between two hormonal teenagers—puppy love. At the time, I was distraught, and thought I’d lost the one person who ever really cared for me. I thought I’d lost my first love. But, then I realized, he wasn’t my first love.

Writing will always be my first love.

Writing is how I come to know myself. Words just pour out of me when I’m sitting down in front of a blank paper. I feel emotions I didn’t know I had, laying there, underneath the surface. Like right now, I got teary.

Writing became my weapon, and it will always be there for me.

I had a similar experience with writing in college as I did in high school, before I met Mrs. Swift (I call those dark days, the pre-Swift days.) I am a Political Science major, and was thus forced to write a lot of objective research papers, with an apathetic attitude, for a grade I ultimately didn’t care about. I lost interest in words, in language, and in the beautiful rhythmic flow that used to comfort me in times of stress. It became a dull chore I had to do in order to remain in school.

Writing, for Political Science, is dull.

I was a walking and breathing zombie. A person without a soul, going through the motions, silently hating their life. I did the bare minimum to get that “A.” But I didn’t care. There was no passion in anything I did anymore. I began to hate college, and truly resented Political Science. It wasn’t until I randomly signed up for a General Education class, to satisfy a writing requirement I didn’t need, that I started coming back to life. The class was a lower division Written Inquiry called “Composing Self.” I finally got to write again-really write- about myself, and my feelings, and subjects I actually cared about. My professor, Morgan Read-Davidson, provided me with insight to help me improve as a writer, and I was so appreciative. It was the first time I felt like a professor truly cared about my development (I now call the dark days in college before Morgan, the pre-Morgan days). I reclaimed my passionate nature once more. “Composing Self” made me human again.

Writing can be empowering.

But it can also be humbling. After taking “Composing Self,” I declared another minor- Writing and Rhetoric (I am also a Film Studies minor). I’ve taken a lot of courses since then that challenged me both academically and emotionally. I’ve realized that no matter how much I love writing, and regardless of how much I think I know, there is still so much more to learn. Writing is an ongoing process that doesn’t have a set ending. There is no finish line or end goal. I can write an entire novel and still not be finished, because then I could start on another novel, and another one. You’re never truly an expert, because writing is so subjective. You always have to keep an open mind. Even if I do get my PHD in Writing or Rhetoric some day, I must always remember that my future (hypothetical) students will have fresh perspectives from their lives. They will be of a different generation, full of new talents and insight.

Writing can always be improved.

I hope I keep writing for the rest of my life. It leads me to self-realizations, and helps me begin to understand my enigmatic persona—but trust me, it’s an ongoing process.

R.I.P. Mrs. Sweeney

I write this in loving memory of a wonderful teacher. She was the first teacher to make me feel like I was worth something. I love you Mrs. Sweeney, and thanks to you, I’ll never stop writing. 

&

Thank you to Mrs. Swift and Professor Morgan. Without people like you, I would be lost.

 

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My Body Image Project: Counter Beauty

Beyoncé has been a body-image heroine to many people for nearly a decade. Her refusal to succumb to the societal expectations of beauty is admirable. But what makes Beyoncé so alluring is the fact that she puts actions behind her words. She promotes positivity through her music and she embraces her body. Overall, she is a perfect example of a woman embodying beauty in every aspect of her life.

Beyoncé released a new self-titled visual album this past week. While I never worshiped Beyoncé like most of my friends, I finally understand what all the hype is about. This new album won me over. Beyoncé released a 14-song, 17-video album with zero promotion and publicity. I mean, literally nothing. Nobody had any idea that she was secretly recording and filming music videos to go along with each song. The album is Beyoncé’s most successful debut to date, and is paced to be the biggest-selling album of the year.

Beyoncé proves that you don’t have to be overtly obnoxious to be successful. While other artists like Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga are out pulling publicity stunts to promote their work, Beyoncé trumps them all with her impromptu release that captured the No. 1 Billboard spot this week.

R E S P E C T

The song that truly hit home for me is “Pretty Hurts.” Beyoncé sings about the societal epidemic I’ve criticized all semester—the intense scrutiny of our own physicality even though true beauty is internal.  Our self-confidence is dictated by our physical appearance.  We let our selves diminish by disregarding everything about ourselves that truly matters—our hearts, our characters and our souls.

Even if you just listen to the first minute, the message is clear. (This version is sped-up to avoid copyright issues.)

This song is amazing. My favorite part of the lyrics is:
Pretty hurts,
Shine the light on whatever’s worst,
Tryin’ to fix something,
But you can’t fix what you can’t see,
It’s the soul that needs the surgery.”

I’d like to particularly highlight the word soul. A soul is the nonphysical aspect of a person. It is our essence and our feelings. Beyoncé is emphasizing that our problem lies inside. We can’t fix this problem through exercise or plastic surgery. We need to work on developing a relationship with ourselves.  At the end of the day, “when you’re all alone,” it is your “reflection [that] stares right into you.” Beyoncé tells society to “strip away the masquerade,” shed the “illusion” and be “happy with yourself.”  We must work on self-love. Beyoncé has immense influence over women today and hopefully her words will resonate with society.

Beyoncé also places blame on our society: “Perfection is a disease of a nation.” We must break away from the idea that it’s wrong to be imperfect. We are human. Imperfections come with the package.  Even worse, we associate our self-worth with our “flawed” appearance, rather than our character. I’m not saying it’s our fault; it’s just the reality. Society conditioned us to believe that how we look is what ultimately matters. Even body-image campaigns take this approach. Just look at “Dove Real Beauty Sketches.”

This video alone has over 61 million views on YouTube. I understand why. It’s reminding women everywhere that we individually judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty prefaced their video with: “Women are their own worst beauty critics… Dove is committed to building positive self-esteem and inspiring all women and girls to reach their full potential.” While I appreciate the message, I must criticize the approach.

Dove relates that our ability to reach our potential is dictated by recognizing our external beauty. It focuses heavily on appearance (regardless if it is positive or negative) as a sign of self-worth. It reflects the societal discourse that how we look is more important than who we are. As I was reading the comments on the video on Dove’s website, I particularly liked what John Baumgaertner said, “I wish one of the woman would just go up to her portraits and say, ‘I’m a Mom, I’ve got lots of friends, I run marathons, I started my own business and I run a charity on weekends. F*ck either one of those sketches- I’m awesome anyway.’”

This experiment is literally only skin-deep and superficial in every sense of the word. Like Baumgaertner said, “beyond loving the SKIN you’re in, it’s important to love the PERSON in the skin regardless of any external validation of your physical beauty.” We need to stop ranking beauty above personal achievement and character. This intense focus on how we look nullifies all our unique skills and qualities. It’s as if nothing about us matters if we can’t market it to the world under an attractive façade. Never mind the fact that beauty is subjective, or that society markets one body-type, we are told that we must strive to reach that societal ideal even if it may not be natural for us and ultimately compromises our health. Our sense of self-worth is intrinsically tied to our physical appearance. And this is the essence of the problem. We are so focused on our vanity. Whether or not we are admiring beauty, or criticizing the lack-of-beauty, we are always focusing on beauty. It is counter-productive.

I think we should all strive to escape this paradigm, and aim to focus on something beyond beauty. While Dove’s experiment reveals our intense sense of dysmorphia, there are underlying issues in the way we judge ourselves based on our beauty. It would be way more empowering for us to realize our beauty WITHIN regardless of what anyone may think. That is how we build true confidence and thick skin. That is how we will gain true empowerment.

I always remind myself: Complain if it is just, but don’t just complain. So I decided to put these thoughts into action. I rallied a few of my friends and asked them to describe what they loved about each other, without using physical characteristics. While I’m an amateur “film-maker,” I was really happy with the resulting video simply because it makes me feel good.

I wanted to focus entirely on inner beauty and I was really touched by everything that was said. This video reminded me just how blessed I am to be surrounded by my sincere, loving and compassionate friends. They don’t care about how I look just as I don’t care about how they look. We love each other because of what’s on the inside. As corny as it sounds, it’s true. Yet, I find myself forgetting this sometimes. I forget how blessed I am. I forget that internal beauty trumps physical beauty. I forget because I get sucked into the societal vortex of physical judgment.

I found myself embracing old habits and criticizing myself again. I realized I had to do something else that would remind me that I’m worth something beyond how I look on a consistent basis. My own sister yelled at me saying, “You can’t make a video talking about self-love and internal beauty, and then do nothing but talk about how ugly and fat you are. You’re such a hypocrite.” And I realized, I am. My sister reminded me that loving myself is a daily battle. I responded to her, “You’re so right. But it’s a journey, you just have to keep reminding me to practice what I preach.” After all, I’m still human. I’m inevitably flawed, but I’m constantly trying to improve. We define our characters by our consistent actions. My sister and I thus made an agreement. If either of us starts to say anything negative, we simply say, “Video.” This simple reference to my video keeps us focused on what really matters—our hearts, characters and relationships. My brother is now in on it too. It turned into a familial affair, which I love.

But I wanted something more tangible to remind me of my commitment to defeat the power that physical appearance has over me. So I made a twitter: @Liveandmuse. I tweet inspiring quotes promoting positivity that you can see on the right column of this blog. The tweets keep me grounded and hold me accountable. They are a daily/weekly dosage of the positivity I tried to convey in my video and on this blog. I aim to focus entirely on our inner beauty and our mentality. The tweets help alleviate the guilt stemming from my prevailing internal negativity. For every negative thought, I force myself to write up a positive tweet. I hope the consistent positivity will trump the negativity. Just as the consistent focus on internal beauty will trump physicality. It’s a quick way to remind myself of everything I write extensively about. It is an exercise for my soul. We must bombard ourselves with positivity, because only dedicated practice will perfect our habits. It uplifts me, and I hope people reading the tweets feel similarly empowered.

My sister’s comments made me realize that by making the video and maintaining Live & Muse, I have a responsibility to anyone who watched the video or reads what I write (even if it’s just a few people). I was shocked just now to see that the video has 99 views. I received lots of messages from friends thanking me for making the video, saying that it pulled them out of a really dark place and helped them get through their day. It was so inspiring to me. It made me realize how powerful positivity can be.

So many women are fighting a similar battle because we construct our self-esteem through beauty. And it hurts us. “Pretty Hurts.” We hurt ourselves by trying to be the “pretty” that society perpetuates. Rather than fight fire with fire, by countering our societal idea of beauty with alternative images of beauty, I instead criticize how our self-worth is dependent on physical beauty. This needs to change. Baby steps.

I only hope that anyone who watches the video, reads this post or reads the tweets is motivated to pursue a higher self-worth, based on internal beauty. The messages of appreciation my friends sent me gave me hope that even if I’m not Beyoncé, I can still make a difference. It gives me hope.

Let’s all work to embody beauty, we can do it together.

IMG_9962

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Embody Beauty

Dear World. Yes, I am a SENIOR in college. NO, I do not have my life together. But I am getting closer every day.

I am inherently insecure. I think too much. And I allow myself to get lost in our superficial society by letting the societal ideology of beauty dictate my own ideology of beauty.

Throughout the course of this semester, I’ve studied, analyzed and reflected on the issue of body image in our contemporary society, particularly through the framework of new media.

New media is a manipulative platform. In this digital age of the Internet, nothing is impossible. The Internet shrinks our world. Social media sites, YouTube and Google give our society endless and instantaneous access to information about other people. And with the growing popularity of social media, privacy is a thing of the past. We all post pictures, status updates, tweets and even blog posts documenting our lives and composing a persona for the outside world to see.

See/ observe/ judge—there’s no difference really.

This constant communication and feed of information across cities, countries and even continents creates a society poised for competition. Especially among women and girls. We are shown constant images of women with perfect bodies, and feel guilty and disappointed in ourselves for not also looking so perfect. Society intends to make us weaker by dictating our ideology on beauty. They manipulate us into allowing our physical appearance dictate our self worth. They have so much power over us.

This power creates detrimental effects.

I believe this video encompasses everything I’ve been trying to convey this semester about women and body image.

But, I believe we contribute to the problem just as much as the media. We buy the magazines, watch the movies and obsess over the celebrities with the “perfect” bodies. It’s not necessarily our fault. Our ideology on beauty is dictated by our upbringing in society and what we are conditioned to believe. We are ultimately powerless until we become aware of the power structures between the media, celebrities and us normal people. We are prisoners of our preconceived notions on beauty, dictated by a society that perpetuates the ideal female body every day throughout new media.

The media further manipulates us by using technology and Photoshop to digitally perfect the female body, and label these false creations as attainable, flawless and inspirational. We should all strive to mirror the ideal. Our inability to do this makes us feel inadequate. This inadequacy is a reflection of our own insecurity about our bodies. The insecurity that society wants us to have. If we’re insecure, they win.

I firmly believe that my insecurity is my greatest shortcoming. I am my own worst enemy. This intense focus on body image over the course of the semester made me realize this.

And frankly, I’m sick of body image issues. Let me clarify that: I’m sick of our superficial society that creates the environment for females to feel like their self worth is based on physical appearances. We are so much more than our bodies.

And I fall victim to it too. Every day I allow myself to become a victim. Yes, I allow myself. I think that we all play a role in our feelings of insignificance. I wish to be thinner, I put myself down for missing workouts when I’m cooped up in the library and I compare myself to celebrities constantly. My problem is rooted in my inability to celebrate my strengths and view my flaws as temporary issues that can be worked on, and improved. This is what I’ve learned from analyzing body image campaigns throughout new media this semester. Self-love is a process… It’s a constant journey.

And heck, if you want to improve your body, start exercising. But do it because you want to be healthier, not look better. Do it to feel better. But remember that getting fit takes time. Our current bodies were not created over night and our desire for a healthier body cannot be accomplished immediately. Our mindset has developed over years of exposure to the ideal female body. Accepting our own bodies as beautiful in their unique shapes will take time.

We should all strive to celebrate our strengths and be grateful for our blessings. It’s not an easy task, and it definitely cannot be done overnight, but I think its possible.

We must always remember that the bodies we see throughout new media are constructed images with digital enhancements. They attach words challenging us to mirror the deceptively perfected image, and make us feel like we suck because we can’t do it. News flash, it’s because those bodies are fake.

Projects dedicated to promoting a healthier body image aim to counter this falsehood by projecting sincerity and “real” bodies.

"Real"

But, YOU ARE REAL just as I AM REAL. Regardless of our differing shapes. We exist and we don’t suck just because our bodies aren’t perfect. And honestly, I think these new media projects take the wrong approach, because they are still focused on our physical bodies.

Women are constantly reduced to this one characterization of our body type. As if nothing else about us matters. It’s the first thing anybody ever sees, and often, our beauty is powerful enough to affect how we interact with other people. It can create intense insecurity if you don’t fit the ideal mold of beauty, just as it can create a sense of entitlement. We are prisoners of our own image. An image that is so heavily skewed by the societal discourse surrounding beauty.

Our generation especially suffers, severely. We simply don’t like ourselves. And for what? So that industries can make profits from us.  So that they can sell their products, or clothing or magazines or movies… It’s not worth it. Society creates a battlefield where we are the soldiers fighting against ourselves. We never reap the benefits. Instead, our insecurity heightens.

We’re so insecure and so judgmental, yet we don’t want anybody to judge us. It’s such hypocrisy. Rather than uplift the community of women we’re surrounded with, we compete with one another, because that’s what society implants in our minds. Every advertisement directed towards women is trying to tell us that we lack something. We need such-and-such product in order to compensate for our lack of natural beauty—the lack of physical perfection.

Nobody is perfect. Let’s not hate on ourselves for our imperfections.

You are inevitably flawed and perfectly human. You are wonderful. BELIEVE IT.

As I’ve previously said on this blog, “I believe all of my issues stem from a strong and powerful self-hatred. I’ve known this for a while. I am disappointed with myself. I lack self worth. I let [other peoples’] opinion of me dictate my personal views. A number on a scale has immeasurable power over my moods. And I seek comfort in food. Yet, I’ve never done anything about it until now.

I retract that last statement I wrote 3 months ago. I instead say with full confidence today that I’ve never done anything about my insecurity until now—this very moment. I’m having an epiphany people.

Let’s associate our self worth, instead, with our minds, hearts and souls. Our characters define us. Get to know yourself! What makes you, YOU? What are your passions, your goals and your favorite personality traits? Write one thing down every day that you like about yourself, outside of your appearance, until you grow to like yourself. But remember, it’s a process. We can start the journey together.

Here is mine: I like my ability to relate to people and make them feel comfortable through my honesty.

So, even if society is making you feel inadequate, remember that they don’t know you. Use your list, because it’s your secret weapon. Your soul is REAL, and your mental health is most important. Your heart is full of warmth and love. Your mind is beautiful.

Society expects us to be perfect, and we waste so much time trying to reach that impossible ideal. It’s not feasible. Humans are not perfect. Beauty isn’t objective. We are more than the physical bodies that we inherited through genetics from our parents. We had no control over this. Beauty is so insignificant. I’ve met beautiful people with ugly souls.

Be the best you, and your inner beauty will shine through.

Embody beauty, you beautiful person.

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Blinded by Bright Colors

I value sincerity above all other qualities. I hope to exude this in all aspects of my life, especially through my writing and on this blog.

When I finally realized that the negative thoughts going through my head were unhealthy, I began to look for sites to answer some of my questions and offer emotional support.  Through my research, I realized that my habits reflected a more serious issue.

Hello Eating Disorder.

I found myself surrounded by heaps of scientific research that generalized my condition. I am a product of this society—and worst of all, I am not alone. There are millions of others who suffer from the same issues. When I initially discovered how much information there was out there, I began to look for blogs that promoted healthy attitudes towards food. I wanted to see personal accounts of recovery.

Since this is not a unique problem, it was easy to find blogs that discussed the matter.  The blogs I am attracted to are usually about health and fitness. They generally post healthy recipes and discuss exercise plans. They do so in a positive manner and attempt to motivate people through pictures of skinny women, healthy recipes and ways of becoming more and more active.

Be Skinny Visuals

These methods represent the techne within the community of blogs promoting self-love through healthy lifestyles. Techne is a Greek word for the concept of making or doing. It essentially reflects the art or craftsmanship—I can more easily understand techne as the style and methods used to achieve the alleged purpose. In this case, I am looking at the techne of blogs that promote healthy lifestyles by analyzing their posts, visuals and writing styles.

I have over ten blogs bookmarked on my Google chrome webpage that are written and run by women promoting healthy lifestyles. Some of these women dedicate their lives to being skinny—skinny and healthy are often used synonymously. These blogs like Eat Yourself Skinny, The Skinny Confidential and Skinnyms focus collectively on “healthy” recipes that utilize low-calorie ingredients to provide alternatives to common indulgences as well as exercise tips and occasional fashion tidbits. They contain recipes with lots of pictures of colorful foods embedded in the mix. The blogs are overall super bright and vibrant. They want the reader to feel positively when looking at their pages. They frequently discuss how much they love their life and urge others to adopt their eating habits and achieve similar happiness. They are not designed to document reality and feelings, but rather to focus on feeling good through looking good.

These bloggers are happy and satisfied with themselves—especially how they look. They devote these blogs to promote the habits that maintain their bodies.  The stories are always upbeat and focus entirely on physical appearance. They are clearly designed for other women who care about their figures more than their health…  Whereas being healthy is implied, skinny is the ultimate goal.

BE SKINNYIt’s as if you can only be healthy if you are thin and have a flat stomach. It sends women and young girls the wrong message. These blogs perpetuate the societal obsession with being skinny. 

There are other blogs I follow that are run by women who previously suffered from eating disorders such as Undressed Skeleton and Oh She Glows. They dedicate their blogs to their newfound lifestyle and the methods they use in order to remain mentally healthy. These blogs are similar to the aforementioned ones, except for the inclusion of an “About” page in which they relate their past journey of defeating their eating disorders and achieving contentment and happiness. They exude positivity through their bright colors, legible fonts and aesthetically appealing pages.

Undressed Skeleton

Although I enjoy these blogs and will glance at them for occasional motivation, the parts of these blogs I find most helpful are the “About” pages relating their past struggles. The majority of these blogs however are dedicated to current healthy lifestyles—not personal journeys to contentment. But even when reading these sections, it is obvious to me that these women have already recovered. Their tones are reflective. The emotions are not fresh, and this affects their writing style and ability to relate a purely raw account of what life with this kind of struggle is like.

They lack truth.

These blogs are glamorized compilations of what a “Happy Ending” from a Disney movie would be like if the main character suffered from an eating disorder and began blogging after she recovered. The focus of the blog isn’t to discuss the methods in which the person employed to become mentally healthier; it is to focus on how great they feel now. It’s less honest and frankly isn’t as helpful for me. It kind of makes me feel like a failure for not already feeling better about myself. For not already getting my act together and losing weight and maintaining it.

Ironically, I sometimes feel that these blogs are mechanisms for these women to deal with current eating issues. They claim to have recovered, yet they intensely blog about food and exercise schedules in a mechanical manner. The blog provides an outlet for them to focus on while they subconsciously focus on food and their bodies. Taralynn McNitt from Undressed Skeleton was featured on The Skinny Confidential as the Skinnista of the Month. 

Look how happy I am when I'm skinny

It’s just ridiculous to me. Taralynn’s weight loss was extreme and she works hard everyday to maintain it. She often blogs about everything she eats in a single day. Every. Single. Thing. She also provides pictures and recipe descriptions. Documenting my calorie intake is what caused me to spiral downwards into a pit of constant food awareness. Her alleged intent is to aid other girls who want to adopt her lifestyle. She essentially encourages everyone to lose weight and develop happiness simultaneously.

That’s not the “Happy Ending” I want.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not putting these blogs down in any way. I often look through these blogs and read their daily entries. I enjoy reading them, but I don’t get much besides superficial encouragement out of them. It’s not raw. It’s not relatable because these bloggers are in a different emotional and mental stage of life.

I respond best to honesty. I try to surround myself with people that make me feel comfortable and secure. I want them to uplift my sprits. I approach blogs with the same mentality. I want to read a blog that is going to make me feel good about myself right now. Not blogs that imply that I will feel good after I lose tons of weight and begin to maintain the weight loss. I want to know how to rationalize the innate thoughts embedded in my head due to my family upbringing. I need methods and tools to achieve success.

I found these characteristics in articles like this one on First Ourselves—one of the only blogs truly dedicated to connecting with women aiming to recover from eating issues.  The design is simple and the focus is on the writing and the message. There are no overwhelming motivational pictures. It is raw and honest and provides clear-cut advice on what steps to take to move forward after making a mistake.

I am committed to this honest style. I don’t want to focus my blog on being skinny with an underlying perk of achieving self-confidence. I don’t want to document my journey in a short “About” section with pictures that document weight loss. Live & Muse is not a weight-loss journey. I want to discuss personal realizations of my developed issue, and what tools and methods will help me improve it. I hope for this blog to provide support through honest and confessional postings about how I work towards self-contentment. I hope my techne reflects that. I don’t want to overwhelm my readers with positivity. Sometimes positivity isn’t helpful, it’s annoying. Life is full of highs and lows. Passion is reignited by periods of disillusionment. You are allowed to feel upset sometimes. Get it out of your system.

Let’s get real.

Yup

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Critical Discourse [Self-] Analysis

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” –Wiliam Shakespeare

Although Romeo and Juliet is one of my favorite plays and I attribute a lot of meaning to this quote, I am hereby challenging Shakespeare. My name is Aisha Jasmine Elmasri, and I don’t think I would be me if I didn’t have this name.

I am going to perform a critical discourse analysis on myself and the implications of my name. Norman Fairclough, author of Language and Power, would be so proud.

I tend to introduce myself using my full name because I really love the way it sounds together, and also, because I have an odd obsession with Princess Jasmine. I realize now that I love this Disney princess because of my middle name, and the fact that she is Arab like me. I was conditioned to like her. It is all a gigantic societal ploy.

We attribute meaning to words. Every word is connected to an ideology that is reflected within the discourse of the subject. I think my mother named me Aisha with an expectation of the type of person she wanted me to become. These expectations are based on her ideology of the name Aisha. My name has shaped my familial discourse surrounding me, and can thus be related to Fairclough’s framework for discourse analysis.

Aisha is of Arabic origin and can be defined as “alive and well.” I was named after my paternal Lebanese grandmother. My mother chose Aisha because she loves and admires my grandmother, and thus associates this name with a woman she highly respects. My father chose my middle name, Jasmine, because he perceives it as beautiful and feminine. This name thus relates to the experiential value of words—it is a “cue to the way in which the text producer’s experience of the natural or social world is represented” (Fairclough, 92). My mother had also recently converted to Islam before my birth; Aisha is the name of Prophet Muhammad’s wife. She was a pious and accomplished woman who is highly respected in the Muslim faith. My mother associated this name with these qualities because of her newfound knowledge and beliefs. She gave me this name with hopes that I would embody these characteristics. My father is also very religious.

Aisha also maintains a relational value for my mother because it literally embodies a “social relationship” (Fairclough, 93). My father always says that my mother named me Aisha because she wanted to kiss-up to my grandmother. Although this is more of a testament to my dad’s twisted sense of humor, it is true that my mother would not have named me Aisha if it were not already my grandmother’s name. The name has emotional significance.

The experiential and relational value of Aisha directly relates to its expressive value within my life. This name caused me to be “constituted as [a] subject” and has greatly affected my social identity (Purvis and Hunt, 482). I am the oldest daughter in my household and have been constantly compared to my grandmother my entire life. She is a homemaker and prides herself on being a mother. She is loud and opinionated and constantly makes her presence known. Even beyond character traits, both my immediate and extended family constantly say that I even resemble my grandmother. My mom says I’ve always resembled my grandmother. But its impossible for my mom to have thought this when I was born—no one can tell what a newborn baby will grow to look like. Everyone expects me to be like my grandmother because of my name. My dad tells me constantly that I “walk exactly like [my] grandmother.” I can’t remember my grandmother ever walking without a limp or a cane in my lifetime… Yet, this expectation caused me to want to be like my grandmother. I convinced myself growing up that I was like her and that I did indeed look like her.

I only began questioning the validity behind this comparison after reading Fairclough. Some similarities between my grandmother and me are uncanny, but there is such a huge generational and cultural gap that is prevalent in our differing personalities. My grandmother was raised in a small village in Northern Lebanon. She was married to her cousin at age 18 and gave birth to her first child at 19. She devotes her life to housework and cooking. This is all she knows. Although she values education, she still constantly asks me when I will be getting married.  It is evident that she still thinks I need to learn domestic duties.  No matter how educated I may become, I am always reminded that one day I will have to care for a household.

These domestication reminders were not subtle, and they began early. My grandmother came from Lebanon to live with my family for a few years when I was 8 years old. I distinctly remember how furious she would get with me for demanding that my brothers be given household chores as well. A boy doing housework was a foreign concept to her. My sister would obediently finish her chores, and I would argue until my voice grew hoarse, and then finish my tasks. My dad used to manipulate me by saying that my grandmother was getting upset with me for arguing. So I would get to work. I wanted to make my grandmother proud. I subconsciously wanted to live up to my name.

Even on my most recent visit to Lebanon in the summer of 2012, my grandmother wanted me involved in the kitchen. She would tell my male cousins to give me their dinner plates for me to wash. This type of behavior always infuriated me. I became visibly irritated and complained in English to my cousins since my grandmother would not understand. But I still followed her directions out of respect. Little did I know, I gave my grandmother power over me through manufactured consent.

Yet despite all of my bad Arab-female behavior, I am still my grandmother’s favorite grandchild. On my 15th birthday, my grandmother chose to give me her solid 24k gold wedding band that is worth thousands of dollars. My grandmother has over 17 grandchildren, and even more great-grandchildren. Nonetheless, I am her favorite grandchild because of my name. She thinks I am so much like her. She favors me over my sister, even though I was a stubborn little girl who constantly fought my family on doing household duties while my sister obediently performed her tasks.  My grandmother still views my personality as a reflection of her own.

It’s because of my name. It’s because of Aisha.

Aisha caused my own interpellation. I was “situated and placed within [this] specific discursive context” (Purvis and Hunt, 483).  Aisha formed my own personal ideology.  Although I despise the expectations as a female in my Arab family, I still do household duties. My ideology constitutes me as a subject. No matter how much I mentally fight it, I still subconsciously accept the female subjection in my household.  I internalized the ideology of Aisha. I am accustomed to the role of being a female. I worked with my grandmother in the kitchen when I was in Lebanon last summer. Every time I visit home today, I begrudgingly do housework because it pleases both of my parents. They expect it of me.

I was interpellated in and through this ideology associated with Aisha. It has psychologically affected me. I accepted the comparisons with my grandmother. I have taken on the responsibility to both educate myself and learn the endless amounts of family recipes that were taught to my mother. I must be both a phenomenal cook and an academic. My grandma Aisha values these attributes in a “contemporary woman.” So I, Aisha, value them as well.

It is my duty as an Aisha to embody these diverse skills.

The expectations are all in the name.

Take that, Shakespeare.

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The Journey

Dear World. Yes, I am a SENIOR in college. NO, I do not know what I want to do with my life.

I think I’ve realized over the course of my college career that I am undoubtedly a wallflower. I am an emotional introvert who hates on my emotions and tries to avoid discussing anything relevant. And when you get to be twenty years old, this type of behavior is no longer considered charming. Everyone wants to talk seriously with you about your future and your goals and what’s coming up next for you.

I don’t know what’s next for me. I don’t even know what I want to wear today. Or how I’m going to get through soccer practice later.

I’m really good at having structure and taking direction. Tell me what to do. Tell me what you want done. I will do it. I will do it extremely well and I’ll definitely exceed your expectations.

It’s not that I’m not talented or intelligent or capable. In fact, I am all of those things. I’m good at talking to people. I’m good at analyzing. I’m a good writer. Or at least I used to think I was.

Until I lost passion for the life going on around me.

Talent is nothing without work. Intelligence is useless without motivation. And capability is wasted without direction.

Hence, my problem.

My name is Aisha, and I’m completely lost and confused.

I just had an amazing semester abroad in Madrid, Spain. I call Spain the land of happiness. I felt incandescently happy in Spain. I woke up every morning with an appetite for life. The happiness was effortless. I was confident and completely at peace with myself. It was the first time since my parents’ almost-divorce that I felt so content with myself.

But I don’t know how to get that feeling back.

Ever since I came back from Spain, I reverted back to my old self. The confused girl with low self-esteem and eating issues and an endless pit of disillusionment. But this time around, I’m worse.

This summer was probably the worst few months of my entire life.

I lost interest in everything that used to excite me. I wasn’t extremely sad or angry or anything. That would have been okay. Better even. Those are emotions. I literally experienced nothingness. I was numb. I came back to the authority within my parents’ house after living on my own in Europe for four months. I was surrounded by the constant negativity, stress and criticism once again. This environment was the reason I sought escape. The familial treatment that pushed me to study abroad.

And yet, in Spain, I forgot about that part of my life.

That’s the thing about your past. It always catches up with you.

The only difference now is that I have the trace of that happiness in my memory. It was sweet and delicious and guilt-free.

And I want it back.

I made the courageous decision to seek out help to become healthier mentally, physically and emotionally. I refuse to let myself stoop so low again. I know how unhappy I am, merely because I know how happy I can be. Spain taught me that. Spain helped me realize that I have the potential to be at peace with myself. I don’t have to struggle with eating disorders and constant guilt and personal confusion. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Adversity brings triumph.

I don’t know what I want. I only know what I don’t want.

But I don’t think I’m alone. I know I’m not the only twenty year-old who is lost and confused and trying to find a place in this world.

From here on out, I am committing myself to this blog. I am going to record my journey to becoming healthy. In every aspect. I don’t want to be miserable anymore.

I believe all of my issues stem from a strong and powerful self-hatred. I’ve known this for a while. I am disappointed with myself. I lack self worth. I let my parents’ opinion of me dictate my personal views. A number on a scale has immeasurable power over my moods. And I seek comfort in food.

Yet, I’ve never done anything about it until now.

Here’s to setting goals…. And finally giving myself the tools to achieve them.

I’m seeing a therapist. SO for an hour every week, I’m forced to do the one thing I dread… Discuss my feelings. Respond to questions. Explain myself. I can’t just say “I don’t know” to gloss over heavy subjects. Because that’s what therapy is all about. I have to dive head first into my soul, past the solid stonewalls of evasion, and into the deep pit of memories I’ve worked so hard to bury. Because these are where the answers lie. The reasons for my personality traits and self-perception issues.

Until then, I must compartmentalize. And try and avoid this pan of freshly baked brownies my best friend just made.

I must not eat my feelings.

The journey to a healthier me begins today. Right now.

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Quarter-Life Crisis

I think I am going through a quarter-life crisis.

Lately, I’ve just felt like blah. I don’t even have the words to explain why I’ve been feeling so bored. That’s how weird this is. I am always able to explain how I’m feeling.

I never did a “Farewell” post to Madrid. I meant to write about how I was feeling upon leaving my home of 4 months, but somehow, I don’t think I was ready to sit down, collect my thoughts and accept that I was truly leaving. The worst part is, I left and I don’t know when I will return.

In a way, Madrid was an escape from reality. I felt SO happy every day in Madrid. Just so happy. It was easy to feel happy. I even would wake up in the mornings and roll over with feelings of incandescent peace.

Madrid helped me realize my potential to be at peace with myself. I’ve struggled so much in the past with self-acceptance and self-esteem. But in Spain, I felt beautiful, confident and relaxed. Not only did I not harshly judge myself, I never felt the need to criticize others. It was my goal to lift people’s spirits every day. I wanted the people around me to feel as great as I felt. Looking back, I realize that is the true indication of confidence. When you can look at yourself in the mirror with content– a contentment that stems from the inside-out– you have realized your worth. I would aim to spread this feeling to those around me. I wanted everyone to feel the same greatness. A greatness that is only attainable through peace of mind. That peace of mind was a great achievement for me. I don’t think you understand just how amazing it was.

It was a rare feat, particularly because I grew up in such an intense household.

The only pressures I had in Madrid were my school work (hardly a problem) and maintaining a budget (a much bigger challenge). Otherwise, I was completely in control. I controlled my schedule, my activities and MY LIFE. I didn’t have my parents there to criticize me. No one was hurting my feelings or providing not-so-subtle criticism in casual conversations. I didn’t have to dread mood swings or outbursts from my father. I wasn’t given an endless amount of tasks from my mother, of whom never acknowledges that I do so many tasks for her. I wasn’t being badgered by my newfound extra-conservative brother. I didn’t have to share my space with my disorganized sister. My little brother wasn’t there to create unnecessary conflict. I only had to confront myself. And without any external factors to alter the playing field, in the battle between me and my meaner-self, I always come out on top.

I don’t put myself at a disadvantage. I don’t enjoy being insecure. I much prefer happiness.

I realize that coming back home is the ultimate test for me. It is testing my strength to maintain the self-love.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. My family can be harsh and I am overly sensitive. I am aware of my hyper sensitivity, but I can’t and won’t change it. I refuse to make myself less sensitive. My sensitivity is what makes me compassionate. it is apart of who I am. It is the reason for the best parts of myself. However, I can choose to be sensitive while avoiding the other adjectives that are often associated with sensitivity. I will not be delicate or fragile or defensive. In fact, I decided to look up sensitive in the dictionary. I found that an antonym listed was resilient. I refuse to accept this.

I choose to be both sensitive and resilient. I will be the best kind of contradiction.

Here’s to hopefully getting through my quarter-life crisis and re-adapting to my judgmental and harsh family.  After all, nobody should form an opinion about themselves based on what anyone else thinks. Especially if the people around you are notorious for taking advantage of you. I am not trying to throw myself a pity party. My family is just kind of mean to me. It’s true. One could even say that its factual. Everyone who knows my family recognizes the hostility towards me. But its okay. I am happy that I’m given the most responsibility because it is the reason why I am able to handle the challenges life throws at me. So I must perceive this transition back into my family household as another challenge. Although my family doesn’t realize that this challenge goes beyond mere spacial annoyances, this is a mental battle more than anything. I will not relapse.

The happiness is here to stay.

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“Promise Yourself…
To be so strong that nothing
can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness, and prosperity
to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel
that there is something in them
To look at the sunny side of everything
and make your optimism come true.

To think only the best, to work only for the best,
and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others
as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past
and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times
and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself
that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear,
and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world,
not in loud words but great deeds.
To live in faith that the whole world is on your side
so long as you are true to the best that is in you.”
― Christian D. Larson, Your Forces and How to Use Them

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Musings Before Bed

It’s been a while since my last post. Usually I will open up a word document and type and edit and relax and take days to collect my thoughts… But for some reason, at this moment, I was motivated to open up Live & Muse and write away.

I am feeling frustrated today. I am feeling sad, confused, lonely, pathetic and miserable.

Oddly, I am happy that I feel this. I’ve been so happy. TOO happy. Happiness is constant and I had nothing to write about. No motivation. After all, hearing about why someone is so happy can get excessive. Even I was getting bored with feeling so peaceful. I am happy that I feel something different- even if it is a tad negative. Negativity counteracts positivity. Eventually it’ll attract the good. Magnets taught me so.

None of these feelings have to do with Spain. I still love Spain. In fact, there were days when I wondered how it was fair for me to feel so happy while knowing that there are people around the world struggling to find food for themselves and their families. I would wonder how it was fair for me to feel so blissful when my Dad was back home struggling to make payments on our house and his business. I felt so happy that I felt guilty. I didn’t understand how it was fair for me to feel that good.

But now, I understand. And somehow, God always helps me find clarity.

The world is oddly balanced. There is an indescribable harmony that is formed from the intricate amount of human emotions I experience. That sounds confusing. So let me explain. Today, I am sad. Yesterday, I was over-tired. But a week ago, I was incandescently happy. Everybody needs a balance. The sadness I feel today will only seek to heighten the happiness I hope to feel tomorrow. I need variation.

I am a passionate person.

If there is one thing I can say that I’ve learned form being in Spain, it’s that passion is not constant. One cannot be continuously passionate about everything in their life. A person needs to experience highs and lows in order to reignite their passion. I realized that disillusionment and passion are similar. My current disillusionment towards my major and my academic responsibilities reflect my passionate nature. In regards to that aspect of my life, I am feeling immensely low. I was so high-strung in high school. I never gave myself time to recharge and analyze how I was feeling. I went a thousand miles an hour all the time. To the point where people didn’t even take me seriously anymore. I never want to be that person again.

I am happy with how I am now. I am real. I am me. I am not always happy. I am not always sad. I am energetic when I want to be and I am monotonous when I am tired. I am always real.

Despite all of that, I am so irritated with myself right now. Although I’ve grown to accept my personality, I still have days when I want nothing but to scold myself.

Today is one of those days…

I’m pretty over myself today.

When people describe me, words like nurturing or caring or loving always somehow get thrown into the mix. And I can’t say I disagree or don’t understand why I get described with those adjectives… Cause I do understand. I think at this point of my life, at age 20, I can finally say that I know myself extremely well.

I am passionate, loyal, loving, excessive, energetic, intense, emotional, logical, impatient, tolerant, insecure, socially oblivious, empathetic, and most of all, passionate.

I also used to be driven… I don’t know what happened to my limitless motivation. I think I am in a stagnant state of academia. I don’t know why I stopped applying myself. Well, I think I do know. But I have yet to fully face that. I haven’t even confronted myself about those issues. But tomorrow is a new day… So I’m going to let procrastination win yet again.

On the other hand, for the first time in a long time, I think I can say that I know what I want. Although that sounds uncertain, it’s true. I know what I want out of life. I know what type of person I want to become. I know what type of person I want to end up with. And I know what I want to do with the rest of my life.

First and foremost,  I want to learn how to put myself first. (True Story: I forced myself to put this in after I was already finished writing.)

I want to find the love of my life. (So I may put them first.)

I want him to care for me, to protect me and to force me to put my guard down. I tend to mother everyone around me and neglect myself in the process. I need him to put me first, even before himself sometimes. Of course there is always a balance. I need this future man of mine to realize when he needs to focus on himself, and when I need him to focus on me. I will never demand attention from someone. Instead, I need them to realize when I am in most need of affection. I need them to force me to take the affection. I tend to fight every form of comfort around me. I am so insecure about comforts. They never seem to be stable. I hate temporary things. I hate relying on temporary comforts.

I want to be a writer.

A speech-writer. A free-lance blogger. All I know is that I want to write for the rest of my life. I want to write about my emotions and the world around me and the experiences I encounter along the way. I love writing. It’s the only thing in this world that helps me collect my thoughts and feel worthy. I am so bad at expressing to people how I’m feeling. Most people don’t believe this. Although I can be eloquent with people and analyze and react and respond to certain situations… I am completely incapable of talking about relevant and important feelings I am having. I have never fully discussed my previous (current?) eating disorder with anyone. I have never discussed how my family makes me feel. I spend hours every day talking about useless stuff to everyone around me. I talk about my family or my friends or people I love (not useless- but not what needs to be discussed). But I won’t talk about how I am feeling. People never realize that. It is rare for me to describe, in detail, how things make me feel. I’ll express anger or frustration at an event, but I won’t talk about my personal thoughts or past events. It’s really hard to get me to do that. Writing is the only time I do that. The only time I pour my soul out. The only time I can soothe my tears. Or hold them back… By providing an alternate release. Words. I love words.

I want to be a mother.

I want to care for someone. A mini-me. A little combined version of me and the future man I love most in the world. I want to tuck my little future piece of me in and let him or her know that they are so loved. I want to embody my parents but refine the things that struck me negatively. I want to fix their mistakes. I want to make new ones- that aren’t too detrimental. I want to learn from them. I want the chance to teach someone everything I know so that they may be better than me. I want to instill them with morals and love and the desire to put others before themselves. I want to motivate them to leave a positive mark on this world.

I always have to remind myself that there is so much for me to do before I can realize my life-long aspiration of being a mother. I need to do volunteer-work, travel, and find myself… Do as much as I can while I can so I have minimal regrets. Yet fighting my maternal and biological instincts and the need to get settled and start a family is getting harder and harder year-by-year. And I am only 20. I think this is somehow attributed to my very traditional and Arab familial upbringing.

I want to love myself again.

I want to value myself.

I want to people to describe me with a loving fondness and an upbeat disposition. I want to be there to lift someone up when they’re feeling down.

Most of all, I want to leave a positive mark in this world.

Dear world, I am here. And after I die, I want the world to know that I WAS HERE. And I made a positive difference somehow. Even if the only thing I manage to do in this world is make other people feel self-assured and loved, that will be enough. Even if the only time I am remembered is for a brief laugh or a reminiscent smile, that will be enough. As long as the memories bring a small surge of love into the person’s heart- that is enough.

Sometimes I only wish that a person would make me feel that way. That a person would sit me down and make me talk. Make me open up.

Force me to open up. Tear my walls down. Make me cry. Break my dam and let the water flood out of the locks I’ve put on my heart.

Kill me with kindness, and I just might reward you with love.

A love unlike any other.

I want that. And I am confident that I will get what I want.

I think I feel my passion coming back. It’s seeping through my veins and filling me with a warmth that feels refreshingly familiar.

It has to be real. Cause there is definitely no sun to mistake it for in Spain.

Oh hey you, it’s been a while.

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Favorite Pictures of Last Week

New Favorite Dress at Mango that I didn't buy... :(
New Favorite Dress at Mango that I didn’t buy… 😦
Via Umar Issa from Morrocco
Via Umar Issa from Morrocco

IMG_4014

Oh So Casual near El Parque de Retiro
Oh So Casual near El Parque de Retiro
Architecture
Architecture
Got lost and stumbled upon this
Got lost and stumbled upon this
Sassy statue in El Parque de Retiro
Sassy statue in El Parque de Retiro
Lake in El Parque del Retiro
Lake in El Parque del Retiro
Apple Dessert I Made
Apple Dessert I Made
Apple and Sweet Potato dessert!
Apple and Sweet Potato dessert!
One more look
One more look
Beautiful balconies
Beautiful balconies
El Rastro Flea Market off of La Latina
El Rastro Flea Market off of La Latina

El Rastro
El Rastro
El Rastro
El Rastro
El Rastro
El Rastro
El Rastro
El Rastro
El Rastro
El Rastro
El Rastro
El Rastro
Beautiful streets
Beautiful streets
Earring for One Euro!
Earring for One Euro!
Dinnnna
Dinnnna
Nothing
Nothing
Plaza de Espana in Madrid at Twilight
Plaza de Espana in Madrid at Twilight
Different Dinna
Different Dinna
Suffolk University
Suffolk University
Tuna Salad
Tuna Salad
Cutest Cupcake Shop
Cutest Cupcake Shop
Mexican dinner
Mexican dinner
Oh... That's where I am
Oh… That’s where I am
On my walk home from school
On my walk home from school
I LOVE WINTER ATIRE
I LOVE WINTER ATIRE
A run I did
A run I did
Chamber of Secrets
Chamber of Secrets
SALAD
SALAD I made
Lipstick
Lipstick

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