I can’t wrap my head around what is different this time. Why is it that I am able to finally let you go? Thinking back, nothing really happened. I was sharing my feelings with you,… More
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.
North, Stephen M. “The Idea of a Writing Center.” College English. 46.5 (1984): 433-446.
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 English—so 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.
Ong, Walter J. “The orality of language.” Orality and Literacy. New York: Routledge, 1988. 5-15.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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
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.
This is in direct references to the millions of times that you ALL doubted me.
But, let’s be real, I am mostly addressing my very own father: Fawaz Rachid Elmasri. HEY BABA, I AM A DOMESTICATED YOUNG WOMAN AND I KICK ASS AT LIVING ON MY OWN. Although this is the very first time I am officially living on my own with my own kitchen in an apartment with adults… I have always been forced (yes, forced) to help out around the house and especially in the kitchen. You see, my father is a traditional man from a small village in Northern Lebanon- Traublos (or Tripoli- no not Tripoli, Libya). This part of Lebanon is as close to glamorous as Lady Gaga was in her meat dress (I’m not the biggest fan of either). Before going to Lebanon, I was brainwashed by all of my Saudi friends telling me it was the most beautiful and extravagant Middle Eastern country… While all this is true, they were most definitely referring to Beirut– the Paris of the Middle East. Traublos is a tad different.
I actually visited Traublos last summer to visit my Grandma, whom I was named after, and adore and love with all of my heart. I didn’t have any expectations upon leaving- except for the comfort of being around family. While staying with my Uncle was… colorful to say the least, I am so happy I went. Because I learned A LOT about my father, his upbringing and his personality traits.
Baba grew up with a mother who enjoys overworking herself for the sole purpose of being able to complain to everyone around her… about how she is overworked. Although this is hilarious and ironic to say the least, I do not want to undermine her accomplishments. My Grandma Aisha raised eight wonderful kids who she tirelessly worries and stresses about—doing all she can to ensure that her children’s lives are better than her own. Even though she is almost 87 years old… My Grandma still cooks and cleans every day. She cares for her 47 year-old-son who has a mental disability, and also a heart of gold. (I miss my Uncle Azaam.) She hates when people try to help her and she loves her independence. She is all about doing things on her own. Although this can be frustrating and scary to those around her, I can’t help but sympathize and understand my Grandma because I am just like her. If there is anyone on this planet I share commonalities with… Even down to my very own name… It is she. Our hands are even the SAME.
I am so blessed to be her Granddaughter. I learned so much about her last summer. She got married when she was 18 years old and had her first child, Asya, at 19. I would sit with her on the couch, play with her fingers and ask her question after question. There is no doubt that she drove me crazy at times, but at this moment, all I am filled with are good memories and an indescribable and thorough ache and longing to be around her…. Snuggled in her arms. It is a rare comfort to know that you are with somebody who loves you wholeheartedly and unconditionally. I will never forget how lucky I am to have my Grandma. I only hope I get to see her again soon. I love you Taita.
She also loves to do things for other people. My Father was catered to as a child. I am not undermining his own work rate and all of his accomplishments… But when it comes to household domestication and meals… His mother spoiled him. My father learned his good habits from his mother. She is extremely clean and her entire life revolves around the house. She constantly cooks and caters to her children. She knows nothing else. Her life is Islam and her household. My father was thus used to a strong domestic female presence. He obviously is completely supportive of my sister and I pursuing an education… but he has high expectations for us. Because of his upbringing, my Dad expects me to get good grades in school, be a good soccer player and be the exact replica of a typical Lebanese housewife from the village of Traublos.
No matter how ridiculous this may sound to the rest of the world. AND how frustrating and annoying it was at times. It is because of my father’s high expectations that I became the young woman I am today.
Thank you Baba. I love you more and more every day.
In Lebanon, I could only hope that my Grandma didn’t actually think me as incapable of a woman as the people in Lebanon permitted me to be. I was pretty cooped up and catered to. I hated every minute of it. But I did develop an extremely special bond with my Uncle Adnaan and my Auntie Maryam. I am so appreciativee of them. In fact, I made my favorite eggplant dish that my Auntie Maryam taught me to make today. It came out fabulously.
Here in Spain, I am finally able to put all the years of criticism, lessons and frustration to the ultimate test… Living on my own.
I am in love with independence. And I think that I’m pretty damn good at it.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, I prepare either a chicken or vegetable dish and buy fresh spinach so I may have lunch and dinner already prepared for myself for the following days. I love cooking. I cook every day for myself. I cook the dishes my mom taught me. I cook things I like. I buy what I want. I am eating the healthiest I’ve ever eaten in my life. Because I have full control. I love this control. I would never eat out if I had the choice… But going out is a social escapade that I need to force myself to indulge in every once in a while. It’s also nice to get things like frozen yogurt and chocolate… (Like I did yesterday).
It almost makes me angry that I love domestication. I wish I hated it. Like other business/ career women often do. But I don’t. I love school, and I get good grades. But I also love children, cooking and cleaning after myself. I love when things are spotless. And I never make a mess in the kitchen. I clean up as I go. Just like my Dad taught me.
But I am a good cook because of my wonderful Mother. I love you Mom. You’ve shaped me in more ways than you’ll ever know. Your compassion is what drives me to treat others graciously and lovingly. It is precisely why people tell me that they are so immediately comfortable around me. I got it from you Mom.
I am so blessed.
Have a fabulous day!
I am taking a class in Spain at Suffolk University on Spanish Culture. It has quickly become one of my favorite classes. I thus combined some class notes with some personal observations and decided to put this together. Spanish people are just so interesting.
Culture- Anything produced by humans, relating to Spain or just by Spaniards in general.
- Tie your experience in Spain together
My Professor’s Advice on Spain
- Love or hate: Spain tends to provoke strong emotions from people. It will literally drive you crazy with epic stupidity.
- My observations in Spain are tainted but I can attempt to reduce my subjectivity.
- I must realize that there are people living in Spain for 600-900 euros a month. Don´t let your social groups- hang outs keep you completely isolated from the reality of peoples´ situations in Spain.
- Ethno-centrism: There are things that we overlook.
- Try to keep an open mind.
- Experience as much, that is actually Spanish as you can.
- Go to dirty bars, engage with people and learn about Spain
- Go to a place of worship
- Spanish Libraries
- Public Squares
- Dusto mayo in the Malasaña area
- But don´t go to Irish bars. (Apparently they suck.)
- Read books on Spain
- Don Cioqote
- Fortunata and Gisenta
- Catalonia by George Orwell
- Gibson on Spain (1992): Fire in the Blood
- Realize that being passionate requires variation. You need highs and lows. There must be a base level so that something may strike your passion.
- Watch the Daniboy late late Show.
- Be more British
- The British know they´re superior to everyone else… They just don´t let people know that they know that. For example: If you get in trouble, play stupid and apologize. You will most always get a sympathetic release.
Quick Notations/ Observations
- Italy and Spain are relatively similar because of their prior relationship with the Roman Empire
- Language is similar
- People do not smile to one another here.
- People stare at you. They are not embarrassed about it. They will not look away if you make eye contact.
- Parenting Styles in Spain are more relaxed. They don´t blow up at their kids. They correct their wrong doings as they happen.
- There is a phenomena-> weekdays are busier than weekends. The weekend is for sleep and catching up on other things.
- Spanish people possess an infuriating set of pre-conditioned reflexes resulting from having been deprived for centuries from security, stability and dignity.
- This leads to an automatic distrust of authority.
- Spanish people often close off their home to the view of others.
- In Spain, most of the houses have bars on the windows.
7 Deadly Sins of Spaniards
Learn to be comfortable with generalizations, and embrace them. There are exceptions to everything. Just know that you can never be certain or always correct. Do not rely on them.
¨Survival of the Fittest¨: Fit – as in Fitted. A triangle will fit into a triangle, but a square won´t fit the shape. Thus, it depends on what the environment demands.
- Generous and Incurious People… The incuriosity- 500 years of not asking too many questions… This was in order to keep your job and stay out of trouble. There was a huge emphasis in Spain placed on not asking questions. This reminds me of the fallen Arab dictatorships…
- They lack Self-consciousness
- Insensitivity to being caught/ called out.
- Relaxed…Peace-mil means of aggression. They release aggression bit-by-bit
- Anglo-Saxon… N. Europeans tend to live peacefully, unt8il there is extreme brutality within the Anglo-Saxons. Spain- constantly being aggressive to everyone around them
- Lack of Snobbishness… There are no lower class accents in Spain. Accents aren´t associated that way in Spain as they are in Britain. Spanish people are very proudly independent. Friendly: Friendships are superficial
- Feverishly nocturnal… Nobody sleeps here. They take lots of naps- the siesta.
I went on an amazing hike today about an hour north of Madrid. On the bus ride over, I couldn’t help but think about my family.
I have a large, emotional and loving family. We yell as much as we laugh, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because at the end of the day… We are always there for each other.
We also communicate.
This may sometimes be loud and abrasive communication, but it is nonetheless face-to-face contact. I have been to friend’s homes that were uncomfortably quiet because the family members stick to themselves. They don’t even have family dinners. I never realized how spoiled I was until I came to college and got a glimpse of life on the other side. I used to be upset about my family. I hated that we were so direct. That we spent so much time together. That I never had a moment of peace—that I never got space.
Space—is a very American idea.
Yes, I grew up in the United States. But it is an indisputable fact that my household was run by two traditional immigrants. My father is full Lebanese, with Egyptian ancestry. My mother is Mexican with Spanish and Syrian ancestry. They were both born outside of the States. I am a first-generation American.
And I am so incredibly blessed.
My mother was a stay-at-home mom. The only difference between this and a full-time job is that there are no breaks, you do not get paid and the reward for your time, love and effort does not come for another 18 years… at the very least. Because no one understands what it’s like to be a mom until they hold their child in their arms for the very first time. I don’t understand, but I’m hoping that one day I will.
For now, I am merely capable of appreciation.
There is a hadith in Islam that states the following: “A man came to the Prophet and said, ‘O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship? The Prophet said: Your mother. The man said, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man further asked, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man asked again, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your father. (Bukhari, Muslim).”
Mothers are amazing. And my mom is the best.
My mom made dinner for us every single day, without fail.
I remember sitting on the floor of our kitchen with her rolling dough from scratch in order to make my Dad’s favorite Lebanese spinach and cheese pies. I remember sitting on the counter for her and stirring the milk for the yogurt… that she made from scratch. It always had to be stirred in the same direction, or the texture wouldn’t come out right. I remember the smell of the Velveeta cheese for a household favorite—Macaroni and cheese. I remember my favorite tomato soup. I remember how she would get me to drink milk by mixing in some teaspoons of Nesquick. I remember homemade cookies and the most amazing colorful cakes. Yea, we were fed well.
My mom was there for every single milestone we’ve ever encountered in our lives.
I remember my mom walking me to my first day of pre-school. I remember the day my mom opened up our hideous Chevy van to show me the purple dress she purchased from JC Penny for my kindergarten graduation. I remember my mom rubbing pink calamine lotion all over my body when I got the chicken pox at five years old. I remember when my mom comforted me after I fell of the monkey bars in second grade. I remember my mom making her famous ranch and sour cream dip for my holiday party in third grade. I remember going uniform shopping with my mom before my first year in public school. I remember my mom spoiling me at Hollister in middle school the day she bought me five shirts… That I never really needed. I remember my mom locating missing soccer uniform articles constantly in high school. I remember my mom dropping me off at my dorm in college. I remember endless volleyball matches, constant hiking trips and her ridiculous tolerance.
My mom was always there. My mom is always there.
My mom has one of the best hearts in this world.
She always goes out of her way to help people. She makes my friends feel comfortable and at home. No one ever comes to our house and feels unwelcome. No matter how terrible my mom is feeling, how mad she may be that day… She never took out her ill feelings on those who were innocent.
My mother is amazing. I love you Mommy.
There is another verse in the Quran that states the following: “And your Lord has ordained that you do not worship anyone except Him, and treat your parents with kindness; if either of them or both reach old age in your presence, do not say “Uff”* to them and do not rebuff them, and speak to them with the utmost respect.And lower your wing humbly for them, with mercy, and pray, “My Lord! Have mercy on them both, the way they nursed me when I was young.” (17:23-24)
[I have said “uff” many-a-times in my life. But I am working to improve.] Parents are the only people in this world who want us to be better than them. Not the same. BETTER. That is what a parent’s love is like. And we cannot forget the importance of a Father.
My Father is my role model. He is the person I admire the most and strive every day to not only mimic—but refine in my own inherited personality traits.
My Father migrated here, alone, when he was 20 years old. He got a job and put himself through college at Cal State University Long Beach. He did it all by himself. No one helped him. He paid for his rent, books and food. Not only that, he graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering—at a University that wasn’t in his native language—and then bought a Chevron station, which he owns and runs. With the salary and livelihood he accumulated for himself, he never forgot his roots. He always used his income to support his family back home. My Dad works to support his parents, his single sister and his mentally disabled brother. He has also helped every single one of his siblings in some way with their lives.
My Dad taught me what generosity is.
My Dad can come off harsh, but his heart is always in the right place. And that is the most important thing. Through him, I learned the value of siblings and the indescribable connection God forges between us at birth through our DNA. I am blessed to have three wonderful people that will unconditionally love me and support me for my entire life. No matter what, I will always have three friends. And I should always reach out to help them in any way I can. Whether it’s financially, emotionally or just physically—by being there with them when they are sad. Just like my very own Baba (Dad) does for his siblings. His heart is one of a kind.
My Dad sacrificed his happiness for our family.
My parents have gone through a lot to say the least. No matter what happened between my parents… Even when divorce was a serious possibility, my Dad has always honored the principles of Islam on both marriage and divorce (I hate that word). He’s always assured my Mother that he would support her and my siblings and me for as long as she may live. Thank God things are better between them… But still… Even when there was nothing but bitterness, his heart was in the right place.
My Dad does everything with God on his mind.
My Dad prays five times a day, every-day—without fail. No matter how hard life is getting, he always references a surah in the Quran that guides him and gives him strength. I love him so much for it.
My Baba is the smartest man I know.
He honestly knows something about everything. He reads extensively. The best part is, my dad doesn’t have the personality where he is bragging or trying to prove to you that he knows what he is saying. My Father is confident. His self-assurance radiates. He doesn’t need to speak for hours to prove his point. He is concise, articulate and realistic. It literally blows my mind that English is his second language… He is just so knowledgeable and expressive.
I will strive every day, for the rest of my life, to be like him.
However, I am most thankful for the way in which my parents instilled religion in my siblings and me.
My Dad was born Muslim, but his father was very liberal. His mother was the religious one. Even though he had a colorful youth… When he came to the United States, he found his Islam. He took courses with Dr. Maher Hathout and was taught what moderate Islam is like. And how intention and faith are stronger than appearances and reputation. I am so blessed to have grown up with him as my spiritual guide. He never forced it upon us. He merely taught and encouraged. I have friends whose parents were forceful… So they rebelled.
I am so proud to say that my siblings and me are committed to our faith.
Yes, we may not pray five times a day every day. But we LOVE God. We believe in the last prophet, his messengers and the Holy Scriptures… And we work every day to be good people.
I cannot dismiss my Mother’s influence on us though.
My mother grew up in a Christian household. Her brothers were less-than-religious to say the least. But my mom was a committed Christian who taught at a Sunday school. She was pious, loving and sincere. It was as if my mom was Muslim… Even before she was Muslim. When she met my Father, she was hesitant to learn a new faith. But after seeing and experiencing how committed my father was to his faith… She decided to learn for herself. And she converted. She did it though, because she wanted to. And because she felt it in her heart. It was meant to be. Her morals did not change. She merely altered her belief on the oneness of God.
My mom has instilled abstinence, piety and modesty in me since I was a little girl. (I literally remember her telling me about abstinence when I was three—no joke.) Although her methods have been more forceful, and on occasion, abrasive. Whatever she did, it worked. I value sexual integrity immensely. I respect my body, my religion and myself. I also work to be sincere and kind to people. My mother is so kind, and so loving.
Sometimes I wish that I didn’t know better. I have those days when I wish I was oblivious of Islam (only rarely—I am human!!) Because, quite frankly, it’s easier to be immoral. It’s easy to be insincere and hateful and antagonistic. But what kind of life is that? Without God, without principles and without motivation to be a good person for a higher purpose… Life has no meaning.
I was endowed with Islam by my parents. But I am sticking with it because I unconditionally love God. Even when I think of how crazy it is that a higher being can exist. A higher being that we are literally incapable of understanding because of our human limitations… It is difficult. But life is a struggle. I need to have faith.
And every day I struggle to do the right thing.
I strive to exemplify the type of young woman my parents brought me up to be.
My parents are the best. I thank God for them every day. Especially in Spain… I can’t help but look around and thank God and my parents for this wonderful opportunity.
I am so blessed.
Have the most wonderful day.
So I am moved in. I love the apartment. There are four bedrooms, a living room/ dining area, a kitchen, 2 bathrooms, an entre and one very long hallway! I am very excited. I have never had so much space.
I am living with four other girls. I know this sounds like a lot, but three of them have their own bedroom and I am in a very large double with a very sweet girl named Judy. The other three girls are named Corienda (Cori for short), Liah and Chandler. I was super skeptical the first day because all of these girls have initial stand-off-ish personalities… But I love them. Liah is the sweetest and is super helpful with everything. I actually am not feeling well right now, so she just brought me some Advil. She’s so sweet. Cori taught me where to go grocery shopping and Judy and I were already friendly before I moved in. I feel like I have yet to crack Chandler, but I know it’ll happen soon.
I just have to buy groceries now so I can cook and I will post pictures soon!
I’m feeling really happy and good about everything!
I am moving today to an apartment on Espiritu Santo off of the Noviciades metro stop today. I am really excited because the area there is much more exciting than my area and it is much closer to everything I enjoy! The famous and huge Parque Retiro is only 12 minutes away on the same metro line, whereas from Calle de Panama, I had to change lines twice and it took me 35 minutes. It is also way closer to school! It will take me half the time to get to school than it did before. I will also be living closer to the rest of the students. Overall, I am extremely happy.
I am sad to leave my host mother, Teresa, though. I really like her a lot. We bonded and she even showed me her childhood pictures. (The other student Rachel hadn’t even seen them and she’d been here for 5 months—I’ve been here for 5 days… My life.) It was just such a struggle to get her to make me food without dairy. She could adjust to the pork thing more easily. There is another student here whom she also cooks for, so she would have to prepare more than one meal. We both cried when we talked about me moving. She told me that she agrees that it is best for me to go to an apartment because I am uncomfortable with people waiting on me and I don’t need someone doing my laundry and cooking my meals for me.
True story bro. It’s my parent’s fault I am so independent! Which tends to drive people I am closest to nuts, because I am a terrible communicator. I am working on it guys.
Although, I am ecstatic to leave her sister—Christina. Christina fell backwards down stairs for 4 meters and is thus injured and being taken care of by Teresa. Cough cough… Karma. ( Half kidding—because that is terrible.) Christina is a colorful person to say the least. Even though Teresa already knew about my dietary restrictions, she lectured me on how this is a good host family to live in. And how in Ireland when she lived with a host family, they served her cold meals. I also shouldn’t expect a restaurant. I was thoroughly insulted. I love Teresa with all my heart. She is so sweet and loving and very maternal even though she doesn’t have any kids. I never demanded anything. I merely told her that I couldn’t drink milk because I get very sick. I even tried to drink milk and got very sick! I also do not eat pork for religious reasons. When she continued her attitude, I told her that I wasn’t sure if it was because her English wasn’t as thorough as mine, but she had sincerely hurt my feelings and I needed to leave the situation for a while. So I went to my room and contemplated, and decided to move. Because living with Teresa means living with Christina. And I am unwilling to deal with that.
Christina however is unaware of the implications of her comments though. I saw her this morning and we had a nice chat over coffee and she asked me to please visit after I move. I will visit, but I am definitely not coming to see her.
Teresa, Christina and her ex-husband Jose Luis are all also heavy smokers. They smoke inside the house. I am sensitive to cigarette smoke. They also have an indoor dog. I love puppies, but I prefer to stare at them lovingly as opposed to snuggle in my bed with them. It is just my own personal preference. I am more of a fan of outdoor pets. So going to this new apartment means no more smoke and no more pets!!!! I also won’t have to wait until 9:30 PM to have dinner every day. I will be given cheques and credit cards to purchase/ cook my own food. Needless to say, I am so excited.
I fully plan on visiting Teresa once a week for lunch with my (now former) roommate Rachel, whom I also love. We are planning on getting lunch, and maybe even our nails done together! Last night she helped me fix my nails and we talked and had a great time. I am so comfortable with Teresa. She is so wonderful. But there are times when you just know what is right for you in your gut. And moving will be better for my experience in Spain. I always look at both sides though, which is why making decisions is usually so hard for me.
I know I am making the right one.
Here’s to a new beginning (only a week after my last), a sense of comfort and a learning experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Trust is a difficult concept.
I never realized how fragile my own trust was until I came to Spain and experienced upfront deception. It was thoroughly transparent, inexcusable and it taught me a very important lesson about myself.
I am a strong believer in equality.
While some people may criticize my ideality, I don’t think that it is outrageous for me to expect the same treatment from others as I present to them. Equal treatment. I try my best to treat everyone with kindness, respect and love. I make it a point to make people feel comfortable around me and I have a knack for making shy people open up. Some of my closest friends were once the most difficult people to carry a conversation with. I also take pride in my sincerity.
I am a good friend.
Trust can be defined as having a sense of reliance, hope for the future and compassion towards another person, object, organization (etc). Trust is the most difficult feeling to develop between people, but the easiest to destroy. For some reason, I have always been the person people go to when they need someone to listen to their personal problems. I always thought this was a bit ironic growing up, since I had such a big mouth. As I’ve matured, I understand the importance of secrecy. I ensure that people’s confidence in me is not wrongly given. I value when people trust me and I do everything in my power to ensure that their faith in me remains steadfast. This is done with nothing other than sincerity. I think sincerity is easy. It’s easy to be honest. Lying is messy and only leads to repetitive negativity and chaos. I love being honest. Sometimes I am too honest. Although I would rather be known for extreme honesty as opposed to insincerity.
Sincere people are rare, difficult to find and overtly underrated.
I had a recent encounter with a [previously] close friend of mine who betrayed my trust. I was immensely disappointed. I hadn’t dealt with a situation like this since middle school—where the girls are awkward and the drama is amplified because everyone is merely trying to be accepted. So they mask their insecurity with a false confidence that translates to unnecessary malice. Middle school girls suck. Anyhow, after my encounter with utter betrayal, I had several realizations.
I used to be a pushover, but I’m over it.
I am too forgiving, and I always try and make excuses for people. But I am done. I don’t care if you had a bad day… Or if it is merely your personality to be rude to everyone around you… Or if your parents were terrible to you… Or you had a bad familial situation… OR ANYTHING ELSE. There is no excuse why people cannot treat other people with kindness. We are all humans. We all have feelings. We all are capable of cordiality. I’ve gone through so many hardships in my own life, but I don’t use this as a lame excuse to treat everyone around me badly. In fact, it is the main reason I try to be overly kind to everyone around me. I know what it feels like to be sad, lonely and miserable. I don’t want anyone feeling that way.
There is a difference between immaturity and character traits.
One’s true character is revealed when they believe they are alone, when they are frustrated or when they are confronted with challenges. While some people may just be rough around the edges, there are others who are simply just mean. Or rude. It may be difficult to tell the difference. But this time around, I know in my gut that I am right to keep my distance.
I am not perfect, but at least I always have good intentions.
I can forgive nearly all faults or bad traits that other people may possess, as long as the person is good hearted and means well. People may be annoying, too talkative, have bad breath… Honestly anything. But if the person is mean or simply does not wish happiness upon another, I am unable to accept that. I believe that if someone has good intentions, everything else doesn’t matter. With good intentions, there is potential for improvement and maturity. I am fully aware that I can be annoying, difficult and ridiculous—but I always try and treat others the way I would like to be treated.
I treat others with kindness and respect, because I appreciate when others reciprocate the gesture.
And this is how I build trust.
I try to be rational and realistic. This is a constant struggle. I am emotional. My feelings guide me. But I’ve gotten so much better at realizing when I need to take feelings out of the equation. Compartmentalizing is also a daily work-in-progress. I am not perfect, but I am trying to be the best me I can be. I don’t think I’ve changed much through this process, I have merely improved myself. I think this is why people tend to be comfortable around me. At least I hope people are comfortable around me.
Be you. But be the best version of yourself you can manage.
And be nice. Just be nice. I don’t want to come across as preachy, but I think kindness is underrated. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a bad day—this is never an excuse to treat another person badly. Be conscious of what you are saying. Cause it takes a single moment of you saying the wrong thing to shatter someone’s trust and ruin a great relationship.
In reference to my previous close friend—I am incapable of seeing him the same way anymore. I am not angry with him though. I wish I was. Anger is easily alleviated. I am hurt. So thoroughly hurt. I am fine with cordiality. And I don’t engage in drama. But I will forever keep my guard up with him from now on. I don’t think it’s difficult to be sincere with people. Simply be honest. Because being honest with people is the basis of forming good relationships.
Make sincerity habitual. You will feel better about yourself, and you will naturally be rewarded with great friends.
To all of you reading this, I miss you guys. And I appreciate my trustful friends a million times more than I did before.
Like my favorite imaginary husband said: “I find it hard to forgive the follies and vices of others, or their offenses against me. My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” –Mr. Darcy
Trust is a difficult concept, but it’s easy in practice and application.
For Suffolk’s Welcome Orientation trip, we came to Sevilla in Southern Spain on a high speed train that only took 2.5 hours- when it would have otherwise taken 7 hours. We had to meet at the Atoche Train Station in the morning. My roommate (thats already been here for a semester) was a little nervous about it because there are frequent worker strikes. We left at about 8:20 to get to Atoche (about 10 stops collectively and one interchange away) by 9:45. We got there with impecable timing. There was no crowding and I am just a metro pro.
[Side note, I am using the word impecable all the time here now for some reason.]
After getting to Atoche, we boarded the train at 11 and the ride to Sevilla was beautiful. All the public transportation in Spain is impressively clean and practical. It was also really cool to see the Spanish countryside on the way to Sevilla. There were some beautiful castles and gorgeous greenery, as well as lots of pretty little houses and crops. There were particularly a lot of orange fields. I just put my iPod in and enjoyed the ride. It was so nice to reflect, daydream and relax. Especially since I hadn’t slept well the night before. I only got four hours of sleep and gave up around 5 AM.
The most challenging part about studying abroad so far is finding people I connect with. I am never sure if people are being sincere with me and I’m scared of deception and vulnerability. I also can’t fully fathom that I will be here for four months. That’s a long time. And this is only the beginning. I have made many friends. It’s also surprisingly easy to converse with people. I sometimes say that I’m terrible at making friends, but I’m actually pretty good at it. It’s so easy to make someone feel comfortable by asking them questions, and it’s almost impossible to not find commonalities. People also appreciate when another person is sincerely interesting in learning about them because it’s make them feel adequate and worthy. Suffolk is an extremely small university (about 140 students), therefore there is a lot of drama. Although I have a dramatic and expressive personality, I do not engage in drama. It is easier to act cordially to someone you dislike as opposed to putting effort into acting negatively. So I’m confident that I won’t have a problem with that. Overall, it’s not that I haven’t been making friends. I have. It’s just that I don’t know if I can trust them yet. My roommate for this Sevilla trip is a sweet heart. I love roommates. I honestly think they are so easy.
Anyways, I did have a brief home-sick/ real-sick thing going on. But I don’t have time to fully explain that now because I am about to go out with my friends to explore Sevilla. We’ve gone on so many long and lengthy tours, it will be nice to just walk around on our own.
Side note, I am so happy my friend Josh is here with me. I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before… But he’s honestly just like my brothers and it’s great to have someone who cares about me here looking out for my wellbeing.
Today I learned how to find my way around. I can now successfully get to and from the metro from home, navigate the metro no matter where I am, get to and from school on the metro and sort of find my way around Madrid! I also found a new restaurant that is decently cheap and has good sandwiches. AND I made new friends.
I also think I found my ACTUAL mind twin. She’s my new closest friend here and loves Lord of The Rings, hiking, old ancient castles, going on adventures, chatting about random stuff. She is so non-judgmental and just plain great. This is a terrible description. But it’s almost 10 PM and I have been out of this house and on my feet since 8 this morning. I also have a lot of confidence in my people-reading abilities. And I have such a great feeling about our new-found friendship!
We also went on a 4 hour tour of Madrid! It was insane and beautiful and there are so many places I want to head back to. But I am too lazy to post pictures right now. I may or may not gain energy later.
Anyways, tomorrow we head to Sevilla for 4 days where we are going to be spoiled with a fancy hotel and awesome dinners. So I am really excited and am about to pack.
[My roommate is talking on the phone and is seriously pissing me off more than you can imagine. She is a sweetheart… yadi yadi yadaaaaa. BUT SHUT UP.]
Really quick post before bed… I met my roommate today. Her name is Rachel and she is 18 years old. She is a freshman and is from Connecticut and goes to Suffolk University in Boston. She is pretty crazy. She goes out a lot and is way more experienced than I am in every realm of the word. Nonetheless, she is as naive as they get. She is good hearted though. Low key though, she will probably start to annoy me soon… She is pretty obnoxious. But I really can’t plant this seed in my head because it will quickly manifest into a tree of perpetual irritation. Fight it Aisha, fight it! I also have to remember that she is a freshman and our maturity levels and morals are just at different extremes. Whereas she can casually hook up with someone, I value things like sexual integrity. Quick judgements? Probably. I am always quick to judge and analyze people. But I am always willing to change my opinions. So, they balance out. At least I think so. And that’s all that matters.
It is 1:35 AM and I don’t expect her home until 7 AM!! I am heading to bed though because I am SO tired. I went out with Rachel today and her friends that she introduced me to. It was fun but I was just going for the experience rather than to actually have a good time.
[Also, my host mom wants to kill me because of my eating habits. I’m sorry I don’t drink milk that often. Sorry that when I drank it, I was uncomfortable for the entire day… Not sorry. She actually doesn’t wanna kill me. I’m just paranoid.]
Anyways! Buenos Noches
I totally forgot to explain my host family.
So, here’s the deal.
I am living in an Apartment near the Real Madrid Stadium on Calle de Panama with a single lady in her 50s named Teresa. I was given this info prior to arriving: “Teresa is a lovely Señora in her 50s, who lives with her dog in large apartment. This will be Rachel´s second semester with Teresa so I am sure she can help you find you way around and if you have any question about Teresa and her house, I am sure Rachel will be able to help you.You will share a double room and have internet access. I hope that you are as happy in this home as other students have been in the past…”
This is all true. BUT HERE’S THE SKETCH PART: So Teresa was married to Jose Luis (her ex husband) for 18 years. About 10 years ago they got a divorce. They did not have any children together. I know this because Teresa told me, and made it a point to ensure I understood that he was her “ex-husband”- Entiendes??? I told her I understood. Obviously. She only repeated it about five times… In both Spanish and English. Anywho. So as I came out of the bathroom yesterday morning, I heard a man’s voice. This startled me.
[See, Teresa’s sister, Christina, has a room in Teresa’s house and often sleeps over. Also, Rachel lives here as well. But she is also a female. I didn’t expect to hear a man’s voice so early in the morning.]
Apparently it has become evident that Jose Luis and Teresa are good friends and he comes over often. In fact, yesterday night as I went to Teresa’s room to ask her a question. I didn’t find Teresa. I found Jose Luis casually laying down in the bedroom. Teresa was apparently in the master bedroom. The only reason why this irks me is because Teresa and Jose Luis don’t have any kids together… So I don’t understand why they divorced if they obviously still enjoy each other’s company…
Anyways. After being startled. The man’s voice came closer to me and spoke to me in very fast fluent spanish about “Tu eres Aisha! Mucho gusto. Me llamo Jose Luis…” And then there was beard in my face and I was getting kissed on both cheeks.
That’s the end! I am SO tired. Have I mentioned that?
Hey, how are you?
I decided to ask you how you are since I am going to ramble on about myself for the next hundred words or so.
(Cue your response… Then I pause…)
And, here I go.
I AM SO TIRED. Today I got up at 8:30 to take the metro to Suffolk. Like I said yesterday, I am a metro pro. BUT I am terrible at getting around here because there are NO street signs. Anyways. Taking the metro is a serious work out. I probably took about a million flights of stairs, and I am just so tired. Too tired to run. I know that’s bad. But I haven’t been eating much because I am not the biggest fan of Spanish food- and I am just completely out of energy.
Anyways, so after I got off at the metro stop Guzman El Bueno, I got lost. AGAIN. I went left instead of right. Went in a few circles. Then I phoned a friend, who passed the phone off to some guy. Who told me to stop where I was. He came and rescued me and I finally made it to orientation. My savior’s name (completely secular in this context) is Neil. I am actually going to hang out with him tonight and a few new friends I made.
OH YEAH! I made friends!
After orientation, I went with Josh, Rose and Shampagne to their apartment near the Cuatro Caminos stop. It is so cute and spacious, but I am still very happy with my choice of living with my host family. Side note, my roommate showed up today but she is out right now so I haven’t met her yet. All I know is that she doesn’t have that much stuff (I may have peeked). Also, I talked to my host family about smoking! (Look at me go!) She was so sweet! I love her!
More later! xoxo
It is 12:31 AM in Madrid. I know it is super late, but I really wanted to write before I officially went to sleep.
I got lost twice today.
I decided to go on a casual jog earlier today. It was 34 degrees outside!!! I accidentally switched off my mapmyrun app that allows me to track where I am running. I figured that by using this I could easily follow the tracking lines back to my apartment. I decided to explore… And I found this beautiful park named Canal Isabel- which is pretty similar to an Arboretum. However, when I left the park, I exited on the wrong corner and went in circles for about 30 minutes. As I was wondering the streets of Madrid, a lady came up to me asking me for directions to some store in very quick and fluent Spanish. I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculously good I am at pretending to know what is going on. I had to politely tell the lady, “Lo Siento Senora, perro no hablo epanol mucho. Hoy es mi primer dia en Madrid.” (I honestly don’t even know if that is grammatically correct.) The lady was surprised and said sorry before leaving me… still lost. I eventually found my way home, but I was so cold and confused. I honestly have no idea how I made it back. The street signs are so confusing here. They are not very visible. And there also aren’t a lot of them. To top it off, there are about a million and one of the same small places- like Farmacias and Cortes de Ingles… But I somehow recognized land marks and got back home. To the warmth. Just in time to shower and head to orientation.
I also took the metro for the first time today. I am a pro at underground transportation. I was a dwarf in another life.
After orientation, I went with my friend Josh and his cousin Chelsea, who has been here already for 4 months, to a nice little restaurant off the metro stop Iglesia, although I don’t remember the name of the restaurant. I didn’t have dinner because they served tortillas at orientation– which are essentially spanish omelettes. I also can’t eat a lot of food here because it is made with pork. Can you say buzzkillingtonnnnn?
On my way home from the restaurant, I had to separate from my group. This is the second time I got lost. I took the metro perfectly fine, but when I exited the metro. I had no idea which direction to go. I roamed the streets at 11:30 for about 15 minutes before seeing my very own promised land through the tall building “Euro building”… I realized I made a right instead of a left, or a left instead of a right?… I am still confused. I know that you go the opposite direction of the place Santender. Lucky for me, I look like an Espanola and everyone leaves me alone.
I am so exhausted. I am also getting a bit sick. But I LOVE LOVE LOVE Madrid. I am also so happy I chose to live with a host family although the family dynamics here are interesting (to be explained later). My friend’s residence just made me feel lonely and miserable. It was so empty and there are only a few community bathrooms (kill me!) I am also going to tell my host mom that I would prefer if she didn’t smoke around me. I found out today that they are not supposed to do that anyways. So I don’t feel bad about it anymore. I hate smoking. A mi no me gusta la fumar. No me gusta nada.
Look at me go! My Spanish is literally improving by the second.
P.S. It is now 12:43 AM.
I don’t know how to describe Spain yet, because I’ve probably spent about an hour total outside. If I had to use three words, they would be freezing, beautiful and strange. I literally sit on my bed and just stare outside of my window. The girls are just insanely unique looking. They all have dark hair, or fake light hair (like me) and beautiful eyes. They don’t wear a lot of makeup. They are just so unique. I find myself staring. The men are beautiful too. It’s all a gigantic joke. I can’t believe that anyone has ever compared me to these gorgeous people. I am literally flattered. But in some ways I can sort-of see it. People just assume I am Spanish here. Aesthetically, Spain looks like the East Coast to me. The particular place I am at is very urban. I guess in many ways, I am finally getting what I want. But like a classic female, I don’t really know how to handle getting what I want.
I’m feeling… shocked. But not in a bad way. I am not feeling the same culture shock I felt when I went to Lebanon last summer. I am not surrounded by tons of family, whom I think I am supposed to share similarities with. I am in a place where I know I have been raised and ingrained with differences. I am challenged with the task of adjusting. I am thoroughly confident that I will not only adjust, but fall in love with the place. That scares me. But I can’t get ahead of myself. I am forcing myself to live day by day. Just like I began doing back home.
Spain is so different from Southern California, and especially Orange County… that it is ridiculous. I am living in an apartment that is literally less than a block from the Real Madrid stadium. Which is HUGE I may add. It literally looks like a big grey, gigantic theatre from the outside.
SO far, I am happy. I went to a store named Zara yesterday with my host mommy, who won’t let me call her Senora or Dona. All the clothing is similar to the clothing I bought with my real mommy before coming here (Thank you Lupita). The girls are just way too chic though. They all casually wear heeled-boots. I don’t even own a pair of heels…. Oh well! I am about to have desayuna- which I hope is the right grammatical form of breakfast! I am then heading to the university I am attending here, Suffolk, with my host-mommy so I learn the ropes. After that I am then going to try and figure out the streets for a nice little run that I am going to try and make habitual like it was for me back home! I then have orientation at 5:30 PM, where I will head to Suffolk on the metro, by myself. Here’s to adventuring!!
There is also a long hallway, my bathroom, 2 bedrooms and a master bedroom and bathroom, a laundry room and a storage place that I did not include… Although I may include later if I get the energy!
Hope you have a fabulous day!
Existing is easy.
I can exist without passion or purpose in this world, and fulfill the definition of living—merely being alive. And yet, every day on this world is a struggle. A struggle to find the motivation to lead a life I can be proud of.
Living is another story.
This is an ongoing challenge. An everlasting investigation. The only confirmation of personal progress is found in self-assurance. I struggle to achieve personal peace every day. I struggle to be truthful with myself. I struggle to fight my persistent disillusionment. The voice in my head that tells me everything I do is pointless. I struggle to find my calling.
My struggles are continuous. My confidence is fragile. And society is harsh to say the least.
Society plays a major role in affecting self-confidence. Society shapes you. How people perceive you can affect your role and ability to affect change. Society is also necessary. I have to participate in this society to maintain a livelihood and feel validated. Human relationships help ease the stress of society. It provides me with a place of comfort and a sense of belonging within the larger spectrum of this complicated world. This world that works to define me, when all I want to do is manage a comfortable existence in my own skin.
I choose to define myself. Others will define me through my actions, appearance and overall self-perception. Yet I possess the power to steer these perceptions in the right direction. I am a strong believer in the idea that actions define character. Every day I resist the temptation to indulge in activities I know will only prove detrimental to my future emotional and physical health. I do this by thinking of my conclusive feelings. Feelings guide me. They inspire, torment, burden, uplift, complicate and validate my existence.
I used to hate my feelings. I was told to resist them. To calm down. To use rationality. To eliminate them. That my feelings were too much. And there was a time when I would have given anything in the world to not have to deal with my emotions. I just wanted to be apathetic. I wanted to feel what feeling nothing felt like. Yet, I fell asleep every day for months listening to this song.
I rejected myself.
In this everlasting battle between Me and Myself… I am the only one who ever suffers a loss.
It is exhausting, and I am slowly working to get over it. There are too many people in this world trying to tear me down. I refuse to rip myself out from the inside out. I refuse to let other people in this world indulge in that kind of self-hatred. It’s kind of ironic that I’m writing this now. I’ve been on both sides of the confidence spectrum before. I’ve experienced oblivious confidence and innate insecurity. I work every day to stay somewhere in the middle. Maybe one day I’ll be able to indulge in the childhood innocence that once kept me so unabashedly blunt, self-assured and happy.
I was a pretty obnoxious kid. Scratch that, I was ridiculous beyond belief. I distinctly remember feeling mature, strong and beautiful at my kindergarten graduation. My purple dress was killing it. I didn’t walk across the tiny gazebo to get my diploma; I strutted like it was the runway of my existence. I loved being the center of attention that day. In a family of four children, it was always a challenge to get my parents’ full focus. At that point, I had a six-year-old brother, a two-year-old sister and a newborn baby brother. I became immensely independent.
I went from an obnoxious kid to a self-conscious teen. When I moved out on my own and embraced young adulthood, I developed an eating disorder. I am still dealing with it today, and am not able to talk about it. I haven’t fully confronted it. I barely even admit to my friends that I have an issue, even though they’ve known it for over a year. They’ve tried and failed to get me help. I know I have a problem. I just avoid it. However, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. But I am improving, day by day. And I can say now, after 2 years of struggling, that I now feel happy about my mental state. It may not necessarily be healthy—but it is getting there. And I am finally going to seek help. I think.
I perceive this personal issue as my personal breaking point. It was the climax to my hardships. Everything can only get better from here. My self-perception has already improved. Although I have my moments.
It took me years to get to this point. A point of quasi-self–confidence. And it has been one ridiculous journey.
There are certain things about myself that I love.
I love my ability to read people. I love that I can make people laugh by talking in circles. I love that I tend to make perfect sense. I love my willingness to admit I am wrong. I love that I love so easily. That I can make people feel comfortable and worthy, merely because I pay attention. I love that I see the good in people.
I love when people notice me, even though I’ve never admitted that to anyone. It is honestly embarrassing. It makes me feel special when someone addresses me by my name. When they look at me as they talk to me. It’s such a weird feeling. It’s like validation—I actually do exist in this world. I am a person who some people can remember. I always feel overlooked and under appreciated When someone makes it a point to get my attention, I can’t help but get a glimpse of internal pleasure. It makes me feel good, because even it was just for brief seconds or a few minutes… I mattered to someone. I often feel like I don’t mater.
I love that am honest. It is impossible for me to lie. This may seem preposterous, but I will awkwardly excuse myself from a situation instead of telling a falsehood. I am just not comfortable with it.
I love when I smile, and especially when I can feel that it is coming from within. The sincerity of it. I love the mole next to my eye, and the one next to my nose and the one above my lip. I think they give my ordinary face character. I love my hair. I love my waist. It reminds me of my own femininity.
But I assure you that there are many more things about my self that I hate.
I hate that I need people to notice me in order to feel better about myself. I hate my quick judgments. I hate my lack of assertiveness. I hate that I sell myself short, even when I know I am right. I hate that I can’t focus after someone makes me feel badly. I hate that I get hurt so easily. I hate that I let people take advantage of me. I hate that I am paranoid. I hate that I am so guarded.
I hate how I feel like I am a bad person. Even when I do something good for someone, I always question my motives. Even simple things—like editing someone’s paper, or buying my best friend a keychain for no reason or even helping someone study for a test after their blatant laziness, when they don’t deserve it whatsoever. I hate how sometimes when I do these things; I am consciously trying to prove to myself that I am not a bad person.
I hate that I love people so easily. I hate that I love making people feel good about themselves, but overtly reject the notion of trying to praise myself. I hate that I get upset when people over look me… Even though I overlook myself. I hate how people would respect me if I demanded it. I hate that I don’t feel worthy of demanding it. I hate that I question myself. Altruism doesn’t exist.
I hate that I am the root of most of my problems. That if I applied myself, I would never get anything less than an “A.” That if I wasn’t so mean to myself, people wouldn’t be so mean to me either.
I hate my tiny eyes, and how they get even smaller when I smile. I hate my nose, the scar above my eyebrow and my disproportionate lips. I think they make my face look unbalanced. I hate my muscular legs, arms and body. They all convey a sense of masculinity.
And then there are things about me that are just factual.
I know this because I’ve observed myself. And also because I asked my family and closest friends over the phone to brutally describe how they perceive me as a person (I learned in Research Methods that people are more inclined to be honest over phone interviews).
My father described me with a million different synonyms for the word: motivated (ambitious, determined, strong-willed, strong character etc). He said I was opinionated, bold and confident. That I know what I want and am passionate about how I express myself. He also hesitantly said that I am independent. Independence came early for me. At ten years old, my mother got a full time job. I was forced to make my own lunch and my six-year-old brother’s lunch… As well as walk and pick him up from school. My father entrusted me with this large responsibility. All he did in the morning was get himself ready. I am the oldest daughter, and in my Lebanese father’s eyes—this is not a big deal. My father never talked about me personally. He never said anything about my personality beyond my strength… The strength I inherited from him. I feel like he doesn’t know me. My father doesn’t realize that I am like him in more ways than one. I have his ambition, his strong character (that he once referred to as masculine) and his harshness. I am so hard on myself because my father has always been so harsh towards me. After every soccer game, even when I played phenomenally—there were always areas of improvement… “That one time in the first half you took an extra touch before passing it down line…” I am hard on other people the way I am hard on myself. I am so brutally honest. I sometimes feel like I am watching myself be too honest… I never realized that parents are sometimes unconditionally supportive. My father has always told me I could be better. My father migrated to the United States when he was 20—all the way from Lebanon. Yet he criticizes me for isolating myself from my family—46.7 miles away from home.
My mother began almost identically to my father. She told me I am determined, persistent and strong. She said that once I “excel at something, there is no stopping [me].” She said that when I reach a glimpse of my potential, I always want more. She said I am her most independent child. She then went on to say that I am “feisty like a cat,” but then utterly surprised me when she described me emotionally… “You are very sensitive and you always shy away from your feelings. It is extremely hard for you to accept compliments.” My mother doesn’t realize that I can’t accept compliments because she put me down for so long. Our relationship has been rocky to say the least, but I know my mother loves me more than she loves herself. She hates aspects of my personality, because they are the same characteristics that cause her to clash with my father. But my conversation with her made me realize that she actually does somewhat understand me. My mother pays attention. It also made me realize that she probably realizes how much I love her, and how hard it is for me to express that. I wrote her a long letter on Mother’s Day one year expressing my appreciation and telling her how much I love her. I ended it with the sentence: “I never want to talk about this ever. I just wanted you to know how I feel.” And she does. I can’t express how elated I felt hearing her describe me. She knows me.
My brothers describe me as intellectual, hardworking and “a beautiful young lady who needs to stop being mean to [myself].” They both said that they see me being a successful lawyer one day, and that they admire me. My older brother said that he appreciated me. He said that I am a good, Muslim girl. He said that I am a good athlete. That I have a bright future. He also said that we have a great relationship and that he can always come to me for advice, because he trusts my judgment and knows that I care. For so many years, my brothers would side with my mom in putting me down. They used to tell me that I needed to lose weight and change my attitude. They called me selfish. They blamed me for our parent’s issues. When I was experiencing backlash from both my parents, and all my siblings. It took a toll on me. After several years, my family noticed a change in me. I isolated myself. I was disillusioned. My grades dropped. I just didn’t care about anything. As time went on, I got closer to my older brother, who realized how hard he is on me. For some reason, when he is upset, it tends to be my fault. I am so close to him that he is willing to unleash on me at any given moment. I think my brother is slowly starting to realize how much our family has negatively affected me. He now does everything in his power to compliment me every time I am with him. He is honest with me. Since my brother played semi-professional soccer, it makes me feel amazing when he emphasizes to me that I am a good soccer player… More so, he knows I have had eating issues… And so he is full of positivity and love—a complete and total transformation from the past. I love my brothers. More than they can imagine. They both have the BEST hearts.
My sister is a nonchalant and care-free person. She doesn’t take anything seriously. When I called her, she was with her best friend (whom I’ve tutored and acted as an older sister to) and immediately asked her for her opinion. They both determined that I was a “strong woman who is very smart.” Honestly, my family thinks I am way smarter than I am. She said, like the others, that I was determined, and had good work ethic. I really don’t though. I mean, I tend to take way too long on basic assignments. She told me I was mature and beautiful and that I know what I want and am willing to work for it. Not true. I have no idea what I want. Lastly, she told me that I was loving and protective. It honestly made my day when my sister told me this. If anybody in the world were to hurt her, or my family, I would be devastated. I often have dreams of bad things happening to my sister. I wake up in the morning in utter and complete shock and devastation. My sister is beautiful and innocent and has such a great heart. Even though she is spoiled, stubborn and unwilling to compromise… She loves people with a sincerity that is rare. She is so confident, and I have always admired that. I love her like she is my young child. I perceive her that way, and sometimes treat her that way. Which is why she takes advantage of me. I often just give in to her to avoid a stupid fight.
I also admit to being extremely jealous of her. This jealousy translated into admiration… but when I was little, that was not the case. I was constantly called the “ugly” daughter. Lebanese men are obsessed with beauty. It hurt me, especially when my immature sister would throw it in my face. I would try and compete by spending time getting ready with my mother’s beauty products, while my sister was effortlessly adorable. I would thus indulge in various activities that I could excel at. Like reading and playing with my dolls. I stopped competing, because there was no competition. Now that I am older, it still gets to me at times. When I went to Lebanon last summer and saw my father’s friends, who I hadn’t seen in years… They all stared at me in shock. Like I was alien. “I can’t believe it’s you, you are so cute now! You are so pretty. Seriously so attractive. When you were little, oh gosh!” Then they would wait for my reaction… As if I would be thrilled. Like they validated my existence. Like being perceived as beautiful by people was the only thing in the world I cared about. It was sickening. But I have grown more comfortable in my own skin. I also realize that beauty isn’t everything. There is a beauty in me that delves deeper than appearances. The Disney princess I was one obsessed with, Jasmine, may be beautiful and thin, but that is not what generated my interest in her—even as a child. Princess Jasmine stood up for what she believed and didn’t succumb to societal pressures. She is also Arab, stubborn and intelligent. She is the only Disney princess who isn’t obsessed with obtaining a man. When Aladdin lies to her, he is forced to prove his remorse by risking his life for Jasmine and her father. But, let’s be real, men add a dramatic touch that is irresistible.
Speaking of men… My best friend, who I refer to as my fake-boyfriend (no he is not gay, we just have a complicated relationship) described me as loyal and loving. He told me, “Your family drives you crazy, but your love for them trumps everything else you feel. It is your defining characteristic. When you love someone, you go out of your way for them. You even sometimes put yourself at a disadvantage to make sure that you are there for them. Your loyalty and love trumps your own desires and wishes in certain situations. You are hard on yourself, but recently, you’ve been reflective. Self-reflective as well as analytical. You’ve turned this harshness into being more reflective and improving yourself… And growing in a good way. You are constantly changing and growing into a more mature and confident person. I think you are becoming more confident at least. But definitely when I think of you, I think of your love and passion.” Yea, he loves me. And he’s biased. He’s also a second-year law student at the University of Southern California. So he is a bit eloquent… Just a tad. He is one of my best friends in this world though. I’ve known him since I was two years old and we have kept in touch, even when he lived in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and D.C. when he went to Georgetown. I hate him, and I love him. I’m actually scared to love him. He pisses me off more than anyone in this world. That is all I have to say about that.
I asked other close friends to describe me as well. After I got off the phone with my fake-boyfriend, I needed less-biased opinions.
Best Friends: “You are a good friend and a good person. You are really hard on yourself in more ways than one. You are very caring, super sensitive and understanding.” I honestly have no words for this. I feel like my friends tell me I am a good person because they know I think that I am not one… “Crazy.” … “Good listener… You give great advice on situations. You can be a little crazy. You are probably one of the smartes people I know. You really know how to put a smile on people’s face.” Literally everyone thinks I am way smarter than I am. They confuse eloquence with intelligence and hard work with natural ability.
Soccer Teammates: “You are a good listener with good vocabulary. Hardworking. Passionate. You are particular and neurotic. You are a great teammate and super supportive. ” I really am neurotic though. I edit papers even after I turn them in. Even though it means nothing anymore. I can endlessly work on a task if you allow me. I am always seeking perfection.
After all of those conversations. I realized that the people I spend most of my time with generally perceive me the same way. It made me feel good about myself. My friends know me. I also realized I have great friends. I am so blessed. I often forget that I even have friends. I am constantly reminded of this, and often think to myself: Wow… I have such great support. My friends are so great. There was a time in high school when I had a large group of friends, but never felt more lonely. I was 15. I began to stop making effort to see my “friends” as much, only to realize that I was the reason why we were friends all along. I thus isolated myself completely and made new friends. I started fresh. The new friends I made that year are still my best friends today. I love them with all my heart. They make me feel worthy and loved, and I only hope that I do the same for them.
Fact: I am passionate about everything.
I love people completely, and I hate people furiously. It goes both ways.
Fact: I am highly insecure.
I forget I have friends. I sometimes feel like I don’t deserve my friends because I can have negative thoughts about people.
Fact: I am a very guilty person.
I think about past mistakes, even years later. I can’t handle the feeling of knowing I caused someone pain. I also am quick to hate people, like fully, with every fiber of my being. Then I get to know them, and I see the good in them. It’s in my nature to love. So I start to sincerely love them. Then I feel so guilty for ever judging them. I need to realize that it is okay for me to make judgments… it is natural. I must applaud myself for being able to change my judgments. Not everyone is so open-minded.
Fact: I love when people love me.
Talking to people who love me about my characteristics made me feel worthy and wonderful. I love that when I asked my friends to be brutally honest with me about how they perceived me… They mostly had good things to say. The bad things are mostly things that I have to actively work to change. But I’ve accepted that.
Fact: I am so very blessed.
I am alive and I am free. My life isn’t perfect, but it’s good. I am so thankful for the people around me. The wonderful people who give me strength and keep me going. All of my past difficulties merely shape me into the person I am now. I am so strong. I feel strong. But mostly, I feel empowered and ready to take on new challenges, and embrace the future.
I am strong. I am weak.
And I have an eating disorder. I don’t say this out loud. I bury all my emotions within. I don’t ever actively seek out my friends for advice on how I feel. I am too hard on myself. I don’t think people will care to hear me. I am also so accustomed to relying on myself.
I am going to become the person I used to be—the person I am meant to be. The obliviously confident girl from my past. She was great. She told people how she felt all the time. She felt good about herself. I feel great right now. Writing is always so liberating.
I am emotional. I have feelings. But I have learned to balance this with rationality. I need to let myself feel, and express how I feel. Just like old times.
Dear Girl of my past: Don’t reject your feelings. To reject feeling would be to reject the one part of you that makes you most beautiful. The ability to read people and their intentions. To lift someone up when they’re sad. To give advice to your closest friends. To identify with people around the world. To understand and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. All of these things that make me who I am. Thank you for getting through everything your family put you through. Thank you for suffering. Hardship leads to happiness. Believe me, I am getting the feeling back. The feeling that makes me want to better this world. I want to connect to people who have felt as terrible as I have. Because feeling is what makes us human.
Feelings keep me alive as I live. They’re here to stay.
All I want to do in life is write and inspire those people who are struggling with the same stuff that dragged me down for TOO long. Trust me when I tell you that self-hatred gets you nowhere. It dragged me lower than I could ever have imagined myself. It amplified uneasy situations. Nothing good can come from it. It’s not worth it.
Life gets better. I promise.
To the world, I only have one thing to say: Be you and BE PROUD.
Today, I choose to be nothing but myself. And I feel pretty good about it.
If you ever feel down: Who’s the cutest?
Passage highlighted in one of the books found with Chris McCandless’s remains: “I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which I found no outlet in our quiet life.” –Leo Tolstoy, Family Happiness (Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer, 15)
Chris McCandless, the man whose story forms the premise of the novel Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, and otherwise known by his preferred name—Alexander Supertramp, kind of reminds me of myself… I know that’s kind of scary.
But I strongly sympathize with Alex.
Alex was a young man who just graduated from Emory University and desperately wanted to find meaning in his life. He was passionate beyond measure and overtly intelligent (his intelligence isn’t a characteristic I associate with myself). He entertained his time reading profound novels and living a simple lifestyle. Yes, he took his passion and frustrations to a major extreme by deciding to venture off into the wilderness in an attempt to reject society. Yet despite all of his outrageous actions, I wholeheartedly believe his frustrations with society were legitimate.
Because I am similarly disappointed on a daily basis.
Within the first twenty pages of the novel, it is revealed that Alex died. (Reading about his death overcame me with immense and immediate sadness.) He was found in an abandoned school bus where his remains caused an “overpowering odor of decay” (Krakauer, 12). After discovery, it became evident that Chris McCandless had been dead for two and a half weeks. “The body was taken to Anchorage, where an autopsy was performed at the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory… At the time of the autopsy, McCandless’s remains weighed sixty-seven pounds. Starvation was posited as the most probably cause of death” (Krakauer, 14). Ironically, Alex donated all the money in his college fund prior to his departure to OCFAM America—a charity dedicated to fighting hunger.
But society needs to know you are starving in order to help you.
Since it is revealed early on that Alex did not survive his ventures, it is evident that the meaning of the novel lies is in his story and the lesson in his experiences. Alex hated society, yet every time he nearly died, he sought out society for essential assistance. He worked for money and often was taken care of by kind citizens of the world he rejected. He was fed, clothed and housed on more than one occasion. His ultimate end happened because he finally isolated himself completely.
He did seek out society’s help right before his death however.
Although I understand the book thematically, I learned more from Alex as a person than I did from the emphasis placed on the importance of society. Alex was seriously disillusioned. “Westerberg reflects, ‘He read a lot. Used a lot of big words. I think maybe part of what got him into trouble was that he did too much thinking. Sometimes he tried too hard to make sense of the world, to figure out why people were bad to each other so often’” (Krakauer, 18). Alex could not accept human nature. That he was merely one person who must focus on his own positivity rather than the world’s shortcomings. He understood the messages seeping from the pages of his favorite novels incorrectly, and used his misinterpretation as motivational fuel for his ventures. Alex was overwhelmed by the inevitable problems in a society maintained by imperfect individuals. Alex channeled his passionate nature into a selfish venture that caused his family distress and sadness for those who cared for him along the way. Rather than use his passion as an opportunity to make a difference, he rejected civilization and died too young.
Alex was merely young and confused. He was ironically described as “extremely ethical” (Krakauer, 18). Yet he took existentialism to an extreme. “He had pretty high standards for himself” (Krakauer, 18). He needed to merely find himself. He instead lost his life and never got the chance to live up to his own expectations.
In the end it is Jon Krakauer who uses Chris McCandless’s tragic story to positively influence society.
Alex teaches me to always have faith. In myself. And in society. Disillusionment is dangerous if it is overly focused on. I need to ensure my passion is not unfortunately wasted. Political Science may be a frustrating major, and people may prove disappointing through their contemporary and historical actions, but there is always hope. I may not be able to change the world in its entirety, but I can work my entire life to positively affect those I have the pleasure to encounter.
It is my goal to work in the Peace Core sometime after graduation.
“It may, after all, be the bad habits of creative talents to invest themselves in pathological extremes that yield remarkable insights but no durable way of life for those who cannot translate their psychic wounds into significant art or thought.”-Theodore Roszak, In Search of the Miraculous (Krakauer, 70)
I think I’m prettiest when I’m sad. I think my eyes are most sincere when they shine with tears. Tears are honest. They are cleansing. Tears are apart of me. Every tear I’ve shed in my life has gradually formed a pond at my feet. A pond I thought evaporated. As time went on though, the tears would come back. Not new tears. These were old tears. Recycled tears . Familiar tears… That never fully went away. That didn’t get the pleasure of release. Sometimes they find their escape now. In moments when I least expect it.
In moments I believe I am most happy.
My tears are sincere. Especially when I’m alone. These are the moments I have no one to face but myself. It’s personal surrender. A concession to previously repressed feelings. I have no reason to question whether or not they are just pretend. Whether or not I am seeking attention. These are the times when I sit back and reflect. I listen to songs, mindlessly busy myself with easy tasks and doze off. These are the times when I am susceptible to waves of reminiscence.
Waves of memories that are still alive. Living through me. Inhospitably inhabiting my body. I am the victim. A mere host of the past person I wholeheartedly disregard. The girl I leave behind.
Every day I try to forget that girl. The girl who feels pain with every fiber of her being. The one who refuses to acknowledge it. The girl who wholeheartedly loves her mother. The one who can no longer express emotion comfortably to her. The girl whose family is broken. The one whose sadness is so prevalent, that each memory causes a slight reverberation so deep within her, that often, all it takes is a slight aversion of the eyes to miss it.
The moment of her ache.
The moment she unwillingly tears into the scars on her soul.
Then come the tears from my past. The memories are recurring. They exist to teach, dictate and torment my life. They engross me. I didn’t realize that these moments would all come back to me. The moments—now so real—would be relived.
I am six years old. The girl is sitting on the floor in the front of an unnecessarily large beige Chevy Van her dad brought home one day against her mother’s will. She is staring forward at the black shiny pavement. At the soundless twinkles of water slightly sprinkling the street against the headlights. The parents do not force the child to sit down properly and buckle up. They are caught up in their own dispute. She sits in between them. I will remain in between them for the rest of my life. The young girl doesn’t fully grasp the premise of the argument. Yet, she understands that the words carry a heavy load. They are cognizant of past disputes. My father held grudges against my mother because of past events that were completely out of her control. The little girl’s tears start slowly at first. They are silent. Always silent. Even then, I tried to hide my sensitivity. My parents are going to get a divorce she thinks to herself. Her mother, noticing her tears, asks what is wrong. With a quivering voice, the girl articulates her fears. The Mother assures the girl that everything is fine. My mom used to be my source of comfort.
She felt the tension. I feel the hurt. She was a child with grown intuition and mature concerns. I am an adult with a childish desire for familial stability and unconditional support.
I am seven years old. The girl sits in her room, playing with her dolls. Her thoughts are consumed with the shouts she hears from the other side of the house. I eventually learn to tune sound out. I develop an uncanny ability to read in any noise-infused situation. She tries to preoccupy her mind, fixating on the house she has just built for her large Barbie collection. Then, comes silence. She knows something is wrong. She walks across the large house to find her mother bent over the washing machine. Her mom is crying. Her mommie—the one she loves with all her heart and soul. My mother was doing my father’s laundry as she cried over him. She loves him so much. In times of stress, my mother always resorted to what she knew—cleaning messes she made. The mother couldn’t fix her character over night, but she could fix every thing else in the house. My father has never been realistic. He expected perfection from a woman who raised herself and her little brother on her own. These are things I didn’t discover until much later on. The little girl would soon unravel the mystery of her mom’s past. She would learn the reasons for her mom’s personality traits, obsessive protective nature and intense discretion. The girl was obsessed with learning about her mom.
She knew there were secrets. I know why my mother tried so hard to keep them. The Father demanded perfection. More information was fuel for his harsh criticism.
I am five years old. The girl tells her mother, “Mommy, if you die, I’m dying with you. I never want to live in this world without you.” The mother has the best heart of anyone in this world. It’s hard for me to go back into the state of adoration I once felt for my mother. My mother was so loving and compassionate. I would lie in her arms just so she could tell me how much she loved me as she caressed my hair. It almost makes me uncomfortable to think about that now. So much has changed. The girl loves people with an extraordinary passion. I work to contain my passion every day. The girl is intense, dramatic and sensitive. I sometimes lie down and cry at the thought of losing those whom I love. She is too young for such complicated thoughts. I hope I die before everyone I love.
I am six years old. The girl holds onto her mother’s apron and follows her around the kitchen as she makes dinner for the family. I can remember wanting nothing but to protect my mother and offer her the support I thought she lacked. The girl never wants to be separated from her mother. Her father made her mother cry. He yells at her mother for her and her sibling’s shortcomings. My father never realized that we were children. We were bound to make mistakes. He never taught us how to fix our faults—he merely verbally ripped apart my mother. I am too scared to make a mistake today. I strive for perfection in all that I do. The Mother does nothing but tirelessly care for the girl and her siblings. She clothes them, feeds them and unconditionally loves them. My mother had no life outside of my family. She was the best mom anyone could ask for. She got so caught up in being a mom, and so afraid to displease my father, that she eventually forgot how to be a wife. My mother let go of herself. She never looked presentable—sweats, too large shirts and no-makeup were her daily attire. She didn’t even discover she had a thyroid issue (explaining her rapid weight gain) because she wouldn’t even make time for personal doctor check-ups.
The little girl only saw her mother’s side. Her mother’s tears.
I am nine years old. It is the girl’s birthday. Her parents got in a severe argument a couple days before. She yelled at her father for being so harsh with her mother. For being so menacing. My father was overreacting. I actually feared my father would hurt my mother. She is brave. She stands in the asphalt driveway of their little home. Facing her father. She needs lunch money, but he hasn’t spoken to her in days. He hands her a mere four dollars and tells her, “You’re not my daughter anymore. I am no longer giving you anything beyond what you need. This is for food. So I’ll give you that.” My father never treated me like a child. He never realized my childish fear of seeing my parent’s fight so aggressively. He was immature. All he saw was that I took my mother’s side. She is momentarily frozen. But she is young, so she takes the money.
She cries to herself later. I cry a little writing this now.
I am 10 years old. The girl’s mother brings her a blue coveted stationary she laid eyes on weeks before. The mother tells her that she’s earned it because of her grades and good behavior. I feel so disconnected from my previous joy now because my mother was responsible for that joy. The girl is thrilled. She counts on her mother. She is appreciative.
I can’t appreciate my mother when I’m around her.
I can’t quite grasp when it all changed. I can’t recall when my unconditional devotion to my mother transformed into a petty disdain.
I remember constant fighting. I remember being insulted and feeling inadequate. I remember being called fat. I remember being blunt and confident and ruthless. I had to be ruthless in order to maintain sanity. I remember shutting myself in my room to tune her voice out. The voice that had nothing positive to say about me. That hated me—what I became. That did it’s best to try and tear me down in an attempt to regain control of me. To break my stubborn spirit.
The spirit I inhabited from both my parents.
I remember my mother’s relentless screech—like nails on a chalkboard. I get goose bumps thinking about this now.
I am 12 years old. The girl is outside in the dark talking to her friend on the phone. “She called me fat…” The little girl will later develop an eating disorder. “She called me a bitch…” I think I’m a terribly mean person. “She told me she hated me…” I have trouble accepting love from anyone. These petty insults continue to take a toll on me today. Her mother screams at the girl from inside the house to stop telling “the world their business.” Her mother is embarrassed of her own imperfection. My mother always tries to make her world appear perfect. It’s not perfect and her mother is not perfect. The girl is hurt. Her mother is hateful, mean and antagonizing. My mother was so mean because my father was so mean to her. My mother was so mean because she missed her little companion. My mother didn’t understand what went wrong. The girl hates her mother.
I love my mother.
I am 13 years old. The girl is talking to her father. He tells her he admires her work ethic, intelligence and strength. She is different from her three siblings. She is like him. He emphasizes that the girl must do everything in her power to avoid becoming like her mother. She has too much potential. This is around the time my adoration for my mother became abhorrence. My mother constantly put me down. She became the epitome of what I didn’t want to become. The girl listens intently and nods in a naïve desire to be accepted. All she wants is her father’s approval. All I ever want is my father’s approval.
Even now that I realize his antagonist nature—all I want is for him to be proud of me. Even now that I understand what my mom went through—I cannot perceive her the same way.
The girl is so deeply hurt. I am so thoroughly damaged.
I am 14 years old. The girl is cornered in a small bathroom as her mother slaps her repeatedly in a feeble attempt to earn her respect. The mother was furious. She was earnestly trying to discipline her child. The only way she knew how. I couldn’t value my mother anymore. I couldn’t trust the person hitting me. The girl is psychologically suffering more than anything. The Mother is frustrated. She doesn’t understand why the girl is so obnoxious. If I listened to my mother, I would be accepting all that she said about me. The girl is stubborn. She doesn’t back down. She continues to scream. Eventually, she runs. I continue to run. The girl becomes vile. The girl tells her mother “If you died, I wouldn’t care. I hate you.” I feel tainted by the arguments I had with my mother. The girl sincerely believes that she no longer loves her mother. She cries all the time for fear of her mother dying with their issues remaining unresolved. I carry that same fear with me today.
The girl couldn’t believe the things she dared say to her mother. I merely repeated things my father said.
I hate writing about this. I feel like a complainer. I know the world isn’t perfect… But the young girl knows that her family’s disputes are not healthy. I know parents shouldn’t fight the way mine did.
Especially not in front of their children. It was insensitive. They were selfish.
I am 15 years old. The girl’s parents are screaming at each other. It is different this time. The mother is literally in her father’s face. She is aggressively threatening him to “hit me, HIT ME.” The father makes feeble efforts to back away, but his patience is being tested, his masculinity is being challenged. My mother has no sisters; her three brothers constantly treated her like a boy. The father finally stepped up to retaliate. The girl looked at her older brother and they both stepped in between them to mediate. I calmed my father down as my brother told my mom to “shut up!” I legitimately feared a brawl. The parents were animalistic. I now realize why my siblings and I used to fight so aggressively. The apples don’t fall far from the tree.
The girl’s mother was broken. My mother had changed. Years of criticism and harsh disapproval from my father—the husband she loved deeply—had taken a toll on her. The mother doesn’t even object when the father says he’s moving out. The mother grows more insecure. Every prominent male in her life rejected her. My grandfather literally abandoned her. My father emotionally abandoned her.
I am 16 years old. The girl’s father vents about her mother, once again, during the seven-minute drive to her school. It is 7:35 in the morning. He has no filter. I was my father’s sole confidante. My father has no family in the United States—he migrated here all alone from Lebanon when he was 20 years old. I am 20 years old now. I can’t imagine leaving everything I know to pursue a better life for my future family and myself. The father talks about his lack of sexual satisfaction, his lack of attraction to the girl’s mother, his disappointment in his life, his regret of their marriage, her mother’s weight, his hate for the Mother’s family, her unmotivated character, his utter hatred of the mother, and even, his anger with the mother for getting pregnant during their first year of marriage. My father never loved my mother. The girl questioned whether her father loved his children—their mother existed in them. He tells the girl that she must remember that the Mother is not completely bad—she is still her mother. The girl needs to try and respect her. I can’t help but think of the irony. I can’t help but sympathize with myself for my growing disrespect towards my mother. I was constantly being manipulated.
My mother never once talked negatively about my father. It is his fault I was involved. I struggle because I know how great of a person my father is. He is generous, sensitive and loving. He is just wrong for my mother. They both bring out the worst in each other.
My Father didn’t comprehend that the life he built with my Mother is the definition of my existence. The Mother’s family is the girl’s family. The Mother is apart of her. The girl cannot fathom that anyone could feel that amount of hate. The teenager exits the vehicle and slowly walks down the hallway of her large high school. She makes her way to her favorite teacher’s classroom. She sits down. And cries. She never stops crying. My tears are always internally there, beneath the surface.
She, like her mother, slowly begins to break down.
I am 16 years old. The girl has changed. There is a prevalent sadness. She understands that her parents can’t love each other. She is dealing with the pressures of advanced placement classes, club soccer and the daily hardships of being an awkward teenage-girl. She is also singlehandedly carrying the weight of her mother’s failures and Father’s unhappiness on her shoulders. She is powerless. She is unhappy. She wants her parents to divorce. She wants to stop fighting so much with her mother. She stops listening to her father. She tells him she doesn’t want to hear his complaints anymore. This is when I lost both my parents. My father took my plea to be neutral as deception. My relationship with my mother was destroyed beyond repair.
She lacked support from both of her parents. I crave their affection but shudder at the thought of vulnerability.
I am 16 years old. The cops come to the girl’s house. She overtly denies any familial problems. My father threw me against the wall a week before. The cops tell the girl’s parents that she needs intensive therapy. My mother encouraged him. The girl needed to be disciplined. She needed to learn respect. “There is something wrong with your daughter.”
There is something wrong with me.
I am emotionally compromised. My parents verbally abused me to make themselves feel better about their own lives. My mom swore at me and called me fat, terrible, evil, sick… I once cried so fiercely after being locked in my room that I broke a snow globe in the midst of it all. I don’t even remember how it broke. Everything that happened in the house was my fault according to my mother. My siblings blamed me for my parent’s problems. Even family-friends recognized her harshness towards me. My mother would hit me, but I could never retaliate. She was the Mother, and that was just wrong. So I would respond with words. I would say what was on my mind. My father merely compared me to my mother—the worst insult in his book.
I don’t feel like anything I write on this matter is worthy of being read. I don’t feel like I have a right to be heard. I don’t value myself. I never think anything I do is good enough. I am afraid of commitment. I don’t believe in love. I don’t think I am attractive. I am insecure about everything. I ask my friends constantly if they still love me. I push people away. I secretly want them to fight to stay apart of my life. I isolate myself from my family. They talk about how they will never understand me. I am too afraid to open up to my family for fear of being misunderstood.
I am 17 years old. The girl buys her own prom dress because her Mom refuses to take her shopping for it. I secretly envy my younger sister whom my mother adores. My mother bought my sister’s dress. My mother realized she was treating her children unequally, but she, like me, was too hurt to try and make it right.
I am 17 years old. The girl is still wearing her cardinal cap and gown as she greets her family after the ceremony. The girl’s mother looks at her with a melancholy that delves deeper than watching her eldest daughter grow up. There is regret, fear and uncertainty in the Mother’s eyes. The mother stopped hitting the girl a while ago. The girl agrees to take a picture with her. I was not sad to see my mother’s pain. I was too hurt from her constant neglect and intentional insults. She needs her mother. I need a mother.
I know my mother loves me. I don’t know how to let her love me.
I am 18 years old. The girl has left home. She never calls her family. The girl misses her mother. The girl goes home to visit but continuously argues with both her parents. She accepts that nothing will ever change. I love my mother, but hate her actions.
I love my father, but hate how he treated my mother. I hate that he ruined our relationship. I hate that I am so much like him. I am just as cruel. I am just as sensitive. I am just as critical.
I always make a little effort to improve my familial relationships. But my tolerance for pain is so low, that I can’t let myself be vulnerable for too long. I quickly get hurt, which translates into anger. All I reveal is anger.
I am 19 years old. It is the night before the girl’s birthday. The family is having cake at a restaurant. The girl’s mother tells her she is proud of her. She dismisses the compliment. The family criticizes the girl’s insensitivity. As if I could ever be apathetic. The family asks the girl, “Why do you isolate yourself from us?” The girl attempts to explain herself for the first time in her life. I am hurt. She takes a deep breath and looks at her parents, “Your problems took the greatest toll on me. You dragged me in the middle. My relationship with both of you changed. I think we need family therapy. There are so many unresolved issues between us all. We need to talk about it with an unbiased mediator. Only then can we move forward and become a strong family. I know we love each other. But we have communication issues.” The waiter awkwardly approaches the table. Silence. The girl’s younger brother is the only one who sympathizes with her. I often forget that my little brother lived through all of this too. He was so young. It sickens me to think of the pain he must have felt. He was forced to grow up so fast. My father vented to him after I refused to listen…. The rest of the girl’s family disregards her suggestion. Therapy is outrageous—“Do you think we’re some wealthy white family? Therapy doesn’t help anyone. You are so unappreciative of our family. You are not the only one who suffered.” The girl has no words. She gets upset and angrily responds, “just take me back to school.”
The girl cries for hours that night. I shut my entire family out. I make effort to open up, but I am dismissed. I can’t figure out how to communicate with my mother. I can’t prevent myself from getting angry with her. I lose control of myself when I’m around her. I see the hurt in her eyes when I yell at her. When I dismiss her. But I can’t stop. It’s like I am watching myself shut her out. I need her. I have so much of my Father in me that it scares her. I am the epitome of what has hurt her. I frighten her.
I begin to understand her.
My grandfather abandoned my mother when she was young. My grandmother was a less-than-spectacular example of cleanliness and organization—things my father values. My mother was forced to raise herself as my grandmother took several shifts in hopes to support her four children on her own. My mother’s grandfather committed suicide. Her older brother had a child when he was 15 years old. Someone close to the family raped my mother’s niece. I even question whether my own mother was sexually abused. My mother’s other brother abused drugs.
My mother knew nothing but chaos. My father knew nothing but order. His mom catered to him. He grew up in humble circumstances. My mother was wasteful. She spoiled us because no one ever spoiled her as a child. My grandmother had several unsuccessful marriages. My mom never knew what a relationship consisted of. My father was used to the women always conceding. My mom was a strong Mexican woman taught to never back down. This is the same tenacity that prevented my grandmother from having a successful marriage. Pride was more important than peace.
It was a recipe for disaster.
It ultimately destroyed my mother. It destroyed our relationship. That is the greatest tragedy. I remember loving her as a child. I can’t deal with her now. I am so angry and hurt. I alienate myself. I never talk fully about this. Personal realizations come in short spurts during intimate conversations with close friends. They are always sudden and quick.
My friends are always shocked. They give me a look of genuine affection. They understand me a little more. They love me. And it makes me uncomfortable.
I quickly work to repress the memory afterwards.
There is so much more. So many more details I cannot begin to explain. I am tired. So tired of it all. I can’t come to terms with my past—even through writing. This is all I have so far. These are the moments I can remember. I subconsciously work to understand myself in relation to my parents and their terrible relationship, even now, when they claim everything is better. I will never accept that they are back together. I cannot grasp the idea of my parents maintaining a marriage. I will always doubt the sincerity behind my father’s decision to stay with my mother. It was obligation.
I know too much.
I am 17 years old. The girl repeatedly defended her father after the Mother accused him of adultery. My friend later told me that she saw my Dad at the movies kissing an unfamiliar woman. My friend had no reason to lie—she thought my parents had separated. The girl’s siblings have no idea this happened. I no longer know how to perceive trust. Everything I believed was shattered that day. I have commitment issues.
No matter how hard I may try to deny it… I am the girl. And I am sad. So deeply saddened. I am incredibly hurt.
That’s the thing. The fundamental problem in my relationship with my mother. I can’t forget my past. I can’t open up to my mother in the same way I did before. No matter how hard my mother tries to make it right, I am just not ready.
There is too much guilt. I am too ashamed.
I miss my mother. I miss our relationship. I tell myself never to look back. I am looking forward. But the girl from my memory is vying for attention. She is telling me to be cautious and avoid vulnerability. She reminds me of the disputes. She reminds me of my pain. I ache for that girl. I remember her so vividly it hurts.
Sometimes I have to close my eyes to forget. To see the black-nothingness. To regain composure.
A momentary sting of sorrow—then it’s gone.
I am 20 years old. I remember myself at the lowest of lows. At the most pathetic, pitiful and heart wrenching moments. When she was cuddled into herself in fetal position with no desire to live on. Wishing only to fall downwards and spiral and become apart of the earth. To evaporate into nothing. To become air, or mist or transparent. I had to feel the complete depths of sorrow to know true happiness. To enjoy happiness. To be happy.
Only then did I appreciate my past. I was raised by both of my parents. They did the best they could. I have a home, a hot meal every day and the comfort of a bed. I feel liberated and strong. I am blessed. The girl got through the worst time of her life in order to reach this moment of bliss. She has grown. She has merely had a productive lesson. She is better because of it.
She is me. I am she. And you are me.
We are all facing the perils of life. Rather than bring another person down, lift them up. No one understands what someone else is going through. I’ve never fully explained myself to anyone.
Let’s try and love one another.
I do my best to make everyone around me feel as fantastic as they are. I do not hesitate to give compliments. I don’t care if they are excessive. My compliment could just make their day. My affection could provide a glimpse of happiness. I remember how the girl once felt, and I never want anybody to feel like her. Lonely. No one deserves that kind of pain. We are all suffering in silence.
The girl looks towards her future and I find that she is facing me. There is strength in each of her tears. Signs of renewal and recuperation. I see a beauty in her that she doesn’t yet see in herself. We are opposite one another. I am smiling.
And she is proud of me.
I am confident that one day I will make things right with my mother. For the first time, I am hopeful. The story is not finished.
At least for today, I have no more tears. This was therapeutic.
I’ve been obsessed with reading for as long as I can remember.
When I was 9, I devoured all four available Harry Potter books in a week. On one occasion, I left my book in my desk at school, and was distraught as soon I realized it. I begged my Dad to drive me back to school where I persuaded a janitor to open my classroom for me so I could retrieve my literary treasure. I was even convinced that on my 11th birthday an Owl would come flying through my window with a letter that would confirm my destiny of becoming a witch and attending Hogwarts. I was devastated when I realized I was a muggle. I’m convinced the wizarding world does exist under wraps. It’s all a huge conspiracy that our government works daily to cover-up. (Okay, okay… so I don’t believe that anymore.)
I’m a little bit of a nerd.
J.R.R Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” was my favorite book when I was ten. Bilbo Baggins fascinated me and Gandalf was always just so insightful. “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” motivated me to make up secret languages with my best friends in middle school. I had hoped my friendships would last the test of time—like Bridget, Lena, Tibby and Carmen’s did. I even admit to reading “Twilight.” Judge me.
Name a book, I’ve probably read it.
“The Hunger Games.” “Romeo and Juliet.” “The Chronicles of Narnia.” “Fahrenheit 451.” “The Scarlet Letter.” “Of Mice and Men.” “Charlotte’s Web.” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” “Holes.” “Speak.” The list goes on.
Adding to my collection more recently is “The Lover” by Marguerite Duras.
All these books previously mentioned have since been turned into films. (The Hobbit comes out this December. I am stoked!) It’s a pretty common occurrence. It seems that producers and directors run out of ideas, so they turn to books. Or simply, that books are able to capture the world in a unique light that only well written stories can elucidate. These stories are beautifully presented. Directors feel that film adaptations work because they are translating their personal interpretation into a visual artistic piece. A book-turned-film is ultimately a subjective interpretation of a beautifully written novel.
Jean-Jacques Annaud—director of the film, The Lover—attempted to do just that.
After reading the novel, I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the classroom to watch the film–adaptation. Maybe because I’m a 20-year-old female… But I wasn’t embarrassed reading the novel to myself at all. I didn’t think the sex was graphically described—there was so much self-reflection interwoven within the book as well. The past recollections and present realizations are what stood out most to me. I think that’s why I was so shocked when I sat watching the film.
Jean-Jacques Annaud was obviously more intrigued by the sex.
The film was so heavily exploited sexually that it seriously overwhelmed me. I think I’m honestly just not mature enough to watch such graphic scenes in a classroom setting. (Yes, go ahead and laugh at me.) There are just so many other aspects of “The Lover,” besides the sex, that make it such a successful book. (Her personal reflection on her inadequacy, desire for love, guilt from colonialism, sadness about her familial situation…) I mean, Playboy Magazine is one of the critiques included in The Lover’s film trailer. I think that pretty much validates the tremendous sex.
Isn’t it just charming?
The film was depicted in a linear fashion with voice-over narration from an older woman reflecting on these events from her past whereas the novel is written in a stream of consciousness style. I don’t think there was any other way the film could have been made without completely confusing the audience. Her growing maturity and personal identity development was obviously more clearly presented in the novel, but otherwise, the themes of the film could be realized if one looked beyond the sex and searched for them. The film purposely tries to appeal to both men and females by adding the graphic relationship and the emotional development. I think certain people could read the book though and be overwhelmed by the movie (Like me).
Despite this, I did appreciate the non-sexual scenes adapted from the book into the film. I thought they were done extremely well. The scene where the young Duras fights with her brother at the dinner table, the family dinner with the China Man at the restaurant and the last scene where she completely breaks down all resonated deeply with me.
The cast consisted of incredibly attractive people with outrageous bodies whereas Duras described the “little white whore” as plain and the “China man” as feminine. Annaud clearly wanted to ensure the film would be appealing.
I do recommend reading the book before you watch the film though. I believe the film is an accessory and can’t necessarily stand on its own. It doesn’t do the book justice. There are other books-turned-films like “Memoirs of a Geisha” where I thoroughly enjoyed both the novel and the film separately and collectively. Directors who realize that films are a visual medium that simply cannot encompass every last detail of a novel accomplish these successful films.
People must ultimately realize that a novel and a film are completely and utterly different. If you demand an exact replica, you are doomed for disappointment. (Been there, done that!) I approach novel-films with realistic expectations, and am rarely disappointed. My relationship with a film does not compare whatsoever to my relationship with a book. I expect less out of the film. My favorite books have supported me through childhood woes of happiness and heartache. I have grown attached to them. They were my private sanctuaries and mediums of escape. Even though I am a Film Studies minor, films are less personal for me. I watch them for entertainment, and I admire them for their visual and artistic representations.
Annaud definitely made sure the sex was both visual and artistic in The Lover. I could go as far to say that I didn’t completely hate the film. It wasn’t bad by any means. In fact, the film was intriguing. I probably wouldn’t watch it ever again—but that’s because of my blatant sexual immaturity.
Books are special. Films based on books are rarely able to fully capture their essence.
I accept film adaptations for what they are. And I accept The Lover for all that it is.
I’ll definitely remember it.
I love reminiscing.
There is a certain comfort in knowing that a situation has passed, that it has finished and that absolutely nothing in the world can change the events.
Reminiscing provides the mind with immeasurable power.
I am my own ultimate authority. I can relive a moment as often as I want with any modifications I may choose to employ. There are no limits—everything is subject to my imaginative retrievals. Reminiscing is the most magical human capability. It is the key to accessing human memory.
Memory is manipulative.
Through memory, I can enjoy an outside perspective on my life. I like this external position. I like watching things unravel. I love getting lost in my thoughts. Even more so, I love getting lost in other people’s thoughts. Especially when their thoughts spark personal revelations of my own.
The randomized stream of consciousness of Marguerite Duras’ writing within the first half of The Lover directly reflects life’s recollections. In hindsight, nothing is chronological. Duras’ complex representation of self-perception and the continuous change in point-of-view causes me to reflect on my own similar tendencies. Every event in my life played a role in shaping my character. I controlled the decisions, behavior and actions that collectively preoccupy my memory.
Memory isn’t always tangible.
I tend to bury unfavorable memories deep within. I choose not to access these select events. After all, “it’s over, I don’t remember.” I choose not to remember. Yet, “that’s why I can write about it so easily now, so long, so fully” (Duras, 32). I often have trouble remembering past feelings and thoughts until I collect myself enough to focus. To write about it. Through this outlet, there are no hideouts. I am defenseless against these revelations.
Writing can be daunting. It forces me to deal with emotional repercussions of past events. I am forced to dissect the truth from my memory. Truth is a rarity that seeps through my writing. Truth is personally unavoidable. My mind doesn’t allow me to lie. I am forced to confront reality within the confinement of my torturous psyche.
I can’t lie about my feelings for The Lover. I can’t even express them eloquently. I think I lovingly hate Duras right now. Actually, I think I’m angry with Duras.
Duras evokes strong emotions in her writing. Even if I don’t always enjoy the complex descriptions, I am able to identify with the emotional outlook. I’m pretty emotionally aware. In fact, I’m pretty emotional right now. Duras caused me to think about my family, my relationship with my parents and my personal growth. My life is flashing before my eyes right now. It’s stressing me out.
I am able to identify with the use of the third-person point-of-view. I often narrate my own life in third person. I also identify with the constant reflection. I have trouble living in the moment because I am constantly reflecting.
I am able to identify with specific descriptions. I was always inquisitive and over-analytical. I’ve always been too old for my age. I was able to apply the following quote to my own life by replacing sadness with maturity. “I say I’ve always been [mature]. That I can see the same [maturity] in photos of myself when I was small. That today, recognizing it as the [maturity] I’ve always had, I could almost call it by my own name, it’s so like me” (Duras, 44-45). It’s my defining characteristic. Moreover, I often feel most alone in large groups—“alone and in the crowd, never alone even by themselves, always alone even in the crowd” (47). My life is a series of contradictions. I’ve accepted it.
But I can’t seem to accept this novel.
After all of this random reflection, I realized that I’m all over the place. Just like the novel. I was temporarily inspired, and now, I’m just especially frustrated. Thank you, Marguerite Duras. I had this entire idea of what I learned from the novel thus far, until I questioned whether it was fiction or non-fiction. This threw my idea of memory retrieval out of whack, because I’m uncertain if these are real memories being retrieved. Each website I look at tells me something different. Another blogger even coined the term autofiction to describe it. It is fiction with autobiographical aspects. It is semi-autobiographical. Yet, the novel itself says fiction. I am thoroughly confused.
When I look back at my own life in search of defining moments, I just think about the years of unhappiness I experienced as a result of intense and dramatic familial issues. These waves of memories also frustrate me. Most of all, they sadden me. They bring me down. I’ve repressed them for so long. And the novel brought them back to me.
There’s no escaping your past. Memories always come back to shock you.
I hate reminiscing.
I wrote this letter to my mother a couple years ago. She’s a wonderful woman, and lately, I’ve been feeling down about how I’ve treated her. I needed to remind myself I’m not all bad.
Aren’t mothers great? They essentially raise us to to defy them. They teach us to speak so that we may use harsh speech against them. It always makes me sad to think of that. We should all show our Mothers some extra love. Mothers are amazing.
I just wanted to take some time out of the stress of finals to reminisce. The more I sit down to think, the more I realize how amazing you are.
Mom, I hope you know that you are appreciated for the near 21 years you’ve spent nurturing, educating, and disciplining your children.
I need you to know that I remember. I remember all the little things you’ve done for me and not one of them is taken for granted.
I remember the princess birthday party you threw for me in Kindergarten with our sprite for tea and the lovely manicures you gave us all.
I remember you buying me a purple dress for Kindergarten graduation. You knew how much I loved purple, and you wanted to make me happy.
I remember the Alison doll you bought me. I remember loving her because she looked like you, but most of all, because you bought her for me.
I remember you slaving away for weeks making me my Snow White Costume to go Trick-Or-Treating with Omar—the Power Ranger.
I remember you sitting down with me on Saturday morning back in ’99 to teach me the 50 states (in Alphabetical order) for Mrs. Dean’s ridiculously hard First Grade Class. I also remember being the only student in the class who knew the proper order for the 7 days of the week. (Sunday comes before Monday, who knew?) I knew because you had me clarify what the order was. I got it wrong. You corrected me. Little did I know… you would correct me for the rest of my life.
I remember falling off the Monkey Bars in second grade. In the midst of crying, I asked Mrs. Budge to walk me over to the Library so you could hold me and make me feel better. You always make me feel better.
I remember the time I made you cry with a heavy heart. I regret it every day.
I remember you driving me to soccer practice all the way in Santa Clarita as I complained about how much I didn’t want to run and how I just wanted to quit. You encouraged me to stick with it because you knew I was speaking out of stress rather than concrete feeling.
I remember you driving me to get my hair, nails, and make-up done for Prom.
I remember you telling me I looked beautiful.
I remember you picking me up at 5:00 AM after Grad Night.
Most of all, I remember the ache I felt after you drove off after dropping me off at Chapman that first night. I wanted nothing more than to be held by my mother and have her tell me I was going to get through everything, and be great—that’s all you’ve ever wanted from us.
I know every year when your birthday or Mother’s Day comes around, and you say you don’t want anything, you’re telling the truth. You’re the most selfless woman I know. The best gift I can give you is being successful, but most of all, being happy. I try and work hard every day so I can give you that gift. I never want to let you down.
I want you to know that you’re the cutest person in the world. I love your secret obsession with face book and how you learn about all the new language we use. I know all my friends love you. I love that they love you.
I love your excessive, in your face, attitude. You are so involved in our lives because of how much you care.
I love you for raising my 3 bestest friends in the world. My 3 siblings are the people who will love me unconditionally despite all of my annoying tendencies.
I love how you love me even when I say horrible things out of anger. You know I don’t really mean it.
I love you because you are worthy of so much more than 4 children who don’t always express their appreciation. We didn’t always understand the tough love. My younger sister and brother still may not understand. But, I do. I understand, and my older brother understands. We know, and we appreciate you so much for it.
I know of all the things you continue to do. You constantly worry, think and pray for us. You love us. The thing about love is that you can feel it. You can feel it across countries, across states, across cities… I can feel it, here at my University, 41.8 miles away from home. I hope you can feel it too.
You are so beautiful inside and out. You have stunning eyes and the cutest smile. You are a truly outstanding woman.
I know you know how emotional I am and how I like to pretend I’m not. I don’t want to talk about this… Ever. I just wanted you to know that I love you more than the very sustenance I need to survive. This love is more than a necessity; my love for you grounds me to this universe. It humbles me. It reminds me how blessed I am. It reminds me that there is a God, and he is amazing.
I wanted to say Thank You. You don’t understand how much your faith in me has helped me to constantly push myself to be better. You’ve given me the gift of your presence, and that can never EVER be replaced.
One day, you will be the best and most involved grandmother, but for now, please know… You’re THE best Mom.
I love you.
Happy Mothers Day!
I was so caught up in thought that I decided to write this. I hope it resonates with someone. After all, I’ve learned that the safest way to prevent disappointment is knowing what you want.
I’m pretty in love with love. I love to love people and to make them feel special. I love to tell people why they are so great. I love making someone terribly sad feel even the slightest glint of happiness. I love the positivity that comes out of the emotion. I love that the negativity stems from a zealous passion. Most of all, I love that love is something you have to prove—not merely state.
I want to find my person. The special person I love differently than everyone else.
I want a relationship. Not just any relationship. I want him to always make me feel beautiful, reassured and worthy. I want to constantly miss him when he’s not around. All the time. I want there to be an electrical attraction between us—clearly visible to anyone around. I want to be so smitten that any other person I meet will never compare. I never want to consider meeting anyone else. I want to be willingly trapped in a fiery love.
I want him to conquer my fears.
I want to forget I ever even had fears. He should never take advantage of me. I need him to make me want to commit. I need him to make me feel that relationships work. I want our love to prevail. I need him to be the reason it does. I know I give up on people too easily.
I want him to complete me.
I want him to love everything about me. He doesn’t have to like everything, thats impossible. I know I have annoying tendencies. I just need his annoyances to be minimal. He has to love being bothered by me. These annoyances can never be too evident so as to create animosity. They should never create hurt. They should never be presented in a way that makes me feel inadequate or insecure. I want him to be gentle. I want him to love even what he hates about me—with a doting manner and a tender sigh of disapproval.
I want him to disregard his pride.
I want him to apologize. Even if he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. I want him to consider my feelings. He must accept that he can’t win every argument. I want him to want to lose, because he loves me. I want him to value me more than his personal satisfaction. Sometimes a simple apology is all I need. It is reassurance of reciprocated feelings.
I want him to pay attention.
I want him to be genuine. I want him to stare into my eyes. I want him to be observant. I want him to find cute quirks about me and point out these things. Things I may not even notice about myself. Things I probably hate about myself. I need him to put me at ease. I need him to dote on me and listen to what I say. I need him to understand what I don’t say. I need him to always make me feel like my feelings are legitimate. That they are logical. And if they are illogical, I want him to understand why I may be feeling that way. There is always an underlying reason.
I need honesty.
I want him to express how he is feeling. I want him to swallow petty responses. I want it to be a productive honesty. I want him to tell me he loves me when he feels it. I need him to be tender when he is angry. I need him to be fondly upset with me. I need him to be fully faithful. I never want to question his loyalty.
I want big gestures.
I need to distinguish him from my friends. He needs to treat me like I am special. I want him to smother me when I’m utterly disillusioned and thoroughly miserable. I need him to give me space when I’m putting thoughts together. I need him to know the difference. I need him to put my feelings ahead of himself. I need him to be selfless. I need him to force me to let go. I need to feel comfortable enough to disregard my insecurities. I want to be so comfortable that I become oblivious to ever even feeling them. I understand I repeatedly build walls. I want him to be strong enough to tear the walls down every day.
He needs to be stronger than me.
I want him to force me to let him take care of me. If you give me the choice, I will always choose independence. I want a relationship that is passionate. I want him to calm me down and to rile me up. I want to scream at each other when we’re mad. I want to cry. A lot. I want to always be invested in us. I never want to be apathetic. I never want to feel indifferent. I want him to kiss me after every argument.
I want him to love me more than he loves himself.
I want him to love me when I’m most vulnerable—when I don’t even love myself. Especially when I don’t love myself. I want him to love me more than anyone else in the world. That is the type of person I am. I love people whole-heartedly. More than I love myself. I would do all of this and more. But I need reciprocation.
I want to believe in love, instead of fear it.
I want a love so evident that it’s almost corny. I want to forget that perfection is impossible. I want my hypothetical-future-relationship to feel outrageously perfect. Maybe not perfect in actuality, but perfect for me.
I want him to change my mindset from the first-person, I, into the less-lonely point-of-view: we.
I want him to prove he loves me.
I listened to this as I wrote this. It’s a FANTASTIC song.
The Israeli Haifa Court,
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is ancient, complex and deeply rooted in perception. These many different versions of historical perception have caused the repetitious power struggle to amplify into a full-blown political conflict.
I urge you to try and look past this political conflict. I hope you can identify with me as a human being for the remainder of my letter.
Rachel Corrie got caught in the midst of this conflict. Rachel was an average American with extraordinary compassion. She was a student at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and joined the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in January 2003 to pursue nonviolent resistance in Israel. Her passion for peace led her to the war-torn town of Rafah, near the Israeli-Egyptian border. She exemplified non-violent direct action.
The controversial political conflict in Israel has given people an “us versus them” mentality. The conflict has been so extreme as to erupt into violence, wars and death. Lost lives are tallied. Casualties are overlooked. Human beings forget that every single person who dies because of a political conflict has a mother, maybe even a daughter and a family who can’t merely just forget about their death. It affects their everyday life. Death isn’t something they just hear about on morning reports. It is their unfortunate reality. The value of life has ultimately been diminished. I value human life, personal safety and the right to prosperity.
Above all else, I value justice. I do not take this lightly.
This is why I choose to address your Israeli Haifa District Court. I believe you committed an act of injustice. The worst crime one can commit against humanity.
Rachel Corrie believed in humanity. She lived her life for the benefit of others. She lived, until the end of her life, in the pursuit of justice. On March 16th 2003, Rachel was killed in the town of Rafah. While acting as a human shield in an effort to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza, an Israeli Defense Force bulldozer crushed her to death. She was just 23 years old.
Rachel’s parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, filed a lawsuit accusing your Israeli military of either unlawfully or intentionally killing Rachel, or of gross negligence. Her family claimed a symbolic $1 in damages and legal expenses.
This lawsuit isn’t about revenge. It isn’t about money. It is simply about accountability. This lawsuit is about ensuring justice. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Letter From a Birmingham Jail). Justice has no bias. Crime deserves punishment. Regardless if the one committing the crime is Israeli or Palestinian.
Your respective court dismissed the civil law suit on August 28, 2012.
I believe passionately and whole-heartedly that the ruling was under investigated and purposefully dismissed in order to protect a guilty soldier from exposing systematic corruption and illegal occupation.
Your respective court ruled that the state bore no responsibility for the death of Rachel Corrie. Judge Oded Gershon of your Haifa District Court said that the death of Rachel was a “regrettable accident” for which the state of Israel was not responsible. She “put herself in a dangerous situation” and her death was not caused by negligence of the Israeli state or army. The 62-page ruling claimed no responsibility for the Israeli military investigation, completely clearing the driver of the bulldozer that crushed Corrie to death (the Haifa court would not release the driver’s identity). Judge Gershon further said that the driver could not have seen Rachel from the cab of the bulldozer and that Rachel “could have simply saved herself by moving out of the zone of danger as any reasonable person would have done.” He said that the area was a combat zone, and the United States government had warned its citizens not to go there. These international activists were set on obstructing actions of the Israeli military and acting as human shields “to protect terrorists.” Ultimately, the judge ruled that no compensation would be paid and the family would not have to pay the costs of the case.
There is much controversy surrounding Rachel’s death, however, I strongly believe that the evidence of intentionality is overwhelming. The driver of the bulldozer ran Rachel over for vile reasons that Rachel’s loved ones, nor I, will ever be able to comprehend.
Judge Oded Gershon and your respective Haifa Court have reduced Rachel’s life to become a mere product of political conflict. Rachel is too valuable to be so overtly dismissed.
Rachel’s death was not a “regrettable accident.” It was an intentional political attack. On the day she died, the Electronic Intifada released a photo of Rachel from that same day wearing a bright orange vest and holding a bullhorn to amplify her voice.
The same website also published sworn declarations taken within days of the deadly incident by three other international activists present when Rachel was killed.
Among the witnesses was a Briton named Tom Dale, who now works in Cairo, Egypt as a journalist. He released the following statement: “On 16 March 2003, Rachel could not have been more visible: standing, on a clear day, in the open ground, wearing a high visibility vest. On that day, she had been in the presence of the Caterpillar D9 bulldozers used by the Israeli army for some hours… Even going by the visibility charts provided by the Israeli state during the case, in my judgment, the bulldozer driver must at some point have been able to see Rachel, during the period in which his vehicle approached her… I do not find it plausible that he did not see her.” The driver of the bulldozer wanted to ensure that he taught these peace activists a lesson. If they intervened in the Israeli military’s actions, even peacefully, they would suffer consequences.
In Rachel’s case, her consequence was death.
Rachel did not merely “put herself in a dangerous situation.” Nothing worthwhile was ever achieved without dedication. Rachel was implementing her American values into proactive and peaceful direct-action. At the time of her protesting, hundreds of homes had already been bulldozed in the area. Her bravery took her to the origin of the problem. She wanted to be on the forefront of the protesting—that is admirable, not reckless. The beauty of freedom is etched in every line of our constitution. She was merely emphasizing that the quality of human life is ensured through one’s right to personal safety, to the protection of their home and through the application of justice. Rachel fought for equality. She personified her American beliefs. As a citizen of the United States, she sought to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty” for the Palestinian people of Gaza (Constitution of the United States).
Rachel did not intend to commit suicide. She did not plan to remain rigid and face the blades of a menacing bulldozer. She tried to move “as any reasonable person would have done.” But by the time she realized the driver would indeed crush her, Rachel was unable to escape. Tom Dale recalled, “As I told the court, just before she was crushed, Rachel briefly stood on top of the rolling mound of earth which had gathered in front of the bulldozer: her head was above the level of the blade, and just a few meters from the driver.” Rachel was unable to catch her balance and escape the situation.
Joe Carr, another American activist (who used the name of Joseph Smith during his time in Gaza) released the following record in an affidavit to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR): “Still wearing her fluorescent jacket, she knelt down at least 15 meters in front of the bulldozer, and began waving her arms and shouting, just as activists had successfully done dozens of times that day…. When it got so close that it was moving the earth beneath her, she climbed onto the pile of rubble being pushed by the bulldozer…. Her head and upper torso were above the bulldozer’s blade, and the bulldozer operator and co-operator could clearly see her. Despite this, the operator continued forward, which caused her to fall back, out of view of the driver. He continued forward, and she tried to scoot back, but was quickly pulled underneath the bulldozer. We ran towards him, and waved our arms and shouted; one activist with the megaphone. But the bulldozer operator continued forward, until Corrie was all the way underneath the central section of the bulldozer.”
Rachel did not intend to “protect terrorists.” Tom Dale explained, “She stood in front of the home of a young family which was under threat of demolition by a bulldozer. Rachel was seeking to protect her friends, with whom she had lived.”
Despite the Israeli Haifa Court verdict, Rachel’s story has not been dismissed. It will not be dismissed until justice has prevailed. If anything, the lawsuit has revealed your corruption. This type of injustice perpetuates. This single tragedy, deemed accidental, is symbolic of an entire nation of Palestinian people who are denied basic human rights daily. Because they are the other. Because they are the non-jew. These indigenous Palestinian people are often disregarded because their country is no longer listed on a map.
But Rachel did not disregard these people.
Rachel discusses the atrocities she saw in Rafah, Israel.
Rachel is the reason I became interested in human rights. She is the reason I am addressing your respective court. I was ten years old when I met her parents at an event held by the Muslim Public Affairs Council honoring Rachel and her parents’ activism. Her story corrupted my innocence. It shattered the crystal ball of perfection associated with my childhood world. Initially, Rachel’s death merely made me aware of the injustice in Israel. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized the amount of media attention her death generated, and still generates today— nine years later. She proved to me that one lost American life is valued more than thousands of Palestinians’ lives.
On the night of Corrie’s death, nine Palestinians were also killed.
We never heard their stories.
Deaths in Israel have become normalized. These people suffer in silence. This is why Rachel’s family founded a non-violent direct-action organization, The Rachel Corrie Foundation. Rachel’s parents ensured that her death would not become a forgotten tragedy. They continue the work she “began and hoped to accomplish, and carry out that work with her vision, spirit, and creative energy in mind” (rachelcorriefoundation.org).
Albert Einstein said, “It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionists (Jews) do to Palestinian Arabs much of what Nazis did to Jews.” Rachel fought for the nation of Israel through her desire to implement justice in the region. Israel will only seek to strengthen itself by allowing Palestinians to live freely within their defined national boundaries. They will earn international respect through abiding by international laws and ending the forceful occupation of the region. Oppressive tactics are not ideal for the maintenance of stability.
Even more than international awareness, Rachel’s story has become personal. Rachel’s bravery through her work for the ISM has given my life purpose. As an American, I was taught that freedom is an unalienable right. The United States boasts of these principles, yet unconditionally supports your nation of Israel. A nation that allowed this injustice to occur. A nation that dismissed a lost life in an effort to maintain a respectable reputation. A nation that has rejected justice.
That is the true tragedy.
I refuse to accept your Haifa Court ruling as conclusive. Rachel Corrie is my hero. She inspired me to live my life for others. The end of Rachel’s life marked the beginning of mine. I didn’t begin to truly live until I found something to live for.
I am committed to fight for justice in Israel. Rachel’s case will never die. Rachel’s cause will not be forgotten.
Even more than The Rachel Corrie Foundation, Rachel lives through me every day. I write with the emails she wrote to her family in mind. I exist with the understanding that I am blessed to live in a free nation. I prosper in the tranquility of my consistent safety. She reminds me that there are wonderful people in this world. I pursue a future of activism through her example. As I approach my 20th birthday this Monday, I realize just how young Rachel was at the time of her death. She was too young. Her life cannot go to waste. We must ensure that the work she started is finished.
I write this in loving memory of an extraordinary human being. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live simple, so others may simply live.” Rachel did that.
Rachel’s mother, Cindy Corrie, stated at a press conference after your ruling, “I believe [that] was a bad day, not only for our family, but for human rights, humanity, the rule of law and also for the country of Israel.”
Don’t let a political conflict become so extreme that your Haifa Court forgets the value of a human life.
With all due respect,
A Blessed College Student
A 5th Grade Speech Rachel made. She was always an activist.
This is a not-so-hypothetical unsent love letter. It is pure and raw and un-edited. I wrote it almost a year ago. I was having an I wish I lived in Jane Austen’s time period moment. And an I’m gonna be a stereotypical girl kind of day. I was in a a very odd state of mind. I don’t know if this mood will ever hit me again. Setting that aside, I like the finished product and I love letters. So I decided to be daring and post it.
I first want to let you know that this is the most embarrassing and upfront letter I have ever written in my life. Take a deep breath, and read with an open mind.
You distract me. I hate it, but I’ll admit any day that you’re my favorite pastime. If you are so miserably oblivious, hopefully this will pull you out of the dark…
I am in love with you.
I will wait for you for as long as it may take. You’re worth it. I don’t want anyone else, because I know in my heart that you’re the one. I feel like I’ve been gravitating towards you my entire life.
I want to spend the rest of my life with you. You are the center of my universe. You bring the best and worst out of me. You are so perfectly imperfect. You challenge me. You compliment me. You calm me down. You rile me up. You make me feel like the only girl in the universe. You ground me. You humble me. You drive me insane. You keep me up at night. You occupy my thoughts, and I lovingly hate it.
I am certain that I love you. I realized it for the first time shortly after turning eighteen. I looked into your eyes as you were talking about something I’m sure may have been important at the time… I stopped listening and just stared at your eyes. Those beautiful light brown-greenish eyes. I got lost in them. Then the thought hit me, “I want to spend the rest of my life with this person. I love him.” Holy crap. I love him.
I googled it to be sure. Google didn’t have the answer I was looking for. It had a series of quotes about love. All of which described the way I feel about you, no matter how they were written. I realized I didn’t need Google. I just enjoyed thinking of you.
The realization rang clear that day. That moment is etched in my memory as the most extreme clarity I believe I will ever experience in my life (second to my belief in God). Through my love, I have reassured my faith in God. His mercy allows us to love one another. He encourages us to love one another. Through relationships, he wants us to increase our knowledge and refine our potential to spread goodness throughout the world. I believe that. I believe in us. I believe in our potential to forever bring out the good in one another, and spread it to those around us.
You’re the person I want standing next to me on my wedding day. You’re the man I want to cater to. To dote on. (Yes, this feminist wants to dote on a man.) You’re the person I want to grow old with. I want to cry in your arms when I’m upset. I want to share my good news with you. I want to cure you when you’re sick and make you feel better when you’re sad. I want to love you when you feel lonely and insignificant. When life hits you hard and things feel unbearable, I want to remind you of your goodness and bring you out of any funk you may experience. I want to be the woman who cares for your mother as she deals with the perils of life and old age. I want to listen to her when your sister refuses to and when your brother and her are inevitably bumping heads. I want to be the best daughter-in-law to your father who works way to hard for his family.
I want to have our children. I want them to look like you.
I want to love you whole-heartedly, even through our worst arguments. Even when I’m crying like it’s the end of the world… I want you to be the only man to ever have the power to make me cry. I want you to realize that I have confidence you wont abuse the privilege.
You inspire me. I feel that my dreams can only come true if I am alongside you. I love how easily we can talk. I love that you always say more than you need to. I love how easily you can make me laugh, and how you can use that same ease to make me furious. I love that you root me to the spot whenever I’m with you. I love that you’re kind to my mother and that you talk politics with my father. I love that you care about my brothers and that you’re an angel to my sister. I love that the only time you’ve made me cry, is when you’ve left.
I hate that I’ve come to need you. I hate how it feels like something is missing when you’re not around. I hate how you make me cry when you leave. I hate being constantly concerned about you. My thoughts always circle back to your well being. I hate not knowing how you’re feeling. I hate the thought of these feelings being unreciprocated. But I’m willing to risk it.
I love you. I hate you. My feelings have gotten more simple to understand as I’ve matured, but more complicated when I think about the future. There is just no winning.
This is the most vulnerable I have ever been in my life. I am willing to give you that. I am willing to give you all of me. The good. The bad. The gentleness I rarely reveal to people. I’m giving you the capability to increase my fragility.
I realize I am only nineteen. But I don’t think I am too young to feel this way. Nor do I think my feelings will change. You’re my clichéd “one.”
I want you to tell me how you feel and end this uncertainty that has been eating away at me. But if you don’t feel the same, I still wish you a life full of happiness—whether or not I’m the one that brings you that happiness. I hope all your dreams come true. You deserve it. You’re the most wonderful person I know.
I can’t believe I let you read this. I am thoroughly embarrassed.
I wanted some type of concrete record for my favorite quotes. They keep me grounded.
“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.” -Benjamin Franklin.
“Adhere to your purpose and you will soon feel as well as you ever did. On the contrary, if you falter, and give up, you will lose the power of keeping any resolution, and will regret it all your life.” -Abraham Lincoln
“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.” -James Earl Jones
“Love is one of the hardest words to say and one of the easiest to hear.”
“Love is a puzzle posed by the emotions and not likely to be solved by reason.”
“They say love is blind… and marriage is an institution. Well, I’m not ready for an institution for the blind just yet.” -Mae West
“If you have love in your life, it can make up for a great many things you lack. If you don’t have it, no matter what else there is, it’s not enough.” -Ann Landers
“True love is eternal, infinite, and always like itself. It is equal and pure, without violent demonstrations, it is seen with white hairs and is always young in heart.” -Honore de Balzac
“The difference between friendship and love is how much you can hurt each other.” -Ashleigh Brilliant
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how made them feel.” -Maya Angelou
“Prosperity makes friends, adversity tries them.” -Publilius Syrus
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved the state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” -Elizabeth Gilbert
“Joy brings you tenacity and endurance.” -Todd Hunter
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, but who knows great enthusiasms…so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt
”The greatest moments in life are not concerned with selfish achievements, but rather with the things we do for other people.” -Walt Disney
“He who finds diamonds must grapple in mud and mire because diamonds are not found in polished stones. They are made.” -Henry B. Wilson
“You can’t save the damsel if she loves the distress.”
When I was in high school, my favorite class was AP English Language. In order to help prepare us for writing a personal statement for college admissions, my teacher had us practice through writing “six word memoirs” inspired by The Six Word Memoir Project. The concept is rather simple: Tell a story in six words. At first I thought this was rather ridiculous. Then I realized that I not only enjoyed writing these quick little stories, they were liberating. Writing a few wasn’t enough, I ended up filling notebooks with them. Here are some of the ones I’ve written over the years- as well as others I think of as time goes on. I’m usually in a distinct mood of frustration when I begin to write them. My frustration translates to inspiration. Then I grab a pen and release…
I tend to think in six words. This is mostly when I’m frustrated.
Life is beautiful, live it fully.
Loving me forever was short-lived.
Trust me, I have trust issues.
Keep it short and sweet, bitch.
Reminiscing achieves nothing, just move on.
Best friends, first love, not anymore.
Adversity brings triumph, triumph brings prosperity.
No hard feelings, but she’s hideous.
Broken promises, broken family, broken hearts.
Lead by example, love my mother.
I can’t remember a happier time.
Just another Mexican-Lebanese culture clash.
Caring less means power, not happiness.
Passion: greatest vice and highest virtue.
Tear down the walls I build.
Passion comes from within- Natural Motivation.
Let’s grow old together- our fairytale.
I work instinctively, it comes naturally.
Writing this healed me, unconventional therapy.
Skeptical at first, love it ridiculously.
Then I knew. It was you.
You were my destination all along.
Accepting differences. Loving Imperfections is perfection.
True Love. Accepting imperfections is perfection.
Only you can piece me together.
You are my missing puzzle piece.
Eating away my feelings feels good.
Feeling sad. Cake. Desert. Immediate satisfaction.
Short-term comfort. Long-term obesity.
Falling asleep to the ocean swish.
Sand. Waves. Ocean. Endless view. Peace.
Dad moves out. I shut down.
Keeping the world at arms length.
Instability brought out my strength within.
In your arms is my forever.
Chasing you naked in my dreams.
Dreamed of chasing you naked— awkward.
Grown closer as we’ve become different.
I hope you see through me.
Tear down the walls I’ve built.
I feel safe looking at you.
The moment I realized—it’s you.
Fully content with everything around me.
Happiness: Feelings of contentment and acceptance.
Not six words, just the three.
Just tell me those three words.
May 18th, 2014 11:00 PM
Nobody even noticed you were gone.
Curly-haired, Africa-lover, Peace-Maker. (I’m lucky she’s my best friend.)
Guess which finger I’m holding up.
I dedicate that to Carol Hunter. ^
I really should write my paper.
“The sky’s awake, so I’m awake.” –Frozen (Go watch it, seriously, you must.)
Sometimes I forget I have friends.
When people love me, I’m surprised.
Bitch, you don’t know my life.
All right, that’s enough for now.
Love is eternal.
That’s why it doesn’t fade when someone dies, or even after someone hurts you. If it is true love, it is timeless.
Here is my take on love. The person you were when you fell in love with someone will always love that person. So, in order to stop loving someone, you literally have to transform into a new person.
In order to stop loving him, I will have to become an entirely new person.
Yet, I fought so hard to become this person. I don’t want to let her go, and I don’t want to let him go even though everyone around me thinks he’s terrible for me. Even though everyone around me has heard me cry too many times—my best friend told me that she’s never heard me sound “so broken” and “so distraught,” and she has seen many break-downs in our 12 years of friendship.
I am so incredibly confused, and I’m unsure if I’ll be able to change.
All I know is: I love him; I think I will always love him, and I don’t think I will change. That being said, I understand my worth, and I understand what I deserve. I don’t deserve to be constantly crying. I don’t deserve to be the only one putting forth effort. I don’t deserve to be lied to. I don’t deserve to be taken for granted.
I deserve better, and so do you.
At the end of the day, the person reflecting back at me in the mirror is going to be me, and she is the person who is going to need my love the most. Right now, I choose to love her, unconditionally.
I want to start living my life again.
Yesterday, I deep-cleaned my house; I hired someone to scrub my shower and thoroughly wipe down my kitchen counter tops as I finally emptied out my fridge. I feel like a new woman. I also washed my sheets, vacuumed my floors and re-organized my vanity set. What a day. Afterwards, I finally completed an art project that I’ve been meaning to do FOR MONTHS, and I’m planning on heading to Walgreens today to print out photos from my family vacation to Lebanon.
Self-care is a REAL thing people.
I’m trying to take it day by day. I can do this, and so can you.
I went to a coffee shop yesterday for the first time in 7 months, and I got a latte. I’m revisiting all the things I used to love doing, and I’m remembering the beloved activities I unknowingly sacrificed. For the past year and a half, I’ve been consumed with pleasing another person and somehow convinced myself that his happiness superseded my own. The worst part is that I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I was so caught up in the labyrinth of our complex love and overpowering passion that I disregarded my own needs in an effort to keep the relationship resembling a semblance of happiness.
I don’t know when I realized it exactly, but at some point, I came to the conclusion that I was the only one putting in any effort at all. And that is no way to live your life. Trust me, I tried.
I tried until I found myself constantly sobbing, alone, in my bedroom, racking my brain trying to figure what went wrong. What always goes wrong? After all, everything was fine! I was too afraid to reach out to any friends or family members because I didn’t want to hear what they had to say. I simply disagreed with them because they don’t know him the way I do. They simply don’t understand his innate nature the way I do. The core of him that keeps me coming back for more.
I know his heart, his aspirations and his humor. I know what makes him laugh, what makes him sad and what makes him stare off into space pensively. I know the childish look of utter excitement he gets when menial things fall into place. I know that he says, “beep beep,” instead of, “excuse me,” when he needs me to move. I know the affection he seeks and the loneliness he feels when he thinks of his deceased father or his widowed mother. I know the ache he feels when he skypes with his nieces and nephews, wishing for nothing more than to be with them. I know his generosity and how he would spend infinite amounts of money on me if I truly wanted something and he thought it was good for me. I know the butterfly feeling that takes over my being when he sneaks up behind me while I’m cooking to grab my waist seeking attention and attempting to distract me from the task at hand. I know his heart, and the potential he has to be the most AMAZING man. I love him unconditionally, and I don’t think that will ever change.
I didn’t know where this post was heading when I started. I meant to write about self-care and it circled back to him. It’s a daily struggle to force myself to think of myself rather than him. It’s become second-nature to place his needs above my own. To the point where I couldn’t even remember what I used to do before he came into my life.
I miss him. I miss him so much. I want to care for him, and I like thinking of him. It’s like a drug addiction. The highs take me into a feeling of absolute ecstasy, into a sort of incredible dreamland, while the lows drag me deep down into the earth wishing for nothing but to be buried beneath my grief. It’s ripping me apart.
Maybe I’m not destined for a love this passionate. Maybe I need to take it easy and find someone milder, or maybe I just need to be alone for a while, so I can do things like clip my presently disgusting cuticles and smooth out my jagged nails.
I think I’m going to get my nails done. (I think I’ll even get a bright color rather than my usual nude!) See, I’m taking care of myself! That’s living.
When people tell you to move forward, and you just can’t muster up the strength to do it, you have to do what’s right for you. At least that’s what I decided. Like literally yesterday.
Honestly, I kept crying and then getting upset at myself for crying. Which just led to more crying. The best thing I ever did for myself was give into my emotions and let myself do what I wanted to do. So, I did it. I’m not sure if will be good for me in the long run, but this is the first time in a week that I can be by myself without breaking out into fits of tears. So, I am going to consider this one a win.
Everyone around me kept telling me that I needed time. I do need time but on my own terms.
The truth is that I am not like other people. I am emotionally-driven and love people with every ounce of my being. When someone hurts me, it strikes deep down to my core. It physically HURTS everything. I can’t even function. My 11th grade AP English teacher once told me, out of her 30 years of teaching, she had never met someone with the amount of sheer passion I have. She couldn’t understand how someone with my amount of raw emotion could even physically exist. She always commented on how holding onto calories must have been so difficult since I was constantly burning off energy with my expressive nature. And, she only saw me for 2 hours of the day.
Fighting my emotions only makes it worse. I’m like a balloon. I can pretend to withstand infinite amounts of air, but the inevitable explosion is merely delayed.
Preventing myself from contacting him only delayed my imminent self-destruction. It got to the point where I couldn’t keep it together at work. The lady who manages our bus-schedules even sent me an email yesterday with a single quote, “It’s okay to be a glow-stick; sometimes we need to break before we shine.”
That’s when I knew that I had to do something about it. So, I went to go see him.
Maybe I am writing this out to justify my actions, or maybe I am just trying to sort out my thoughts. I sat in my car for 25 minutes, trembling, before I could collect the strength to get out. Then, I proceeded to walk circles around his apartment building before realizing that someone could think I was some sort of creepy stalker. So, I turned off my phone because I didn’t want anybody to talk me out of doing it, and I didn’t want to have to explain myself to anyone.
When I finally gathered the courage to walk up to his door, I couldn’t knock. I lightly grabbed his doorknob to see if it was open—it wasn’t. I stood outside and turned to walk away. I was frozen in time and consumed with fear. The voice in my head was screaming at me to run for my life, while my heart prevented my body from following the commands.
Then, he opened the door. We turned and faced each other. He grabbed my arm and pulled me into his chest.
And I sobbed.
I shook ferociously into his neck. It was utter, complete and total relief.
Nothing is figured out. Nothing got solved. But, last night was the first night I slept a full night WITHOUT taking any sleeping medications. God knows what will happen tomorrow. I can’t tell any of my friends that I did that because they will scold me and remind me just how much he put me through, but I did it for me. We talked a little, argued a little and cried a lot. Then, we hugged and I cried. We went to dinner and he took me home. He told me he loved me, and I told him I loved him.
We both agreed that we need time and space. That we need to go to counseling if this will ever work. I told him that my family was furious and despised him. He already knew it.
Seeing him made me feel so much better.
So, I say do what you want, and screw everyone else.
I wish you were a better man.
It’s gotten to the point where my father doesn’t trust you anymore, and my mother doesn’t want me to be with you anymore. My brothers keep reminding me that I don’t deserve this. My sister has literally yelled at me about never going back to you. She told me it would be pathetic, and she told me that you would never respect me if I took you back again. Half of me doesn’t want to listen, and the other half of me knows that she is right.
I love you so much. I love you more than I love myself. I really do. It’s incredibly unhealthy, and it’s what kept me in this for so long. It’s what kept me coming back and begging you to forgive me—even when I did nothing wrong. Even when you were the one escalating the drama.
I know we both love each other. I know we love each other deeply, intensely and infinitely. The reality is that we make each other miserable. I still don’t fully understand why I make you so miserable, but I know that I do because you’ve told me that I do. You said that you think I’ve caused you to fall into a deep depression. The more I think about it though, the more I think that it is you not me who needs to self-reflect. I’m self-aware to a fault. You hate to hear about any mistake you’ve made.
The irony is that you’ve been trying to push me away because of your fear of failure and the possibility divorce. It has been precisely this behavior of yours that finally destroyed us before we even got officially engaged. We were never officially engaged. That’s what hurts me the most. You promised me so much.
This pain reverberates to my core. Last night was the first night I went home since the break-up. I sobbed for 4 hours, uncontrollably. I shook from head-to-toe. It hurts. It physically hurts. Everything is sore. Everything aches. I’m constantly tired.
My friends think I deserve better. They keep telling me every day to say out loud that I will never take you back. They keep telling me that you’ve put me through so much.
Your own family thinks I deserve better.
I am trying so hard to let you go. It took every milligram of willpower to prevent myself from contacting you yesterday. I literally held my phone sobbing. Making myself not do it.
Thinking about you brings me to tears. I just sobbed in the copy room. I had to give my kids independent practice because I am physically incapable of teaching.
The reality of the situation is that you are not in the position to be with anyone right now. You’re emotionally abusive and you’ve lied to me too many times about unacceptable things. You told me you cheated on me, twice.
I wish you could be what I need you to be. I wish we could get married, move to Iraq and grow old together. I wish I could hold you and soothe you to sleep.
I wish you were a better man, but even more, I wish you loved me enough to become the man I need.
“Why do I love you this much?”
Ever since I met you, this is a question I’ve thought to myself over and over again. I can recall the moment when my mind acknowledged it. You flicked my ear and gave me your mischievous smile, and I rolled my eyes and feigned annoyance. I said out loud: “I hate you.” I thought to myself: “I love him.” Then, I was momentarily frozen. I’ve been caught in that feeling ever since. 7 months later.
My heart loved you before my mind did. As soon as I realized it, I became willingly trapped in a vortex of emotional bliss.
I’ll try to give you a glimpse of what this love feels like for me. Your needs are more important than my own. I would rather you smile than me smile, for, undoubtedly, your smile will make me smile. There is no task too daunting or no wish too complex for me to fulfill for you. I love doing things for you. The only thing that makes me happier than seeing you smile is knowing that I am the reason for it. Your eyes are large and deep—full of love, anguish and wisdom. Though, I must admit, your heart is my favorite part. You love people deeply and passionately. You care about your family with a fierce devotion unlike anything I’ve witnessed before. Merely thinking that your mom is experiencing discomfort is enough to make you visibly suffer. You’re incredibly empathetic and I love you so much for that. I never thought I would meet anyone who felt other people’s pain as explicitly as I do.
Yes, you have a temper. Yes, you can be irrational. Yes, you yell when you’re angry. But, you’re a human and I love every part of you. Even the dark parts—all they do is make your good qualities better.
You love soccer. You love the outdoors. You love children. You are generous. You are kind. You believe in God and his last messenger. You believe in the day of judgement, and you are actively trying to be a better person. As you always say, there is always room for improvement.
You’re my other half, Man. You’re the person I’ve been searching for.
I write this letter with shame clouding my mind. I feel ashamed of my actions on Thursday night. After we had such a perfect evening, I felt an incomparable moment of happiness. I kept thinking to myself that all I wanted was this forever. I wanted you and me to have regular nights of exercise and family dinners forever. And that’s when my fear took over.
I let the fear of losing you consume me. When I started crying and admitting how afraid I was to lose you, I subconsciously sought comfort and reassurance. Just like how you told me on Wednesday that you needed me to just say, “Okay, habibi,” when you state your concerns. All I needed was for you to remind me that we would get married, and say, “I love you. We will get married. We have a timeline. It will happen before we move in.” When you say things like, “I am just not ready yet,” it triggers me to cry more because it makes my irrational fears seem possible. I think: “What if he’s never ready? What if he decides he doesn’t want this?” When you say things like, “I have a checklist,” I wonder, “Will I ever be good enough?” Your words leave huge impressions on me. They haunt me when I go about my day. I think about them long after you tell me, “Everything will be okay… I just need time,” because you precede that with, “You need to be more modest first.” In my mind, they are contradictory sentiments.
… (Parts Omitted)
We are at a crossroads. I have accepted that I have to wait for you, and you must accept me for who I am. If you are willing to do that, I whole-heartedly believe that we have something special. We are so lucky. But, it can only be a reality if we both commit to compromise. If you choose otherwise, I will always pray for your father and you will forever be in my heart.
Day 6 without you.
I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel. I talked to you on the phone yesterday. You sounded just as broken as me.
You told me that “the red box cut you deeply.” The red box that took me 30 minutes to pack with all of your stuff (After Johanna told me she dropped it off, I sobbed). When I responded, “Well, you told me to get the fuck out of your life,” you didn’t want to hear it. You never want to hear it.
That’s the second time I ever heard you cry. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times you’ve made me cry. I didn’t even intend to hurt you; it’s just what happens when people break up. People have to sort through their lives and attempt to pick up the pieces.
I feel broken beyond repair. The pieces I need to rebuild myself lie in your arms. I have to find a way to fill these voids on my own. Right now, I don’t know if I can. Worst of all, I don’t know if I want to.
People keep telling me that this is a temporary pain, it will go away, and I will find somebody more worthy. They ask me if I can do this for the rest of my life, if I can deal with your harsh words and if I can see myself being happy.
I don’t know. The answer is I don’t know. I honestly don’t know if I can be happy with you, and I can’t fathom being happy without you. I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t. I keep trying to figure out what I need.
I need a break.
I’ve spent every night since the break-up at friends’ houses. I haven’t been back to my own house because it reeks of you. I can’t step into it without memories of you reverberating through my body. It shakes me to my core, and I need out.
I am so close to being done. If I don’t get a break, I know I will be done forever. This past weekend was the first time in forever that I felt like I could breathe independently. I wasn’t waiting by the phone for your messages or awaiting your responses. I was just living my life. It was great.
Maybe I’m just not ready to get married, or maybe, you pushed me away.
I need to take care of myself again. The one thing I can take away from all of this is the amount of pride I have in who I am, and who I’ve become. I am a strong woman with a big heart. I can give so much. You know that. I think you’re finally scared of losing me. I don’t want you to feel hurt, but for the first time in this entire relationship, it’s not about you anymore.
It’s about me. This is for me.
489 days of bliss, unbearable heartache, incandescent happiness, uncertainty, security, instability… The greatest love of my life.
It seems unfair that I expected forever, and all I got was 489 days.
I sincerely believe that. You will forever be the greatest love of my life. I don’t know if I will ever be able to love someone with the same intensity and utter vulnerability. I gave you everything. You promised me everything, yet you delivered nothing.
Every piece of my soul loves every ounce of you. Even the ugly parts.
Even when you tell me that I’m one of a million.
Even now, when I’m on the brink of a break-down, I keep thinking of you and the pain you must be feeling, and I ache to be there for you and make it better. I just want to take care of you. I have a disease; I think I’m a masochist.
This is my goodbye lullaby.
Goodbye to your big brown eyes and your gorgeous eye lashes and your broad chest. Goodbye to your dark brows and your perfect nose. Goodbye to your plump lips that I can’t fathom will ever touch another woman.
I realize as I’m working to shed the skin that used to smell like you, I’m remembering what it felt like to care for myself. It’s an odd sensation.
I thought I was going to marry him, have his children and grow old with him. I thought he was my forever, my always and my life-partner. This is inconceivable. The tears are uncontrollable and infinite. This is the most terrible pain I’ve ever experienced in my whole life.
The first night, I didn’t want to live anymore. I couldn’t imagine a world without him. Yet, when I was with him, I couldn’t navigate the world I had previously conquered. I became fragile, dependent and insecure. I began to value his perception of me more than my own. Until I realized that he used his power to make me feel inferior. So I wouldn’t realize my worth. It’s the oldest trick in the book, and I can’t believe I fell for it.
I gave him everything, and I would have stood by him my entire life if he had showed me a glimpse of compassion. I feel like I’ve woken up from a terrible dream.
I’m finally letting my heart face the unveiled reality of what I’ve gone through. It was a spectacular love, and I miss him every second of every day.
He drained me. I don’t have anything else to give.
Alas, I am trying to let him go.
I hope he finds what he’s looking for.
The amount of energy it’s taking me to keep it together is preventing me from doing anything else.
Now, at day 494, I feel helpless.
I am from the backyard olive tree,
Sunny afternoons glistening off the grape vines,
From jasmine flowers and rose water,
Fresh herbs and exotic spices.
The peaceful beauty of suburbia,
A Golden State,
The image of perfection.
I am from soccer balls and shin guards,
Grassy fields and bruised legs.
From loving teammates and lifelong friendships,
Obligatory torture sessions,
The persistent ache after a tournament,
A loving hatred an athlete develops,
The sport that consumed my life.
I am from endless energy,
Emotional fighters and stubborn lovers,
From “you have a male personality,”
And “girls, go help in the kitchen!”
The Arab-Hispanic hybrid,
A father who fought in the Lebanese civil war,
The mother whose identity depended on her children.
I am from books and bows,
Tan baby dolls and Theresa barbies,
From the brave heroines in my favorite novels,
Battling their demons while I run from my own,
The cultural hybrid of a liberal-conservative conflict,
A broken family haphazardly patched up,
The pain that never fades away.
I am from the nomads,
Searching for a shelter,
Running from their homes.
My interest in Teach for America (TFA) began out of frustration. After four years of taking Political Science courses, I realize how little our country values education. Teachers are underpaid, and issues of foreign policy constantly overshadow education. We allocate money to waging wars oversees while poverty remains a national reality—meanwhile, children suffer through terrible circumstances, without fault or control. It is a true tragedy. Our nation neglects education, without realizing that children suffer the most from educational negligence. We don’t give them the opportunity to improve their circumstances, paving the path for them to repeat familial mistakes, and embark on the cyclical road to poverty.
As I’ve said before on this blog, I am an advocate for justice. I promised myself long ago that I would not join the masses—become another buzz amongst the beehive—complaining without acting. I am committed to activism; I always knew I wanted to devote time to serving others after graduation. I’m also a strong believer in helping people in your community, before venturing off to other places. I understand that there are wonderful people engaged in service projects abroad, and I do not criticize or judge their work—we are all human beings. But, I am not the type of person who can go abroad, whilst problems exist so close to me—in my nation and neighboring communities.
This is why I chose to apply to TFA. After a three-month application process, I was accepted into TFA. I was offered a position in the Greater Nashville region to teach High School or Middle School English (depending on my summer training). Ironically, I got accepted into a teaching program in Italy at the same time. I realized I needed to take a break and confront some personal issues before I could devote myself mentally and emotionally to TFA. I thus got a deferral, and will begin TFA in May of 2015. Even though I know that getting a deferral was the best thing for me, I find myself itching to start TFA—I want to meet my future students, and I want to start getting to know them. I want to embark on my journey of activism.
TFA is an American non-profit organization whose mission is to “eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach for a least two years in low-income communities throughout the United States.” Wendy Kopp, based on her 1989 Princeton University undergraduate thesis, founded the organization. Since the charter corps was established in 1990, more than 28,000 members have completed their commitment to TFA. Kopp wrote a book reflecting on the first ten years of the organization entitled “One Day, All Children: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach For America and What I Learned Along the Way.” In 2011, Kopp released a second book, “A Chance To Make History,” outlining what she has learned over the last 20 years working in American education.
TFA recruits recent college graduates and professionals to teach for two years in urban and rural communities throughout the U.S. for the purpose of making an impact, and becoming lifelong leaders for educational equity. Corps members attend an intensive five-week summer training program, called the Institute, to prepare for their commitment. TFA teachers are full-fledged faculty members at their respective schools—receiving the normal school district salary and benefits, as well as a modest AmeriCorps “education voucher.” This voucher can be used for credentialing courses, to cover previous student loans or to fund further education aspirations, whether it be during or after the two-year commitment. TFA placed 500 teachers in its first year. The organization then received more than 48,000 applications for its 2012 corps, resulting in 5,800 new corps members in 46 regions.
I want to emphasize that I am writing this paper from a biased standpoint. I believe wholeheartedly in TFA and it’s success in stimulating improvement and opening doors for students. I will be analyzing the organization of TFA in relation to theories of collaborative learning to stimulate writing improvement. TFA is unique as an institution whose strategy is based primarily on recruiting young college graduates who embody leadership, diversity and passion for equity in education. Collaborative learning development enables developers of learning systems to work as a network. TFA thus recruits diverse individuals and places them in local impoverished school districts so they may collaborate with other teachers, and develop effective teaching strategies. TFA aims to add diversity to school districts in order to allow for successful collaboration through fresh perspectives and differing opinions.
TFA states:“We look for individuals who show leadership potential and have other traits that are found in our most successful teachers. Over the past 22 years, we’ve learned that there is no specific personality profile or background that predicts success in the classroom. Our approach to selecting corps members is based on our commitment to student success. We continuously study our teachers to identify the characteristics of those whose students have made the most progress. We’ve discovered that their most distinguishing characteristics are:
- A deep belief in the potential of all kids and a commitment to do whatever it takes to expand opportunities for students
- Demonstrated leadership ability and superior interpersonal skills to motivate others
- Strong achievement in academic, professional, extracurricular, and/or volunteer settings
- Perseverance in the face of challenges, ability to adapt to changing environments, and a strong desire to do whatever it takes to improve and develop
- Excellent critical thinking skills, including the ability to accurately link cause and effect and to generate relevant solutions to problems
- Superior organizational ability, including planning well and managing responsibilities effectively
- Respect for individuals’ diverse experiences and the ability to work effectively with people from a variety of backgrounds” (Teach For America).
TFA’s strong belief in children’s potential to improve reflects a positivist ideology on education—children can improve if the right teachers can develop the proper system to approach each individual school district. These inherent ideological assumptions on successful teachers defy the typical mentality of our American Educational system, giving preference to seniority—despite student’s failures, or successes. TFA essentially declares that a teacher’s character traits are vital to student progress. A teacher doesn’t necessarily need prior experience, but rather, it is their tenacity and desire to help that will determine the student’s progress. This tenacity will motivate them to be creative and inventive with their teaching strategies.
Therefore, TFA applies theories of collaborative learning throughout the developmental stages of the learning process. TFA teachers are placed in impoverished school districts throughout the US, after they attend a minimum of 6 weeks in the TFA training Institute, and become full-fledged faculty members in the respective school districts. The TFA teachers thus blend the skills they acquired from the TFA institute with the school district’s strategies. TFA teachers are required to attend staff meetings nearly every week to discuss student progress and brainstorm new ideas on how to best ensure student progress. These meetings directly reflect collaborative learning development—enabling the TFA teachers and school district faculty, as developers of learning systems, to work as a network. This network is specifically relevant to TFA, as a national organization, who communicates with their local teachers and adapts successful learning strategies in order to apply them to other local regions—it is a national developmental network. These teachers—both from TFA and the respective school districts—share and build knowledge of courses in a collaborative environment. Moreover, the electronic communications via email and phone over the national network also allow people to share their knowledge of a single subject to other people, in different remote locations. The collaborative learning development thus expands beyond city and state boundaries.
Although I acknowledge there is no universal system that works for every individual student and region, I strongly believe there is a need to assimilate TFA’s positivist ideology with the meritocratic system currently in place throughout the United States. There are two discourses going on—that of sticking to tradition and relying on “experienced” teachers to cultivate the motivated students, versus incorporating youthful minds, to spruce up an outdated ideology (arguably responsible for the cyclical educational issues). Again, there are always exceptions—not every young teacher who embodies these characteristics will stimulate improvement, and not every experienced teacher grows complacent and stagnant.
I strongly believe educational reform is possible—it won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick—but the first step is acknowledgement. The second step is action. My own activism begins with Teach for America.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.” –Margaret Mead.
Despite my petty criticism of the United States’ governmental priorities, I am not disillusioned. I strongly believe in the potential of our nation to prosper, starting with educational reform. And, I need to make something clear: I do not support TFA because I am an idealist. I support TFA because I am a pragmatist—fully acknowledging my need to experience the reality of our educational system firsthand, so I may accurately identify the root of the problem, and work to create a viable solution.
Pragmatism derived from the teaching of Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), who believed that thought must produce action, rather than linger in the mind and lead to indecisiveness. I believe that reality is constantly changing and that we learn best through applying experiences and thoughts to problems, as they arise. The universe is dynamic and evolving. I do not believe there is an absolute and unchanging truth; rather, truth is simply what works.
Taking this class, Theory and Practice of Tutoring and Writing, allowed me to recognize my personal philosophy—while allowing me to put my pragmatism to work. Life is not made up of binaries. The key to life, and teaching, is trial and error. Mistakes are inevitable, but the beauty of the human race lies in our aptitude—we have the ability to recognize our mistakes and learn from them.
Collaborative learning development is enriched through diversity—the more diverse the group, the more ideas will be brought to the table. TFA’s recruiting strategies take this into account; TFA seeks out a diverse group of individuals, coming from different regions, educational backgrounds and ethnicities to heighten collaborative efforts. TFA realizes that we all have biases based on our different backgrounds, and we are conditioned to adapt ideologies based on our individual upbringing. These are Social Constructionist views, but I’ve found them to be true in my experience. Social Constructionism is a theory of knowledge that examines the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world. It assumes that understanding, significance and meaning are developed, not separately within the individual, but in coordination with other human beings. We, as human beings, are thus the byproducts of countless human choices—these can be our own choices, our family’s choices, or our friend’s choices. Our perception of social reality, and our inherent ideology is clouded by these prior choices. We are all inherently biased because of them. This subjectivity poses challenges—we often forget how others view the world, and more importantly, why they view the world that way. But, there is a beauty in diversity. My own experience has taught me that the key to human prosperity is collaboration—we thrive in diverse communities. My life is enriched by diversity; TFA’s collaborative learning development is enriched through diversity.
The more I learn, the more I realize that learning is an everlasting excursion. The more people I come to know, the more I realize how judgmental I can be. The more I read about TFA, the more I realize that I need to just try it for myself, before allowing these articles to dictate my opinion.
Honestly, I’ve read many negative articles about TFA throughout my research for this post. I don’t even want to link to these articles—urging people not to apply to TFA, urging people not to believe in TFA’s potential and ultimately urging them not to write recommendations for people looking to apply to TFA, unless they were Education majors in college (this would defy TFA’s foundational diversity). Most of these authors haven’t experienced TFA first-hand, haven’t applied to TFA and have conducted extremely generalized critique on an organization that is multi-faceted—working in schools spanning across the United States—an organization growing larger every day.
Their criticisms are not based on TFA’s results. TFA is very clear about their success rates and their student progress. Rather, the critiques are judgments made from individuals working in the exact system that TFA is attempting to improve; these criticisms are written by people who dislike the American educational system, as it is—they acknowledge the need to reform, but don’t believe reformation is possible. They criticize TFA’s attempts to stimulate improvement without offering viable alternatives. They are complaints, lacking solutions. They are bees in the aforementioned beehive. And I am over the buzzing.
They also claim that TFA’s positivist ideology cannot measure up in the reality of impoverished school districts. Yet, TFA continues to either measure up or surpass the school district’s prior testing scores. These critiques overtly hate on TFA, as an organization, in its entirety—straight down to its positivist ideology on education. I simply do not value critique from people who do not acknowledge that the American education system needs reformation and that TFA has had its share of success.
Harvard graduate and 2010 TFA corps member, Jarell Lee, echoes my own sentiments: “I think a lot of the criticism of TFA is criticism about what people think education and teacher training should look like in America, and not based on what Teach for America is. TFA… never set out to be the only teacher-training program ever created… It was ever meant to be the solution. I think TFA was meant to create a movement that would eventually walk—no march—toward that solution… The question is, are we criticizing TFA or are we criticizing the American education system? Where we are right now, TFA is not going to be the one solution to solve the symptoms we see in the American education system. It is one medicine. It is one of many medications that this very sick system is going to have to take.”
During my final TFA interview, the TFA staff member asked me if there was anything discouraging me from joining the Corps—I responded hesitantly—apparently my reaction blatantly insinuated my prior online research, revealing my true fear and doubt. He candidly told me, off the record (he closed his computer and walked me outside), that there were three types of TFA criticism: the first is valid, the second was valid, but has since been addressed, and the third is completely false. He urged me to form my own judgments, to realize that my TFA experience will largely depend on my individual placement, and essentially, to give TFA a chance. He told me that no organization is perfect, and he has devoted the last eight years to the organization because he believes in its potential. TFA is pragmatic in nature—it observes something that doesn’t work, and aims to try a different approach.
Janet Wee, who now works in development for TFA’s Baltimore office, stresses this point repeatedly: “One of the most encouraging facts about the organization is that it does seem to be adaptive. It’s an incredible group of people, who are so introspective [about our work] to the extent that sometimes we’re really tough on ourselves…[we’re] always thinking about what else can we do, what more do we do, how do we improve?”
Susan Moore Johnson comments on the pragmatic nature of TFA as well: “It’s a moving stream in the sense that the organization has developed. They reinvent themselves—they’re very agile that way.” (One example is TFA’s Values-Based Leadership Collaborative, which was founded two years ago by Andrew Mandel, a 2000 Corps member, and helps TFA “put a renewed emphasis on making sure self-scrutiny is a central part of what we do.”)
I believe all educators should take a pragmatic approach when it comes to teaching strategies. Every student learns differently, and it’s important to understand how you can best meet their needs, and set them up for success. The most important thing is building relationships through dialogue—communication is key.
After all, collaboration is dependent on quality communication.
The TFA philosophy is simple: “Change is possible.” TFA believes in their ability to “provide an excellent education for kids in low-income communities. Although 16 million American children face the extra challenges of poverty, an increasing body of evidence shows they can achieve at the highest levels.” Yet, every region is different and the results vary. TFA is situational—every region’s Institute training program aims to mold the individuals into the type of teacher the region demands.
The collaborative learning developmental strategies extend beyond the two-year commitment for TFA corps members. “For example, TFA alums and scholars from the Harvard community offer a variety of suggestions for how the organization could further adapt:
- Many proposed that TFA extend the length of its commitment, noting that even the best teachers rarely hit their stride before year two.
- In addition to lengthening the commitment, Katherine Merseth suggests that TFA expand the Institute from five weeks to six to nine months. She also advises them to increase support to new teachers once they are in the classroom, because new teachers learn the most from reflecting on these early teaching experiences.
- Anthony Britt, who included constructive criticism in a column for the Guardian entitled “Teach for America isn’t perfect, but it has been a boost to education,” predicts that TFA will face issues until it clarifies its long-term plan—“especially with respect to charter schools”—and stops “having numerous corporate or controversial stakeholders and donors.”
- Noam Hassenfeld, who wrote an article for the website PolicyMic entitled “This Former TFA Corps Member Thinks You Should Join City Year Instead,” argues for placing corps members as teaching assistants rather than teachers—“a meaningful educational experience that can only help and not hurt.” He also suggests a “Doctors Without Borders” model for TFA that would provide incentives, financial and otherwise, for teachers who have already demonstrated commitment to the profession—not novices fresh out of college—to take jobs in higher-needs districts.
- Susan Moore Johnson, drawing on other research done with Morgaen Donaldson, thinks TFA should improve the way it matches corps members with teaching assignments.
- Almost everyone agreed that TFA should focus less on simple growth in numbers and more on sending corps members to placements that most need them. “I do not understand why first-year corps members are placed at KIPP [Knowledge Is Power Program] schools, for example,” wrote Millicent Younger, alluding to KIPP’s desirability as a place to teach (its eight public charter schools in Newark and Camden alone report receiving over 3,000 teacher applications per year). “I feel that TFA should use its manpower as a way to put teachers in schools and districts that are struggling to find teachers, not to take higher-demand jobs.”
TFA is completely based on communication, collaborative learning development and adaptation. Communication is the basis of collaborative learning development. A healthy dialogue between TFA corps members and established school district teachers is needed to formulate new teaching strategies. Moreover, the local school districts that TFA work with hold regular staff meetings to analyze their student’s progress and previous teaching strategies. As aforementioned, the most effective strategies are communicated to the national headquarters so they can be applied to other regions facing similar issues and challenges. TFA works alongside local school districts constantly to try and improve their student’s test scores, primarily by analyzing what teaching strategies students respond best to. This pragmatic approach puts the theory of collaborative learning development into practice.
Ultimately, it’s important to realize that TFA works in diverse communities and offers positions to very different kinds of people. The reason for seeking variation is to enrich the organization as a whole—to heighten the success of collaboration efforts.
There is also institutional collaboration between TFA and other organizations, beyond local school districts. The specific region I got placed in, Nashville, collaborates with the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). KIPP began in 1994 when two teachers, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, launched a fifth-grade public school program in inner-city Houston, TX, after completing their commitment to Teach For America. In 1995, Feinberg established KIPP Academy Middle School in Houston, while Levin returned home to New York City to establish KIPP Academy Middle School in the South Bronx. These two original KIPP Academies quickly became among the highest performing public schools in their communities. In 2000, Feinberg and Levin partnered with Doris and Don Fisher, the founders of The Gap, to establish the KIPP Foundation, focused on replicating the success of the original KIPP Academies on a national scale.
“The KIPP Foundation recruits, trains, and supports leaders to open locally-managed KIPP schools. The KIPP Foundation supports excellence, growth and sustainability across the network, as well as leads network-wide efforts to innovate and share best practices. The KIPP Foundation also provides a variety of supports and services such as legal services, real estate, technology, finance, governance, operations, communications, marketing, and development.”
KIPP describes their teachers as the heart and soul of KIPP schools. There are currently more than 3,000 KIPP teachers nationwide, and each shares the fundamental belief that all children can and will learn.
KIPP teachers are a diverse group, including experienced teachers who have worked in schools serving underserved students, new teachers who are just beginning their careers and career changers who are entering the classroom after succeeding in another profession. Nearly 38 percent of KIPP teachers are African-American or Latino, and about 33 percent are Teach For America alumni, and more than 32 percent hold master’s degrees. The positivist ideology of KIPP directly correlates with TFA’s own positivist view on education.
The only absolute truth, ingrained in both TFA and KIPP philosophy, is the belief that all children have the potential to learn—despite their economic circumstance. The fact that TFA alum founded KIPP is a testament to TFA and their success in training lifelong advocates for educational equity. The most noteworthy achievement, however, is the fact that TFA and KIPP highlight our national need to reform education. These organizations call for a reevaluation to teaching strategies—it is calling for en overall evaluation to our current educational approach. They call for a pragmatic approach to education.
“Teachers everywhere—this is not just TFA teachers—all teachers are in the midst of an ongoing debate about education and whether teachers are smart, dumb, well-trained, poorly trained, taking the summers off, working hard, being overpaid, being underpaid.”—Professor Susan Moore Johnson, Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE)
It’s important to realize that TFA is not aiming to replace all veteran and experienced teachers. TFA is collaborating with school districts in each specific region, and placing TFA teachers where they are needed. These TFA teachers get treated like regular faculty, and must partake in staff meetings and district projects. TFA teachers thus collaborate with one another during their Summer Institute training, and then collaborate with the specific schools they get placed in—as well as with other organizations, like KIPP.
When I begin TFA, I will bring my own unique background with me to the specific school I get placed in. As an upper-middle-class American citizen, I was blessed with an excellent education. I went to a private-Muslim school until 4th grade, when I enrolled in the public school system. I attended the Arcadia School District, ranked 89th within California. The median household income in Arcadia is $70,173 while the median home price is $718,000. Moreover, 54 percent of Arcadia High School students participate in the Advanced Placement program, giving students the opportunity to study college-level course work and take Advanced Placement exams that allow students to obtain college credit.
These blessings motivate me to give back to less-privileged school districts, lacking funding, attention and resources to improve. I fully acknowledge that I have little experience in an actual classroom, aside from volunteering and tutoring—yet, I am willing to learn. I am willing to work hard and I am staying pragmatic. Most importantly, I am excited to implement strategies based on the theory of collaborative learning development. I will have the power to dictate the environment of my own classroom. I will be the ultimate judge on what strategies to implement for my students, and I will be able to choose to collaborate.
I thus approach TFA with an open mind—taking the knowledge I acquired from this class as ammo to experiment with when I begin teaching. My teaching philosophy is currently based on Theories of Collaboration I’ve read about this semester. Even though these theories were written in relation to writing, they are applicable in any learning situation. TFA doesn’t train recent college grads with the intention of criticizing veteran teachers—they bring in college grads to add fresh perspectives—so they may collaborate. “TFA succeeds in pulling new people and ideas into education.” They want TFA corps members to engage in collaboration, based on mutual respect and the ultimate goal to bring out students’ utmost potential.
I hope my TFA experience reveals the brilliance that assimilation can create. My only hope is that I will learn immensely from the TFA institute, fellow TFA corps members, and future colleagues—and maybe, by some odd stroke of luck—they just may learn something from me too.
Maybe when my TFA journey is all said and done, I can use my newfound knowledge to compose a progressive manifesta of my own (I recently decided to embrace feminism), for future teaching strategies.
All of this research has done nothing but motivate me.
I was recently accepted into Teach for America (TFA), and was offered a position in the Greater Nashville region to teach High School or Middle School English (depending on my summer training). After being accepted into a program abroad, I got a deferral, and won’t begin TFA until May of 2015. Even though I know that getting a deferral was the best thing for me, I find myself itching to start TFA—I want to meet my future students, and I want to start getting to know them.
Moreover, I want to learn more about TFA. I thus decided to write about TFA for my final project in my Theory and Practice of Tutoring and Writing class. I realized that TFA implements many of the theories we’ve read about throughout this semester, and particularly, TFA emphasizes collaboration in order to bring out the potential of students living in poverty-stricken areas in the United States.
TFA is an American non-profit organization whose mission is to “eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach for a least two years in low-income communities throughout the United States.” Wendy Kopp, based on her 1989 Princeton University undergraduate thesis, founded the organization. Since the charter corps was established in 1990, more than 28,000 members have completed their commitment to TFA. Kopp wrote a book reflecting on the first ten years of the organization entitled “One Day, All Children: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach For America and What I Learned Along the Way.” In 2011, Kopp released a second book, “A Chance To Make History,” outlining what she has learned over the last 20 years working in American education.
TFA recruits recent college graduates and professionals to teach for two years in urban and rural communities through the U.S. for the purpose of making an impact and becoming lifelong leaders for educational equity. Corps members attend an intensive five-week summer training program, called the Institute, to prepare for their commitment. TFA teachers are full-fledged faculty members at their respective schools—receiving the normal school district salary and benefits, as well as a modest AmeriCorps “education voucher.” This voucher can be used for credentialing courses, to cover previous student loans or to fund further education aspirations, whether it be during or after the two-year commitment. TFA placed 500 teachers in its first year. The organization then received more than 48,000 applications for its 2012 corps, resulting in 5,800 new corps members in 46 regions.
I want to emphasize that I will be writing this paper from a biased standpoint. I believe wholeheartedly in TFA and it’s success in stimulating improvement and opening doors for students. I will be analyzing the organization of TFA in relation to Theories of Collaboration to stimulate writing improvement. TFA is unique as an institution whose strategy is based primarily on recruiting young college graduates who embody leadership, diversity and passion for equity in education. “We look for individuals who show leadership potential and have other traits that are found in our most successful teachers. Over the past 22 years, we’ve learned that there is no specific personality profile or background that predicts success in the classroom. Our approach to selecting corps members is based on our commitment to student success. We continuously study our teachers to identify the characteristics of those whose students have made the most progress. We’ve discovered that their most distinguishing characteristics are:
- A deep belief in the potential of all kids and a commitment to do whatever it takes to expand opportunities for students
- Demonstrated leadership ability and superior interpersonal skills to motivate others
- Strong achievement in academic, professional, extracurricular, and/or volunteer settings
- Perseverance in the face of challenges, ability to adapt to changing environments, and a strong desire to do whatever it takes to improve and develop
- Excellent critical thinking skills, including the ability to accurately link cause and effect and to generate relevant solutions to problems
- Superior organizational ability, including planning well and managing responsibilities effectively
- Respect for individuals’ diverse experiences and the ability to work effectively with people from a variety of backgrounds” (Teach For America).
TFA essentially declares that a teacher’s success is based on their personality traits and character, rather than their prior experience. These inherent ideological assumptions on successful teachers defy the typical mentality of our American Educational system, giving preference to seniority—despite student’s failures, or success. I would like to explore this more fully in my final paper. Although I acknowledge there is no universal system that works for every individual student and region, I strongly believe there is need to assimilate the two extremes. There are two discourses going on—that of sticking to tradition and relying on “experienced” teachers versus incorporating youthful minds, to spruce up an outdated ideology. Again, there are always exceptions—not every young teacher who embodies these characteristics will stimulate improvement, and not every experienced teacher grows complacent and stagnant.
I hope this paper will spark my personal TFA journey and help me compose a progressive manifesto, if you will, for future teaching strategies.
Here we go!