I have been trying to find a legit place to study, or rather write, since I started applying for my MFA last year. I have always known about Cosmo’s Coffee Café in downtown La Mesa but I also know that parking sucks. You only get two hour meter parking before you have to pack up your belongings, run out to fill the meter again, and make dua’ your spot is still there when you get back to the café… not cool. Now that I’m a regular, I ask the barista to look after my stuff while I run out and make sure the meter hasn’t expired. I’m good after 6pm. There are a lot of coffee shops in San Diego but they’re awfully far from my house. I’m now realizing that it’s a good thing, AlhamduliAllah, to be studying far from UCSD. So, here I am at Cosmo’s trying to expand my novel… and sort out my thoughts.
This place is actually pretty awesome. It has this nice vibe to it with its artsy solar system theme and contemporary art covering the walls. I’ve always been very interested in the study of astronomy. Want to know a secret… shhh… up until my junior year of high school- wait, don’t laugh, seriously- I wanted to be an astronaut. I was seriously determined to be the first Muslimah in space. I loved (still love, I guess) science. What can I say, I have always been a nerd. If I would have chosen to go into the sciences at UCSD, I would have chosen a major in astronomy or environmental chemistry. SubhanAllah, I ended up on a road far from a science field, or any field I had studied in undergrad… (<- Have you noticed how in love I am with ellipses?)
Anyways, I’ve been having a hard time focusing lately on my writing and even readings. The days are gloomy. I absolutely love it. InshaAllah, it will rain soon. I LOVE the rain! It’s such a purifying process. The majority of my favorite memories are on the gloomiest, rainy days in San Diego. I think it’s because I easily enter this calm, reflective trance during these days. SubhanAllah, how Allah swt has given each season it’s unique blessings, benefit, and beauty.
I’m sitting here at Cosmo’s, sipping my cappuccino, trying to make sense of all the craziness going through my head. I tend to overthink and overanalyze everything on normal days; yet, I don’t know what it is in the winters that causes me to sit for hours just rehashing old memories and thoughts. I know I can’t go back and change anything and yet I still have all these scenarios of how things could have gone differently, maybe better, or at least carried more benefit to my future. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the short time I took off from school, after I graduated undergrad, to work and apply to graduate school. I’ve written before that being the only Muslim, hijabi, Arab, etc. in my MFA program is quite terrifying. Recently, I’ve been going over and renewing my niya, or intentions, for choosing the path I am on right now. More importantly, I keep thinking of the reasons for Allah swt to have written this path for me. Everything from Allah swt is kheir, good.
I knew what I wanted. I was determined to continue my education in a field in which I could use my skills in the best way possible to benefit my ummah and serve Allah swt. I wanted to write novels and work at a publishing company. There was no one I could turn to for advice so I made dua’ in every chance I could that I was making the best decision.
When I first told my younger brother of my new plans for graduate school, he thought I was kidding. He told me it was ridiculously difficult and crazy competitive.
“Do you know how many ‘wannabe writers’ are out there Haneen? You’re good but do you really think you have a chance? Just stick to law school.”
I had the same answer every single time someone pointed out the obvious, “I know, but if this is the right path, Allah swt will bring me through it. InshaAllah kheir.”
In the end, I knew he had my back, regardless of what I considered a pessimistic attitude (he referred to it as being a realist). “I’ll support you all the way. Just don’t give up.”
My biggest fear wasn’t giving up. My biggest fear was the lack of support I was getting. I knew I had the support of my family and closest of friends but they didn’t serve as a connection to my future career. I know I shouldn’t have cared much. My brother and friends jokingly refer to me as a “starving artist”. Money wasn’t my priority. I knew I was sprinting right at a heightened amount of challenges and obstacles. I also knew that if I kept my niya pure, if I had the right intentions and placed my tawakul, trust, on Allah swt, then He would lead me onto the right path. I was still nervous. I felt like, or rather, still feel like I have little control on where this path is taking me.
Above all, I thought that to truly make it in the world of writing, to be published and acquire my dream job, I needed to get out to San Diego. I wanted to move to either San Francisco or, more inspiringly, New York. I made dua’ day and night, during every single prayer- fard, sunnah, nightly prayers, at all times. Allah swt truly is the best of planners. I was accepted into Antioch University Los Angeles (AULA), a school in Culver City, in a program that allowed me to live in San Diego and commute throughout the year to LA when I needed for my residencies. I wasn’t going anywhere, not anytime soon. [I would go back to living with my family. I had believed that one of the reasons I made it through UCSD was that I lived with the MSA sisters, far from family. I went home to visit at every chance I got but I lived my separate life, on my own terms. Don’t misunderstand me, I love my family more than I can ever express. My family will always be my number one supporter and I know they’re not going anywhere.] Never mind that AULA has an incredible and inspirational program that thrives off of education, community, and social justice; I was devastated. I admit that not until I drove up for my first residency did I see the blessing and barakah that Allah swt had given me.
My brother continuously reminds me of how competitive this field of study and career is. Hundreds of applicants and only several get in yearly. I’m definitely blessed. Honestly, there’s a crazy amount of Young Adult and fiction storytellers and writers out there, trying to make it daily. Everyone’s stories and work have similarities… some stories I could easily recognize within the works of already published authors. What am I doing trying to compete with the best??? I need to constantly remind myself that Allah swt blessed me with being a bit more unique… especially at AULA. There’s a reason he has written for me to be at AULA. This is the perfect path for me.
AlhamduliAllah, within my American identity, I also identify myself as a Muslim, hijabi, Palestinian, Arab. This identity defines my experiences, stories, and voice through my story-telling ways. A lot of my short stories can be seen as typical stories of relationships and challenges. However, my novels and core stories are vibrant with multicultural and religious upbringing and experiences. Allah swt is truly the best of planners.
When I’m at my lowest and surrounded by hectic obstacles and tedious challenges, it’s difficult to remember why I’m walking this path. My intentions have not changed. I work for Allah swt. I will continue to work hard to make sure the voice of the voiceless are heard strong and sharp. I would rather be struggling and know that Allah swt is always watching over me than to sail smoothly, and quite boringly, through this temporary life. I may not see the fruits of my labor now but I need to keep my faith and trust in Allah swt. Of course this is a reminder for myself before anyone else.
So while I may not be able to run into the warmth of the support and love that the Muslim ummah provided me with at UCSD, I will always have Allah swt. That’s all I need. AlhamduliAllah!
Always renew your intentions and remember the blessings Allah swt has provided for you!
[It’s finally raining so beautifully right now! I’m going to be soaked in a couple of minutes! I LOVE IT! AlhamduliAllah!!!]
AULA MFA Program