Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Long List of Priorities

How many of you have gone to sleep at night or woken in the morning thinking, “I’m going to be more productive and prioritize my time better.” Whether it’s because you have been procrastinating lately or maybe you have had a never ending “To Do” list for some time now and work, studying, or something equally important kept getting in the way. The point is that you made this promise to yourself and you meant it. You honestly and wholeheartedly wanted to change. The only item you wanted on your list when you were given the opportunity of having free time was to simply relax and do what you wanted. You looked forward to a better day.

Now, how many of you failed within those first few moments, hours, or at most a week into your mission to “change” when you picked up that “To Do” list. Mmhhmmm.

That has pretty much been the story of my life for the last three months since I graduated. No matter how much I cross off my lists (one is never enough), I find myself constantly adding to it. It’s not that I’ve been unproductive. If fact, AlhamduliAllah, I do get a lot completed, but it always leaves me feeling scattered because there’s still so much to tackle.

Islam teaches Muslims to be balanced. We can truly have it all as long as what we seek is beneficial and we are satisfied with what is in our possession. I don’t believe in settling for less, but I do believe that we must recognize the blessings we already have and build on them to better ourselves, not because we want to outshine others but because we are determined to reach and triumph to our full potential. We must conquer that overwhelming feeling of never having enough time in the day. (I wrote about the importance of time in an earlier post.) We are not burdened with more than we can bear.

“Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.”
Quran, Surat Al-Baqarah [2:286]

I have reached the point where I throw balance out the window and focus on what I feel is important for the day. This puts me in a long loop, which unintentionally has me neglecting either my writing or personal needs, like sleep. Yes, I actually have sleep on my “To Do” list.

For those of you who know me on a personal level, you are aware of my OCD perfectionist ways. Hence the title of my blog. I’ve been trying really hard to move away from my OCD perfectionist tendencies, but I realized this summer that being in control of specific aspects of my life (regardless how insane it may make others or even me feel) are what provide balance to my life. I need the control in my life with moments or even days of spontaneous outbursts. When these spontaneous eruptions occur, the aftermath isn’t so severe. I can just jump back on track.

I know that the waves of imbalance easily can take over my life as a writer. Take my blog. When I created my writer page on Facebook, I promised myself I would at least share my writing more often. My goal was to post on my blog every Thursday. I also wanted to post little things here and there on my page a few times a week. I was solid with my blog for two weeks before a disruption to my schedule occurred. It was family related and in my book, family always comes first.

To tell you that I just let it slide and thought, “whatever, I’ll just post again next week,” would be a lie. I felt very guilty for breaking my own promise. I tried to find a legitimate excuse but couldn’t put myself at ease. I looked back at what I had spent my week doing and found that I had been very productive. I’m proud to say that I even got into a high energy writing flow with my next novel. I still didn’t feel like I deserved the rest. If not for family, I would have secluded myself to write. Instead, I was meant to take a break from writing for the weekend.

I’ve come to accept that I can potentially control most things that are present in my life… Except for my writing. My writing, like the sea of thoughts in my head, cannot be tamed. Placing my thoughts into writing is like capturing snowflakes on the tip of my finger and believing it will let me examine it’s beauty before melting. I have a lot more similes and metaphors to writing, but I’ll spare you the pain.

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter—and bleed."
Ernest Hemingway

If this is the case, how do I organize my time in such a way that writing can still be a priority? This post is mostly dedicated to my fellow writers. I made a list of how to stay sane while at war with my writer self. My lists never have numbers because I understand that my priorities continuously shift around based on significance to me in the current moment. In this list, I chose the largest aspects of my life and went a little further by defining what each one means to me and how I will factor it into my life. Most importantly, I have an understanding with myself that when my writing itch calls, I find a way to answer it between whatever I’m doing, even if just to jot down notes.

This is what it looked like:

Islam is not a religion to me as much as it is  a way of life. Being a devout Muslim and adhering to my faith is my number one reminder to constantly go after what I love. As I said in my last post, I write to educate and entertain both others and myself. Above all, I write to set myself and others free. Writing is my intense concoction of caffeine, yoga, serenity, and deep breaths. To me, writing is my ocean. My faith keeps me grounded. The simple pleasures of my faith, like prayer and dua’ (supplication) are my avenue for rest and rejuvenation. Adhering to my religious responsibilities forces me to slow down and appreciate my life.

To all you writers out here, regardless on where you stand with your beliefs, you must have faith in something. There’s a reason you write and share words with others, even if it’s just to breathe. Don’t stop. Don’t stop believing in your work. Don’t stop believing in your writing.

No matter where I am or what I’m doing, my family never fails to be there alongside me with support and love. I can and will work my entire life to give back to my family, but I know it will never be close enough to what my parents have given me. I know I’m incredibly blessed with the family that Allah swt has given me. My family always comes first. If I’m needed, I put down what I’m doing and free my time to them. Everything does have limits and my family understands this.

If you’re reading this and thinking, I don’t have anyone I call my family, I find that very hard to believe. I don’t consider family to just be those I share my bloodline with or genetics. Family can be that one person who did not look past all your imperfections, but instead chose to accept them and provide you with love, support, and dua’/prayer/good thoughts to only better yourself. As much as I would drop what I’m doing to answer my family, I would do the same for my best friends and loved ones. I may not always receive the same consideration back. That’s okay.

"Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong (even) if they do evil."
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

Reading & Book Discussions
As writers, we began as readers. The more I focus on my writing, I find myself forgetting the piles of books I have waiting for me to read. I have actually arrived at a point where I buy more books than I read. I recently came upon this realization was beyond depressed. What happened to my habit of devouring at least a book a day?? I’m a fast reader and a book a day means spending a measly three hours reading, which is nothing compared to how much time I find myself staring into space when I’m trying to decipher an idea that struck me for one of my stories. When I feel like punching my computer screen or pain starts to spread through my fingers and wrists, I shutdown my computer, silence my phone, and put both out of sight for at least twenty-four hours.

The purpose is to help me refocus my attention on relaxing. Since I have no understanding of relaxation, I pull out a pile of books and disappear from the real world, coming up for air only to pray and sometimes eat. (You may have noticed by now, sleep is never a top priority and you’ll know why later.)

I finally took my writing a bit further by taking part in my first live book discussion last Sunday. A group of my friends from graduate school and I decided to stay in touch and create our own project periods. We swap our writing and provide feedback. One a month, we take part in a book discussion on a book one of us has chosen. I can’t tell you how fun it was. To connect ideas, discuss elements in the story through different perspectives as individual readers, and find connections brings you together as writers on so many levels. I have never actually been a part of a group of writers.

When I wrote live book discussion, I didn’t mean we were all in one room, dressed in girly summer dresses with our books having a cute little tea party. Does that sound like me? Of course not! I would be wearing jeans… We started out on Google Hangout, each sitting in our cozy homes with a mug of something warm and our books by our side. When technology started to fail us (as it always does), we jumped onto Facebook message and used it chat-style. I think we were on for four hours.

I firmly believe that every writer has to be a part of book discussions. If anything, it will keep you reading and strengthen your writing. No excuses. If you’re a writer, you MUST have friends who love reading almost as much as you do. Suggest a book and plan a day to meet up for coffee in person or online. Trust me, you’ll never regret it!

Agents & Querying
As writers, we know that sending our work out into the world whether it be to online journals or in hopes of publishing our novels, is scary, painful, and makes us feel like we’ve lost all sanity in the process. We expect a flurry of rejections or worse SILENCE, which in my case makes my migraines bearable because searing pain exploding throughout my head becomes easier to handle than feeling like my writing is worthless. As writers, we must come to accept all of this. I don’t think others realize how strong and thick skinned we become. It doesn’t mean that we’re not hurt and don’t spend days moping around our room bags under our eyes as black as our sweatpants. Reality comes knocking and we are forced to pick ourselves back up and keep writing.

It’s important to remember that when we are rejected or look back at our earlier work and recognize how horrible our earlier writing may have been, we must NEVER stop sending out work out. I haven’t written a short story since my days at UCSD. My current focus is to get my novels seen and published. Researching agents and sending out queries have taken up a lot of my time. While I find the right agent, I keep writing. I continuously edit my first completed novel, because I’ll never be satisfied with it until it’s published. I keep going with my other novels. As cliché as it is, don’t give up on your writing. Just don’t.

Job Hunting
Yes, I’m a writer. I wish that were enough, but to me writing is a form of sustenance, like water. I don’t know if it’ll bring me stability, economically speaking. What I know for certain is that I hate being trapped by four walls. Spending a full day at home is enough claustrophobia for me. Even if there’s a storm outside, I’d rather be out there with it than confined inside the house for more than a day. When I say I seclude myself when I write, that basically means I drive to a far coffee shop and hog one table for HOURS to write. I get up to pray (asking for the person near me to keep an eye on my stuff) or order something to drink. I don’t eat when I write. Liquid serves as my fuel.

No matter how old you become, I don’t believe in ever losing hope in reaching that dream job or a career that will make you happy. I have friends who keep insisting I need to just chill and enjoy not having an actual “real” job. My plate is already full. That doesn’t stop me from keeping an eye out for a the position that I want and applying. In the meantime, I keep writing.  

Sharing Writing
To me, I can’t speak for all writers here, sharing my work is terrifying. My writing is basically my thoughts revealed for all to see. That’s why I started this blog. The funny thing is, I still struggle to post on here. I spend a week trying to figure out what I want to share publically. It’s rare that I write my posts earlier in the week. I have dedicated my Thursdays to writing my posts. I spend the first few hours of my day just getting past the first page… and then I can’t seem to shut up. Everything just flows, spilling my river of thoughts all over the pages. That’s okay. As I said before, my blog is my unorganized, informal, mostly uncensored sphere where I just let my thoughts loose.

I originally told myself that if I had a blog, I wouldn’t need to share my personal writing. That’s ridiculous. I do need to share my stories and parts of my novels with readers and writers. I promise that when I can’t find something specific for my blog, I will start sharing a story or chapter of one of my novels. Disclaimer, it will be an unedited version. I do need to share with other writers. I agreed to join my friends in our self-driven project periods because it forces me to keep writing and receiving feedback for my work. I must always be in a constant state of learning to better myself as a writer.

All you writers out there, find one reader and one writer to read your work. Both will see your work differently and provide that balance of creative criticism to what works and what doesn’t in your writing.

My first mentor once told me, “Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery.” I still don’t know who originally said this, but I wholeheartedly believe in these words.

This is how I feel every time I post on my blog…

Yes, I have maintaining a social life at the end of my list. It’s always on my list because I do think it’s important. Truth is, I only keep in touch with a few friends. I rarely see or speak to anyone aside from my best friend. We’ve maintained at least one very long phone call to each other once a week since graduating from UCSD. She’s even called me several times when I was overseas in Palestine last fall. On a daily basis, or even weekly, there are two to three friends I stay in touch with. I have a habit of falling off the face of the Earth when I’m deep into my writing.

I do think you need to stay in touch with the rest of the world, but to each his or her own way. I’m a very private person and have never needed to be surrounded by a large group of friends. That being said, I love my friends and I believe in keeping in touch with those you care about. When one of my friends comes to mind, I’ll simply send a text, joke, Gmail chat, snapchat, picture, just something small to tell them I’m thinking of them. I don’t find the need to go out with a large group of friends to stay in touch. Those I care about know it well.

My friends are the ones who when we do speak, even if it’s after a week or a few months, there are no awkward pauses or silences in our conversation. Quite simply, stay in touch with those you respect and love. Surround yourself with good company.

“A good friend and a bad friend are like a perfume-seller and a blacksmith: The perfume-seller might give you some perfume as a gift, or you might buy some from him, or at least you might smell its fragrance. As for the blacksmith, he might singe your clothes, and at the very least you will breathe in the fumes of the furnace.”
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

Don’t forget to love for others what you would love for yourself. Don’t let jealousy or arrogance take over your heart. This is what I was referring to when I wrote to recognize your blessings and be happy for what Allah swt has given us. We each carry our own hardships and moments of happiness come in different forms.

"None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself."
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

I call relaxing breathing because I have this tendency to get so caught up in what I’m doing before I realize I am literally holding my breath when I’m stressed out. I’ve had swimmer lungs since I was a kid and holding my breath for long amounts of time is easy for me. When my energy while working on something reaches intense levels, I feel myself begin to shake from how fast I’m typing or how quick I’m working on a task and my breathing slows down until I’m actually holding my breathe, taking silent but large intakes of breaths.

If I sound crazy remember I’m a writer. In my defense, you already knew I was insane.

The reality is we all get caught up in something we believe is terribly deserving of all our energy and attention. At some point, it begins to consume us. My writing does this. I need to stop and slow down. I need to breathe. Once a week, doesn’t matter when as long as it’s one day out of week, I force myself to slow down for a few hours and… just… breathe.

I don’t include sleep under relaxation because I have insomnia. Sleeping comes in small amounts. Sometimes three hours is too much or just enough. I feel ridiculous when I finally fall asleep long after Fajr (dawn) prayer, wake at a time people consider to be late, and have to explain to my parents that I actually barely got enough sleep the night before. Worse is when I wake up in the middle of the night and I’m up for a few hours. I use this time to read Quran or develop one of my novels. Since I have vivid dreams, sometimes I choose not to sleep at all. It’s just easier to tackle sleep the next night.

Read. Drink tea. Memorize Quran. Doodle. Work on photography. Listen to music. Drive around aimlessly. WHATEVER! JUST SLOW DOWN AND BREATHE!

Writing for me comes in intense outbursts – writing like a maniac for 16 hours straight and then BAM. Nothing. A void. Sometimes it takes me a month or more to get back to a story. The novel I’m finally back to working on took me a year to pick up again.

I have writing at the end of my list not because it’s the last priority, but because it’s always present in my life. However, it’s not something I have control over. I can’t force myself to sit down and write. That’s why I have always hated writing exercises in school, yes even at my MFA residencies. As crazy as this may sound,  I don’t control my writing. It controls me. I know that every single writer reading his will agree with me. What do I do when that light bulb bursts from a great idea… and I’m in the middle of driving on the freeway or in the shower? Let’s face it, all our greatest life decisions come to us while in the shower.

I just know that there is one soul on this Earth who has come up with THE solution to finding peace in the Middle East while taking a long shower and forgot it the moment he/she stepped out of the bathroom. Typical.

I have come up with a solution. A recorder. My father actually gave me this idea. Since I talk to myself while I’m alone anyways, why not put it to use. In all seriousness, there is not a moment when a writer’s mind is not at work. I have just trained myself to tune it out. If I didn’t, my insanity would be on display at all times. That would be an issue for my choice of being a private person in public. When I can’t have access to a pen and paper or a technological device of some sort that allows me to jot down my thoughts and brilliant ideas, I record it.

Don’t forget, all geniuses throughout history were also insane.

I’m going to cut myself off right here and try not to go back and edit what I have just written. I’m out at a coffee shop writing this. It’s 8:30 pm, my hands are starting to shake from the crazy amount of caffeine I have consumed and lack of breathing I’ve been doing. I have a long drive home, which is perfect. Driving is one of my favorite ways to unwind and breathe.

Until next week… If you’re actually still reading this. You are awesome.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why Do You Write?

Up until I decided I wanted to dedicate my time to writing over wanting to be a lawyer, the majority of the questions I received from people were all related to my hijab and why I chose to wear it. It made a lot of sense to me for people to be drawn to the most visible and “different” item I chose to display daily. I never thought there would be another question that would take its place.

“Why do you write?”

It’s incredible how many people I run into from my past, high school acquaintances and community members, who either knew or assumed I wanted to go to law school. After spending the majority of my short life following the plan I had set for myself, to become an international lawyer, I switched gears (or rather set old gears in motion) and went after what I always had great passion. You can imagine their surprise when they run into me years later and the conversation goes a little like this.

“What are you up to these days? You must have just graduated from law school, right? International law, right?” They’re always eager to hear a response affirming that they knew where I would end up.

At first, telling people I actually went after an MFA and having to explain it to them was difficult. It’s not that I wasn’t proud of where I am today. It’s that I had to get used to the confusion, surprise, or even distasteful looks of disappointment I had to face. I’m not the kind of person to put up a defense-mode shield. I don’t believe in having to defend the choices I make.  I’ve never done anything so horrible that I’ve regretted it enough to feel hideously embarrassed or disappointed in myself. (That’s not to say that my life isn’t one big awkward moment, but that’s for another novel.) In the end, I do what makes me happy and with the intention to please Allah swt and gain His blessings. Other than that, it’s to see me put a smile on my parents’ faces. I believe that everything happens for a reason as God intended it to. Every situation and action I’ve taken must have meant to serve a purpose, a lesson to learn. What I regret are usually the points of my life that I have yet to understand the lesson I should have gained to better myself in the future. I’m digressing here.

I always take a moment to reply, “Actually I’m a writer now. I just received my MFA in Creative Writing. That’s Master of Fine Arts…. Writing novels.”

I let that sink in and watch them react slowly. I pretty much receive one of two reactions or both.
A. “Wow. That’s amazing! Good for you.” They proceed to ask how they can get a hold of my work and writing.
B. “Why? Why do you write?” I guess it’s better than the harsher responses of, “How do you expect to make a living? How old are you now?”
(The latter question is usually tied to checking to see if I’m married, because that’s clearly how I’ll gain stability since I have chosen to be a writer.)

The reality is that writing does not guarantee me a stable future and I was aware of that when I chose to go after an MFA. I don’t write to produce the next New York Times Bestseller, although that would be incredible, nor do I write to make money, hence my career goal on entering the publishing industry as an editor one day.

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”
George Orwell

I write because I believe in the power of words.

“Why do you write?”

Books, words, have always been my perfect escape. Words hold a great weight. The first words I remember hearing were Allah’s words. As a child, reading, specifically to memorize the Quran, was the first thing I was taught. The first word ordered to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was “IQRA!” “READ!” Words hold great power. As a Muslim, when you are born, your father or male guardian take two actions. They recite the Athan in your right ear and Iqama in your left ear. Both are the call to prayer, but the Athan is called at the exact time that the prayer comes in and the Iqama is called when you actually stand up to pray. The reason they must be the first thing a baby hears is because of the specific words that are recited for each call. My father was in Palestine when I was born. If you don’t already know, I was born in San Diego, California. My uncle took the responsibility of reciting these words. The words of the Quran have always given my heart the stability of peace.

Recently, at a writing retreat with friends, the Athan went off at around five in the morning signaling the time for Fajr, or dawn, prayer. It woke up the friends I was sharing a hotel room with. One of them commented that it was a nice way to wake up. It definitely is. The Athan is the first wake up call I receive daily. Better than any alarm, radio, or random song. The melodic words that are recited are powerful and yet peaceful.

One of the first hadiths, sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), that I heard as a child was, "Acquire knowledge. It enables its possessor to distinguish right from wrong; it lights the way to Heaven; it is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when friendless, it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is an ornament amongst friends; and an armour against enemies."

I have lived my life by this hadith. Is there anything more enriching that the constant intake of knowledge surrounding us. I educate myself with the books that I read. Words are powerful.

“Why do you write?”

Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch television or hop onto the computer. Forget the dial-up internet that could only be used in short spurts of time in case someone needed to call us. I didn’t go to friends' houses and I have never had cousins my age that lived near me. My parents were overprotective of their first child. If there was anywhere my mom trusted aside from school to leave me alone, it was the library. My library card was my ticket to adventure. I lived in the library. I lived among words. I lived in a different world every day of my life. I didn’t think it could get any more exciting than being able to escape so easily. I still don’t.

As punishment when caught doing something wrong, my siblings were always sent to their rooms. Not me. My room held treasure: books. I would hide them everywhere and sneak a couple chapters between my studies as a reward to myself. When I got in trouble, I was sent to the kitchen to help my mom or sent to do chores. You can see where my hate of the kitchen comes.

On Eid, I would ask for books. Books were my source of adventure, mystery, and especially knowledge. I wrote my own original stories and turned to my favorite novels when I was stuck. I could never let a story end after turning the last page of a book. I would write my own alternate ending and carry on the story. Years later, I learned I wasn’t the only one. This thing called fan-fiction existed. By then, I had stopped writing it down and kept it in my head. I went back to writing original stories. I never thought it would take me anywhere.

“Why do you write?”

There was one LARGE problem with the books I read and stories I wrote. I was never able to insert myself into any of the stories. I never belonged in any of them. I could relate to the stories, sure, but only on the surface. It struck me as odd that there was a lack of people of color, different cultures, and different religions in the stories I read. When these diverse topics existed, I was forced to read them as required reading in school and it was always for the same reasons. Racism, war, violence, the Holocaust, historical events and yet still nothing about Arabs or Muslims.

In eighth grade, I decided I had enough. I walked up to my English teacher, who was a very open-minded woman, and told her I didn’t want to read Anne Frank’s diary for the tenth time. I wanted a challenge. She said if I could find an equally alternate book and as long as I completed every single assignment, I could take on this challenge. She warned me that it would come with difficulty because I would be the only one reading the book I chose, but still encouraged me to take it on. I did some research and stumbled upon a book about a young girl who experienced the gulf war while living in Iraq. To put things in perspective, eighth grade for me began in 2001, right before the events of 9/11. I was excited that I finally had this opportunity and I’ll never forget my teacher for allowing her students to grow by learning in different ways.

Here’s where I feel guilty. I did all the work, presented on it, and still have my project saved to this day. Unfortunately, I just spent half an hour looking for the title of the book because years later, I sit here with no recollection of what that book was called. I still couldn’t find it today. Why? Our school curriculums are set up to teach to specific standards that basically lack diversity and an understanding of multiculturalism. I can go on with a full essay on this. I believe that even in our education system, as my tenth grade English teacher let slip once, the United States doesn’t want to teach any history that doesn’t involve us being the heroic savior in the end. My overall message here is that I was raised in black and white bubble when the world is actually made up of more colors than a rainbow.

Ignorance that exists in our world comes from the lack of tolerance we have in taking the time to actually educate ourselves about others. This lack of knowledge leads to horrible paths. My mom is currently working on her doctorate dissertation. It involves researching the challenges that Muslim women face in the Unites States and in educational institutions. She shares a lot of the articles with me. Last night, she reminded me of an article she read years ago. A young Muslim girl who wore hijab was severely taunted in class. Instead of shedding light and providing a bit of education to her students, the teacher reminded the girl that she and her people were to blame for 9/11 and therefore deserves to withstand the disgusting jeers of her peers.

I’m going to let the sheer, what should I call it, ignorance of this “educator” sink in. I know I don’t need to reiterate that what this young girl had to experience still isn’t as horrible as other stories I have heard. Shocking? Yes. I know for a fact that my own mother has been through just as harsh and difficult situations as an educator and student.

Sometimes the stories that I hear just sound like sick jokes. Like the guy that thought racism ceased to exist in the United States when Obama was elected president… Buddy, what rock have you been living under? Am I being too blunt?

“Why do you write?”

Ignorance, hate, violence, racism, all sorts of misinformed forms of thoughts reside everywhere. Let’s all be a little honest to ourselves. It resides within each of us as well. I’ve learned that when I face someone who holds hate against me, trying to educate them is at times a failed attempt and waste of my time. They face me always ready with an argument and blinded with anger. Sometimes they aren’t even sure why they’re full of anger and hate. At times, it’s just because they need something to hold on to and someone to place the blame on.

"Write to set someone else free."
Toni Morrison

Writing gives me an alternate avenue to get through to them. When they sit across from a screen or paper, they can’t face me. It would be a waste of their time to build up a blind argument when they can’t shove it back at me in person or possibly online. They’re forced to at least read everything and take it in. Same goes for a book. Now, if they don’t want to hear the truth, I can’t control that. That’s for them to decide. I have done everything I can. Words are a powerful form of education.

“Why do you write?”

I do write stories without color. I write stories with regular experiences that any girl or guy faces growing up in the west. The reason I’ve dedicated my life to writing is because I want my words to mean something to me and anyone reading them. I write to educate, inform, and entertain. I write stories that I hope many will feel connected to regardless of color, race, religion, gender, etc. Underneath every story I write, it’s laced with knowledge.

At times, I don’t intend on giving any sort of lesson or dispelling of misconceptions. It just happens. It surprises me just as much as it does anyone reading my writing. What I write is not meant to be shoved in anyone’s face. In fact, the only place I openly tell you what’s on my mind is here, on my blog, where everything I write is meant to be informal and honest.

I know you agree with me when I rhetorically ask, what’s better than education that’s also entertaining? Bill Nye the Science Guy, anyone? Genius.

“Why do you write?”

When I was first accepted into UCSD, my parents knew how badly I didn’t want to go to this university and insisted I go to their Admit Day to check out the school and meet other students who were excited about attending it. I went with dad. Even after my surprise of how many Muslims attended the school (having never gone to school or even lived around other Muslims or Arabs) and almost being sucked in by the beauty and nature surrounding the campus, I still wasn’t convinced. On our way off-campus, literally almost a few steps before leaving, I spotted a white man, his wife, and son – who I presumed was also an incoming freshman – coming towards us. My dad was checking out the handouts in his hand and excitedly recapping our day. As the man passed us, he made eye contact with me and slowly spelled out the F-word. INSTANTLY, I turned to face him and said, “YOU” and gave him a steel cold look. I’ll never forget the anger, or maybe it was shock, that flushed from his neck up through his face or the ashamed looks on both his wife and son’s faces as they pulled him forward and argued with him to stop. I made strong eye contact with the boy my age before he ducked his head low and rushed onto campus. It took me a few moments to realize I was still walking alongside my dad, still chatting with me, and I quickly began worrying internally. Had my father heard the man or my reaction, as tame as it was to his? My dad is a smart man and both he and my mom have become experts at hiding their emotions in these instances to protect their children. If he had, he didn’t show it. If he didn’t, well, he’ll know when he reads this.

The reason I tell you this simplest of stories among MUCH harsher experiences I’ve had is because this specific moment is one of four that sealed my decision to attend UCSD. I had dedicated my life to fight ignorance and hatred across the world by wanting to become an international lawyer and yet the same issues were staring at me in the face in my own hometown. How could I begin to bring change to the world if my own home needed it the most?

A lesson our government needs to be educated upon, don’t you think?

I’ve been through much worse and yet still nothing compared to others across the nation and the globe. I could hold hate in my heart for every person who has wronged me and those I love. I could choose to react irrationally and play by the notion that “ignorance is bliss”. But then I remember anyone who has ever proved that good does still exist like this man.

This soldier is what a hero looks like.

Yes, this clip made my cry… right in the middle of sitting in a coffee shop.
When I posted the link on Facebook, the title came up as “WATCH: American Soldier's Jaw-Dropping Response To Islamophobe”. He spoke the truth, "If you're an American, you're an American. Period." His response should not be categorized as "jaw-dropping".

I’ve seen this video pop up everywhere for a few days, but only just convinced myself to watch it this morning. I always have trouble watching or reading anything about Muslims, especially around 9/11, a day that affected EVERY AMERICAN.

I do choose to fight ignorance, hatred, and violence.
I choose to fight with my words.
I believe words are the greatest source of lasting power.

“Why do you write?”

I love the smell and feel of books. I love hiding my face in the pages of a book when I don’t want to be bothered.

“I believe in the magic of books. I believe that during certain periods in our lives we are drawn to particular books—whether it’s strolling down the aisles of a bookshop with no idea whatsoever of what it is that we want to read and suddenly finding the most perfect, most wonderfully suitable book staring us right in the face. Unblinking. Or a chance meeting with a stranger or friend who recommends a book we would never ordinarily reach for. Books have the ability to find their own way into our lives.”
Cecelia Ahern

Growing up and watching Disney movies, I never wanted to be a princess. I’ve always wanted to be a warrior. I was pretty excited when Princess Merida was created. Even though I didn’t want the stuffy life of a princess, my favorite movie has been and will always be “Beauty and the Beast”.

Anyone watch the television series "Once Upon a Time"? (Spoiler alert!) You already know I don’t have much time to watch television and I don’t own one in my room, but I did see the episode where Rumpelstiltskin shows Belle to her new living quarters and he leads her to the library. This grand library with a small bed in the middle. I had to pause the scene just to take in the library. Am I jealous of Belle? Obviously! Being locked up with a beast is not cool, but that library…

“Why do you write?”

If you know me well, you know I’m not a romantic. I wouldn’t call myself a pessimist or an optimist. Maybe a realist? What is put into my books doesn’t represent how I live my life and I never expect fiction to seep its way into reality. What I mean by that is that my stories aren’t based on my own life. I do try to represent Islam in the same way that I live it as a devout Muslim. Of course, what I write about comes from real life experiences, but my characters are all a fabrication of my imagination along with the specific lives they live.

I want my readers to not just be able to escape and live new adventures and new lives, but to also gain something in the same way that my favorite authors gave me.

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.”
J.D. Salinger

I love writing novels because I have a story to tell, but also to educate in the same way I was educated. That’s why I want to diversify my writing, which is not how I began originally.

I believe and have faith that one day I will be able to take my writing to new places and experience this world with my own eyes. 

“Why do you write?”

Quite simply, words are knowledge.

This life is short and I want to live it fully and to my best potential.

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.”
Benjamin Franklin

As promised to my family and friends, my goal is to post here every Thursday. Stay tuned!

Tonight, I’ll leave you with this entertaining link that my friend just posted online: