It’s the last Thursday of November. The streets sound a little quieter. Earlier this morning, I made scrambled eggs for breakfast. It was a nice day—my ideal fall weather. My hair was freshly washed, my skin just-lotioned and I was in loose-fitting home clothes. I had my lychee candle and my peach candle lit. My bedroom was clean. I had a cup of tea by my side. I sat by myself, undisturbed, flipping through pages of The Liars’ Club.
I know I whine a lot about how stressed I am so often but really, if I had to do this for the rest of my life, I would not be mad. I felt so contented. My job everyday is to soak in knowledge, learn and just work on myself. I feel so lucky.
Happy thanksgiving, friends. Have a good, restful holiday. 🙂
Blogging this semester felt a lot harder for me and one of the reasons for that is I feel like every time I open a blank page to write, the first thing that comes out of my mouth is “I’m so tired” and I hate that. But I honestly have been so tired and I haven’t done anything fun at all, really (or, ok fine, very very minimal fun). I can even prove it because I put everything in my calendar, colour-coded. Classes are in peach, personal obligations like gym/errands/appointments are in purple, club events are in blue, meetings are in green. Social events are in pink and before this weekend, I had only 2 pink entries in my iCal. Both were on 6th Oct, during fall break hahaha.
So, I’m sorry to myself for saying this, but wow I’m tired. A good tired, but tired nonetheless. I’ve definitely mentioned this before, but I’ve had something due from week 1 to week 12. Tomorrow is week 13 and it’s technically the one week this semester I don’t have a paper due or an exam, but I do have 3 papers due and one exam on week 13 so I’m spacing out my work and writing my history paper this weekend.
With that said, I did manage to have some fun on Friday. I was honestly so happy about it. I don’t have classes on Friday, but usually I go to the lab to work on my independent research. This week, my supervisor/professor told us to take the week off partly because she was going to be out of town. That was the first plus.
I spent most of the afternoon doing readings and writing responses to readings as usual but then!!!! In the evening!!!! I got to see Anna Kendrick speak live at my school!!!! Ahhhh it was so much fun! She was here as part of her book tour for her memoir, Scrappy Little Nobody and we all got the book for free 😀 If you know me, you know that I love love love her movie The Last Five Years and of course, the Pitch Perfect series. She talked about how difficult the writing process was (she called it a “fool’s errand”), what she felt her most rewarding roles were (The Last Five Years and Into the Woods), a bit about her family etc. She was sooo funny and it was just a really good time, it felt like going to see a stand up show. I’m really going to miss opportunities like these when I graduate.
After seeing Anna Kendrick, I went to see Fantastic Beasts with May May! Oh my god, it was so good! I was a huge Potter fan growing up, like read all the books at least twice, seen all the movies countless times, so it was really cool to see the movie screen open up to that world again. I won’t spoil anything, but it was nice to hear Dumbledore’s name, hear Hogwarts being mentioned again after so many years telling myself we’ll never experience anything like that again. Because this is somewhat an epilogue to the Harry Potter series, it was also really cool to hear more about the backstory, stuff I’ve only read about in JK Rowling’s interviews, online fan forums etc hahaha. So thank god for profit-thirsty film conglomerates, I guess???
Then, after the movie, my friends and I went to midnight free ice skating at the Penn Ice Rink. The Muslim Student Association hosts one every year, and it’s my favourite event. I was very excited about it this year because I missed it last year due to paper-writing. It’s so much fun because usually in Malaysia, when you go skating at Pyramid or whatever, it’s just you and a few of your friends. But when the MSA hosts an ice skating event, I know so many people and it’s so much more fun because it feels so communal. Plus, it’s always really fun to see how good some people are and how not-so-good other people are. I usually suck at it, but somehow this year I did so much better! Like, I didn’t stick to the wall after the first round around the rink which is like a huge record for me. In past years, I’d be screaaaming at clutching onto the wall, which is fun in it’s own right, but I’m glad I did a lot better this time haha.
I was really sore when I woke up Saturday morning, but I had so much work to do I had to get out of bed even though I wanted to lie in all day. I went to South Street yesterday to do work at Ultimo with Hanna who I feel like I haven’t seen in ages. Ultimo has really good coffee and is such a cute spot to do work so that was nice. It was so nice just to catch up and do work together. I probably have mentioned this before, but Hanna comes pretty darn close to the older sister I never had. She’s so supportive and is always there for me. After doing work, we hung out at her apartment which is honestly just the cutest place and it’s in such a nice neighbourhood, too. She provided me with a pesto and cheese sandwich, which obviously filled me to the brim with joy because hello, pesto and cheese!!! Ugh, love it love it love it.
So I guess that concludes my fun weekend 😦 I’m about to go back to paper-writing… oh! Actually, tonight, we’re having a ClubSG/Malaysians at Penn potluck for thanksgiving which should be fun! But I’ll write about that next week when I get a proper ~break~ haha. See you next weeeeek.
As I run the tail end of my college career, I’ve been spending so much of my time mulling over my relationship with writing. How much I love it, how much it stresses me out, how much it helps me relax, how I don’t feel like I’m good at it or have what it takes to be good at it, how much I absolutely hate it when I know people are reading what I write but also how much I love it when people tell me they relate to something I say. I am not trying to sound like a moody tormented artist here because I’m so not the type but I do genuinely love writing for pleasure in a way I don’t love anything or anyone else because nothing else is as “mine” as writing is to me.
I was talking to my friend Clare on Friday and at one point of the conversation, we talked about Marina Keegan’s posthumously published book, The Opposite of Loneliness (we’re both a huge fan of the book—I highly recommend it). As we spoke, I realise a lot of what makes a good writer lies outside of the act of writing itself, and more in thinking and observations of daily life.
This brings me to Joan Didion. I’ve read a couple of Didion’s pieces for my non-fiction writing class and I’m quite enamoured by her. Most recently, I read her piece, On Keeping a Notebook and she talks about something I absolutely love doing: taking notes about random thoughts and observations. I have always asked myself why I do that, because what usually happens is I think of something and I say “oh that’s a good one” and I quickly type it into my Notes app but rarely ever do I go back to my notes and compile them and turn them into anything. They don’t amount to anything, they don’t get read by me or anyone else, and I almost just write them down just to keep them. But why? Why do I do that? In her aforementioned piece, Didion kind of weighs in on that:
Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.
Basically, she’s also saying that she isn’t quite sure why she does it and that it’s an explicable compulsion she has. Then a few paragraphs later, she says:
We are brought up in the ethic that others, any others, all others, are by definition more interesting than ourselves; taught to be diffident, just this side of self-effacing. […] The rest of us are expected, rightly, to affect absorption in other people’s favorite dresses, other people’s trout. And so we do. But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I.” We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful [reflections]; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.
I know our generation is probably a lot more narcissistic than Didion’s probably was. We are now taught to believe we’re unique and important. But still, I think, there’s a sense that our public lives aren’t meant to feel interesting and special but in private writing, it really can be. And all these random scribbles don’t need to amount to something huge, they don’t need to be a means to an end but an end in itself.
This reminded me of Marina Keegan. Marina was a very recent Yale graduate at the time of her death in 2012. She was poised for a job at The New Yorker. She was and always will be an amazing writer. When she died, I think her parents and one of her professors (I might be wrong about this) got together to compile some of her best pieces which is what became The Opposite of Loneliness, titled after the very popular last piece she wrote for the Yale Daily News (read it here). Anne Fadiman, her first-person writing professor wrote the introduction to her book and in it, Fadiman says Marina applied to her class with this:
About three years ago, I started a list. It began in a marbled notebook but has since evolved inside the walls of my word processor. Interesting stuff. That’s what I call it. I’ll admit it’s become a bit of an addiction. I add to it in class, in the library, before bed, and on trains. It has everything from descriptions of a waiter’s hand gestures, to my cab driver’s eyes, to strange things that happen to me or a way to phrase something. I have 32 single-spaced pages of interesting stuff in my life.
It just comforts me so much to think that I sorta kinda share something with these very established writers. I mean, obviously, I’m no where near there but it’s nice to know that even though I sometimes don’t feel good enough, I have an intention and an inclination that is good and reflective and creative. Of course, I think writers don’t become great writers because they just have talent or creativity. I totally believe the creative life involves as much discipline as anything else does—it also means sitting down at your desk with your laptop or your paper day in, day out—but that much I feel have control over.
So, some things have changed since the last time we spoke. But I just wanted to say that I’m okay. I’ve felt better of course, but I’m okay. I woke up on Wednesday morning a little unsure of what to expect, but I received an outpour of support from my friends, Muslims and non-Muslims. My peers, professors and university staff have been so great at making sure everyone gets any support they need. We all wish we didn’t feel like we needed so much support, but God, I wish you could see, hear, feel the sense of community I saw, heard and felt on Wednesday. I suppose I regret the circumstances, but I have never felt any less alone or any more inspired. And, wow, on days I don’t feel like getting out of bed, these communities always give me reason.
It was surely not an easy task to grapple with the results of the US Elections on Tuesday, but first of all, I trust in God’s plans and secondly, I believe in continuing to do good work, and I believe in the people around me who believe the same. I have never known what the future holds. I have been afraid before and I am sure I will be afraid again; that much has always been certain. But someone reminded me that often we don’t see the effects of our hard work and it’s tempting to say that nothing we do counts, that our voices just don’t matter. However, we also don’t know what things would be like if we don’t continue to put our good energy out there. So with a greater resolve, I will continue to do good work in different shapes and forms, to fight for what I believe in, have conversations, read, tell stories and listen, one day at a time.
With that said, I know some people walk around with very real worries and I don’t wish to minimise any of that. Obviously, I have my share of concerns and I don’t mean to always paint an overly rosy picture of my life but I am choosing to keep the faith and keep going. I just want everyone to know they’re not alone. I am determined to remain proud to be a young muslim asian woman and I remain committed to kindness and equality for all.
Last Thursday, I went to Professor Feros’ office hours to catch up on what I missed in class the Thursday prior. He told me not to worry about it because it was an insignificant lecture, and that he thinks I’m doing very well. In fact, he urged that I stop worrying so much. I pushed back, “how do you know I’m doing well?” He insists that I am, that he just knows, while also citing my good grade on his last exam. I told him I actually thought I did really badly on it as I walked out of the exam that day and that I was very surprised and confused (albeit very grateful and relieved) when I saw my grade. He assured me he wasn’t doing me any favours. I was a little taken aback when he said that, and was going to say “I didn’t say you were” but at that point I realised I was asking him that, even if that wasn’t what I said out loud.
After I got my grade, I did think about how Professor Feros and I have a good student-professor relationship. Sometimes in the morning we’d bump into each other on our way to his class and we’d talk about things like my visit to Spain in 2014 and Alfonso de Albuquerque’s arrival in Melaka. It struck me how lowly I think about myself—to the extent that I’d think a professor I respect so much would do something quite unspeakable.
I’m thinking now about last spring, when Professor Pollack handed me my paper on the politics of rhetoric about trade in the current election cycle. It was a tough paper to write. I struggled with it a lot. He pulled my paper out of the pile, leaned in slightly, looked at me with a smile and said in hushed tones, “this was the best paper in the whole class.” I immediately laughed and said “you’ve got to be lying.” Another professor I respect, another baseless accusation with the aim of protecting my self-deprecating view of myself.
I don’t really want to live like this, looking down on myself all the time, but I also don’t know how not to. Rather, I’ve been doing it for so long—pushing myself with so much aggression (for better and for worse)—that I don’t know anything else. My professors keep telling me not to worry, but I worry that my worry is what has gotten me by. I worry that I’ve been riding on luck for so long, and I’ve been using some combination of anxiety to propel myself such that the minute I loosen up even a little, I will lose it all.
(I know I’ve written about this before but the situation presents itself again and again. A testament to how self-improvement can be such a piecemeal process.)