Almost There…

I missed a week of posting, but you’ll forgive me, yes? And I will have to learn to forgive myself as well, because this past week was brutal. I don’t like being lenient on myself, but this week was so rough that I just can’t consider missing a blog post as being lenient. I had a 5-page paper due on Monday, a 7-page paper due on Tuesday, a 10-page paper due on Thursday morning and an exam on Thursday afternoon… on top of regular classes, meetings, readings and homework.

As I write this, I have only one day left of class, only one exam left to take and am just a few days away from my holiday. And as always, when it gets to this point in the semester and classes are wrapping up, everyone seems to talk about how quickly time passed by… but I really don’t feel like it did. I’m not saying that it was such an awful semester that time moved so slowly for me—it was challenging as always, but definitely still a good one—but as my friend Hui Jie reminds me, you’re not the same person as you were when the semester started. Which is to say that if I observe myself closely and keep track of the things I pull myself through, I personally have found that my life doesn’t fly by me, but rather, passes at the right pace. So it’s hard to look at who I was when I started and how much less experienced I was at the time and feel like time just flew because I think we really go through so much more than we remember. I don’t know, I could be wrong, but I tend to think saying “time flew by” means you’re not giving yourself enough credit.

I think we quietly grow in the moments we make little decisions. This semester, I’ve been rejected by a company I wanted to work for, lost my cat and spent a lot fewer hours in bed than I wanted to, but can I just say, nothing was as sobering as my most recent birthday. The clock struck midnight on 3rd December and I was propped up in bed with a slight headache and menstrual pain, working on my laptop making a study guide for my Communications exam. I wanted to go out and have fun and celebrate or at least just sleep in but I knew I couldn’t and I didn’t. I’m not saying that growing up means giving up merriment or not caring about my wants and feelings, I just think it means being able to say “yes, that’s how I feel, but I can’t give in to that right now—maybe another time” and then actually remembering to attend to it some other time. It’s small, but I don’t know that I would have been able to really do that 1-2 years ago.

With that said though, it’s not like I miraculously turned into a super mature adult overnight. At some point this week, I was so tired and couldn’t bring myself to go out to get food and I hadn’t had time to do groceries so my fridge was empty and had to just resort to making maggi for lunch. When I opened my packet, it bursted open and lots of tiny pieces flew across the kitchen counter. Have you ever felt like you were going to burst into tears but were just too tired to express any emotion? That’s exactly how I felt. I stared at the mess for like a solid 10 seconds, took this picture, then curled up on my couch, and fell into a 20 minute nap. It sucked. But I mean, progress isn’t always linear, right? Haha.

I’m having so much trouble concentrating while typing right now because I’m having difficulties breathing through my awfully stuffy nose and I’m coughing like mad. I can’t believe I’m sick around finals again, for the second semester in a row, but I also can’t say I’m surprised. I don’t want to glorify working hard at the expense of our health and stuff but this week was such a whirlwind that I just totally failed to be good to myself. I have never been one to skip meals, but even though I could feel myself getting sick (my body was quietly revolting against how much I was pushing it) some days I just forgot to eat. I haven’t exercised in over two weeks. Up until this morning, I was in the same outfit for 3 days straight because I needed to do laundry but had no time. Now, I feel so gross and I’m so sick I can’t properly hear myself speak, I’m having difficulty sleeping through the night and my body aches.

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Yes, I carried around that whole box of tissues in my bag all day.

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I just can’t help realising the culture I am complicit in creating that we criticise so often at Penn. I love that everyone here works really hard—I love that—but we also normalise such an awful lifestyle. It’s so common for people to pull all-nighters, to be sick but refuse to go to see a doctor because they “don’t have time” and to lie in bed unable to fall asleep because they feel guilty for not doing work. It’s exactly the thing about Penn that I kind of can’t wait to get a break from, really. This is going to sound super pretentious, but I think when you lump a bunch of high-achievers together in this little academic village and, in a sense, pit them against each other, you really send them into overdrive. Or at least, that’s how it feels sometimes. Which is why I’m so so so looking forward to break right now oh my god.

Honestly, it feels a little weird saying I’m looking forward to break because when I come back it will be my final—FINAL—semester here and I feel like I should be soaking everything in and relishing it because as crazy as things get, this life is a pretty darn good one and I don’t want to lose sight of that. There are a lot of things about here and now to miss when it’s over. Like, this week alone, I got two free books—because, you know, education!!! The English department has a Winter Reading Project program where they give out free books before winter break and have a discussion about it in January. This year, they gave out Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me about America’s racial history and I’m so excited to read it. I also got to attend another Authors@Wharton event today. They invited Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, The Blind Side and The Big Short for a talk moderated by the wonderful Adam Grant (another brilliant author himself). They gave out copies of Lewis’ most recent book, The Undoing Project about two psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky whose behavioural economics research has kind of catapulted the field to where it is today, I feel like.

So, yes, life is good and I’m grateful for everything this semester has brought (but I think I will still need that break before I can take on the final semester).

Week 14: Memorial

[Trigger warning: this post talks about a recent tragic incident that happened at Penn]

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It was a nice morning in the spring of my Freshman year. My hallmate and good friend, Claire and I were having brunch at the dining hall in Hill when we got an email from our RA offering support in light of the recent tragic news. We didn’t know. Then, we found out that a fellow classmate had committed suicide the day before. She lived in the dorm we were eating in at that exact moment. We continued our daily lives, shaken, but ultimately, unscarred.

That was 4 semesters ago. I thought it would be the only time I’d experience news like that. But since then, we’ve lost way too many. I could say all of their names here, and I could even tell you the scary statistic that lingers over this institution but I won’t, because they were more than a list and more than a statistic. They were real people who walked on the same Locust Walk I use to go to class, people I’ve probably bumped into, people I have mutual friends with, people with vivid and complex lives.

Yesterday, we lost Olivia.

I didn’t know her, but it pained me to think about this loss. Like me and most of my friends, she was also from the Class of 2017, poised to sit on Franklin Field next May in a cap and gown. Like my friend Wendy, she was in the CSA culture show. Like my friend May May, she was in the PGN business fraternity. Like my friend Busra, she was in the APO service fraternity. She registered for classes, took midterms, was involved in campus organisations and had many friends. She was just like any one of us.

In times like these, my mind becomes somewhat naïve and child-like. “She was here. Now she isn’t. She was alive. Now she isn’t.” I grapple with this reality, and clearly all of my friends are struggling with it too. There was an outpouring of grief and support, simultaneously. At 5 p.m. yesterday, there was a support group held at Huntsman and hundreds came. Later that night, a vigil. Everyone was struck, and everyone tried their best to reach out to each other.

“Even if we’re not that close, feel free to come to me if you need someone to talk to.”
“I’m always here for you.”
“Given what just happened, I just wanted to see if you were okay.”
“You’re not alone.”

“You can always reach out to your advisor, counselling services, a professor, the chaplains’ office, your RA.”

But that raised so many questions in me. Questions that weren’t new, but questions I still could not answer: Why do we only offer support when something like this happens? Why do we not reach out to people who offer support when we need it? How do we stop things like this from happening again?

I certainly wasn’t alone in wondering about this. Coincidentally, the topic for my Psychology class today was mental health. There was an atmosphere of stillness, I would say. In class, we talked about “Penn Face”—a culture that immediately immerses you once you step foot here. It’s the idea that we all have so much we’re struggling with and yet walk around with this facade that everything is perfectly fine all whilst comparing our challenges to the seemingly-perfect lives of our peers. I mean, when I walk down the street and bump into someone I know, occasionally, we’ll strike small-talk. Usually it’s: “How are you?” followed by the obligatory “fine, thanks” or if you’re a little closer to the person, maybe “yeah, I have a shitty week with midterms, papers and OCR etc” to which they might reply “oh my god, ugh, same” and you end on “we should catch up some time” before saying bye and walking away. It’s well-meaning, and not always an entirely sugar-coated conversation but rather expectedly surface-level without fail.

I don’t know why “Penn Face” exists, to be sure. It’s partly about putting up our best selves at all times, whether in person or on social media. To me, it’s partly about persevering and not letting the negativity get to me or affect others. It’s partly the notion that we’ve worked so hard to be here, and now that we’re here, we have to make the most of it so that we can do so much more. I understand this culture and I have no doubts that I am complicit to some extent.

But that’s where it gets tricky, right? Because I do believe in putting my best self forward, I believe I always have to work very hard, I believe in maintaining a positive demeanor. So, where is the line? What do we change?

Some people talk about how the administration has failed us. Not enough resources, an environment that’s too competitive, not being responsive enough. Petitions are written and circled and debated and signed. President Amy Guttman sends out an email encouraging us to reach out for support. But what will be done and will it be effective quickly enough?

Some people talk about how Penn students need to break out of this cycle, that there needs to be a behavioural change in the undergrad culture. But the conversation tends to circle back to the fact that we don’t really know what to do. How do we consistently be a source of support to our peers and seem genuine when our schedules are so packed? How do we reconcile our internal monologues so that we can both push ourselves to do more and be more while being kind to ourselves? How do we destigmatise weakness?

I guess for now I don’t know the answers. But for now, we’re talking about it. We’re thinking about it. We’re reaching out to hold each others’ hands through this.

For anyone at Penn/even outside, if you need someone to talk to, please reach out. To me, if that’s what you feel comfortable with. You are stronger for it. Lastly, if this post was misinformed in one way or another, feel free to let me know.

Take care ❤

Week 9: Don’t Trust Everything You See Online / My Girlfriends Are Made of Magic

Today's Chai Chat!

Today’s Chai Chat!

Today, I went to a Chai Chat (they’re monthly dialogues on issues socially relevant to students, basically, and they’re called Chai Chats because there is free chai!). It was a collaborative discussion on the way social media affects our perception of our peers and ourselves. I think it’s a really important dialogue to have because so much of the pressure we put on ourselves is derived from what we think everyone else is doing and the standards we feel we should hold ourselves to because of it. And let’s face it.. Facebook and whatnot, they all kinda make you feel like everyone else is doing a lot better than they usually are.

I mean, I love Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat. I think, to some extent, I like seeing what everyone else is up to because it gives me inspiration and ideas–a type of fashion style I could try out, a new restaurant I could visit, a good band I might want to check out. This is great. Seriously. I love it. Most of the time I’d say that in the moment, it makes me feel connected and happy or whatever. Plus, I like knowing what my friends and family back home or in other countries are up to! I miss them so much and being able to see bits and pieces from their “mundane” daily lives make me feel close and connected. I like seeing people having fun and being happy–it makes me happy. It really does!

But no one is really representing an accurate picture of what their life is like, you know? Most people try to put their best selves out there, and that’s fine. We’re always taught to behave nicely and appropriate around people, and so I can understand how it’s somewhat natural to “curate” a social media presence. I’m not saying it’s bad or that they shouldn’t, just that it might be difficult for us to remember, and so sometimes, when it’s 2 a.m. and, I don’t know, maybe I’m writing a paper that feels completely unwriteable or studying for a midterm that seems to have bottomless material to cover, pictures of people going out and having fun just slowly tip toes into my mind. It happens. And like a big fat caramel cupcake to my hungry eyes, it tempts me to think, “how do they do so much outside of school and still take 6 classes and do really well in all of them?”

We’re always comparing our blooper reels to our peers’ highlight reels and that’s not fair. But I get it. It’s hard. I know. I subconsciously do it a lot. Yet, I’m also guilty of putting my best self up. I try to make conscious efforts to be genuine and honest–I’ve been frank about downright crappy weeks and feeling stressed and helpless and lost. I guess those things just tend to be more “quiet”? I don’t know. Like I said, it’s kinda ingrained in me to treat social media interactions like I would real life ones, which means to lead a good example and what not, be collected and friendly, but also just a little bit open and frank about the not-so-great stuff.

I also personally don’t know if I would say I never want to compare myself with others, because a bit of awareness is useful I think.. but I guess all I wanna say is it’s never a complete picture. Everyone is going through something. For me, it really helps to remind myself that happiness isn’t a zero-sum thing; someone else’s success and happiness doesn’t stop me from having mine and likewise for you. We have different lives, starting points, priorities, personalities and different lessons to learn. Jealousy costs way more than its worth, and to quote the realm of adolescent wisdom (*cough* Tumblr *cough*), trust the journey of your life.

[Haha so thanks for bearing with me ’til the end of that whole spiel.. I am now going to ~*seamlessly transition*~ into talking about the rest of my week.. lol.]

This past week, I had my first session of Write On, which is the volunteer creative writing thing we do with kids from Lea Elementary. I missed being around these kids and seeing the clever things they come up with. The new coaches this year also seem really great at coaching the kids, so that made me really happy.

Working on collage poetry in small groups.

Working on collage poetry in small groups.

The kids performing their poems in front of everyone.

The kids performing their poems in front of everyone.

Besides that, this past week I was just constantly constantly constantly reminded of how lucky I am to have the friends that I do. I wouldn’t change a thing about them–they are smart, ambitious, hardworking, sensitive, kind and hilarious. Thank you thank you thank you thank you for friends.

Cristina walks 8 blocks with me to help me satisfy my cravings. Shahirah and May May lent me some of their clothes to wear and helped me pick out clothes and for hours even though they had a lot of work to do. Sofia is always there to crack me up with her random dance moves. Busra has my back and has real talk with me. Hui Jie is my pilates/gym bud who also goes on bubble tea runs with me and keeps me in check by reminding me not to procrastinate. I don’t even know if any of them read this but thanks for making me feel safe and loved all the time.

Cristina at lunch with me today.

Cristina at lunch with me today.

Some of the clothes Shahirah and May May lent me/weighed in on.

Some of the clothes Shahirah and May May lent me/weighed in on.

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At Sofia’s birthday last week.

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With Busra before we started contemplating life and why we’re in college and all that.

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Hui Jie sends me encouragement snaps when I have lots of work because she’s great.

Golden stars to all my girlz and everyone reading this. As we speak, I’m doing the thing where I spend an hour trying to pick a movie to watch and end up just watching 50 movie trailers and then decide not to watch a movie because I just wasted so much time trying to pick one. Haha, have a fantastic weekend! 🙂

Week 8: Sometimes Small Hurdles are Big Hurdles

Here we are. Week 8. I am at the midpoint of the semester, otherwise known as the time my to-do list reached puberty and went through a growth spurt.

Midterm next week and 200 pages of reading to do, remember to email the TA about setting up an appointment to ask clarifying questions, review material so that I know what questions to ask to begin with, email student groups about collaboration on event, go to Lea elementary for advertising 3 times this week, remember to print out flyers before you go, text Casey to coordinate where we’ll meet, email the homeroom teacher to tell her we’re coming, remember you have an appointment at Career Services at 1.30pm to talk about how to take control of finding a job, submit your resume and cover letters for criticism, follow up on advisor about transcript problem, cook lunch/dinner at 7 a.m. because you won’t have enough time to do it otherwise, call SHS to see if my appointment was schedule correctly online, make a dental appointment, see if I can squeeze in an extra gym session on Wednesday morning, drop by Marcus’ office hours to collect my midterm exam and assignments, see Professor Epstein to discuss the stuff I didn’t understand about his lecture on perception, remember to ask Mama about her medical appointment, email sponsors my transcript (!!!), make sure you’re drinking enough water, oh and water your plants check to see they haven’t completely died, do the dishes from yesterday morning please, oh and you really need to do laundry if not you’ll have nothing to wear to the gym tomorrow, also pick out classes for the Spring semester and make a mock schedule, which means you have to see Professor Connolly to approve some of your course selections, also see an ECON advisor to help figure out if you want to continue with that major, and see a PSCI advisor to see if you could accidentally get a minor in political science, and remember to write a blog post about your week in time.*

I hate to sound all ~oh I’m so busy~ but man.. the little things. It’s like that light rain which is more like mist, where it’s not heavy enough to warrant you staying inside, and yet an umbrella just will not protect you from it because it still gets in your face. It’s like a pile of books in my way for which I just need to figure out a system to stack them on their respective shelves. It’s like a being a waiter at those restaurant where they carry like 6 dishes on two arms (or is that not a thing?).

See, the thing is, none of those things really scare me in and of itself, and I know I can use iCal and my to-do list and reminders to help me get through all of them. But sometimes I wish someone would just give me a play-by-play of what I need to do on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis so I would just follow instructions, as opposed to having to always re-evaluate and re-consider and improvise. It’s like how the rubic’s cube was so much more fun once I had memorised all the steps, instead of having to think my way through it and calculus only became my favourite subject once I had gotten the hang of it.

Dude, this transition into being an adult is toughhh. It’s like I’ve spent my whole life riding those tiny aeroplane rides where you pay like a dollar or something to use and it just swings you back and forth for 2 minutes while playing some fun-fair type music, and then I blinked and suddenly I am in a real aeroplane and there are buttons on the dashboard and ceiling and floor and levers that serve functions I don’t know of.

It’s times like these I really need to just take a step back and detach from the street-level view of my life and “zoom out”. Yeah, they’re like a million tiny raindrops, but it’s just rain. Soak in it, wipe it off–it will stop, you will dry off. It will be okay. Deep breaths. One thing at a time. One step, and then another, and another.

Honestly, “baby steps” is like one of the most liberating pieces of wisdom I’ve ever received, which is why it’s on my Instagram bio thing (and that is clearly where all pieces of wisdom belong).

Week 6: The Less I Know, The More I Learn

The last time I wrote a blog post, it was approximately 5 a.m. and I was cozied up in bed with a fever and couldn’t fall asleep (update: I’m all better now). Today, it’s about 5 p.m. and I just spent the last 30-or-so minutes in bed trying to fall asleep but feeling haunted by the lingering image of the monster that is my to-do list. It feels like all those times I just couldn’t reach for the extra cookie because I knew I didn’t go to the gym that week. Thankful for this discipline but boy is it frustrating sometimes..

Studying for my neuroscience exam.

Studying for my neuroscience exam.

I had two exams this week and have a paper due on Friday, which I need to start like, now. I told myself that if I finish writing my paper by 12 p.m. on Friday, I will buy myself a fruit smoothie and I really really really want that smoothie. The exams went well though, alhamdulillah. I have another exam next week which I’m quite nervous about because I’ve never taken a political science class or write an essay on the kinds of things we learn in that class. But as I was thinking about that today, I suddenly recalled feeling the same way for the literature class I took last semester. English literature is so not the kind of class I usually take, and it was not something I had much expertise in. I mean, we only read abridged versions of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Phantom of the Opera” throughout the 3 years we prepared for PMR, and then suddenly I had to read 9 whole books and a whole bunch of other supplementary reading in 15 weeks. I was really scared to write an essay for that exam but I did alright–definitely was not an amazing grade, but I was proud of myself for trying something new and interesting and not being ashamed to struggle for it. I guess all of this kind of gave me peace of mind, because I know I have surprised myself with scary oh-my-god-how-am-I-ever-gonna-get-past-this challenges before and loved it, so I know I can do it again (guys, it’s been a while since I’ve had faith in myself like this, it’s so rare and I’m rather pleased).

Highlight of the week: other than making it out of my exams more-than-alive, I am now the proud owner of two plants! I’ve been planning to get a plant for about a year now, but today, between classes, I walked past the farmers market, saw a really lovely selection of cute little potted plants, and in the spur of the moment, made my one-year-dream come true. It’s only been a brief 3 hours with my babies, but I love having a living thing around that doesn’t talk or make voluntary movements, you know? Is that weird? Oh well, it’s true.

The succulents at the farmers' market.

The succulents at the farmers’ market, arranged nicely.

My yet-to-be named plants!

My yet-to-be named plants sitting quietly on my window sill beside me.

Today, I still have to attend a meeting, read 2 chapters for a class, outline my 6-page paper and cook…. and there’s only about 6 hours left to the day. It’s really annoying to always feel like I must do everything (and do it well), but I think this is what it feels like to be pushing myself healthily and I’m just going to confront this discomfort by going through it. *cringe* Baby steps! The next time you hear from me insha-Allah it will be ~fall break~, all I’m currently worried about will be behind me, it will be amazing and I can’t wait.