Discussing a Writer’s Work

My intention of blogging has never been to aim for perfection. If the pages weren’t covered in subtle grammar errors, the site wouldn’t truly be mine. A few years ago, I worked with an editor who was an Oxford University alumna. Although I was relieved to have had help editing my college essays, this process stripped the work of my voice as a writer. I do not blame my editor, as she was a well-qualified and intelligent adult. But I refrained from being my own constructive critic, which hindered my ability to further develop as a writer.

When I ask my friends, family, and peers to read my blog, I don’t expect that they will assume my work to be perfect in every sense of the word. Even the published work of scholars has room for improvement. The grammar errors on this page are not intentional, but they do serve a purpose, as they convey the inherent imperfection of writers.

A fruitful way to discuss a writer’s work is by offering support and politely suggesting improvements. As my former Creative Writing teacher often said, “Comments are always positive.” In guiding these discussions, we must acknowledge that writing is a deeply personal art form. To insult a work without grounds of literary merit is to insult the writer himself. It is vital to conduct conversations about writing with the foremost intention to offer support; secondly, to offer suggestions about a work (on the grounds of merit, of course).

On another note, I developed a passion for writing at the age of 11. But this passion would not have become such an integral part of my life if it weren’t for the teachers, friends, and community members who offered their unwavering support. I would like to thank Ms. Chase, my fifth grade teacher, for encouraging me to make writing a lifestyle. To Ms. Dove, who humorously remarked that her name would be in the “Acknowledgements” section of my first book. And to Mr. Nelson, my high school Creative Writing teacher, who encouraged me to start this blog where I have observed my personal and intellectual transformation.

May we support writers in unleashing their creative and intellectual drive.

Advertisements

Unread

Writer’s Note: “Unread” is my most recent poem and extended metaphor. I am proud to say that this piece is among my most compelling works, as it subtly questions whether we can define ourselves by where we come from. You may have noticed patterns in my writing style. Painful subjects are only discussed through metaphor. I challenge you to read between the lines. All the best, and thank you so much for reading. -Naima

Unread

I am a book, sitting on a dusty shelf.

Countless passersby take a glimpse of my spine,

In awe at my compelling title,

But not intrigued enough to open the first chapter.

Few have read the first chapter,

Fewer having read up to the final page.

But it is the last few pages that I crave for others to read.

Lay me out in this quiet library,

And read in between the lines.

Although sometimes,

I’m not quite sure I want to be read.

I’ll just let you look at my cover until I’m ready to be opened.

My analytical mind craves to build a connection with a true intellectual.

Ask questions.

Assess the world around us.

Be passionate about something.

Be passionate about anything.

And let me share these aspects of myself with you.

I’m tired of small talk and, “how’s it goin’?”

Let us wrap our minds around a truly compelling subject,

And look beyond the title and the author name.

Hi, I’m Naima,

But I doubt you will remember my name.

But you will have something to remember.

The tone of my passages,

Dank with nervous excitement.

The image of myself, the author, on the back cover,

My eyes give away my curiosity,

My inquisitive nature.

Why do you ask so many questions?

Well, why don’t you?

You will remember the run-on sentences that leave little room for pauses.

 

 

So, go on.

Ignite a discussion

That doesn’t veer into nothingness and half-hearted summaries.

But if I can give you a preview of my story,

I would like to tell you that I am not where I come from.

Quite frankly,

You’ve caught me at a time when I’m shattering intergenerational absurdities,

And breaking the confines of cultural expectations.

I strive to rise above adversity,

Above the weight of dark memory.

But if I do tell you where I come from,

I won’t specify a location.

I am from

A bottomless thirst for knowledge,

A successful academic background.

I am from

A never-ending pursuit of quality health,

Weight-lifting by day to build physical strength,

Meditation by night to maintain a stable mind.

I am from

An infectious optimism,

An almost-English politeness.

I don’t belong in this library,

For my personality is much louder than this white-noise,

Or the aggressive hushhh.

Perhaps you should take me off the shelves,

And tell the librarian that my story caught your attention.

I can promise that I will broaden your perspective on people like me,

People who don’t characterize the places that they come from.

I can promise that I will inspire you to dig deeper,

To question and to analyze.

I only ask you for one favor.

Don’t bring me back to this library.

Take me to somewhere

Where I can thrive,

Express these words still unread

On my dusty pages.

Take me to somewhere safe.

A place that I can call home.

And when you reach the final chapter,

Please pass on my story.

I cannot thank you enough for completing the final page.

Don’t tuck these words beneath your pillow.

Vocalize them.

Perhaps I will learn to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feigned Optimism

The alarm begins to sound at 7:30a.m., as the winter doldrums tempt the eyes to close. The body begs for sleep, but the mind is wiser than to let itself drift off. Suddenly, the brain recalls the myriad tasks that must be completed. Classes bright and early starting at 9:00a.m. and work until 8:00p.m. Yes. 8:00p.m. My finish-line. The end to all this bustle. The time that I can prepare to go to sleep again. I crave the feeling of clean sheets against a weary body. But where do I find the starting line?

Just peel the blanket away from you slowly. Let your mind wander a bit. Thoughts wrap themselves around the prospect of breakfast, of listening to my favorite songs on the way to school, of my plans for the weekend.

I get through my gen-eds (Math, History, English) and complete my work as a math instructor at 8:00p.m. On my way home, I remember a valuable lesson I learned from running cross-country.

Suddenly, I can’t remember why I am tired. I can’t remember that I’m struggling to get through the week. Rather, I am empowered by the fight I have left in me. It may only be the 2nd week of the spring semester, but I can already imagine the summer break… for during the break, it is not the restless nights of free writing that I will remember… or the rush to travel from school to work… or the wish to just go to sleep and shut it all out. It is the triumphs of my freshman year at George Mason University that I will remember… wrapping my mind around discrete mathematics until the concepts click. To my professors, to my students, to my employer, and most important, to myself: I wear these dark circles with pride. These “I just rolled out of bed” winter leggings, this “just get out of the house already” t-shirt. May I repeat the successes of my past. Better yet, let me surpass them. Let me find myself on the Dean’s list, let me surround myself with loved ones on the weekend, let me spend hours on homework assignments that trigger a thirst for knowledge. It is in these activities that I find balance.

So I will wake up for my 9:00a.m. review session in a few hours and demonstrate an eagerness to learn. And to all my classmates: you’ll likely remember me by “the crazy girl who said the homework was fun.” It’s a lot more exciting to fight for optimism than to give in to indifference. Try it. I dare you.

Familiarity

Familiarity is the jacket I wear even if it’s hot outside.

Familiarity is remembering where every pothole is on the streets of my hometown.

Familiarity is the white noise in the background, the golden yellow paint on my bedroom walls, the countless race bibs hung nicely near my calendar.

Familiarity convinces me that there’s no point in getting comfortable in other cities. Why walk around the campus of your university? You’ll be home in no time.

Familiarity is coming home at 9 o’clock on a Wednesday night, the feeling of pajamas against a shivering body,  the aroma of home-cooked food.

Familiarity says your second semester schedule should be more like that of the first,

that you should take the same routes home,

even if it’s less time-efficient.

But I wish I could unzip the jacket of familiarity,

bare my skin, despite the wind.

Give me time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Wouldn’t discomfort soon morph itself into familiarity?

What are now unknown road signs are the signals that will soon lead me home.

Reclining on the couches of my university’s campus will eventually feel like hanging out in my bedroom on a Friday night,

Braless and weary from hours spent typing on my laptop.

But I want to feel free to get up at any time,

and handstand against my bed,

hang upside down in the staircase,

run around the house singing Lorde’s “400 Lux.”

I replay the same song over and over in my car,

to give myself the illusion,

that nothing is changing.

I can deal with new changes, I tell myself.

But the subconscious mind can’t keep its mouth shut

if I’ve been at school for eight hours,

and all I can think about is staring up at the same bedroom ceiling before going to sleep,

wearing the same pajamas,

hanging my clothes in the same parts of my closet.

But maybe soon I will peel away this jacket,

this attachment to familiarity,

though I know that I will undoubtedly return to my gym of seven years,

the bright yellow ‘Gold’s Gym’ sign luminescent in my mind’s eye.

I will continue my quest of morphing discomfort into comfort,

linger along the sidewalks of unfamiliar towns.

If I can just get my feet wet,

perhaps I wouldn’t mind if the water were cold.

The body eventually adjusts to the temperature.

Freedom Living

Lying on the ground, I acknowledge the rough carpet touching the small of my back. Blood pumps through my temples, my arms, my neck, as I rest calmly. I close my eyes, placing my left hand over my stomach, the other over my heart. Visualizing the dance that invited this restfulness, I relive the burst of creativity that I experienced as I improvised dances to countless songs. My mind’s eye watches as my body stretches into a standing split before gently collapsing into corpse pose.

As I was dancing, I occasionally closed my eyes. I couldn’t see my body but I could feel… feel energy rush into my lungs, fueling a fire in my veins. The music notes have become a part of me, they live through my very being so that they, too, may be present in this moment. I arch my back to open my lungs, briefly resting both hands behind my head. Oxygen is a luxury, neither scare nor too abundant. My heartrate quickens as the dance intensifies. Standing split. Bridge. Warrior two stance. Corpse pose. Stretch every muscle in the body, feel the limbs take up more space. I open my eyes. It appears that the ceiling is growing further and further away from me. Creativity has no bounds, space is limitless, and I— I have found my outlet for free expression.

Can Sports Help Students do well in School?

Running cross-country in high school yielded greater benefits than improving my mental and physical well-being. Balancing time for the sport with academics helped me build a determined mindset. As I am a college student now, I am confident that I will be able to manage fatigue, long days, and piles of work. I’ve had enough experience with pushing past internal conflict to achieve academic success. This skill can only be learned through experience. Anyone can say that they can stay up late to get work done. But when you’ve already put in eight hours of work at school, three hours at cross-country practice, and every bit of energy during interval workouts, you’ll build a greater level of strength. Your mind might be half-asleep at the end of the day, but you better believe that your history assignment will be turned in the next morning. And that you sure as anything will be waking up at 6:30a.m. just to do it all over again.

On the first day of IT 104, my professor informed the class that a 1500-word, APA style research paper is due in four weeks. Sounds pretty daunting, ay? Let’s talk about writing a quality, 1500-word essay at 3a.m. not because you’re fighting for your grades but because you’re fighting for your beliefs. Let’s talk waking up early because I’ve gotten up at 5:40a.m. on race day mornings when the crisp fall breeze tempts the eyes to close. Put naps aside until after you’ve beat your greatest competition (yourself) on that dewy cross-country course.

My sister informed me that college will be “hard.” So I meet all challenges with the persistence of a distance runner, the thoughtfulness of a writer, and the mind of a student who is determined to thrive as a George Mason Patriot.

Trial-and-Error

During the months that I was learning how to drive, I craved the opportunity to sit in the front seat and steer myself in any direction I chose. The yellow paper that reads ‘180-day Temporary License’ is a reminiscence of my drive toward personal freedom. But the first time I nervously shrunk into the driver seat, I accepted that making mistakes was an inherent part of learning. As I performed myriad reckless turns, I wondered if the steering wheel was secretly working against me. I let myself err before I could correct.  Overcoming a personal health issue I have faced required a similar approach.

I spent months pondering what the root-cause of the issue could be, as I often returned home with a flat tire. Without an understanding of the problem, there was no chance of reaching a solution. So I ran a trial-and-error experiment, using my mind as both a battleground and laboratory. My resources ran short, lacking in fuel and knowledge of how to successfully steer myself through the process of self-understanding. I panicked when my tires hit a pothole. I fought to ignore the issue, the occasional disruptions in physical and personal comfort I experienced as I sat in the driver’s seat. It was a pain that demanded to be felt, an uncertainty I often met as I doubted my ability to perform careful turns. I wished I could let other drivers know that I was inexperienced—that my errors could cause damage to other vehicles. But I continued to drive, confidently tapping the accelerator as I perfected turns and lane-changes. Today, I pride myself on being a safe and responsible driver, but I’ve travelled through countless unpaved roads to reach this destination.

The drivers that whiz by me before I embark on daily outings share a commonality. Our driver’s licenses are representative of the learning process—its smooth roads and unpaved paths, its epiphanies and its downfalls. We must allow ourselves to mess up, make uncontrolled turns and hasty accelerations. We must stop hitting the brakes and begin to accelerate toward a better version of ourselves. We need to take hold of the steering wheel and leave doubt behind.

A few days ago, I told my mother, “I don’t know how to park. My driving instructor never taught me how.” But ruthless potholes, impatient drivers who honk at their own leisure, and speed limits that exceed my level of comfort have opened my mind. Learning is most effective when we actively apply ourselves to a given situation. When I told my mother, “I don’t know how,” I meant, “I just need time to figure it out.” Let me mess up, and then try again. And again. Until the clean parallel lines nicely run along the tires of my car.

Dear Reader, through the journeys I’ve travelled—in a classroom desk, behind the wheel, and in front of a keyboard where I write my stories—I have made leaps toward personal growth. You, too, can steer yourself in any direction that delivers freedom and happiness into your heart. You are no longer the passenger. You sit confidently in the driver’s seat, as your mind floods with an eagerness to learn and expand. Get up and seek any opportunity you wish to pursue. Don’t wait, don’t say, “what if.” There is no better time than now. Just let go of the brake.