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.

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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.

Why Eliminating Creativity in Public Schools is Dangerous

Staring at the clock, I acknowledged that I was required to be in the classroom for the full 90-minute period. Work in silence. Don’t take breaks; you’ll lose precious minutes. My body was firmly planted like a tree trunk in my own seat. “Don’t get up without raising your hand.” “Make sure to sign your planner before leaving class.” These regulations stole opportunities for me to develop independence. Mandating that a teenager carry a hallway pass when traveling from the classroom to a bathroom implies that the student cannot be trusted to conduct themselves appropriately and responsibly. Although these regulations enable teachers to hold students accountable for their actions, they deprive us of feeling that we are responsible for our own minds and bodies.  These rules do not serve to better prepare students to exemplify independence and self-accountability in their college years and beyond.

As a current freshman at George Mason University, I am fully responsible for my schedule, the quality of my education, and most important, my overall success and well-being. However, I often remind myself that no individual nor institution requires me to be in a school or workplace. It is difficult to feel truly independent after several years of biannual lessons on school rules and reminders to follow trivial regulations.

How do we develop independence within younger students without overwhelming them with responsibilities? Assigning self-conducted projects that require creative-thinking could catalyze the development of student independence. During my junior year of high school, my Creative Writing teacher gave his students full control over their progress as writers. In his class, I was encouraged to create my blog. This site began as a way for me to share running tips but evolved into a medium of creative story-telling. During the beginning of the school year, I chose to stay in my comfort zone by writing short narratives. However, over the course of several months, I had written poems, plays, persuasive articles, and more. Creativity was a clearing in which ideas and opportunities were limitless, as there was no “right” or “wrong” way to think.

Creativity should become a key component of school curriculums, as it helps students develop responsibility for their own learning and encourages them to venture beyond their academic comfort level. Creative-thinking is crucial in implementing effective problem-solving skills in and out of the classroom. Eliminating creativity in school leaves students to believe that there is only one correct way to complete a task or assignment. But through the years that I battled an anxiety disorder, I had to brainstorm multiple solutions to escape a classroom in which my health and safety was put at risk. Despite an awareness of my growing discomfort and declining health, I remained seated in that unsafe classroom. My mind flooded with thoughts of rules and regulations. I have to stay here until the bell rings. I have to complete my assignment so I don’t get a poor grade. But if we change the narrative from “have to” to “having the freedom to,” we can build students who know how to solve various conflicts that aren’t mentioned in the Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook.

We have taught students how to walk in straight lines and speak quietly in hallways. But do we discuss more critical issues, such as using creative-thinking skills to maintain our health and safety? Can we encourage them to “think outside the box” in situations when strict rules and regulations do not address exceptional conflicts? Can we eliminate “right” and “wrong” to encourage a trial-and-error approach to solving personal challenges?

As I am now halfway through my first college semester, I am deeply thankful for my success thus far. But when I mention “success,” what comes to mind? Is it my grades, or my grade point average? Although I am content with my academic marks, my success is accredited to mediums of creative expression. Through the art of writing, dance, and yoga, I have overcome mental health issues and personal challenges. Without creativity, I would have no choice but to walk the fine line of red tape, unaware that self-discovery and growth awaits beyond its boundaries.

Puzzle Pieces: A Creative Short Story

The puzzle pieces that lay scattered represent who I am—my passions and the very practices that help me stay true to myself. They somehow manage to return to this fragmented state, as I hold onto the parts of myself by a single thread. Through the blur of schoolwork and empty days, I sometimes remember to breathe. Meditation pulls me back to the ground, returning oxygen to my lungs. Have you ever tried to complete menial tasks underwater? I have a tendency to get sucked into believing that time is inadequate, that I’ll never have enough of it. So I cross out one day after the other on my calendar and wonder where I went. The edges of the puzzle pieces are frayed because of the myriad attempts to make them fit… to create one, cohesive picture. They lay in fragments, still, as I turn my head in a panic to glance at the clock. The minutes are running away and fear comes rushing back. What if I don’t finish all my work? What if I receive a poor grade? What if my professors will be disappointed?

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I beat myself up with negative reinforcements to complete my schoolwork only to realize that I’ve been here before… too many times. But if I relaxed and worked at my own pace, wouldn’t I be more productive? Logic kicks emotion in the face but won’t always stay for the whole fight.

Lately, I’ve been putting some of the pieces together, and I might see the picture of myself soon. I can see myself dancing in my yoga studio, as lyrics crawl through my lungs and into my heart. My mind’s eye watches as I walk on my school’s campus with a carefully planned outfit and an infectious smile. I can see myself running through Lorton Station and sometimes down the hills of Fairfax city.

I wish I could complete the puzzle in a single instant. But it’s difficult to stay true to yourself when you’re being pulled in a million directions. Wake up, do homework, go to work, sleep, and do it all over again. All over again. And if you do it all in a hurry, you won’t ever realize that you lost yourself. And all the puzzle pieces will by lying on the floor, and you won’t even bother to pick them up… until something hits you. It shakes you out of oblivion and asks what the hell you were doing with your life. That voice will ask, “You knew that the way you were living was destroying you,” and you will respond, “yes.” Embarrassed, you look down at the fragments of yourself and scramble to put them back together. All the while, you must resist falling into the vortex in which you live by your fears, not your innate desire to be true to yourself.

You don’t have to worry. The pieces will come back together but certainly not by force. Pray, and you will find yourself again. Run, and you will find yourself in the rhythm of your footsteps, your gentle in-breaths. Dance and tumble, and you will find yourself in free expression. Slow down and forget time. It’s not about how many minutes are left on the clock, but rather, the value of your time spent. So if you need to cry, prepare yourself for a storm. But remember that the sun will always be waiting for you. Your prayers are valuable, your mind is resourceful, and your heart is compassionate. Don’t lose yourself in the whirlwind of everyday responsibilities… because maybe in the debris of the storm, you are waiting to be found. You’ve been here all along… just remember to breathe. The pieces are slowly coming back together.

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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.

Stronger than Mental Illness

brain

The heart speaks louder than the shaking voices of victims who didn’t know how to handle mental illness.

But even as your heart hammers against your chest,

Don’t be afraid to speak.

Surround yourself with supportive people.

Paint the town in wise words you’ve learned from your situation.

Sing the song of your triumph after the storm has passed.

Let the liberation of self-expression run through the flesh,

The very blood stream that connects to a healthy heart.

A beat that was once an unsettled qualm,

Is now a beautiful, steady rhythm

That feeds an honest self-awareness.

I repeat

Your health is a priority.

Repeat

Your health is a priority

Even before grades and schoolwork,

Nagging tasks and unfinished papers.

You are free to prioritize yourself,

Polish the best version of your personality.

You are not your disorder,

You are a living triumph,

A beautiful song that continues to play

Even after the drumbeat of your heart has grown weary.

You will wake up to another day

When you will expand your lungs to fill them with oxygen.

Tell me,

How amazing is this freedom?

The space

Between this inhale

And the next exhale

Is the greatest liberation I know.

The mind

And the heart

Are no longer weighed down by shackles.

Rather, they have grown stronger from having carried them for so long.

So parade in this wonderful freedom.

Beautiful green and blue veins ignite euphoria,

A liveliness once unknown.

Red blood traveling through the temples,

And eventually to the mind.

Tears of joy collect along your eyelid,

Tipping over the edge slowly.

You are free.

A living triumph,

A walking warrior,

Liberation personified.

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The Drive to Personal Freedom

I started this blog in 2014 to share my experiences related to running. Thoughts of the sport occupied my mind most of the time; I always had ideas for original content. Running liberated my heart, mind, and body in ways that no other sport could. But as my blog unravels, I realize that I can achieve personal freedom through activities besides cross-country and track.

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My blogposts are like a stereo. I hit the pause button on cross-country and hit ‘play’ on the music that echoed off the walls of my yoga studio. I awoke a wave of liberation as I struck countless asanas. The peace and contentment of meditation cannot be found on any cross-country course. So I stretched my calves in downward dog, pointed my toes as I sat in a split, and encouraged myself to breathe deeply. I wasn’t able to achieve this improvement in wellbeing by running. But I was blessed that my mental health climbed to new heights.

My yoga track now intertwines with the sound of poolside waves, as I learned how to swim today. I floated above water and performed graceful breaststrokes, wishing my oxygen capacity were unlimited so I could stay underwater. The smell of chlorine still lingers on my skin, the image of cool blue water is the wallpaper of my mind. As I swam, I turned my freedom’s volume to ‘max.’ Although I’ve stopped writing about running, I combined every one of my freedoms today as I floated in four feet of cool water.  My body absorbs the impact of strides on merciless pavement. My lungs breathe into mindful asanas. And my legs kick through powerful breaststrokes. I was a swimmer, runner, and yogi all at once. I swam through clear blue water, ran from waterslide to pool, and struck a dancer’s pose underwater. As I write these stories, I gently play the notes on this keyboard. My blogposts record my every song of freedom.

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Movement frees the body and heart, but what’s missing? The mind. I may have stumbled upon liberation as I cartwheeled throughout the yoga studio. But in order to free the mind, I open the gates of my thoughts. I carefully type drafts onto a Word Document, often covering the pages in controversial thoughts. It’s easy to write a personal narrative, but arguing takes serious work. The current Presidential race fuels fire between our two candidates, as the United States of America become a little less… united. Minorities are under attack on a daily basis, as the LBTQ  community fights for their right to love and to feel safe in our (supposedly post-modern) society. The Black Lives Matter Movement strives to eradicate the harsh shortcomings of systematic racism. And the list goes on.

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We associate the American flag with “freedom”, but the actions we take to achieve personal liberation can lead us to live meaningfully. Write, whether your ideas are popular or not. Exercise, whether you are “fit” or not. Dance, tumble, run, swim, or do anything that frees you.  I’m thankful to say that, today, as I finished my last breaststroke before leaving the waterpark, I truly lived up to my meaning of “freedom.”

A Writer’s Skill

Countless students that attend American public schools often question the worth of completing graded timed-essays in English classes. But writers have an invaluable skill that can be applied to the real-world that enables us to understand various points-of-view, regardless of the extent to which they contradict our own. A recent conversation with a classmate and friend of mine brought me to realize the value of appreciating diverse perspectives.

As a Muslim woman who practices the hijab, I strive to not only represent my religion well but also help others understand it. For instance, I provided a religious and personal perspective on the hijab to my friend, Matthew. After I finished, he said, “If someone said something (negative) about your hijab, I would get offended.” Despite that he neither practices my faith nor identifies with a minority race, Matthew was able to understand the complexity of a perspective that does not align with his own. Because he and I honor diverse perspectives, we foster peace and coexistence with people of other races, gender identities, religions, and more. We are individuals who do not condemn others for being “different,” but rather, honor unique points-of-view.

As there have been frequent incidents of religious discrimination and police brutality, it is crucial to defend those who may be subject to these injustices. Writing has encouraged us to defend other members of our community regardless of whether they share the same beliefs as we do. I do not partake of the LBGTQ community, but I am still proud to defend and honor anyone who is. I do not identify as African-American, yet reading about instances of police brutality strikes negative emotions within me. I do not have to be the victim of discrimination or injustice to empathize with those who are.

Matthew’s kind words are reminiscent of another instance during which my classmate, Elliott, supported me for speaking out against religious discrimination. I shared an argumentative essay that condemns the banning of Muslims at the rallies of GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump. Upon doing so, Elliott told me, “If anyone ever gives you problems, I will stand behind you!” I am so proud to be a part of an inclusive community in which people of various faiths and races stand beside me. After frequent reflection of both of the instances that my peers expressed their support for me, I noticed a similarity between Matthew and Elliott. Both of these kind individuals are writers.

The ability to honor diverse perspectives regardless of whether they align with our own is a skill that writing fosters. To all the students who groan before the start of every timed-essay, the art of writing is helping you a build a skill that could stick with you for a lifetime. A skill that promotes unity, social justice, and coexistence.

Coexist

 

A Shift in Perspective

Writer’s Note: This is a creative short story that I wrote last year in October. At that time of year, I was excited for Thanksgiving to come around, so I wanted to offer a fresh perspective on the meaning of this holiday and how it is celebrated in America. Hope you enjoy!- Naima

A Shift in Perspective

My family members fill the open seats at the dinner table as their eyes glint under the chandelier’s lights. The crisp fall air and the sickly sweet smell of pumpkin awaken the memories I have of past Thanksgiving dinners. The table held so much food that there was no more room for another dish. Laughter was sandwiched in between instructions for how to prepare the next entrée, either a boat of gravy or steaming mashed potatoes.

This year as we gather around the heaps of food, we exchange statement expressing all the things we’re grateful for. I pause. There are too many. How do I say I’m thankful that the cashier at Food Lion smiled at me without sounding weird? How do I express that I’m overjoyed that my heart is still beating without sounding obsessive about my health?

With the meal in front of me, I have to remember that today is not all about stuffing myself until I can hardly breathe. And don’t lose me now because I’m not going to give you a history lesson about pilgrims and America. Thanksgiving is a reminder to be grateful, to give rather than to take, to find a sense of unity with those whom I share this holiday. But at the same time, Thanksgiving was the day my friend took her own life, a day when families fight because they found a reason to ignore their shattered ties. Thanksgiving is pretending you’re comfortable in the presence of siblings you stopped getting along with years ago. I have defined this day in several ways now, and I should have warned you that my perspective wouldn’t convey that fairy-tale tone that everyone loves. Thanksgiving is a teeter-totter of balancing our hopes and desires with reality. But I, too, am guilty. I should very well understand that Thanksgiving was not meant to embody perfection, as I stuff my face with turkey all the while.

With this holiday, I find comfort in discomfort, peace and tolerance in disunity, and an appetite that suddenly becomes insatiable as dinner-time comes around. I find laughter, light, and joy in my imperfect household. I find- no; I create happiness from dust and ashes, joy from the days I’ve struggled to just stop worrying, stop thinking so much. I pick up everything that I am grateful for, lock them in the brightest place in my heart, kiss them goodnight before I go to bed. I cherish them; let them transform the corners of my mouth into laugh lines, dimples of sheer joy and gratitude. They are mine, and they are here to stay; for without them, I wouldn’t know how to be happy- how to create this intangible thing that everyone is looking for. Little do they know that happiness cannot be found in materialism in gluttony. Tell me this is cliché, but go out and buy all the clothing, shoes, and jewelry you want. Let me know if you would be any happier if you chose to abandon gratitude, leave it in the dust just as you would forget all your pricy shoes just weeks after you bought them. Nothing. Nothing can fill the void in your heart that has been specifically left open for thankfulness. May gratitude forever reside there, and should it be asked to give up its seat, let it adopt the same attitude as Rosa Parks.

I do not condemn material things, but I do stand against the abandonment of gratitude. Be thankful for the little things, like the fact that today, you are able to read, see, and think clearly. Let gratitude fill you up until you are a parachute that transcends this world’s obstacles, burdens, and injustice. We do not live in a perfect world, but by being thankful, we promote an environment that fosters unity, love, and peace. I wish you a beautiful Thanksgiving Day.