Midnight Cigarettes

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I miss sneaking
a smoke
on my parents’ porch;
those silent moments,
anxious in bed,
waiting for family
members
to fall sleep.

I miss whispering
“good night”,
my pretend sleeping,
the soft night light,
the crack of my door,
me creeping through,
holding my breath
to listen.

My bare feet
tiptoeing on carpet,
shoes dangling in hand,
mind wrapped up in plan,
passing sleeping sounds,
to the front door locked,
loud heart pound,
the echo of the key
click.

I miss the cold
air that greets my face,
my slow motion exit, a
cigarette in a sweaty palm;
the no regret.

I miss —
inhaling, exhaling
in folds
of nighttime’s
morning,
alone but all right,
adrenaline gushing,
thoughts whooshing
and buzzing,
city lights like
fireflies,
my current life
unrealized,
staring out in wonder —
the moon’s sad face.

Review: ‘1984’ by George Orwell

Spoiler-free zone.

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Before dusting this book off my shelf, the only dystopian novels I’d read were Fahrenheit 451  by Ray Bradbury and the YA trilogy, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, both of which I’d enjoyed thoroughly. Though they’re both thought-provoking and impactful in their own ways, nothing compares to the chilling power that is 1984. 

If you’ve ever heard the terms Big Brother, Double Think, Newspeak… these were all coined from this haunting dystopian novel written in 1949.

This book wasn’t meant to be a prophecy of the then near-future, but a warning on how our world could — or would — transform if we continue on our path of destruction and lose our humanity. If the world ceases to be a place of thought and wonder and imagination, and sinks into a dark realm in which freedom is no longer a concept understood by the masses, let alone a word in the dictionary.

And it makes sense that Orwell, whose real name was Eric Blair (George Orwell was a pen name), would write such a book. Not only was he a political essayist and novelist living during a war-torn era, he despised totalitarianism, which makes 1984 then a hyperbole of government domination. The heavy, dark tone of the book was most likely a reflection of attitudes and moods after World War II.

“It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same — everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same — people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world.” George Orwell, 1984

This is a book that creeps up on you. It starts at the micro level and widens with each chapter, before jolting you into a wave of emotion. Orwell takes his time setting up the stage, intimately introducing us to his protagonist, Winston Smith, and the world in which he… exists.

I was disturbed, yet very much intrigued, by the eerie world that Orwell gradually reveals. From the very first line it’s clear that the world of the book is unlike ours (a great thing to note for writers; crafting time and place is not always easy). The details of Orwell’s world in the year 1984 dance right out of the page.

Orwell covers the type of food and drink that’s consumed, the clothing, the living quarters, the buildings, the streets, the expressions or lack-thereof on people’s faces, people’s mannerisms and moods, the lyrics of songs that are sung, even the language that’s used, and its direct translations. Leaving barely any specifics to the imagination, his precision serves a very keen purpose.

Towards the end I felt like I had been immersed in a nightmare, and that’s exactly what 1984 sets out to portray.

The third-person narrative follows the story of middle-aged Winston Smith. We learn about Orwell’s vision of 1984 through Smith’s eyes and internal monologues. He is our guide through this unfamiliar world that ends up resembling certain aspects of our current day: the feeling of being constantly watched, monitored, and contained — the struggle between wanting to fit in and wanting to be free from that pressure. (And indeed with each year that goes by, 1984 becomes more and more relevant.)

Orwell’s precise prose make Winston’s desires our own; his fear, distrust, and desperation we come to understand as though we were born in his world. As a writer, I appreciated this accomplishment because it’s so hard to create the circumstances by which your reader can completely understand the high stakes of a world they’ve never experienced. This begs for the book to be read again as a writer.

One of my favorite aspects of 1984 is that it tackles the essence of Truth. Orwell challenges us to question what Truth is — if it’s a figment of our own making that can be altered and erased, or an eternally rooted reality. He makes you think about how society may be brainwashing you, or striving to mold you, your thoughts and ideals, in ways you were previously unaware, simply because you perceive what’s around you as the norm. You are made to question the norm and your role in perpetuating certain perceptions.

As applied to our world today, this case in Saudi Arabia where a blogger was prosecuted for speaking his mind, for speaking out against what is deemed as definitive truth in that society, came to mind. This article too made me think about some of the concepts that Orwell dissects in his book.

“It was as though some huge force were pressing down upon you — something that penetrated inside your skull, battering against your brain, frightening you out of your beliefs, persuading you, almost, to deny the evidence of your senses.” George Orwell, 1984

1984 is a struggle between the individual and the larger entity that is government and society. It’s about power, oppression, and control — and the role technology can play in all of these. It challenges us to think about what makes us human, what can happen if we don’t live our lives, and rule our world, in accordance with those values. And it presents to us two important questions:

Can human beings lose their humanity to the point of no return?

Can we handle the enormous responsibility that comes from achieving great power, without shattering the moral compass?

In short, this is a book that stays with you. You begin to find traces of its allusions all around as you go about your day. It’s a book you could read over and over and discover new meanings and symbols each time… no wonder its significance has endured throughout the decades.

So if you’re in the mood for a fun, light read, I’d encourage you to look elsewhere. But if you’re interested in a psychological horror story, one that will analyze human thought, society, and behavior, that will nudge you into asking philosophical questions about man’s innate nature and the structure of our world, then this book will take you on a memorable ride. One that will inevitably tilt the lens through which you view the world, if only slightly.

Have you read 1984?

My Mother’s Yard Sale — A Poem

It’s spring on my side of the world! And the season for yard sales is here. Or is steadily approaching at least. Spring cleaning and purging is underway, and the people in my neighborhood are readying their sidewalk signs and organizing potential sale items into bins and baskets (or so I imagine). I love yard and garage sales… the treasures that can be found amidst the random rubble of years gone by. I love random. And of course, I love a bargain. As well as the feeling of reusing and re-purposing… of giving away and letting go.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve picked up from a yard sale?

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My Mother’s Yard Sale

Laid out on the lawn on folding tables, all no-longer needed items are listed at a fair price. Cotton dresses with faded polka dots hang limply on hangers; the long sleeves of blouses long gone out of style wave in the breeze, sweeping through the neatly organized memories.

Brown boxes with torn corners hold stacks of used books and bent magazines. Mother’s old toaster might be of use to someone who collects simple but respectable antiques from the fifties. Buckets filled with old but sparkling silverware sit and wait, continuously

overlooked by passing faces. Kenny Rogers cassette tapes with scratched off labels border the gray surface of the yard sale tables. Shoes once squashed in the bottom of a box in a basement finally smell the outside air, the pair’s not-as-striking color desperate

to shine one last time in the sun. Wooden picture frames that once held my family’s faces stare at eyes that don’t give them much notice. My mother sits in her folding chair, sipping tea, checking off the number of items she has left to part with. I watch her from inside

the house, through the window, wondering who would possibly want a poster of David Bowie, a poster creased with folding lines. Solid-colored t-shirts flap like flags, calling to neighbors, dog walkers, anyone interested in place mats with a few unnoticeable stains.

Finding Time to Write (and the horrible, inevitable consequence of not writing)

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Finding time to write is one of those struggles that really gets under my skin. It’s like there’s a tiny porcupine who lives in the slimy space between my skull and my brain who rolls around like a tumbleweed on the days that I’m not writing. This tiny porcupine causes me great discomfort as you can imagine, and the only way to make him stop rolling about like a menace is to sit myself down to write, because writing lulls him to sleep… and gives me relief.

When I think about what I’m so busy doing that keeps me from writing, a definitive answer never comes. Instead, my mind mulls over the generic I’m just so busy. And yet, we’re always going to be busy. There’s always going to be something that needs our attention right now. Do we revel in this energy of feeling needed? It’s hard to say. But I don’t want to be busy in the sense that I’m caught up in the rush of the weekday cycle, going through the motions of must-dos, and losing myself along the way.

“How’ve you been?”
“Good. Just busy.”
“Busy doing what?”
“Being busy.”

Something will always need our attention, be it work, family, personal hygiene, or the tedious chores of cleaning and laundry that — will never come to an end. When I analyze it in this way I recognize how easy it is to put writing on the back burner. And since not writing doesn’t offer any immediately visible dire consequences in the short-sighted view of our world, we continue to put it off. And our tetras game of priorities thus continues to blur our desire to write further and further into the background.

Not writing does not equal having no clothes to wear the next day. Not writing won’t cause ants to parade around your kitchen counter or flies to invade your garbage can. Not writing will not get you fired from your job (unless of course, writing is your job) — nor will it result in your kids going hungry or your dog peeing all over the floor. (At this very moment my dog puked on the couch, so I had to interrupt my writing just now to deal with that wonderful mess — seriously!)

So yes, it’s very easy to put off writing; there are so many excuses to choose from! Too many times have I been in bed at end of the day agonizing over another day of not having written, whispering to myself meekly and ever so hopefully, I’ll try again tomorrow. This cycle of busy is a death trap. It’s killed many would-be writers.

This is my warning to you.

And to myself.

The reason not writing doesn’t cause any immediate ramifications is because its effects are, well, not immediate. Not writing is the surest way to kill a writer… but it’s a slow, steady, crumbling death, peppered with phrases of procrastination, excuses, overwhelmed sighs, and denial.

Not writing is a poison IV drip — every drip representing a single day of not writing.

A recurring nightmare I have is a moment in which I admit to myself — from the deepest, most tucked away chambers of my heart — that I can’t truthfully call myself a writer anymore. I’m staring at my old, dusty, long-forgotten drafts and don’t recognize the words as my own, and suddenly at dinner parties I’m standing around with a wine glass in hand, and with that awkward dinner-party half-laugh, I recount to the semi-circle around me that I used to be a writer. And when I go home later, pop my heels off my feet, think about how I maybe should’ve stayed home to write instead of go to that party — I realize I don’t feel the tiny porcupine anymore. He dissolved into my brain a long time ago because of how numb I’d become to the treacherous feeling of not writing.

It’s a dark thought, I know. That’s why it’s a nightmare. But it’s a thought every writer struggling with time management should reflect on — if a writer is who you are and who you truly want to be. Are you dedicated enough? The title of Writer must be earned.

“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance.” – J.K. Rowling

It’s so frustrating trying to carve out the time I need to write, like I’m trying to steal pennies from a piggy bank before somebody notices and calls my name. But the solution is truly simple. Writers write — we must write. In the same way we nourish our bodies with food and water, we must nourish the writers that we are and can fully become by making writing more of a priority in our lives.

Writing is hard; we mustn’t forget that. Not just the process of writing and what comes after, but the process of getting to the writing desk in the first place. Everything about writing is hard. And only real writers are up for the challenge — are obsessed with it. Love it regardless.

For me my solution comes down to time management. Clearly my lifestyle hasn’t been nurturing my writing routine, so I’ve begun to rise an hour earlier each day to use that extra time slot to write. Anyone who knows me will know just how much of an effort this is… I’m a night owl by nature. But I’ve decided that writing is too important to me, more important than my self-proclaimed love for the night, and that I’m willing to do anything I need to do to put writing in the forefront. Leaving it for the end of the day has kept my unfinished drafts at just that.

Because I think part of the problem is that I shouldn’t be trying to find time to write, I should be trying to make time to write. (Yes, for me at this point it’s still a matter of try, but at least I’ll be trying in the right direction.) I’ve realized I need to actively shape my schedule around writing, not just let my writing fall wherever it may.gloria-steinem

What it boils down to is priority. You make time for what’s important to you.

Being a writer may not be a choice, but the writing life — the writing life is very much a choice. It’s a choice you have to make every day, every time you sit down to it amidst the million other things that are shouting for attention as you’re typing away.

Being a writer is not about writing when it’s convenient, it’s about making sure you’re writing no matter what — because if you don’t, you’ll live out the rest of your life feeling incomplete and resentful of everything and everyone around you. And your unwritten stories will haunt you.

Not writing may not keep your life from falling apart in the immediate sense, but it sure will cause the writer in you to die a slow and untimely death.

And I don’t want to go out like that.


What strategies do you use to maintain an active and consistent writing routine? What sacrifices or adjustments have you made in the name of writing?

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Don’t Let Life Pass You By

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It’s easy to get lost in the folds of everyday. The countdown to the weekend seems to rule our lives. It’s a vicious cycle that blurs together days and weeks and months, until you forget how old you are on your birthday, and you no longer want to celebrate.

To-do lists are endless highways, as though life were a road trip, and you stay up all night just to get to where you want to be, and by day you’re too exhausted to enjoy the views. Attempts to workout or eat right or quit that habit or say the right words or commit to that perfect routine seem to follow you like a recurring daydream (or nightmare). Then you wake up one morning and realize six months have gone by (or worse — years), and you still haven’t taken the steps to accomplish all that your heart wants to do. Your passions are hanging on a hook behind your bedroom door. I’ll get to it tomorrow, you say as you make your usual exit, walk down the path of your usual routine. Because first things first: bills need to be paid, and your boss is expecting you to be somewhere on time — on their behalf.

And all the while your dog is getting older as he waits for you on the couch each day. You are getting older. The days continue to dissolve and you continue to put off calling up that friend or family member whom you haven’t seen in ages. You don’t remember what you did last weekend because every weekend looks the same, and it doesn’t matter anyway. You seem to be constantly saving for something and constantly broke. Not because you don’t have money, but because you’re worried that like time, you’ll never get back what you spend, so you tuck it away hoping something worthwhile will come along, something that will give you a good return on investment. And you’re constantly searching for that one thing that’s certain. Because better safe than sorry, right?

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I remember having what was probably my very first moment of clarity. I was sitting at the dining room table eating alone, looking across the room to the wall that held a round-faced clock. I remember staring at the second hand, focusing every thread of my being on its incessant ticking, its endless quest to move forward, to keep going. And for some reason, I remember feeling an immense sadness at the sudden, stark awareness that seconds were falling away from me. Falling away as I sat there on that table with a spoon in my hand, into a place I could never visit. It was the first time I realized that time is irretrievable.

We all have things that we want to do and things that we must do — sometimes those things align, sometimes they conflict. But no matter where those things fit in your life, I’ve learned that it’s important to prioritize what makes your heart catch fire. To do what makes you feel alive. Too many of us walk around drugged by coffee and obligations — utterly subdued into mindless routines that undo the threads of the heart by night and numb the passions of the soul by day.

Until you wake up and your skin is stale, and the pages of the novel you’d never written are sitting on your bedside table, yellowed by years of neglect. And your boss doesn’t exist in your life anymore, and you don’t remember how old you are, and it doesn’t matter anyway. Suddenly your life’s priorities involve getting to the bathroom before you let yourself go, and making your doctor’s appointments on time (they’re very busy so it’s important to be on time) because those shiny-eyed doctors with their sympathetic nods hold the answers to elongating your life (at least that’s what your mind has you believe) — though you’re unsure what you would do with your time if you did live longer. Because by that point, your best years are gone anyway (at least that’s what your mind has you believe). And dreams are for sissies anyway. Dreams are for street musicians and artist hippies and young inventors and college students who think they can change the world. Who are you to dream? Who are you?

Writers Need Other Writers

Quill_and_InkI’m a writer, an aspiring fiction author, an occasional poet, a fairly new blogger, and I don’t know many others like me. I’m talking about others who share my passion for putting words together and watching them come alive. Not necessarily accomplished authors, but regular people in everyday circles who, like me, feel as desperately about writing as I do. Who understand the strange, torturous, tantalizing magnetism of the writing life.

The writing life is a struggle against the self — against silence or too much noise. One aspect that I struggle with most is self-discipline: sticking to a writing routine. Ideas are never a problem. Putting them to paper and not giving up on them once I’ve doused them with ink, that’s when I need the most encouragement. I’m fortunate to have a significant other whose support and faith in my writing never falters when I’m wading in self-doubt, but only writers truly understand the writing frames of mind — the writing life.

I went to grad school for creative writing, to really hone my craft and give myself a chance to evolve as a writer, which I did. When graduation day arrived, my heart was swollen with hope and excitement and motivation and readiness to go out there and be the writer I know I can be. Not only did the program I was in validate the fact that yes, I could sit at the writing table with other writers, it also helped me beyond measure in the accountability department. Structure and deadlines are what I need to keep me from slacking.

But as the years passed (I graduated in 2011), I began to realize that my grad program had provided me with something even more valuable: a community of writers, of other people on the same squiggly path as me. quote-Mary-Gordon-it-was-actually-a-womens-writing-group-181318_1People with whom I could learn from and grow… and connect. I missed the writing workshops.

I think no matter what your field, no matter what your passion, you need to surround yourself with people who are on your similar journey. It’s not vital to your success, but it helps. Writing especially is such a solitary activity, and although our characters keep us company and our obsession with our writing topics distract us from loneliness, sometimes you just need someone to talk to about your progress or lack-thereof. Someone who understands the craft to give you feedback with a writer’s eye. I think this is especially important for aspiring authors like myself, who yes, write for themselves, but who also dream of their work being read one day, and dare I say, enjoyed. (More on this dream later.) Mentors are important no matter what your pursuit, but I’m more so talking about a community that can help you thrive. Communities provide context and nourishment.

Something interesting happened to me last year. I had finished a short story draft and was feeling rather ecstatic about it. But I needed a reader… I needed… feedback. I don’t have any writer friends, as I mentioned, but I do have reader friends. So I called the one friend I thought could give me the best critical feedback because we both share a similar appreciation for good language and literature.

I gave her my awkward little infant of a story and waited. When she finally responded, it was so interesting to see the kind of feedback she had given. I realized she had basically written a literary analysis on my story — which was wonderful to read! — but it didn’t give me specific feedback I could use to improve my draft. It certainly gave me insight into how a reader would perceive my story, which was enlightening, but there’s an art to reading as a writer — to giving feedback as writer, which I hadn’t realized completely until that moment. That’s not to say I won’t ask this friend to be my reader again; the experience simply gave me some interesting perspective.

2692992498_0889df0aeeWriters need other writers.

Whether it’s an online community (WordPress bloggers, you are amazing!) or a writer’s workshop or writer’s group or just one single writing friend — writers need other writers.

We need each other because only we can understand one another. Only we can give the craft-specific feedback that non-writers aren’t as apt in giving. We need each other because writing is hard, and sometimes (a lot of times) we need to commiserate — or celebrate! — with someone who understands. We need each other because we can encourage each other in ways non-writers can’t.

Writers, after all, inspire other writers. That’s why I’m a writer to begin with. I fell in love very early on with reading, with the written words of writers. And when you have a writer friend in your life, or a group of writers, the mere fact that they’re writing is encouraging to you because you don’t want to be left behind. Their writing becomes inspiration for you to write. Their writing tells you… hey, you’re a writer too… so get to writing.

Also last year, my aunt connected me with a writer friend of hers on Facebook. She said hey, this  person is a writer too, and she blogs, so I thought you two should add each other because you seem to have a lot in common. So through that virtual introduction we became virtual friends. And every time I saw this new virtual writer friend of mine share her latest blog post, it lit a flame — a small flame — but a flame, to my fingers. It inspired me to see another writer, just like me, writing. Every time she shared a new post it put up a mirror to my own journey as a writer.

Now, I know that comparison is the thief of joy. I know that the writing world is overwhelmingly competitive, that reading a peer’s marvelous work can make your confidence cripple, that jealousy is a very real thing in writing circles (there’s a whole chapter on jealousy in Anne Lamott’s wonderful book Bird by Bird), but I also know that it takes tough skin to survive the writing life, and that only great writing can inspire great writing. And hey, as ugly as it can be, jealousy is a part of life, not the end of it.

I suppose this post was inspired by the fact that I recently made a writing friend. We’ve been getting together to share each other’s works-in-progress, and holding one another accountable as a result. We both struggle with self-discipline, we’re both desperately in love with writing, and we both just needed another writer in our lives to gently nudge us with encouragement and inspiration to not give up on our many drafts.

When I gave my writer friend the same story I had given my reader friend, she said something so simple that I wanted to get up and hug her (but that would have been weird because, I mean, our friendship is still new). I have a vision to expand this story of mine into a longer work, so as we discussed where and how I could revise my draft, she said: don’t revise what you have, just keep writing; write what comes next. Don’t write backward, write forward.

That has really stuck with me because as all writers know, the mere thought of tackling a revision project can be paralyzing. better-writer-graphic-560x724

But just keep writing, is what she told me. Because as a writer, she knows the struggle well. She knows that the number one rule to succeeding as a writer is to just keep writing. I have plenty of those just keep writing quotes plastered around my room and on my computer’s desktop. But the fact that it came from her, another writer, somehow made all the difference to me. Somehow fueled me with the motivation and courage that… she’s a writer, she knows… and if she can do it, I can do it too.

There are many things we need as writers. Coffee. Good conversations. Overheard conversations. Snacks. Long walks. Long nights. Plenty of books and reading time. No interruptions. Readers. The perfect writing nook or desk or pocket book. Sharpened pencils. A favorite pen. Every writer needs something different.

But for me, other writers, it seems, are what have been missing in my writing life; other writers, I’ve found, add much fuel to my writing fire. Joining WordPress and following other writer’s blogs has given me so much inspiration, as well as a platform and community.

So thank you for being a part of my journey, WordPress bloggers! You have truly helped me become better and more accountable to my blog and to my commitment to the writing life. Do you have any writer friends? Does it help you to have a writing community? Do you wish you had one? Or do you disagree with this notion? And how do you feel about receiving feedback from writers vs. non-writers?

And while I’m on the topic of community and inspiring one another, I highly recommend this fantastic blog as a resource for aspiring authors.

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5 Reasons I signed up for a TRIATHLON

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I signed up for a sprint triathlon recently! .5 miles (.8k) swimming | 13 miles (20k) biking | 3.1 miles (5k) running.

While I consider myself a fairly athletic person, my relationship with working out ebbs and flows depending on the season, and I’ve never before done anything like a triathlon (I ran a 5k two years ago but that’s about it). I’m just your average person with a gym membership who sometimes goes and sometimes doesn’t.

I don’t dislike working out. When I’m in the zone and on a roll, I actually enjoy it. Working out does wonders for my mental health and stress levels. I love how light and strong it makes my body feel. But like many people, I struggle with self-discipline. So…

Despite my self-doubts and am-I-crazy’s, I decided to give myself the ultimate physical and mental challenge of training for and competing in my first-ever sprint triathlon… and here are my 5 reasons why:

1. To reconnect with my inner athlete

I was a competitive swimmer from ages 5 through 14. I loved to swim (still do!) and was great at it too (still am!). In addition to competing with other teams within my city, I got to travel with my team to neighboring cities to compete when we made Nationals. So it was serious business, but always so much fun.

Those years made an impact on me. And though I lost touch with the pool as I moved on through life and into adulthood, being in a pool always filled me with nostalgia. And the amazing muscle memory in my arms and legs whenever I did swim always reminded me that my inner swimmer had never left me. Athleticism… it’s in me. And I sort of miss it. I want to relive the thrill of the race, a race that involves swimming.

2. To practice turning my thoughts into actions

7dcdc6d27bfca5eba2bca65827f5b4a6In my About page, I say that I’m a thinker trying to be more of a doer and that’s exactly true. My tendency to over-think has impacted many aspects of my life and is actually one of the reasons I started my blog—I needed to turn my thinking about starting a blog into actually doing it (even if I didn’t know what I was doing).

On that same note, instead of thinking about how I can be more of a doer, I decided to fling myself into a doer arena, one that will require fierce commitment and training.

By training for this triathlon, I am practicing setting a goal—a tangible, straight-forward, challenging, but attainable goal—and seeing it through to the end. Seeing it through until it is done, instead of just thinking and daydreaming about it.

I hope this experience of doing—of practicing dedication and persistence—will inspire and teach me to spread this energy into other aspects of my life. Because let’s face it, only doers get things done. It’s work ethic—not just talent—that takes you places. Thinkers linger, and I’m tired of watching from the sidelines with all my mental notes. I need this certificate of completion to prove that a life of doing is possible for me. I have my mind set on plenty of things… I just need to practice the action part.

3. My strange phobia of indoor pools

I don’t remember how or when it started (and I certainly don’t know why), but I’ve always felt uneasy about swimming in indoor pools. Does ANYONE out there feel me?

Back in my swimming days we swam in outdoor pools. The bright yellow sun, the dry heat, it was all so perfect. I could see through the water. There was no dimness, no murky, chlorine-filled smell, no stuffy enclosed feeling. There was just light.

What makes me uneasy is the dark water: the lack of natural light, the inability to see clearly through the water, the shadowy dimness ahead of me as I’m swimming, and my insanely active imagination (think creatures of the deep coming out of the murkiness). It’s stuff of kids’ nightmares; it’s nonsense and silly, but it’s how I feel, and it can be crippling.

It’s worse when it’s just me in the pool. I feel “safer” when there are others around, when I feel presence with me in the water. Many times I’ve even cut my swimming short if I see that everyone in the pool has left. Maybe I had a traumatic experience in an indoor pool that I’ve suppressed? Maybe I should blame it all on my  dramatic imagination?

I’ve learned to tolerate swimming in indoor pools over the years, but it continues to be an issue for me. Training for a triathlon is forcing me to face this strange fear and unlikely discomfort head-on.

4. To prove to myself that I can (because I can)

Self-doubt will be the death of me if I don’t kill it first. I don’t consider 34e3dfa6d33dd57c8b182655cb94175bmyself particularly low on confidence—I have my moments like any person—but it seems that I hoard massive amounts of self-doubt whenever I face a personal challenge. Whenever I face… myself, really. And it’s debilitating. And probably connected to my tendency to over-think things.

So I’m training for this triathlon to kill the voices of self-doubt, and to celebrate and appreciate my body, its strength, its potential, and its abilities. And the essence of Yes I can.

5. An ode to my 20s

I turned 29 recently. It’s a bittersweet number this 29. Filled with hope and excitement for a new decade on the horizon, it’s also the almost-end of a pretty intense chapter.

And so I thought, what better way to end the turbulent, exciting, eventful, thrilling, unforgettable years of my 20s than to conquer myself—mind and body—by way of a triathlon challenge? The ultimate cherry on top! first-inspirational-running-quotes-wallpaper

This triathlon will be a celebration of all the wonderful and life-changing years that have shaped me over this decade. The friendships I’ve made, the love that I’ve found, the hardships I’ve survived, and all that I’ve accomplished, learned, and seen and felt and explored throughout my 20s. Because triathlon training requires patience, commitment, sacrifice, pain, determination, will power, confidence, strength, endurance… I could go on… and all of these things I have tackled in my 20s, and will no doubt continue to.

But when I’m standing at the cusp of my 30th birthday, I would love to look back at my triathlon experience and be able to say: if I made it through a triathlon—and the roller-coaster decade of my 20s—I can make it through almost anything.


So have you ever competed in a triathlon? If you have, what were your reasons for signing up? And do you have any tips for me? I would love to know!

My triathlon date is June 14. Wish me luck. 🙂

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Review: ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath

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This book has been on my shelf for years. I’d never known what it was about, but I knew it was the only novel written by famed poet Sylvia Plath, therefore I knew I had to read it. I’m a fan of Plath’s poetry, though you don’t have to be to enjoy this book (I use the word enjoy lightly).

This book is in one word insightful. Sharp, personal, and emotionally charged— her poetry leaves an impression on you in its willingness to be vulnerable, and this book is no different. If you’re familiar with Plath, you know that her poetry strikes a raw chord because she wrote from a deep and painful place in the heart and mind. She suffered from depression for many years before ending her life at the age of 30, leaving two children, a boy and a girl, behind.

Though a work of fiction, The Bell Jar, like Plath’s poetry, is considered autobiographical because of its deeply personal perspective on life behind the veil of depression. The central themes in the novel, I found out later, parallel those in Plath’s early life. In fact, she is said to have referred to The Bell Jar as “an autobiographical apprentice work which I had to write in order to free myself from the past.” As a writer, I truly connect with the desire to purge your pain through writing, or at least, to seek to understand it.

But The Bell Jar is not outward with its purpose. It doesn’t come out and say, hey, this is what depression is about! This is what it feels like! Nor is this book explicitly about Plath herself. It doesn’t seek pity. It does, however, whether you’ve suffered from depression or not, challenge you. It most certainly makes you question— whether it’s Esther, the protagonist, her reasons for doing, thinking, and saying the things that she does— or yourself, and your own deepest, darkest human moments.

The first-person narrative, brutally honest and morbidly critical, grips you immediately. And I could see as I read why 19 year-old Esther Greenwood has been compared to The Catcher in the Rye’s 16 year-old Holden Caulfield. I won’t go into an in-depth comparison, but I will say that like Holden, Esther is not immediately likable. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of her and her seemingly judgmental observations at first. She raised my eyebrow many times, especially in the beginning as I was just getting to know her, and only until I read further did I realize that her perspective was muddied by something else…

“A summer calm laid its soothing hand over everything, like death.” Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

This book is about perception. About disconnectedness and alienation, with very subtle threads of hope. The tone is never melodramatic; poignant in its straight-forwardness, in its matter-of-fact attitude towards death, it drips with despair but not obviously. Written by a poet, the prose is unsurprisingly fluid and the figurative language is wonderful and plenty. Plath was a word smith indeed. The way she so easily weaved tender and difficult emotions into a needle’s eye was a pleasure to study!

The Bell Jar is a vivid, intelligent, and disturbing portrait of a determined, witty young woman whose perception of herself and the world around her is blurred by something she can’t quite place. It gives voice to an uncomfortable subject, a human experience that, especially at the time of its publication in 1963, was not widely and openly talked about— let alone from a woman’s perspective.

In fact, Plath didn’t want the novel published in the U.S. for fear that it would cause pain to those close to her (many of the characters were apparently inspired by people in her own life). So it was published first in London (where she lived at the time) under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, and not released in the U.S. until 1972.

I think Plath intrigues us because she was a mind too heavy for herself, too deep for her own good. And the Why in her life’s off-course, tragic end, and the bleeding words she left behind, haunt us.

In a way, this book— a fleeting peek into a mind off kilter — sheds some light, though it doesn’t promise to answer any questions. What it does do, however, just as it did when it was first published, is spark conversation and foster awareness around mental health.

Have you read The Bell Jar?

Lies are Exhausting

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“Lies are exhausting,” said the heart.

“But some things mustn’t be said,” said the brain. “Sometimes the truth does more harm than good. What’s more important to you? Truth or peace?”

“Can’t the two co-exist? Doesn’t truth seek justice?”

“The truth seeks nothing but itself,” said the brain. “The truth is selfish, if you ask me. It wants the spotlight. It wants to be heard. And it has a right to be, but in reality, whether or not the truth is uttered, the truth still is, regardless.”

“But the truth must be sought, must be proven, must be shared, must be lived,” said the heart. “It mustn’t be suppressed.”

“The truth is never suppressed,” said the brain. “The truth just is. People choose their own truths and choose their own lies. People are free to choose. And each choice comes with sacrifice. That’s when one must prioritize.”

“But lies are exhausting,” said the heart. “And you yourself can’t even keep up. Each time a lie is uttered, another must be made to cover it up. Must we lie? Doesn’t the truth set you free?”

“The truth only unburdens the liar,” said the brain. “It’s impossible to appease everyone. The truth is uncomfortable and it stings. Once uttered, it merely becomes a burden to someone else.”

“But the truth is not a burden! Lies are the burden! Lies wrap me in shadows,” said the heart. “Lies choke my breath. Lies are exhausting. Lies make a fool of everyone. The truth is the truth—it simply is, as you said—and so it must be. It’s a lesson for the ears that don’t want to hear it. The truth is inevitable. It doesn’t go away.”

“The truth!” said the brain. “Don’t you see it’s all relative? One person’s truth is another person’s lie! What is the truth if everyone chooses to believe what they will, to see what they want to see?”

“Even so,” said the heart. “Lies are exhausting. They bring me no joy.”

Animals and Compassion

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Cruelty to animals is the epitome of evil to me. Cruelty to ANY being, in general, young or adult, is of course evil. But animals… they have always, since I was young, occupied a special place in my heart. (I decided against veterinarian school after I realized it involved science… and blood. Long live my liberal arts brain.)

Even after surviving a dog attack as a child, I have always loved animals. Especially dogs, funnily enough. I have always felt that animals embody the essence of innocence and of oneness with nature; they represent to me the natural balance of energy. They are untainted by vanity and ill-intention, undisturbed by ambition, pride, and desire. They just are. They only react. Their wants are tied only to survival.

Recently, I somehow came across a disgusting video of two men maliciously driving over a dog, killing him. Unfortunately, there isn’t much animal advocacy or protection of animal “rights” in the Arab world, where this happened, where animals are not often viewed through a compassionate lens. It’s not that people there hate animals or intently seek to harm them—many are working to change public perception and laws on the treatment of animals (I’ve lived in the Arab world almost all my life). It’s just that pets are not a cultural norm there, so the opportunities for people to experience animals, to interact with them, learn about them, and value and connect with them on a personal level, is close to zero. It’s lack of exposure and education around the treatment and nature of animals, not lack of heart. (Of course, like anywhere, there are bad apples… really bad apples.)

So when I read this follow-up article today on these cruel men being charged for their inhumane actions, I was surprised but elated… and filled with hope. This is a big deal for a country like Saudi Arabia, where this incident took place (and where I happened to live for many years). I’m so glad they’ve acknowledged this disturbing, ignorant behavior as evil—that they actually hunted down the culprits! I hope education around compassion for animals continues in that region and everywhere else around the world.

C2I’m not writing this post to draw gasps over this dog’s fate, criticize ignorance, or spark debates about going vegan. Rather, to simply draw attention to the fact that as fully capable human beings, we have the power and responsibility to be kind and gentle to all beings who cannot speak for themselves, both humans and animals alike. Compassion is what separates us from evil. It’s what makes us human.

Compassion is necessary for life, love, and goodness to thrive.

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