Ten-Word Thoughts: Backbones

To all the beauty resting inside

Books with broken spines.

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Purpose

I spent the first 21 years and 9 months of my life trying to find my talent or a productive ability of some sorts. From graphic design to crafting, I found myself switching between smaller versions of activities my peers were exceptionally good at. But me? I’d never been the best at anything besides being a self-righteous little crap.

I remember the first piece of creative writing that I’d given to someone; I remember how easily the words tumbled down onto my keyboard and how much fun I had. It was a short piece, and a really bad one. It received a good reaction from the recipient, although I don’t think it was anything more than half-empty flattery.

For long after that, I didn’t write. It never particularly appealed to me, not when my friends were out there climbing up higher with their own work. What’s a bland hobby like writing compared to that? Anyone can string together a couple of words, right?

Writing is an art, and art is expression. That, friends, I was exceptionally bad at, always expressing too much or too little and overall just wrong. I think I still am a mess for no reason; no one’s ever forced me to grow so emotionally illiterate. I wouldn’t say I started to write to express things I otherwise couldn’t, but maybe it’s that creative energy that was building up and needed an outlet. I wanted something to be good at, something to work to improve; a fling to the future that I needed to compare my improvement to. I needed a craft, an art, as disrespectful as I’d been towards it. I pride myself in being a woman in STEM, and frankly, possibly because I am conceited and horrible, found other fields including the arts.. not as necessary.

But we crave it, don’t we? The luxury of art and beauty that comes after fulfilling all of your basic needs for survival. Maybe there is a truth that lies behind John Keating’s quote, “And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

(I’ve never seen that movie, just so you know. But I’ve grown to recognize the worth of the other half of the statement, although I’d only thoroughly believed in the first.)

I suppose my first naive conviction that my writing was good as soon as I started regularly practicing it was a blessing. But I don’t write for money, I don’t think I’ve even considered it until this very moment, and am not planning to. That’s not to undermine the efforts of people who do write for money, since my reason to write is a far more selfish thing. “Write for yourself,” some might say, but I’ve done enough for myself. There was a post on social media that said something along the lines of “when I’ve spent six hours baking a cake, I’d want people to eat it” to describe the creative process. I understand the importance of receiving an indication of people having spent time appreciating your work. I won’t write exclusively for myself, because I’ve done enough, watched shows and read books aimlessly, wallowed away in hobbies that produced nothing tangible (not directly, at least), or in ones whose products I was too embarrassed to share. It’s about time I put this out there for the world to see.

I write for attention. I write because I want people to read my work, to appreciate it; I write for feedback, to have people tell me that they relate, or that my writing’s put them on edge, or that it’s eased something in them, or dragged them through harder times. Maybe it’s a far-fetched hope of mine, but I really hope that one day, people will seek my writing to get their minds off of the harsher realities of their lives; maybe my writing is a little defiance, an insignificant effort to add a touch of beauty to this world.

100-word story: lo mein

“Grab some Chinese take-out on your way home, would you?”

“You should’ve taken this job if you wanted to eat out, love,” I tell her, and hear her softly laugh through the device in my ear – the voice I sleep and wake up to.

“In paper boxes, please!”

She’s in the same line of work, my partner-in-crime (or against it), and my endearingly insufferable wife.

My breathing is steady, and the din of the city quiets down. I tug between a heartbeat and the next, one silent bullet through the brains of some corrupt politician. A job done. Dinner time.

nonexistent reads

The preteen me, on average, probably finished more books a year than the adult me does. I suppose it is a similar issue some others face, growing up an avid reader then managing to grow out of it. Books by Jacqueline Wilson were my favorite, because there was something so real about them, and although they were meant for a younger audience, they never completely treated their readers like kids. My life as an Arab child was far different from all of the main characters’ of Wilson’s books, but they still were so human, and I remember feeling that she didn’t really shy away from exploring the complexity of emotions and presenting them to children.

I grew, and the number of books I read on a yearly basis took a nosedive (let’s keep comics out of this now, shall we?) I only remember really enjoying murder mysteries during my teenage years, and even those I read very, very few of.

I grew, and tried to get back into reading. My cousin, (shoutout: theyoungdeer) a very, very active reader, especially compared to yours truly, has been lending me all of her favorite picks, and I enjoyed a number of them. But I still haven’t found a book that I’d give 5/5, and I wonder if I ever will.

For the most part, I try to stay away from the angry, all-caps reviews on Goodreads beforehand because I’d rather develop my own opinion (which eventually becomes that angry, all-caps review). I’m thoroughly disappointed by too many new releases, and although I struggle with plots and don’t even consider myself a writer in the first place, I’ve been finding most of my reads mundane and butchered and unworthy of the praise that I find on the back of their covers. Call me a pretentious prick, I deserve it.

But the books I love are very particular, I want them to unravel, to build up and then ease down, to entangle every word put into them and grow complex, then wrap up and conclude like a gift; I like uncomfortably real characters and complicated plots and simple, beautiful writing that flows and takes the reader along. I miss having a book that I don’t want to put down.

and her ongoing crisis

I’ve been using the term “quarter-life crisis” to sum up all of the confusion tumbling around my life. It had manifested itself in huge white-rimmed glasses, but I changed out of those into clear acrylic frames last week. They’re gorgeous and I love them, and I’ve been asking everyone to praise them. I don’t care what they really think.

But my crisis is a bigger one, although I’m at a stable phase. I am incredibly grateful, but it feels stagnant, and really, it’s no one’s fault if it’s not my own.

I think it’s called activation energy, the push you need to do something out of your routine. Reaching out, doing something new, and you don’t ever feel like doing it, but you have to force yourself. It’s that initial leap that’s hard, but I’m not taking it.

I can’t get myself to take it. I am so terribly demotivated, so I’m just sitting with panic building up inside me, watching as my life languidly passes by. I can’t get myself to take it because although I know what I want, I don’t know how to get it. The path branches into too many, and I am crippled by the fear of taking the wrong one and wasting my time and my effort, but what if the wrong one is the comfort I’m sitting in now? Maybe I have been pushing myself, but not hard enough, considering that there are half-done applications sitting around for weeks waiting to be sent. “They’re not good enough,” I tell myself, but will they ever be good enough? Will they just become good enough if I’ve got no drive to improve them? It seems to be a form of procrastination, a foreign concept to someone who tends to worry months ahead. But it’s a destructive one, procrastinating goals that do not have a deadline, milestones in your life that you want to achieve, but that aren’t scheduled out for you.

And I’ve been comparing myself to others, people of my age and younger. It really is a horrible thing to do to yourself, a reflection of a deeper problem and non-existent self-confidence. It does nothing to your motivation; if anything, it just demotivates you further. Your life is your own timeline, Maryam, and the only person you should compare yourself to is yourself. I know it, but the dread comes in waves, and sometimes you can’t help but take a step back and look at the time you could’ve put elsewhere. But I’ve taken it upon myself never to regret anything. I believe that everything does happen for a reason, and that there is a silver lining in it all, even the time that you might think you’ve wasted.

Am I sad? Maybe. It feels like a combination of sadness and indifference that laces my mornings. If any, it’s that blunt kind of pain, that mundane joyless laughter. I do feel bad for it, because I believe that I’ve got no right to be sad. The feeling of guilt that comes with being sad is wired in me, I guess, and I don’t really know whether that’s a healthy coping mechanism (probably not). I feel alone, too, and vulnerable when I talk about it, even when I’ve done so many times in this blog. There’s a lot that that comes down to, as I’ve said in other posts, but I’m just not willing to change to anything but the better anymore, and I’m tired of considering whether my ‘better’ will be catered by others. Take it or leave it. It’ll heal.

So this is a resolution (if anyone’s still reading this? Hello?). I’ll try my best and keep faith. I’ll do it.

(update: The applications were sent!)

Constellations Part 2: The Heroine

The hands that had spread maps before me and dotted them like the night sky now cradled my face, rough and dry and wearing away by age. They held worry and an odd form of pride when too little time was between us and the beginning of my journey.

I have yet to find anything as comforting as the warmth of my father’s hands that night.

He pressed his lips to my brow, and his frame was still as large as it’d been, refusing to bend down to age just yet. He was readily graying, though, and I’d given him grief for it. His eyes crinkled at the sides, lines much deeper than they were many springs ago. I thought it was clear why age had suddenly shown its weight on him. It had started once Mother got sick.

What took her was acute. It spared us no time to come to terms with any of it. A fever, short and sharp and the most horrifying thing I’d seen. Then she passed, taking along the light of her laughter from the life of my father and my own.

The yield had been especially poor then, barely enough to feed us. But the urgency of her illness brought surgeons in nonetheless, as many of them as it could. The cure could’ve been a few villages away, but she was too weak, and the limits of humans caught in a drought glared, ugly and desperate.

They blamed the crisis on the Woodwose, but I know the skies, their force too restless, too great, to be controlled by a being. The Woodwose’s roots exploited the richness of our lands, and that, compared to the unbound power of the sky, is a force that people perhaps can stand against.

But my journey was not inspired by revenge; that was that notion that pushed me to dig out his roots. There was the knighthood that I sought, the voice that it all held, one loud enough for the villagers threatened by hunger and illnesses and too much grief.

‘Not revenge,’  I had repeated time and time again, hoping that it would become the truth.

“You really are your mother’s daughter.”

Suddenly, I was brought back to the present, but as young as I had been when the life my father spent laughing under the sun hadn’t etched his lines as deep, back when my mother would bake apples while she answered all my questions, one from every corner of the world.

Who rules the East, Mommy? And the Southern Sea? Where are all the mermaids? Are they pretty?

Until my questions reached the sky, and right until then, she would answer like she’d seen it all.

What’s the brightest star in the sky called, Mommy?

Then Mother would smile and place her hand on my head. “Isn’t that question more suited for Daddy? You know no one knows the skies like he does.” He’d taught me how to chart the stars because I feared the dark.

“Would you grow up like Mommy, Constance? Or will you turn out land-bound like Daddy?

Or better yet, you’d grow your own self. I’m sure of it.”

I’d missed her, so much that it felt like something broke in half inside me, and I was faced with another parting still. The tightness in my throat ached fiercely. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t, but the sob tore despite it all, and before I knew it, I was a child again, contained in the protection of my father’s arms. My hands grabbed fistfuls of the back of his clothes, desperate, broken things.

I was frightened out of my wits, the world was so large beyond our village, but not once did I doubt my desire to go, to see it and brave its seas. I caught my next sigh and swallowed it, out of the stubborn determination to ready myself for the journey if nothing else.

But what he said about my resemblance to Mother was blurred and muffled by my tears. I didn’t understand any of it then. I couldn’t, until many seas later.