Long time no see (reflecting on the last two years)

I knew I was going to take a break from blogging, I just didn’t realise that the break would last more than two years. I’ve learned to condense my thoughts into neat Instagram captions and Twitter threads but I did miss the luxury of this space. There is pleasure and comfort in long form, a break from the searing data and concentrated truth. It’s relaxing and arresting and to steal from an author I’m currently reading:

It’s true that it’s relaxing, a retirement home for those of fragile constitution such as girls like me; it’s arresting here and arrest is a break from the world.*

Earlier this year an essay of mine was published in the Nasty Women anthology. It was an absolute honour and the best learning experience. I had the chance to read it to an audience in London. I’ve also worked out a nonfiction proposal and am pitching to publishers. The first rejection email pierced my soul, I won’t lie. It was also the most beautifully worded note full of encouragement and great advice. Though it hurt the first time I read it, I’ve starred the email and return to it when I need affirmation. Funny how things turn out.

Recently a Twitter follower sent me a private message lamenting her fears about never getting published. I remember feeling something similar when I decided I wanted to be a published writer. There is a lot of angst surrounding this process, but unfortunately, there is nothing others can do to make it better for you. I appreciate the lovely editors who send thoughtful rejections, but sometimes their words don’t matter because all we see is the very personal rejection of who we are. Things have become better for me after I understood that my book will be published when it is ready to be published. Being published is a commitment to permanence and maybe our work isn’t ready for that kind of commitment even though we are. I wish I had words of comfort for this person but all I could say was ‘don’t give up’ and when has that really helped anyone feel better? The most useful advice I received was from a nonfiction author who said that the writing process shouldn’t be contaminated by publishing hopes and fears, that these are two separate entities and shouldn’t impact each other. This has definitely helped me to start putting words on paper/screen without obsessing too much about how it will be received.

The time spent away from this space was mostly used on practising self-awareness and self-compassion. Earlier this year I attended a self-care workshop for women of colour. It was 15 of us, sat in a circle, processing our thoughts, feelings, socio-political standings. We discussed our proud moments, our means of coping and the words that trigger us. We shared tips on cultivating the ability to speak from a space of deep self-love while constantly combating other people’s insecurities which are imposed upon us. The impact of othering, fragmented backgrounds and the pressure to ‘work twice as hard’ was a lot to unpack in a single morning. I was moved by the trust, openness, vulnerability and positivity these amazing women brought to the discussion. The workshop reiterated for me the need to understand what self-care means to us and that it goes far beyond lighting candles and taking baths (both of which I highly recommend by the way). It’s about unconditional love for ourselves. It’s tender. It’s acceptance. It’s the ability to ground ourselves in soothing rituals. It’s acknowledging our presence when others won’t. It’s unlearning all that we’ve been conditioned to believe about ourselves. It’s about getting off the conveyor belt. It’s forgiveness and self-sufficiency. It’s all about self-compassion.

The book I’m pitching also revolves around this theme of taking care of myself, especially as a woman and a person of colour. Writing about my life has given me the space to explore my relationship with Saudi Arabia (where I grew up), the impact it had on my self-esteem and what it means to be a Muslim woman in the west.** It’s also helped me come to terms with my history without conveniently blaming everything on the people around me. I’m more in touch with my sense of identity now than I was two years ago. I don’t shy away from speaking up for myself and no longer feel the need to distance myself from my identity. This feeling, of course, stemmed from deep personal insecurities and I’ve spent most of my time these two years working on it. Ridding myself of my insecurities has helped me spot them in others. This means my moods are no longer dependent on other people’s intentions. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that I will forever be a work in progress and that is okay.

Nadim and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary in April. We moved into our first home and made it our own. Lots of milestones reached together, I couldn’t have asked for a better life partner alhumdullilah. Also, it’s nice to have an in-house first reader. I started my stint as a Production Editor in August 2015 and it’s been an interesting and rewarding journey with the most amazing people and management. I started hosting my own events! (There’s one coming up soon in Birmingham on 11th August.)

I’ve unburdened myself of toxic friendships and I’ve learned to make space for those who matter. I was surprised by the time it takes been realisation and actual ‘cutting off’ when it comes to people we once loved. In some instances, it was about disengaging myself from spaces in which I wasn’t accepted completely. In some cases it was about learning to co-exist with people who kept prodding my sense of balance. I used to spend a lot of time trying to understand their intentions but I know now that this isn’t important. What is important is to make sure I protect myself from such people even when societal norms stop me from completely alienating myself from them.

That’s all for now. You can find regular updates on my writing and reading via my Instagram and Twitter. The more I write for my book, the more I feel the need for this space to share my meandering thoughts and research. I recently came out of a long bout of depression. I’ve not sought professional help yet, I don’t know what’s stopping me. Writing is therapy, but I don’t think it should replace actual therapy and medical help. I hope I can get myself to ask for what I need when I need it. Do What You Want is a great magazine that has helped me center myself and my mental well-being. It’s up for pre-order and profits go to various charities that are worth supporting.

*Quoted (out of context) from NoĆ©mi Lefebvre’s Blue Self-Portrait.
**Something I’ll be exploring further in my piece for gal-dem’s print issue 2.