From the ivory tower to the purple hobbit-hole of blogging

“The best academics are really just autobiographers in disguise,” my M.A. Program Director, Dr. Dwight Hopkins, said to me during my first (and only) office visit. We talked about our mutual appreciation for jazz music, among other things, and I took comfort in his words.

I was a naive first-year who believed a two-year M.A. program from UChicago of all places, the bastion of secularism, was a solid foundation for becoming an Islamic Scholar.

My home for two years. Well, not literally. I lived a few blocks north of campus. But you get what I mean.

I kid you not. I really did have grandiose visions of being an Islamic Scholar one day. I, Rafia, who understands no more than two words of Arabic! (Yani is one of them ;)

I laugh at my naïveté now. But it hasn’t been easy to accept that my goals have clearly changed since that Autumn day three years ago.

When I finally discovered what lay ahead of me, I knew I didn’t have what it takes – and frankly, wasn’t willing to do the work required to get there. Spend at least three years in some Arab country just so that I can be eligible to apply to a PhD program? Was this even what I wanted?

I couldn’t accept the truth, of course, not without a fight – in my case, tons of anxiety and doubt. If I am giving up on studying Islam for a living, does that mean I am giving up on God as well? I thought.

I’ve finally accepted that we weren’t all meant to be scholars or academics, although at times I still pine for the life I could have had, was so close to having. Even now, I fall into Quixotism every now and then – I am I, Don Quixote, and academia is my windmill – using such words as ‘apropos’ because I heard a professor say it in class once and thought it was… apropos.

I used to be afraid to tell people I have a Master’s in Religious Studies. I didn’t want them to assume I was some expert and have them find out I’m just some fraud. I still don’t know how I survived my program.

I used to feel compelled to “make use” of my degree.

But I am finally okay with where I am now. Maybe for the first time in my life, I am actually doing what I like. And I don’t feel bad about it.

Strangely, it was through blogging particularly that I’ve come to see that my writing can be useful. I don’t regret my time in grad school at all (best thing I ever did – and my proudest achievement). I am still interested in Religion and will never stop being interested in it. I’d say that a good 60-70% of my writing makes some reference to religion, even if it’s just my observations or experience. So yeah, I am making use of it.

I thought about what Professor Hopkins said earlier today as I was preparing that poor little chicken for dinner (it was either the chicken or a cow). “It’s not just academics. It’s all of us. We’re all just writing our own autobiographies, but in different ways.”

And if mine makes reference to cake and cows, then so be it!

10 thoughts on “From the ivory tower to the purple hobbit-hole of blogging

  1. Rafia! I always enjoy reading your posts for one its always interesting and thought provoking! It makes me think about my own pursuits! It is a good thing to know your talent and use it too! There are people who dont know what they are good ar or never use their talent or just never tried to know what they are good at! Keep doing what you love dear!

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  2. Great Rafia this is what I felt when left my hard earned career in electronics and telecom and began writing for my soul. This self realization is too satisfying that nothing makes me happy than looking at a finished story. And we need writers. Our people have no voice you know. Keep writing to express the voiceless people around you.

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  3. Ah yes, to be young and naive: what a wonderful combination. I’ve flirted in my early twenties with the idea of becoming an astronomer (that is after I fell completely out of love with medicine….reality will do that to you), but thankfully reason prevailed. The funny thing is between the age of 5 and 20 I was absolutely certain I was going to become a doctor, I did everything that was asked of me to make it happen. But alas, my rather romanticized outlook on modern medicine could live up to reality.

    The path to adulthood is an interesting one to say the least.

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  4. In my case, it was after I saw the work of Doctors Without Borders on the news that I decided “to become a doctor”. I was 5 then, and of course everybody encouraged me on that path, since Muslim parents all wish their kids could become doctors lool. I decided to do my Bachelor in Nursing as the best possible route toward Med school. During my training I came to learn a great deal about hospital culture and med school culture, and let’s just say I realized I romanticized a lot of it. Reality was far from what I imagined. So I decided to finish my nursing instead of enrolling in Med school. I worked as a nurse for a while, during which 9/11 happened. I saw how society changed vis a vis Muslims and that prompted me to pursue sociology in grad school. I guess I wanted to understand this world of ours a little more, and make sense of what I was witnessing.

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  5. Wow! You were a nurse? How did you like it? I find that the work that nurses do is so underappreciated. How far along were you in your nursing career when you thought of venturing into Soc? I was thinking just today that it would be nice to have studied English. I play around with the idea of doing my PhD (although they’re mostly fancies). Maybe one day, I’ll be more resolute. But it’d be nice to know that it’s still possible for me. You give me hope, Geeky! :)

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  6. I worked for 4 years as a nurse. I worked in many areas: delivery room and maternity ward, ER ( working specifically with patients of sexual assault and domestic violence), community outreach, and surgery. I loved the work and will always remain a nurse at heart, but I hated the hospital environment. Nurses are not only under appreciated but also asked to do a maximum of work. At the time Ontario was going through some budget cuts and hospitals were seriously understaffed. I had to pull 12 to 16 hour shifts (not by choice but rather because we were understaffed). I couldn’t do my job to my satisfaction. I was sending home moms who could barely cope with having a baby. Instead of spending time teaching them about breastfeeding, baby care, and postpartum depression, I was doing paperwork (or rather pressured into giving a priority to the paperwork). I was sending home tearful moms who had 0 support at home and couldn’t do any follow up with them once they left the hospital. I felt very guilty. For me nursing is a vocation rather than a job. I left nursing not out of lack of interest but rather out of guilt.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That’s just painful to read. I’d think the healthcare system in Canada would be a little better than it is down here. I’m sure you made a difference in the lives of the many women you nursed, even if you didn’t care for them as extensively as they would have wished. I think that’s a sign that you do impact their lives in a positive way! :)

    Liked by 1 person

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