On vulnerability

Being vulnerable doesn’t get any easier, no matter how many times we confront our fears, or are forced to.

Perhaps I feel this way because I am still new to the world of putting myself “out there.”

As I’ve written before, I didn’t grow up in a household where achievements were blasted to the entire neighborhood, although I grew up surrounded by people who did. My parents were certainly very intentional about this decision; and although I do believe it meant that I would get a late start on developing confidence, it kept my ego in check. For the most part, anyway.

I wish I could be both confident and humble. But it’s a delicate balance I think most earnest people will find themselves struggling with and through their entire lives.

How much is too much? Where do you draw the line? How do you keep your ego in check in a world that is fueled by bombast?

I know I overthink almost everything, but I do think that most people don’t think enough (and I’m not talking about the political situation here in the States, but yeah, that applies too).

Ah, the life of contemplation. In an ideal world, I would love to spend my days writing treatises on simple-yet-complex ideas and concepts we take for granted (it’s that pseudo-academic in me that will never die), but I find myself propelled into the kind of world that the theoretical me hates. The world of instant gratification. This need to be affirmed. But this affirmation for the most part only serves to boost my ego. And then I am left with guilt and uncertainty.

I’m not saying we should deny ourselves all the pleasures of this world (I love cake too much), but once you give in, is there any end to it (other than death, of course)?

But I suppose these are just my fears getting ahead of me yet again? In the past, I’ve never been one to wage battle with my fears. They were the demons that kept me in check. But what was the cost? A life very much fettered.

No. Vulnerability is a necessary component of growth. But there never was any guarantee that it would be easy.

Oh yeah, happy new year! ;)

I must say that reducing my social media “presence” (I can’t think of a better word – it really felt like I was hovering and not really a part of it) has been so freeing.

The irony is not lost on me however that many people who will read this (paragraph) will chance upon it through Cake & Cows’s Facebook page (but if I am aware of the irony, is it still ironic?). I considered deleting it because “I don’t like being a hypocrite” (future blog post… if I ever get around to it). But given that I am a writer, I do want to be read. Otherwise, my journal would be the only place my thoughts are transcribed.

It’s a tension I’ve struggled with for many years and one which has not been resolved.
But regardless of whether it’s resolved or not, I no longer feel the need to write “bloggy” topics anymore. What do I mean by that? Posts that always have a neat ending. Posts on topics people expect to read. Sure I’ll most likely do those from time to time, but my last unfiltered post felt so good to write. It took me back to 2003, when the few people who read my blog were people that knew me through my words only. There’s something beautiful about that.

I don’t mean to say that I want to project a false image of who I am. I’ve never been dishonest, but I can’t say I’ve been fully honest either. So many times I’ve had this urge to blog, but decided it wouldn’t make for a “good” blog topic, because it would make reference to something most people wouldn’t get or would find boring. Well, you know what? Screw that! Being able to be myself is why I latched onto blogging in the beginning and why I picked it up again last year. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t wish to “be myself” at the expense of another person’s privacy, which I have never done by the way, but I am so over being damn PC. Maybe it’s because it’s a new year, or because I’ll be turning 30 in less than a month, or because I currently feel like the Phantom of the Opera. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t really matter. If I want to write about the mundane everyday things of my life, like how I’m currently suffering through an outbreak of perioral detmatitis and how it’s making me hate my life right now (hence the reference to the Phantom earlier), I’m going to. If no one reads it, fine. I’ve been there before and it’s not the end of the word. I’ve never gone viral and I’m completely okay with it. That’s not why I started writing in the first place!

I’ve been reading a lot lately and one thing I’ve gleaned is that each writer brings with him/her a unique voice. If I filter myself to be some cookie-cutter, I’ll never be satisfied and perhaps those of you who do take the time to read my stuff (which I appreciate more than you can imagine) would be missing out on the full range of what I can offer. Is that confidence? Well, I need it, so I’m keeping it! ;)

If 2017 is the year Rafia gets back to her roots of being her unabashed self, then that’s the best resolution, albeit unconscious, I would have made for myself in years, if not ever.

Haha, so this post ended up being a disclaimer, but that’s fine. Hopefully it’s a beginning of something new and more raw.

Swept from Indy to Jersey and who knows where else

As I mentioned in my last post, I attended the 3rd Annual Muslim-Jewish Women’s Leadership Conference hosted by the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom this past weekend in New Jersey.

Since it was my first time in the tri-state area, I had to make a short detour to New York City (my brother being in the area facilitated this). Everything takes FOREVER in New York though, as you can imagine, so I didn’t get to do much. But I did eat some NY-style pizza in the middle of Times Square – and honestly, I feel fulfilled.

There was a dessert social the night before the actual conference; and though I was nervous, it ended up going pretty well. Since I naturally gravitate toward the food table(s) at social gatherings (it may or may not be conscious on my part), I was spared the nightmare of having to go up to people; they came to me! I exchanged contact information and ate way too much sugar. I certainly lived up to the name “dessert social.”

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The conference started bright and early on Sunday morning. After eating two breakfasts (one at the hotel and one in the gymnasium of Drew University where the conference was being held), we heard some pretty good speeches from the likes of NJ Senator Cory Booker (the ladies at my table were fawning over him. I liked what he had to say – he reminded me of an early Barack Obama -but I’m always skeptical of politicians’ speeches), the girl from the AT&T commercials who started her own non-profit, and others.

The highlight of the conference for me was my morning workshop on “Storytelling” presented by writer and blogger (you can guess why) Salma Hasan Ali. Since I’m now a full-fledged writer (my definition of a writer is simply a person who writes), my next goal is to take my writing to another level: story-telling.

I’ve been thinking of submitting my story to The Moth podcast. I’ve always loved watching interviews and as a child I’d sometimes pretend to give myself one. You know how journalists say they’ve always loved asking questions? Well, I’ve always loved answering them! Writing will always be my safe space, if you will. There’s a level of anonymity that comes with the act, even if your writing is public, because the sad truth is: the majority of people DO NOT READ. That can be a good thing sometimes. But being the closet drama queen that I am, sometimes it’s not.

Salma shared her story of how one simple act of wanting to record her family history eventually led her to becoming a professional storyteller, which has got to be the coolest title ever. I was inspired by her story, because I was reminded of my own trajectory since writing that little piece for The Tempest. At the end of her talk, she opened the floor to us, the attendees. While normally I’d shy away from speaking, I was in carpe diem mode this weekend and shared my story of my life-long struggles with weight. It was cathartic and I came away from the session feeling renewed.

Of course, I can’t forget all the amazing women I met and got a chance to talk to. By happenstance, I made some new friendships because I needed a ride back to the hotel. I ended up going to a dinner later that evening with these new friends and was reminded by one woman who shall remain unnamed that we weren’t invited, so that was fun. I think my favorite post-conference moment however was when one of my new friends, an older Jewish lady from Pittsburgh, who also happens to be anti-Zionist, shared with me that we have to be willing to call out our own, after she put that lady from the night before in her place.

I think that’s an unintended consequence, but still an important one, of doing interfaith work: you not only deepen your understanding of people who have different faith systems than you, you also end up shattering your own assumptions that your coreligionists believe and act exactly as you do. In my experience, I’ve found that I have more in common with some Modern Orthodox Jewish women than I do with some Muslims!

I also conquered my fear of traveling alone, although I must say the fear of Uber still remains. All in all, a wonderful weekend and I’m in an even better state to launch the Muslim Jewish Women’s Alliance, a joint-partnership between the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council and the Muslim Alliance of Indiana, whose application went live just as I returned from my trip. Perfect timing, eh?

As I told Mr. Rafia on our way back home from the airport, I kinda feel like Bilbo Baggins. He didn’t want to go on an adventure at first, but as he tells Frodo later, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

For me, it all started when I approached the Spiritual Life table at UChicago three years ago, and I’m still walking.

With a change in scenery…

Tomorrow will mark one week since Mr. Rafia and I have moved into the new place.

All the boxes have been unpacked, our items neatly (for the most part) stowed away. I actually have room to store all my belongings in my closets and cupboards. Buh-bye, oversized Kohl’s bags!

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Although I did save a few for future emergencies.

I am Desi; it’s in my blood. Seeing my mom plan ahead for unforeseeable crises has served me well. Like the time when our upstairs toilet overflowed down onto our dining table. As I watched in horror at the scene, my mom flew into action. Also, I now have space to store these bags in a place that’s not an eye-sore every time I open the pantry door.

I’ve been more obsessed than usual with home-ifying the new place for the past few days. I think that’s to be expected. Though I’m still far from realizing my ultimate vision (right now, “my study” consists of my giant Mickey waiting for my company), I need to get back to a more normal and sustainable routine. Interior decorating is not an activity I wish to turn into a pastime.

This weekend, I’ll be flying out to New Jersey to attend the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom’s Muslim Jewish Women’s Leadership Conference. When I signed up for it, it was upon Mr. Rafia’s insistence that I go. I was, of course, hesitant. With the exception of my trip to Miami earlier this year, I’ve never traveled solo to a place I’ve never been before (Actually, if the friend I was visiting in Miami did not have a car, I probably would have chickened out). I’ll have to use Uber for this trip, at least on my way back. But I have to say: if the last 11 months have taught me anything, it’s that it’s okay to venture out and “make a fool of myself.”

Actually, it might be necessary.

All those women I see (and know!) who are doing amazing things with their life, they didn’t pop out of their mothers’ wombs exuding confidence. They, too, made mistakes. They just happened earlier on in their life, before I knew them. Sure, I’m a late-comer. But that’s okay. Being “too late” is only a barrier if you make it one. If I want to change and achieve what seem like pipe dreams, I have to be willing to do some things that frighten me.

I’m in a better place now to face (some of) my fears. Is it because of the new home? No, these changes were underway even before the move. But I do feel more grounded now. Moving into a new home seems to parallel this need to embrace change. And the “it’s a sign!” in me is delighted at the fact that all this is happening right before the new year.

Yay for new ventures!

Encounters with strangers

I have received a hug from 5 different people I’ve never met before in just 2 days. It’s amazing what a tiny little gesture can do.

I’m not one to be overtly friendly with strangers. There’s always the fear that people might be suspicious of me. When you’re a visibly Muslim woman living in a post-9/11 world, you learn to be especially cautious about everything you say or do in public. I can’t blame 9/11 entirely though. I’ve always been shy. But 9/11 sure kept me in my place.

I think I’ve gotten to the point in my life however where I just don’t care (as much) anymore about what people might say.

It dawned on me yesterday that that might be exactly the reason why I’ve struggled with self-confidence my entire life. I’ve never given myself the time or space to truly own my opinions or viewpoints, because I was always thinking about other people’s opinions and viewpoints. But why are theirs more valid than mine? By silencing myself, I was implicitly acknowledging that people who don’t give a crap about me are more important than I am. I am all for respecting people, but I need to respect myself as well.

Like I told Mr. Rafia today, while recounting the story of just moments before when the manager of a boutique I had visited prayed for me and gave me a much-needed hug, I am done with being apologetic.

I know it’s easier said than done, but I am going to start.

Sometimes, a hug from a perfect stranger is just what you needed.