When I say I blog for myself, this is what I mean

When you feel like your dreams are coming true and you’re not able to brag about it, it’s actually a good place to be in. Because then you can find out for real what your true intentions and motivations are.

I am on the precipice right now.

I want to scream and shout from the rooftops.

But I won’t.

I can’t.

Also, a part of me does not want to.

Facebook is a sobering filter. And yet, it is also a trap that many very easily get lulled into. I am not immune from this pull.

And that is precisely why I blog. Blogging provides a happy medium for me. I can get things off my chest/make an announcement/provide much needed relief for my journaling hands, but in an unobtrusive way.

P.S. This blog entry has been brought to you by insomnia. Sometimes you just need to write (mostly) unedited.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”

I am lovingly drinking my morning tea as I type this post… because I finally can! (ETA: I was when I first started writing this post, anyway)

I haven’t been able to do this for a month (well… there was a week in between where I did, but that’s a minor detail we don’t need to get into now).

Yesterday, was the first day of Eid-al-Fitr, one of two major Muslim holidays; this one commemorating the end of the month of fasting in Ramadan. Eid is technically a three-day holiday, but since Muslims living in the West typically don’t take three days off, we fit in three days’ worth of eating into one! What a way to celebrate a month of fasting, eh? ;)

As much as eating is a reality, Eid is also a time where everyone from the community comes together for a special prayer. After prayer, as part of the Prophetic Tradition, there is always a speech, or khutbah, that usually ties up the month together. Yesterday’s was probably one of the best Eid khutbahs I have heard in my life. I haven’t felt chills like that since my time at UChicago. It was delivered by Hazem Bata, who’s a pretty awesome dude in his own right. As socially relevant as the speech was, it also touched on Islamic history and lessons, as well. Perfecto! That’s the kind of khutbah that speaks to my soul. But what really struck a chord with me was its very timely personal resonance: that some times things don’t work out as planned, but, as is a common Islamic teaching, God is the best of planners. Using the examples of Salman Al-Farisi and Muhammad Ali (yes, the boxer) to illustrate this beautiful lesson, I was reminded that I was a recipient of the Ramadan Miracle I was hoping and praying for – just not in the way I had originally envisioned it.

Yet again I was reminded that setbacks can be openings to beautiful things. Of course, my struggles pale in comparison to the struggles of these two men. But the stories of those who came before us are meant to serve as examples for us living now, regardless of the age or time we live in.

For the past two years especially, I’ve been racking my head trying to make sense of the apparently ill-thought decisions I have made. I do not and have never regretted these particular decisions, but I couldn’t help but feel they weren’t in line with the societal expectations of what I ought to do to live a successful life. I mean, who in their right mind gets a Master’s in Religious Studies and decides to not (immediately ;) continue with a PhD? (FYI: Thoughts of a PhD will never truly die).

I pined and hoped that things would somehow all come together. And though I am still young and hope to have many years ahead of me, this past week I have begun to see my own opening from the many setbacks I’ve experienced this past year. Thinking of Salman Al-Farisi’s and Muhammad Ali’s legacy gives me hope that the best is yet to come, God willing. It’s not foolish to think this way, I might add. It’s a part of having faith. Being a believer means knowing that God is Good and wants good for us all.

P.S. WRT to my title, I am pleased to share this quote is not originally from the ’90s one-hit wonder band, Semisonic, but the Roman philosopher, Seneca. How apropos however that “Closing Time,” the song that features this quote was played on the radio yesterday! OMG! OMG! OMG!

I bought myself a domain & other things

You may have noticed that my URL has changed. As of this morning, Cake & Cows’s permanent home address is now officially cakeandcows.org. I know .ORGs are typically reserved for non-profit organizations, but why are .COMs accepted as the default? Don’t they signify companies? In that case, I’d much rather be an organization, Canadian socialist that I am.

I resisted buying a domain for so long. You might even say this move was 13 years in the making. The main reason I resisted is because I didn’t feel like my blog was worthy of a domain. Domains are not free and while I understand that I live in a capitalist society, I don’t believe in buying things just because I can. I do believe that certain things (like my new not-a-tote tote) are investments, but I wasn’t sure my blog was. In the 13 years I’ve been blogging, I’ve been through the following names: Precious Barnacles, Precious, Whimsical, The Indecisive Planner – and those are just the names I can remember! If I bought a domain for Cake & Cows, would I regret it because the second I did the fickle pickle that I am would want to change the name to something like Ruff Draft?

I actually thought of this name the other day and was like “DAMN, that’s a good blog name!” I spend a lot of time thinking of names for things.

I’ve been different lately. It might be the hormones. But in the past week or so, I’ve been more impulsive. Usually, being impulsive is NOT a good thing. But I’ve spent a good deal of my life always second-guessing myself that maybe I’ve just gotten sick of it? I really don’t know what’s gotten into me.

I know that something is off though (and “off” in this case might not necessarily be a bad thing) because I kinda-sorta asked my way onto a panel. Yes, you read that right! Shy old Rafia who is afraid of public-speaking asked to speak in public! Did I really do that? Such hubris for me to think that people want to hear me talk! I’m going to regret this, aren’t I? 

I’ve been reading this self-help book that I received as a gift from a friend called The Artist’s Way. While I must admit some of the exercises were a little too new-age for me, I trudged through to the end. I didn’t gain any valuable writing instruction, but I did come away from my reading with greater confidence in my artistic interests, if you will. In the course of one particular exercise in the book, I realized something about myself: my deepest and most secret desire is to be on the stage!

Not sure what I was doing here – pretending to be Mickey The Director’s Muse or something.

WHAT? It all makes sense now. All the fireplace singing and dancing that I used to do as a little girl! THAT’S ME! What happened? Where did that girl go? The Artist’s Way told me to unleash my inner child artist. And I guess that’s what I’ve done, unconsciously.

I think I have a tendency to shoot myself in the foot before I even get started. I have these whimsical visions, but then I hear those voices in my head and ultimately choose to play it safe. But maybe I’m not as bad/foolish/unworthy/etc. as I think I am? I guess that also partly motivated my decision to finally buy the domain. A domain, in a way, is taking ownership of this blog. It’s like saying, “I’m not going to give up on you. You are mine. You are a part of me. You deserve to exist. You deserve to flourish.”

[End Scene]

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!

Back in the doldrums

I feel as if I’ve hit a point in my life where I have absolutely no goals.

Substantial ones that inspire and feel me with passion.

It ain’t a quarter-life (already had it) nor is it a mid-life (not there yet) crisis.

Perhaps everyone feels this sense of malaise as they near their thirties?

Let’s see.

Graduated. Twice.

Got married. Still married.

And no plans to have kids yet (that is NOT a solution, despite what certain extended family members might say).

What’s next?

Sure, there are other things that I would like to do and frankly, have to do. But none of these are as cool-sounding as getting a PhD in Russian Literature, for example.

At the moment, I am anxiously waiting to find out whether there will be a complete change in my daily routine… or whether things will remain, as they have been, for the past couple of months.

I’m afraid of the latter.

Because then, I’ll find myself again in this mental space: not knowing what I am doing or where I am going with my life.

P.S. I realize my past few posts have been way gloomier than my usual exhibited silliness, but this upturn in moods is actually Classic Rafia. My brother even oh-so-lovingly diagnosed me as bi-polar one time! Just watch. Next week, I’ll be raving about cake again!