Introspection: Is Success Fulfilling?

Photo by Jake Thomas Shaw

The world is never going back to normal.

Nothing that we knew will ever be exactly the same as it was, I mean. In this historically transitional period, many of us are struggling to navigate school, work, childcare, all while trying to maintain a healthy, but safe, social life. As many of us have been, I have been taking this time to slow down and reflect. My life has always gone a million miles a minute—I finished high school early, started college at an insane 15 years old, finished college early with two degrees, climbed the corporate ladder, found a better ladder to climb, moved out and then moved out again all over the course of three or four years. I thought that even a pandemic couldn’t slow me down, I was always clawing at the next thing. I thought that meant I was ambitious and smart and getting ahead in life, but where was I trying to go?

Being forced to put my life on hold for this pandemic has been ridiculously difficult. I found that I don’t really have hobbies. I just try to find new ways to be productive in my free time: looking for new opportunities, editing my resume over and over, budgeting the same numbers again and again. I found that by having more time at home and in my head, I was starting to spiral into an unhealthy obsession with progress and productivity. You cannot force growth, but I was going to try.

After about 12 weeks of this, I am now really feeling the crash and burn of that overexertion.

In the burnout, I have decided to do a self-assessment. I have been telling myself for months I have no interesting hobbies or ways to spend my free time and have been focused on nothing but work and success. I wanted to take the time to stop and reflect on what was so inherently compelling to me in that success? What does that success even look like? Clearly there is something there that draws me to it in an unhealthy, obsessive way. That means I must value something somewhere in there, right? Just what, exactly?

I have committed the next few journals to identifying my values and beliefs as a person, a creative, a daughter, a wife, and a friend. These journals are quintessential to helping me organize my thoughts. Most of them ramble, are way too personal for an online creative website, and none of them are quality pieces of writing. But it’s my journal and I know I am capable of better writing if I continue to slog through, so who cares. If you are still reading, thank you. Strap in. This is a long one.

Rotting apples.
Photo by Jake Thomas Shaw

A good place to start, I suppose, would be my goals: get a good paying job, decent car and decent house. On the surface, it feels as if I am searching for stability. Aren’t we all? But upon looking further, none of those “milestones” are ever enough. I got a good job at Jamba, but wanted to go higher. I moved into an apartment, but now I want something bigger. I had a brand-new car and wanted another. It is an awful admission to make, but I don’t think I have been exactly honest with myself by setting lukewarm goals that are extremely achievable and not fulfilling by any means.

Part of this, I would argue, stems from my upbringing. I was raised to shoot for perfection. I was a 4.0 student that breezed through high school and college and was able to work that “perfectionist” high to satisfy an inherent need to be constantly achieving things. As most of us face after leaving academia, the world is impossible to navigate in that same way. We no longer exist in a vacuum of good grades and extra credit. I think I gave myself such attainable goals so as to avoid the inevitable despair I would feel when I hit failure.

I feel like this could also play into why I don’t feel like I have any “hobbies” or things I am good at. It is so hard watching Jake find something he is interested in and then dive into it 1000%, learning all of the history and inner workings and reading all the books and articles about it. I don’t have the motivation to do that.

I wonder if other people face any similar hesitation when trying to learn something new. They have to, right? In school we were always taught to have a growth mindset. I want to start taking the time to learn things that I am not initially very good at or know nothing about. There is no one to impress. No one giving me a grade. That is part of why writing these journals are so cathartic. It gives me the space to organize my thoughts in maybe a not-so-concise-way but in a way that helps me understand myself. For those of us who may recognize that hesitation within ourselves, I hope we take it one step further and work through the uncertainty that is holding us back from learning new things.

All of these thoughts began through an assessment of my goals in life. Are those things really fulfilling? What makes me feel fulfilled, accomplished, and content? Upon further introspection, and actually a little prodding from a few episodes of The Michelle Obama Podcast, I was able to reassess what success meant to me. I always had this idea it was leaving the nuclear household, finding autonomy and independence from family and friends– an independent, self-made Muslim woman, an artist, a creative, a politician. I have come to realize I cannot be any of those things without being a daughter, a sister, a friend, or a wife nor having the support from all the people around that got me this far. I have doubly recognized that in my pursuit of independence, I have isolated myself from motivation, inspiration, and growth. Is this fulfilling? In just a few days I turn 21. I did everything I set out to do by my twenties, so now what? Do I just keep on this ten-year plan and find myself at some huge corporation, wealthy and alone?

I believe a silver lining has emerged from within this pandemic and I also believe we all, deep down, recognize it as true: we are learning what our own values are, what really matters around us and seeing the closest people to us having those realizations as well. Maybe you realized your partner is not as ambitious as you are, maybe you realized that you care about things more than you thought you did before all this. Being locked up with our thoughts has provoked these deep thoughts that are so easily pushed deep down within us by our day-to-day lives. I am so thankful to have been forced to work through this, despite the endless nights just sitting and staring on my living room couch, unable to decide what is worth living for.

I do have to also thank my partner who, an artist himself and an expert at introspection, allowed me the space to cry and think and learn and grow all the while prodding my thoughts in ways, I didn’t think possible. I found the absolute most fulfilling things in my life right now are my relationships. What feels like home? My friends, my loved ones, my partner. Through all this we are able to pick apart our life choices and analyze what the values we hold are that led us down the roads we are on. Mine are the people around me.

I have also found that I really value self-sufficiency, not necessarily independence. I appreciate sustainability, being able to sustain myself on what I have around me, but not necessarily alone. I value being recognized, not necessarily accomplished. Being heard and listened to by those I love. I value how the world perceives me– which is a little ironic given today’s journal because if anyone is still reading this, they probably think I am insane. Like, duh? You value your friends and family? Don’t we all? It is more than that. Clearly, I value those relationships in my life, but it is the realization that despite that, none of my “life goals” on my five- or ten-year plans had any space dedicated to growing, nurturing, and flourishing those relationships.

That is the purpose of this journal. The purpose of this introspective journal is to force myself to make the mental shift to put my time and energy into the things that make me feel fulfilled. I put that in bold in case you read nothing else.

As I mentioned before, a lot of these thoughts came while I was listening to The Michelle Obama Podcast (highly recommend). I listened to the episode titled “Protests and the Pandemic with Michele Norris” for the first time a few weeks ago and have listened to it twice again since. I linked it at the end of this journal for you to check out if you were interested. In this episode, Mrs. Obama greets Michele Norris, a well known journalist and a close friend of the Obamas, with a simple “how are you?” This struck me. How are you? How are any of us, really? Okay. Good. Still hanging in there! None of that feels real. Just the other night a friend of mine, Quinn, proposed this same question to all their followers with the same sense of apprehension to those seemingly empty answers. They really were asking me, genuinely, how are you? So I answered them with almost 2 minutes of video outlining the last few weeks of my life. It felt so good. So pure to just be honest with myself.

We are all going through a significant period of evolution, and it means, that there’s an opportunity in that, it feels burdensome right now, because so much has been taken from us. But there’s such an incredible opportunity, to decide how you want to show up in the new world. Because it will be a new world. And my greatest hope is that we don’t reach for normal, that we reach for better.

Michele Norris, Journalist

This quote particularly stuck with me from the episode. How will you choose to show up in the new world? Will you reach for normal or will you reach for better?

Think about that for a moment. I think I am starting to reach for better.

Headlines

Scrolling through the “news” threads on Reddit has felt more and more like I am slipping into Underland. I am honest to god serious. What else do my friends mean when they say they stopped checking the news for fear of falling deeper into the rabbit hole? I mean seriously, from this week alone:

“Kanye West is ‘Struggling’ with Bipolar Disorder as Rapper Says He Wants to Be President”

“Melania Trump Sculpture in Slovenia Set on Fire on the Fourth of July”

“Watch Trump’s Reaction to Supreme Court’s Ruling on his Taxes”

“‘Stop Getting Tested’ for Coronavirus, Ohio Politician Tells Constituents”

“Drivers Target Black Lives Matter Protesters in ‘Horrifying’ Spate of Attacks”

It feels like in just six months, this year has begun burning down around us. A pandemic is ravaging hundreds of thousands of lives world-wide due to ineffective leadership and the mismanagement of resources. Racial injustice and systemic racism is taking the lives of new black and brown bodies every single day. The government is ran by a buffoon and his money. It is easy to wake up and scroll through the news and say, “how did we get here?” “Where did this all come from?” Doesn’t it feel like all of a sudden the world is burning?

Well, it’s not. Not all of a sudden, anyway. The pandemic really started in 2016 when we elected someone who immediately cut funding to the CDC. Follow the money, or lack thereof, and see how quickly it was pulled from social services, healthcare, and emergency funds for political agendas. Follow which pockets tax money has been filling, connect the White Republican Men (WRM) together with a thin red string like you’re solving a murder case that makes no sense. Because you are. Gawk at the sheer amount of dollars being fondled between them that can, in one single purchase, solve homelessness and the housing crisis on a national scale. Can you even fathom that much money?

What about racial injustice? Why is that all over your social media again all of a sudden? You have to admit, it does sound pretty ignorant saying that all of this [the Black Lives Matter movement trending on social media] came out of nowhere, right? That’s because it is. Generations of racists and white supremacists have worked so hard to continue benefiting from the system that was originally meant for them and only them; quietly reinforcing structural oppression of black and brown communities through everything from introducing crack cocaine to redlining to the school to prison pipeline and mass incarceration.

And this pandemic? Think of the cuts to funding education in places such as the Midwest and South– look at their high school and college retention rates. You are telling me it is hard to believe someone who was never educated past the ninth grade cannot understand the complexities of living in a diverse country and instead rally behind a racist who looks like them, talks like them, and goes on and on about loving them? It also appears that these same individuals also are rallying behind a cause they don’t fully understand to “own the libs” by not wearing masks and then spreading disease and death within their own communities. Shocking, right?

Don’t think for a minute that everything that has happened so far is a mistake in regards to the way this system was built. We live in a country that structurally produces chaos. I am not a conspiracy theorist by any means, and I am not here to convince anyone of anything. I am just so exhausted from hearing the constant shock and surprise of people around me. None of this is surprising, none of this is a phase. Political commentaries written in the 1930s read as if they were written in modern day. I am directly looking at you, It Can’t Happen Here (written by Sinclair Lewis in 1935). It really can happen here. It is. Currently. It is awful, frightening, and quite candidly depressing. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore it.

Continuing to educate ourselves on the inequitable systems our society is built upon is the only way we can really understand what we are up against– it is the only way we can really put up any fight at all. So yes, that means reading the seemingly insane headlines every morning. I do also believe humans were not built to emotionally endure a 24-hour news cycle. I don’t think we have it in us to care about everything all the time, and that’s okay. This just means we need to pick very carefully what we wish to invest our time, resources, and efforts in and work very hard on that particular issue. This also means we need time to rest. To walk into mossy woods and stare into a sky that has broken dark grey rain upon the tops of the trees above you. But it means we need to start somewhere. Anywhere.

So this is my start.

-n.h.nabass

Turning the Decade

The last few days of the decade are nigh, and I just realized I haven’t made a single post here since January. How can a whole year have gone by since I heard the Strokes and made a post about it?

It’s easy for me, as a creator, to look back and feel lost in the memories. What did I do for the last year? Anything worth remembering? Worth writing? That’s not entirely fair nor entirely accurate, though. Admittedly, my writing has, in fact, taken a cozy spot on my mental back burner for the last several months. This is not, however, an indication of my life slowing down but the very opposite—I haven’t been able to get anything to slow down enough to reflect on it. Here I am, at a place still too timid to commit but somewhere safe enough to begin collecting memories from the year…

Starting in January, I arrived home from being abroad for several months. Right away I knew I  had so much to reflect on but I never really got the chance to express it. So many lingering thoughts, poems, and journals sit as drafts here on my site and hopefully in the coming weeks I will have a moment to revisit and give those thoughts the preparation and articulation they deserve. Being abroad for so long alone was one of the hardest things I have ever done, especially given the context of my family situation and where I was, and there are certainly dozens of observations and revolutions I have yet to unpack.

So, It’s the beginning of 2019 and I am back in America, now what? I immediately am back to school and work. In order to pay off school (and, you know, eat) I had to work almost full time immediately. I took on a shift supervisor position at my old job and was rocking 30-40 hours a week pretty consistently until May. My studies, at this point, have accelerated in workloads ten-fold, I am working on two capstones at the same time (because I am an idiot but also could not afford to wait another semester to spread them out) and by God, they were hell. I was shooting for finishing two separate bachelor’s degree programs simultaneously all while working full time and trying to be a 19-year-old. Each capstone took a little over five months to complete and topped out at about 42 pages each. This is more academic writing than I have ever done in my life and one of my most proud, if not most influential, accomplishments that I have under my belt. It was waking up at 4 for an early shift before making it out to class in the snow until 6 and then writing until 11 and then repeating again, and again, and again. It was gruesome and if anyone watched me go through it, you would know I will never do something so silly again.

Okay, now it’s May. I have graduated with my degrees and I move to work full-time salary as an Assistant Manager to the store. You would think, “ah! Graduation! So much free time to write and create!” and you would be wrong. It took a lot of time to recover from the emotional and mental burnout of the last three months of my undergraduate coursework and I just felt brain dead. I took any extra time I had to be with Jake and love him dearly, be with my mother and support her in her new academic ventures, and just be. To exist so quaintly and to be nothing more.

Fast-forward to July and my manager leaves for bigger and better things. I am handed the key to the city, so to speak, and become the General Manager of my store. This was huge. I was just turning 20 soon and here I was, trusted to literally run an entire store of people, products, customers, money, and fruit. It became and still is soul-sucking and life-consuming. I  do not have a work-life balance and I don’t believe it will ever be possible to have one managing in the food industry. I work hard to support a team of young, bright individuals and make connections and grow relationships with regular customers day in and day out. I am still struggling to find a balance that doesn’t wear me out, but sometimes the job is sixteen-hour days starting at 4 and then going to bed for a few hours before doing it again. I am certain there is a sweet spot, but as someone with no prior management experience, I am really playing it by ear. Seeing what works, throwing out what doesn’t, and making improvements as I go.

Today is December, Friday the 13Th and I just got off the shift from hell. Jake is rubbing my feet and it is warm and dimly lit in our home, candles burning close. I am still working on being a better manager, but I have finally steadied myself to a point where I am ready to work on becoming a better person. With law school in the distant future, I have time to just settle into mundanity. Enjoy the day to day and make the most of my free time. Write again, read again. It is so much easier said than done. I have encouragement and support from everyone I love, and I think I finally have the time and emotional wherewithal to get this going in a way I would like.

I told myself every month will be the month I start writing again. Every weekend I had free time could have been the weekend I posted something, a poem, a thought, a journal—anything. Despite still writing notes to myself in passing and short poems on my phone, I found I lacked inspiration more and more often. As time passed, I felt writing become more and more daunting. It became a low priority. I felt disconnected from myself creatively. Looking back, I didn’t have the time or energy to track my life in writing. I spent very little time reflecting and really just went with the motions. All of these huge life changes warrant journals of their own, and many are works in progress, displaying the nuance in my day-to-day, I just haven’t had the will power to sit down and work through them.

I bought a new typewriter last month. New ribbon, small portable little guy. I want to start creating again, documenting, thinking, feeling, typing again. It’s not just the production of content on a blog that no one really reads, but it’s the critical and creative analysis that I want to add to my life again. I feel like when I am writing about happenings in my life, I am processing and appreciating them on a deeper level. My life feels like it lacks substance, lacks value when I am not writing about it. So here I am, writing about it all over again.

2020 is quite literally mere days away. Is it worth setting literary goals? Writing or reading so many pieces in a week, month, or year? I don’t have a plan yet, but I know if I don’t start with this today, I never will. Here is to a year of hardships, successes, and monumental growth. With Jake by my side, we are starting the new year on good, solid ground. Here is to our future victories, coming soon.

Happy New Year, everyone. Here is to us.

 

-n.h.nabass

 

Oblivius: A Gallery

There exists a dissonance when you finally acknowledge that which had previously gone unnoticed. It’s all subconscious consumption and blissful unawareness until you wake up one morning in a bed you’ve woken up in dozens of times before to find yourself someplace new– it is here you find yourself, once oblivious, now in love over again. After being gone so long, it is so strange to suddenly be back.

 

 

 

Confessions of A Troubled Writer

Hello. It’s been a while.

Quite a while, actually. As per the title, welcome to my confession-session about being smacked in the face brutally hard with some good ol’ writer’s block.

This is a surprising occurrence as I was certain all my new and exciting experiences abroad would surely open up the creative gates to incredible amounts of new journals, poems, stories. Instead, I have used the very little free time that I do occasionally have by sleeping or staring at blank pages and blinking cursors, frustrated. I have decided, as a means to hopefully stimulate something, I’m going to free-write. At least this way something gets put down, you know?

As a writer, artist, poet, what have you, I believe there will always be an inherent struggle to create. This will always be the method in which good work gets put out: through dozens of drafts, deleted notes, and often long pauses between spurts of creativity. Somehow, this just feels different. Almost even more frustrating as I am increasingly surrounded by so much inspiration and so many new experiences that I still seemingly cannot do anything with. It feels like a sin not to write.

The experience of studying abroad is fairly overwhelming on its own: juggling five university courses and their workloads, a part-time internship, mental and emotional stressors, while also trying to explore the country you are in and have fun has honestly taken a bigger toll on me than I thought it would. Not only is there very little time to process these experiences enough to document them, but there is also very little motivation to do so as well. I’m drained.

I do not think what I am experiencing can be exactly categorized as writer’s block– I have so many ideas, feelings, and opinions I want to express and to document, but I just can’t find ways to express them. Usually, a writer’s block for me is just a lack of inspiration and bland ideas. In this case, though, I feel heavy with a lack of motivation, lack of expression, and lack of creative oomph. I’m drowning in new feelings and ideas and just feel more and more behind when I come to write them down.

So now what? I go to the basics. Why do I write to begin with? As a means of processing and articulating feelings, ideas, and opinions. To document how I felt during a single, particular moment. To remember. To feel. So I go back to the basics. Analyze parts of my life that are fundamental yet ones I have not thought about looking at more closely. For example, my morning routine in Amman is incredibly different than my routine in Seattle. I wake up here to the sounds of stray cats outside my apartment and sheep in the distance. Instead of getting in my car every day, I walk to the main road and filter through taxis to embark on the twenty to thirty-minute ride to the University of Jordan. From there I enter a pedestrian tunnel that goes beneath Queen Rania Street, lined with small shops with flowers, breakfast snacks, and coffee. Upon resurfacing I meet my Falafel Man. I’m certain he has a name and I will definitely get it before I leave, but he has faithfully provided me with 25 cent mana’eesh (Arabic breakfast pastry) every morning before class and lovely 50 cent falafel sandwiches for lunch right after. He (competing with the next-door shawarma guy, who is just as good) is the true hero of this whole trip, honestly.

There are still so many greater feelings with new friends during late nights in strange houses singing strange songs that I want to express but they just don’t come out as beautiful as they used to and again I’m left with nothing more than a bland summary of my day. I just feel like I have missed so much. I don’t want to forget the names of the people I have met here. The small cafes I frequent. My performances and the new audiences each time. I have favorite streets with familiar graffiti, favorite snacks (looking at you, Falafel Man), favorite Arabic words. Very small nuance things that make me happy here that I could be writing about. There’s so much history, I’m in one of the oldest cities in the world! The culture, the markets, the people, the war, the hospitality, the desert, the rain, the floods. I could be writing about anything but it feels like I suddenly have forgotten how. I am surrounded more and more by beautiful, awe-inspiring pieces of poetry and spoken words and non-fiction and art and more and more often I find myself sinking into the familiar hole that deems all of my work inferior. I find my pieces are dull. Lifeless. They lack edge.

These are my confessions.

I can say over and over that I just am too stressed or that I simply don’t have enough time. I find myself wanting to sleep anytime I am finally not doing anything else. I guess all that time could be spent writing, I’m sure the greats lost sleep over their masterpieces, right? Maybe I just need to begin by writing, like this. Writing anything down, taking small notes here and there on my phone just in the hopes that something comes out that I can make beautiful later.

What I find myself remembering are my favorite poems that I have written and published. How behind each one of them was 20 others saved in a laptop or a notebook somewhere, half scribbled out and too awful to even title. It takes time, it takes dedication. I don’t really think I could ever quit on poetry. I am a poet. I am The Poet. Maybe the stress is a result of my lack of writing as opposed to the other way around.

So how does a troubled writer become untroubled? By finding cliche one a day prompts to get the pen going again. Becoming untroubled looks like crumbled pieces of paper, like random words that make no sense together and half-written sentences. It manifests from days without writing, ink-stained heartbeats, headaches, and stress.

It looks like finding other writers and inviting them into your home. Removing the barrier label of “stranger” between you, for you are both poets. You both breathe the same truth and so you let them guide you instead of allowing yourself to fester envy. I suppose, inter alia, by publishing really long, aimless journals that simply articulate their thoughts to get things straight for themselves.

It looks like sucking it the fuck up and just writing, so here we are. Writing.