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.

Desert Daze

I am in love with the desert. The jagged canyon walls and sandstone mountains surround you in a world of muted reds and pinks. You come home to the city covered in dust: orange stains between your toes and fingers and you are pulling grit out of the ends of your hair. Dark orange sand stretches as far as your eyes can see, this is the closest you will ever be to witnessing Mars.

The desert of Wadi Rum is the largest in the country, expanding 720 kilometers. The desert is home to prehistoric and biblical-age stories, inscriptions, and ruins. It was a historical treat learning all the different bible stories that took place right here, on these sand dunes! Rum is also home to the Bedouins, the indigenous nomadic peoples of Southern Jordan. They live in large tribes in the desert and serve the best tea I have ever tasted. I had the pleasure of camping in Wadi Rum near these peoples and integrate into their culture and lifestyle a little (it was definitely glamping, see below).

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Persian rugs covering the sand beneath colorful Bedouin tents

Among eating traditional Bedouin food cooked under the sand and dancing and singing to traditional songs, I did the Bedouin thing: they put us on our own little camel caravan. I am so stoked to finally check that off my bucket list, which is super superficial but you know, when in Rome! If you’ve never actually seen a camel before, you can’t really register how massive these guys are. It felt like being propped up on a dinosaur, no joke. They are the strangest things, watching them navigate their sandy home was truly amazing.

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A little over an hour or so into the camel ride, the Bedouins stopped and switched us to the backs of their pickup trucks to spend the rest of the day drifting around the sand and touring the rest of the desert. Maybe not as traditional, but equally fun.

We also were able to spend a day in Petra, the lost city carved from rock. Despite being a huge tourist attraction, as it is literally one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Petra is still filled with Bedouin families who have lived in its caves for generations. They have actually become the tour and history guides for the whole archaeological site!

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The Treasury, Petra

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Desert Dogs

From donkeys, horses, camels, goats, and dogs, several native animals were employed as a means of transporting food, water, and people up the intensive mountain hikes. I use “intensive” subjectively as I, a small girl, am very out of shape and was really pushed trying to climb up to the steep mountain steps towards some breathtaking views that other members of program finished in half the my time. I am very thankful I made it up, though. It made for some fantastic scenery!

I am still very interested in learning more about the Bedouin peoples: their movements and traditions in a modern and continuously more progressive country. I’m sure this won’t be the only chance I get, still three more months abroad to go! Stay tuned for the Petra goats. They deserved an entire post to themselves.

 

The Dead Sea

I went out with some friends from my program and took a mini-adventure to the dead sea last week! It was wonderful, salty, muddy, hot and honestly, everything burned. The salt content is no joke, it literally felt like swimming in zero-gravity. Definitely slathered that mud on there too, we are talking the real deal dead sea mud, take that $30 Sephora mud masks!

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Beach Bound!

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The Dead Sea, Jordan

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Dead Sea Mud Pit

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Natural Exfoliant, Am I Right?

Ruins

Just a few days shy from two full weeks here in Amman and so much has happened already! Downtown is always bustling, from indie movie screenings to rooftop hookah lounges, downtown at Rainbow Street is the place to be every Thursday night (Thursdays = Fridays here.) I actually might be participating in a poetry slam at one of the most well-known cafes on Rainbow, stay tuned! Tomorrow is my birthday and it feels weird starting off my 19th year so far away from everyone I love. I decided I am going to do an intense hike down a canyon, Wadi Mujib, and hope I don’t die. Stay tuned for that story too…

I finally have mastered the art of taxis and illegal Ubers as I navigate the city’s dusty alleys and noisy circles. The people here are kind and helpful. For the most part, they can sniff out Americans from a mile away and are eager to help however they can. I can honestly say, though, I have never experienced street harassment like this– hijabi or naked, men here will catcall anything that looks vaguely female and moves. Navigating my identity as a Muslim-American woman in the Middle East has honestly left me in an interesting in-between again: I find I am constantly having to explain myself and justify my identity over and over again:

  • Yes, I speak Arabic.
  • Well no, I’m not Jordanian, I am American.
  • Yes, my family is Jordanian.
  • No, not Jordanian-Jordanian, we are Circassian.
  • Okay, Muslim? Well yeah, there’s a scarf on my head.
  • Convert? No, I just told you my family is Jordanian.
  • Yes, I still pray in America.
  • Family name? Not your business, please leave me alone sir.

It’s infuriating. It’s mostly taxi drivers that dig the deepest, even if you ask them to stop. There are times I want to jump out of the taxi and just take my chances. It’s definitely strange still not feeling at home in the “homeland.” I’m too Arabic for America and not enough for Jordan. Oh well.

Other than that, things have finally started to settle down and normalize here. Alongside a full course-load and an internship, my lovely program here ensures we are getting our fill of being out and about. The longer I am here the more I realize how much there is to see, so much to do! It’s easy to forget that Jordan has a tangible history that dates back to Roman civilizations and biblical days. My first adventure began with the Citadel in the heart of the “Old City” in Amman. We spent the day covered in dust and exploring limestone and Roman ruins, honestly incredible. Here are some shots from the day!

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Roman Ruins at the Citadel

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Roman Theatre Ruins

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Roman Ruins of the Statue of Hercules: three fingers and a bicep

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On the edge of the Old City

 

I have so many of these mini-trips planned, I cannot wait. Tomorrow will be Wadi Mujib, and not a week later I am doing the “Golden Triangle” trip of Jordan: Wadi Rum, Petra, and Aqaba. I will be sure to update and document them all so hang around to check ’em out!

City of Hills

Update: didn’t die!

My flight from Seattle to Chicago was a little nerve-wracking, as it was my first flight alone. Also, the Chicago airport really needs to up their signage, my god. But I found my gate and all is well!

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O’Hare Artsiness across Gate M15

The flight from Chicago to Amman was grueling. A whole eleven hours stuck up by tinted windows you can’t really see out of. Takeoff during a lightning storm was pretty badass, though: we traveled straight through a rainy, tumultuous sky that kept glowing purple and white every so often. The Royal Jordanian itself looked pretty cool too. While up there, there was a surprising feeling of timelessness. Straight up twilight-zone at some point where I think it’s day but we are only 7 hours into the flight and people are asleep. Very strange. My phone was still in Chicago time and it was interesting being unsure of what the local time was or where we even were. Night and day were blurred thanks to the tinted windows so all of a sudden when the tint lifted we were having 7am breakfast in broad daylight, 4pm local time!

 

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The Royal Jordanian

It has officially been a full three days since my arrival in Amman, Jordan. I have a very strong feeling acclimating is going to take more than just a few days. Somehow managed to get to and from my program orientation and even managed some grocery shopping and a shisha lounge. Everything here is located by surrounding landmarks and every street has two names: one on a map, that seemingly no one cares about and one absolutely different name everyone but me seems to know. Mastering directions to tell taxi drivers how to get me home has definitely been one of my biggest challenges.

The city of Amman is also massive. Home to over 4 million people (four times the population of San Francisco, for reference), I have never felt a city more alive. It is seemingly always bustling and is sectioned off by 7 or 8 major roundabouts, translated as “circles” from Arabic. Each section off of a circle is it’s own little “Amman-suburb” and has a microculture of its own, which I have already picked up on. Many of them are on hills, as apparently, the city was originally built on 6 major hills. This also makes Amman impossibly un-walkable. Ergo, traffic here is absolutely awful. I am unsure if I am more afraid as a pedestrian crossing the road or as a taxi passenger. But hey, people seem to know what they are doing so I’m going with it.

I haven’t gone out an explored much, in all honesty. I am mostly just trying to acclimate to my apartment and the area surrounding my study center. I’m certain once routine sets in things will become much easier. It is absolutely beautiful out here in some of the strangest ways. I’ll be posting some photos of the city tomorrow, keep an eye out. In the meantime, I have more Arabic to be studying!

Pre-Departure Reflections

I am currently typing the start of this journal from a golden bubble bath at 7am, seething with both anxiety and glitter. I am sure this will be posted far later today, but for the record, I am bathing and freaking out.

Today is my last full day in the U.S. of A. and my God my dudes I am freaking out. I had my last day as a team member at Jamba Juice yesterday, it was a good summer job. Made some new friends and had some good laughs over a lot of spilled orange juice (i’m talking gallons. oops.) The day before yesterday was my last day working as a Congressional Intern for Congressman Denny Heck. Now that was badass. It was an unpaid internship and driving my ass out to Lacey while also working another job was definitely starting to take a toll but it was definitely worth it. I learned so much and made so many new connections, all the opportunities in my field of study and future career are literally endless. I’m pretty stoked about it.

Fast forward to the end of today. Today was my last day. I spent today quietly. My love and I dug around some serious antique shops today and picked out two beautiful promise rings before I take off. Something a little dated and traditional, but it will be nice to have something tangible to hold when I am over 6,000 miles away from him for the next four months or so. I’m pretty excited about them, actually.

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We hit downtown Puyallup and spent the day exploring in and out of old shops, but eventually found what we needed. I channeled my inner-goth, this lovely last gloomy day here in Washington. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

I also made my rounds of goodbyes. I hit my old workplace, had dinner with the madre, and said my farewells to the boyfriend’s parents as well. I sit here with Jake at my side, for a final evening before I depart, we haven’t said bye yet. Saving all that gushy shit for a dramatic airport exit, of course.

I’m excited about a lot of things. I’ve been told that there is no experience really comparable to studying abroad. Integrating into a whole new culture, mastering another language that my tongue is still trying to adjust to, and building new connections I otherwise would never have been able to make. I will be taking four classes abroad and already have a few internship interviews lined up already upon my first week of arrival. I’ll be sure to update on those!

I feel as prepared as I could possibly be. I’ve probably made over a dozen lists in the last week, bags have been packed and unpacked and packed again (I had to add Halloween decor, of course) (I totally have my priorities in line, I promise, but Halloween is very important, too). I have my cameras, my notebooks, backpacks, and poetry. I think I am ready. Yet at the same time, it feels like I am forgetting something like super duper important, the anxiety is beginning to really set in. On the one hand: it’s just a semester. Four months, I’ll be back by Christmas. On the other hand, I won’t be back until Christmas. That is an entire 112 days abroad. 16 weeks alone! It feels like a lifetime. It’s also fun to think my very first apartment will be 6,791 miles away from the city I call home. Ironically, the name of my apartment building actually translates to “The Poet”. No joke. So you know, I’m pretty okay with it.

Here’s to probably the most anxiety-inducing thing I have ever done ever. Wish me luck. Take off in T-Minus 11 hours.