Believe it or not, I am very scary. A scared person. I am afraid of spiders—well, any bug really. I am afraid of failure as well as success. I am scared of myself. The person who I may become and perhaps not like in the near future. My scariness stems from several aspects of my life. One is my obsession with control. I am the kind of person who has to try and control everything and anything. I feel naked without some kind of control. An unwanted and uncomfortable vulnerability arises from letting things flow. I don’t want things to flow; I want things to go the right way, how I want them to go. On top of that, I am overly over-analytical. The type of person that if something doesn’t go as planned, I have an internal freak out. The world will end. I will die. Like seriously, dead.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to have internal freak outs, instead of outward ones. People don’t know how to deal with the outward ones. Then they start thinking I’m crazy. Which isn’t too far from the truth anyway…
So, how does someone like me do what I do? To get where I am, where I am standing, one couldn’t possibly be so rigid, so afraid, so rule-abiding. They’d have to be fearless, able to flow like water, able to keep calm, strategize in healthy ways.
Let me tell you a story of how someone like me took a leap, a bound and dived into the unknown.
I was married. Content as a Muslim wife. Or so I made myself believe. I was in hella student loan debt and working a job that I hated making a sort of good wage. I’d stopped writing stories for years. I was angry most of the time, floating around. Wondering was this what life was like for a girl in her mid-20’s.
I didn’t know what the hell I wanted. And, life wouldn’t give me a chance, a break to explore the possibilities. What more was out there. I had to be this way for work, that way for my husband, and this way for the community. And that was it. That was my existence. Being everything for everyone else and nothing for myself.
I wasn’t allowed. I hadn’t allowed myself that luxury. If I stayed in line, then it’d just all work out. Doesn’t it always work out in the end?
I started getting heavy back into writing: ordering all the books on editing and story-telling and even using my own money to take creative writing and literature classes. I made a promise that whether or not I get paid to write stories, I would never abandon them again. I was obsessed with stories. I wrote damn near every day. I wrote when I woke up and I wrote at work and I wrote when I got off at night. I wrote and studied and wrote some more.
My work, although getting better, wasn’t going anywhere. No one was reading it. The point of a writer is to have a reader, an audience.
One of my lit teacher’s had his MFA in creative writing from some college in Vermont. He taught and wrote. I could do that, I thought. I was about 30k in debt from my undergraduate degree and because of that, I planned on working a dead-end job, pay off my debt then pursue a graduate degree in creative writing.
Two years passed. I was still in debt and no where near putting a dent into my student loans.
What have you got to lose, but more money to Sallie Mae? You aren’t getting any younger. Your work isn’t being read. The worst that can happen is that this creative writing program is bullshit and you waste 40k…Or you can pursue this and something great happens. But, you’ll never know until you try. Writing is your passion. Fuckin do it.
So, I applied. One rejection from a university in Michigan.
My feelings were hurt. I was defeated.
Try again. Try another school out of state. How will I get there? You’ll figure it out.
I submitted an app to two universities and was accepted to one in Pennsylvania. I was ecstatic. But, also so very afraid. I hadn’t known anything about Pennsylvania. Other than a lot of white people lived there.
When I told my husband, he wasn’t happy for me but instead bothered. “I don’t think a Muslim woman should be going that far away from home.”
“I have to do this.” I reassured him. “I’ve gotta try.”
The semester started in one month. Due to my job, I wasn’t able to attend.
Will I ever get a chance to go pursue my dream? I thought.
I’m going next semester. I don’t care if I have to quit that job. I figured out how to finesse the rules and was able to get a chunk of time off work to attend the winter semester.
The night before I was supposed to fly out, I started freaking out. I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t know the faculty or the students or the campus. I was a girl from Detroit. I called my sister and told her that I’d made a huge mistake and that I wasn’t going. She said, “You are getting on that plane. You are going to that program.”
I remember walking into class the first day, stomach grumbling with fear. My flight had been delayed and I was the last one to arrive. I arrived to a class full of white faces staring back at me. I gulped. What had I done? I just signed my death wish. They’d hate me. I’d hate them. They wouldn’t get me. They wouldn’t understand my multicultural weird ass writing or stories.
Those nine days surrounded by the most Caucasian writers and artists who were nothing like me was one of the most transformative experiences that I’d ever had in my life. I’d never been around white people like that before. I’d never been around anyone who was so different from me before. That experience of understanding that we aren’t meant to be around the same people all the time, that there is so much more than the little bubble I grew up in, confined myself to. There was a whole ass world out there.
On our last day, I was so overwhelmed by it all, the connections that I made, the courage that I mustered to even go, and how deeply I loved and was passionate for the art of stories, that I cried. I cried hard.
One cannot truly live without leaping into the unknown. Letting go and flying without knowing if you’ll be able to figure out how your wings work. Or if they will work when you need them to.
Do what scares you the most. This is such a simple concept, but its by far the scariest. No one wants to wander into the dark without a flashlight, but you have to have faith, hope that along the way you will find batteries and a flashlight and then a compass then a map and maybe a guide that will lead you to a place where no one has dared gone.