This blog is seven years old. That’s, like, thirty eight years old in human years. Its knee is really starting to act up when it’s humid...
I started Native Born because I had thoughts worth sharing. As a stay at home mom at the time, I wanted an outlet that where thoughts that went beyond nursing babies, playdates and photos of my children could take hold in the human consciousness. (Go big or go home, people).
In fact, I think my first post was something about envisioning yourself outside of being a parent in those few moments you had to spare. I waxed philosophical about how too much emphasis on the children put pressure on the children and omg stop writing about your kids all the time — AND DO IT FOR THE CHILDREN! I said. Or something similar. I read that first post yesterday and am overcome by the same feeling I had when I stumbled on my high school journal. Something to the effect of, “Ah, you’re a sweet kid.”
The spirit of my blog in its infancy gave me a good footing in the social cosmos of the Internet. I pontificated on politics, religion, economy, injustice. Not to appear completely alienated from the vast majority of bloggers, I threw some posts about my kids in there for good measure. I’m a decent writer, so the subscribers grew quickly. I know because I looked at them every day.
I got some paid writing gigs. I got some paid editing gigs. I got followers on Twitter. I got lots of likes on a Facebook community page. I started calling myself a writer. I won an award or two. I got to speak at conferences. I got so much respect. So much.
And then I stopped in July. Like, just stopped.
I quit all the things. I got off Twitter and Facebook. I stopped reading blogs. The Internet had magically appeared, sprinkled fairy dust on my keyboard and taken me to the social media ball. And then there came a day when I looked at my watch, saw the clock strike twelve and found myself with pumpkin guts all over my slippers. I guess this happens to a lot of bloggers. Busy. Lack of inspiration. Pumpkin guts.
Not me. That’s not why I quit. I conscientiously quit without even doing the requisite, “I’m going on a break, see ya when I see ya” post.
You can probably imagine, this isn’t actually that hard. It’s kind of like breaking up with someone by not returning their phone calls. There were a few people who e-mailed and asked me what happened. I’m so grateful for those connections that I still maintain. But I didn’t really go into the why. Because I didn’t know. It’s taken me all these months to figure out why.
I believe that the Internet is a real community. I believe that it is a real society. It’s one that supports you and accepts you. It’s one that rejects and condemns you. And it’s also one that will tell you who it thinks you should be and will passive aggressively punish you for being different than what you are supposed to be. Unsubscribe. Unfollow. Don’t retweet. Stop commenting.
Damn, the Internet can be a bitch.
I think I fell out of love with the Internet the day that I realized that people were referring to me as a “Muslim blogger.”
Look, I’m proud of being Muslim and Pakistani American. That is an important part of who I am. But I cannot be that person for you. That identity is useful to me in so many ways, and if others find it useful that’s a great little side effect. But that’s not the point of those identities, and being on the Internet was turning that aspect of me into some kind of commodity and to put it as poetically as possible, “That is super gross.”
Visibility is important. In the climate of rampant Islamaphobia, it seemed like a good idea at the time to focus on these aspects of identity to foster awareness and tolerance. But, you guys, I am so much better at just being funny and relatable and having a good time. I’m not that "break down the barriers" gal. There are loads of other Muslim chicks out there that live, breath and eat the politics of tearing down those walls. It is an effort for me that is beyond the scope of my inner calling. If that makes sense. I promise it does to me and that’s what matters.
I’m a thoughtful, introspective human who is constantly evaluating my relationship with God and I refuse to do this in a public space anymore. God is between, well, God and me. If you hate Muslims, too bad for you. You miss out on a lot. It’s no longer my responsibility to make you un-hate them. Maybe, it's someone else’s job. And I will support that someone else as best as I can. But I want to be known for who I am in my entirety. I'm not your Muslimah Che. Or female Cat Stevens. Or, I don't know, Muhammad Ali. You know what I mean.
If you’ve been on Facebook, you’ll see that the hijab is an on and off again character these days. And the reason is… gasp… none of your business. If you have questions, I am cool with that. Ask them in an e-mail. But I will no longer be a symbol for you.
I cannot substitute for the very real experiences you must cultivate with people in your physical proximity. You want to know more about Muslims? Invite one to your home. Go to their home. This is not the space where connections like that can be made. Even with the podcast, that wasn’t about my being “the Muslim” even though we said that in the episodes. Mike and I were two people having an actual conversation. Sometimes we talked about Jewish-Muslim stuff and sometimes we talked about vampires. Friendship with the whole. That’s what that podcast was about. It was about cultivating an “in real life,” intimate relationship with someone unexpected.
Have you ever walked into a room, and felt like everyone has already decided who you are and what you’re going to say? It’s a hollow, sad feeling. It’s a stifling feeling. It is the exact opposite of the feeling that kept me blogging so excitedly those first few years.
You go to these conferences and they talk to you about “branding” and “your brand” and you start to think, Whoa, that makes sense… people should know what to expect when they come to the site because that’s what makes them come back. But you forget, you aren’t selling anything.
A brand cannot be vulnerable. I can think of a very few exceptions, of course. But, mostly, a brand can’t tell you the truth about when she’s scared or upset with herself. A brand has to appear to know what she’s doing. A brand is someone who does not actually connect, but wears connection as though it is a beautiful winter coat that protects her from the discomforts of true vulnerability and transparency.
I’m not a brand.
I think when they say brand at the conferences, they mean “values.” They’re saying you should stay true to your values. Ask yourself if your content matches up with your values. I get it. But just because I get it doesn’t mean I’m going to accept this terminology. I will not take the word integrity and dress it up in clothes borrowed from marketing jargon. If you want to make money on your blog, this is obviously a good strategy. But my space here isn't about money and it never will be.
This word "brand" in the space of personal blogging? It’s a mask, people. It’s a mask that keeps you from being vulnerable and open in a moment in our history where vulnerability and connection are in existential crisis.
I’m living a real life over here and I want to chronicle it. I want more than just the religious stuff, the political stuff, the controversial stuff to be here. I’m just done with tracking page views or writing/editing posts for money. I want you to be here because you want to be here and NOT because I constructed a brand that appeals to some specific need you have.
Because between you and me, you probably have everything you need already.
Be here so we can connect as humans. Tell me your stories. Listen to mine. Let's bring the personal back into personal blogging. It's not an exercise in narcissism. It's a an exercise in return. We erupted from the same tiny speck of energy billions of years ago. Could we, you and I, find each other again?
I started this blog when I was thirty one with a specific agenda, and that agenda doesn’t feel right to me anymore. I’m not too old to care about diversity and multiculturalism. I’m simply old enough to know that the only way to honor something is to live it, to tell its story and to not limit its definition by allowing it to define you completely.
Life. As it is lived. This is a personal blog and it will now become personal.
A lot of you have been doing that for a long time.
You are an inspiration as you bring your lives into the light so that we may know the truth of what it means to be human.
All of those years, you have been my teachers. I may have looked like I was napping in class, but I promise I was paying attention.
I’m ready to be one of you.