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Entries in identity (9)

Saturday
Mar012014

Personal

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.

And?

I’m ready to be one of you. 

Friday
Nov232012

These Boots Were Made for Gawking. And Giving Away.

In a couple of hundred words, I'm going to tell you how you can win some boots. Until then, sit back, sip on something for a spell and let's talk about history, culture and identity.

Here’s a surprising admission: I don’t wear cowboy boots. 

I’ve always wanted to own cowboy boots, though. In the spring of 1994, I went to Pakistan for about five months. Before I left, I searched the mall up and down for a pair of, don’t laugh at me, red cowboy boots. I wanted to wear them on the flight over with a pair of Gap jeans and a black button down shirt. I owned the jeans, purchased the top and then was sorely disappointed at not finding the boots. There was a specialty store for cowboy boots in my area. I wasn’t about to go in there, of course. Frankly, I was afraid of looking like a big poser. I’d never ridden a horse or been within ten feet of a cow at that point. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve still not been within ten feet of a cow unless it's on a plate.

Why the cowboy boots? Because I’m American and I wanted people to know that when I got to Pakistan.

I was contacted recently by Country Outfitters about reviewing a pair of boots and hosting a giveaway for Native Born readers. If you’ve read this blog since the beginning, you know I don’t work with brands or products in this space. I really, really, REALLY wanted a pair of cowboy boots, though, so I said yes. Plus, cowboy boots are interesting and I want to write about them.

As I waited for my boots to arrive, I got to thinking about cowboy boots and the irony of a first generation Pakistani-American chick sporting a head scarf walking around wearing them. If you’ve read my post about why I cover my head, you’ll know that a great deal of the decision rests in cultural authenticity and a desire to express my identity. That was true back in 1994 when I tried to look for those red cowboy boots, too. I’m not any one identity and the fastest way to transmit that to people is through fashion.

Clothes, jewelry, shoes - these are all markers and suggestions of who we are, where we’ve been and they're ways to reinforce not just a community but cross cultural commonalities, too. Most people, for example, associate cowboy boots with America. While it’s a fact that cowboy boots were made fashionable by the likes of Will Rogers and John Wayne, their origins have been traced as far back as the 12th century to Genghis Khan (no relation). The present day construction of cowboy boots is still based upon the specific needs of horsemen that were addressed by Khan and the Mongolians. Four hundred years after Genghis Khan, caballeros and vanqueros in 16th century South America were wearing cowboy boots as they herded cows and livestock. As Americans began to realize the economic potential associated with transporting cattle and livestock from one place to another, the need for a strong shoe that could handle the strain of that type of work became high and thus the use of modified Wellington boots which had been used in the Civil War became widespread in the West and Midwest regions of our nation.

Now, here is where it gets really cool. About twenty years after the Civil War, Buffalo Bill used elements of the cowboy lifestyle to provide entertainment value to the American public in ways that still resonate in today's culture. What had been a sturdy brown working shoe now reflected beautiful and intricate overlay, color and design. The functional had been transformed into the fashionable and as each decade passed, innovative methods of construction and design allowed Americans to claim this specific and fashionable version of a historical riding boot as their very own.

The American cowboy boot’s current construction and visage is reflective of all things American: borrowed, worked over, branded and most beautifully reenvisioned . 

When I look at a pair of well crafted and artistically magnificent cowboy boots, I know exactly how people who do not originate in the subcontinent feel when they see a beautifully patterned sari or scarf. The modern day fashion cowboy boot, like those things, is a symbol of tradition, evolution, beauty and culture. This may sound dramatic, but when I look at a gorgeously designed cowboy boot, I am reminded that the nation of my birth is no less rich in its tradition and beauty than the one of my origins.

Also?

I’ve always looked good in blue and I may never take these off.

Country Outfitters has agreed to give away a $150 gift card a member of Native Born's audience. Honestly? You should totally try to win this. The winner will be announced December 7th.

CLICK HERE and enter your email address. Country Outfitter will occasionally send you marketing messages. You are welcome to opt out at any time.

For an additional entry please leave a comment below letting me know that you entered. Must be a US Resident 18 years and older.

To gawk at more boots, visit their main website and like them on Facebook 

 

Disclosure: As the writer of this blog, I am wholly committed to expressing my real, honest opinion with the highest degree of integrity about products or services I've been asked to review. CountryOutfitter, a retailer of women's cowboy boots sent me these turquoise Corral boots to review this month and is sponsoring the giveaway of a gift card, as well.

 

Photo Credit: Country Outfitter -- Dingo Women's Adobe Rose Boot - Distressed

Monday
Aug062012

#BlogHer2012 #BHIdentity Panel Snippet

There were major delays at LaGuardia airport. My flight was supposed to arrive in Memphis at 6p.m., but I didn't get home until after midnight. I'll be posting a little post mortem post on the conference later this week.

In case you didn't make it to the panel with myself, Deb Rox & Kelly Wickham, I thought I'd post a portion of my notes for your reading pleasure. I know most people use bullet points, but my style for speaking is to write a script for what I'm going to say and then never look at it again. Once I write something down, it's generally committed to memory.

Hope your summer is wrapping up and your ready for the fall to push on through.

From "Blogging the Fine Line Between Your Identity and The Issues" panel at Bogher 2012


In what ways does your identity limit or enrich your blogging?

 My identity enriches everything that I do. A friend once that told me she was envious of my identity -- the rich cultural heritage, the religious aspect, and the sense of community it brings me and the inspiration that community gives me. What my friend didn't realize is that everybody has multiple identities and that thoughtfully recognizing those identities helps create a community.  -- whether I'm writing to reinforce, defend or to dispel and reconstruct, identity is always a factor for me. Religious, national, cultural, gender, sexuality... Can an identity limit you? Definitely. That's why I added the "thoughtfully" part. I feel like this is the issue with our political landscape right now, we are being conditioned to think of identity as kool-aid drinking instead of viewing it for what it is: a malleable and fluid state that is in a constant state of evaluation or even reconstruction. As a Muslim, for example, I'm critical of structures within my religion as it's practiced -- that critical eye feels like an appropriate application of identity. If I thought I had to think a certain way and that being critical was never appropriate, then my identity would limit me a lot. 

 

 

Saturday
Jun232012

On Going Home. But Not Being 'At Home'

The Bloggess, or Jenny Lawson, the woman who once brushed up against me while we were getting on a bus and said, Oh, I know who you are, you're a great writer right after I stalkerishly introduced myself, happens to have a hilarious memoir called Let's Pretend This Never Happened. In it, there's a chapter about visiting her hometown after having moved to another city.

It was a well crafted chapter full of wisdom. It possessed a sad beauty and sense of longing that I found slightly boring in the most blaspehmous of ways. I guess, it's just that I couldn't relate. Having lived within the same forty five minute radius my entire life until recently, I never knew what it was like to go really away, make somewhere else your home and then come back to what used to be your home.

I'm not an idiot, I'm aware that this moving away and then coming back thing happens often. Like the way I know people wear crocs or buy tofu. You know these things happen, but unless you have to do it -- it's hard to wrap your mind around.

I Do Love Florida. But. Wait. There's More.

At this very minute, I'm at the home that used to be my home before I got married.

Surprisingly, I'm not very "at home" right now. I look around at the place I've always known and I see things I never really noticed before. Like, wow, Florida has a lot of palm trees. There's a serious love affair going on here between the citizenry and flip flops, too. Also, lizards. And palmetto bugs.

Plus, um, who do my parents think they are, having a whole life full of activities and people that have absolutely nothing to do with me or my brother?!

Florida, whether in the detailed or general sense, is kick ass. Powdery beaches. T-shirts that are considered "dressy clothes". Many of my deepest connections to the human species reside here whether through blood or love. No doubt, this state and the sandy town where I grew up is like a perfectly worn pair of jeans that have stretched in the right places but are also tight around other places which bypasses the torture of having to squeeze into Spanx that became too small for me one child ago.

Yet these jeans are sitting a little too high on my waist for me to feel completely presentable.

::Initiating dream sequence::

And what... the... are they... stone washed and tapered?

Um. Who put this braided leather belt from the Gap circa 1991in the belt loops?

Was it the same insane person that "pegged" the cuffs of these jeans, folded them over, put scrunchy socks and a pair of white keds on my feet? And then wrapped a flannel shirt around my waist? This is Florida, why do we even HAVE flannel here?!

Suddenly, these jeans don't feel so comfortable.

I feel the pressing need to get them off of me. I do need comfortable jeans, though. But these just aren't the right ones any more.

Is there another pair around here, just as comfortable... just as worn and fitted in the right places?

::End dream sequence::

Never to be Duplicated

When my parents talked about their lives in Pakistan and India when I was a small child, it was no different than fairy tales for me. The fantastical nature of these conversations was less about seemingly exotic places and more rooted in the idea that my parents were once very small just like me.

In my teenaged years, the stories became repetitive and my adolescent brain interpreted them as being rife with self righteousness. Maybe it was an attempt to transmit cultural memory on their part, but something about their stories in those years echoed Polonious' "To thine own self be true" rant to his son. Which, by the way, everyone who quotes that line should know that I'm 99% sure Shakespeare was trying to illustrate that Polonius was sort of stupid and not very wise. So. You know. Consider not quoting it any more.

Anyway, into my twenties, I heard those stories in a new way. I dissected them for clues from the past that explained who my parents were and why they did what they did now. With the wonder of my childhood and the defenses of my adolescence stripped away, I developed a compassion for my parents' carefully concealed emotional frailty, and, best of all, the humanity embedded within the tales and the people who told them. 

Now, I'm in my dear-God-seriously(?!) late 30s still listening to the stories and feeling sympathetic for people who are unable to let go of the then and embrace the now. The stories began as entertainment in my mind and then evolved into near manic efforts to remind me of "where I cam from." Thankfully, they became successful attempts at connecting with me on an emotionally mature level.

But they now seem like crutches for people who find the past far more interesting and satisfying than the moments (and people) that currently present themselves, and I'm not going to lie -- that hurts my feelings a little.

My nature is to cast the past off gently with a light kiss so it can be on its way. But here moments in the past can sing siren songs about a time of highly individualistic freedom, careless words and hours in front of the mirror perfecting various "eye make up concepts". But the songs of the past are tricks aimed at lulling the disquiet that accompanies addressing the reality around at us at this moment. The company I kept so long ago has gone on its way, the air has changed, the sky is different and... seriously, there are way more palmetto bugs.

I fully embraced and lived those moments and the idea of somehow trying to recreate those feelings or that person feels all wrong -- not in the ethical sense like ketchup on prime rib, but more so in the mayonnaise with French fries sense.

I'm learning to breathe the new air in this old place and to look up at the new sky in this hometown and quietly say, "Hi, we used to know each other really well a long time ago... what you were will always be important to me, but I'm ready for us to know each other for who we are."

It's been awkward, so that's why I've been quiet as I tend to not share thoughts until I know exactly what I'm feeling. Headed for home on Saturday. Looking forward to the resuming the 'now.'

What is it like for you when you go home? Do you just pick up where you left off or is it awkward?


photo credit: kevin dooley via photo pin cc

Monday
May212012

Undefined: Working Outside of the Box with Parental Identities

Faiqa's Notes: Often I blog about identity on here as it relates to race or religion. Today, in this guest post, we'll learn about liminal identities that exist outside the boundaries to which we're accustomed. Thanks for taking the time to read and thank you, Rachel Reynolds, for the openness and compassion with which you share your experience.

***

 

 Our identity is the way in which we meet the world.  We present ourselves to the public in ways that are obvious and unchangeable (our gender and race) as well as in ways that require slightly more preamble. Sometimes we give outward hints to our identity through our clothing (an executive power suit, mom jeans), our leisure activities (fishing enthusiast, crafty crafter, football fan), our behavior, and our relationships (divorced, married, "just friends").

Sometimes those outward signs of an identity may mask a true reality. How many Lifetime movies are built around the premise of the woman who shows the world she has it "all together" but hides her destructive behavior/addiction/illegal act/mental illness from the outside world until it all comes crashing down?  These movies may be fiction but chances are good that someone in your neighborhood is living that life right now.

In the last two years, I have struggled with my identity.  While I am reasonably sure I know who I am, I am challenged by how I now present myself to the world.  

In January 2010, I faced the death of my only child.  

People who knew me before that date would probably tell you that my identity is fairly clear and relatively unchanged.  I am, among other things, mom to Charlotte Jennie. When I make new acquaintances, though, the line gets kind of blurry.  

A conversational topic seems banal until it strikes a nerve.  It's amazing how often the subject of your children (or lack thereof) will come up in casual conversation.  In college, the go-to personal questions were, "Where are you from?” or "What's your major?"  As adults, our small-talk shifts to "What do you do for a living?" "Are you married" and "Do you have children?"

How do I answer that last question?  In the past, the answer was the same no matter who was making the query.  Now the answer I give is dependent on multiple factors.  How well do I know this person?  How much will I interact with them after this conversation?  How do I think they may react to my answer?  Is this a business situation, a social situation, or just a casual conversation?  How vulnerable am I feeling today?  Answers to those questions usually determine how I respond.

Option 1
Question: "Do you have children?"
Answer: "No."
Pros: It's easy and deflects the conversation immediately away from a difficult subject. 
Cons: It's not really true.  I'm a mom and always will be.  

Option 2
Question: "Do you have children?"
Answer: "Not right now."
Pros: A more honest answer and relatively deflectable.  If someone's not paying attention, they usually don't catch the subtlety of my answer and move on.
Cons: If they are paying attention, follow up questions usually ensue.  

This leads us to...

Option 3
Question: "Do you have children?"
Answer: "I had a daughter and she died two years ago."
Pros: The most honest answer I can give.
Cons: The conversation gets awkward.  

A frequent reaction is, "I'm so sorry."  This is totally appropriate.  Sometimes people will ask follow up questions (“What happened?”).  Usually this is ok because I love talking about my daughter and I don't mind sharing our story.  Sometimes people are clearly unsure of how to respond and I look for ways to change the subject in an effort to deflect further awkwardness.  I have relative degrees of success with this.  More interesting reactions include immediate change of subject (as if I never said anything at all) or reactions like, "That's just terrible.  That's the worst thing I've ever heard."  I'm not sure if someone thinks they are being comforting when they say that, but they're not.  I think I know just how terrible it is.  I don't need reassurance or confirmation.    

Follow up questions are ok and usually lead to conversations around our foundation, treatment of brain tumors or other cancers, or questions about Charlotte herself.  I don't usually feel people have crossed the line until they ask the inevitable and most awkward question possible, "Will you ever have more children?"  

I don't have an easy answer to this question and it's rather painful to discuss so let's just say this is where I look to end the conversation as quickly as possible.  

I wish there was a word for who I am right now.  A widow is a woman whose spouse has died. The word is most immediately derived from the Sanskrit word widnewa, meaning "to be empty" or "to be separated".  An orphan is a child who has lost both parents, derived from the Greek word orbhmeaning "to change allegiance or status".  There is no word for a parent who has lost a child.  I think I need a word.  

When a lexical gap like this one occurs, sometimes society fills the void with new vocabulary.  The English language is composed of many words that have their derivation in Greek, Latin, or Germanic/Slavic languages. Words that have been in our vocabulary for centuries are often synergistic creations formed from the roots of these langaugesarthritis: joint inflammation, kindergarten: child's garden.  Frequent use makes it a "real" and recognized word.  

Likewise, most modern novel vocabulary seems to be made of word "mashupsSpork, frenemy, ringtone, brunch...these are all words that have filled lexical gaps as the need evolves.    

I have thought of a few options.  Childless doesn't seem right as that implies that parentage was never established to begin with.  We could create words like apedia, literally meaning "child loss" in Latin, or kindertodwhich translates as "child death" but these are more descriptions of what happened, not a description of the grieving person's identity.  Clearly, I'm not the first grieving parent to address this challenge but my research hasn't yielded any success in this endeavor.  

At the very least, it is an interesting statement on our society that this lexical gap even exists.  Losing a child is wrong, unnatural, and unfair. I continue to grieve.  I continue to heal.  I continue to allow my identity to evolve.  

 

Rachel Reynolds is a special educator and freelance writer. She writes for a variety of online publications, including her personal blog,See What You MemeShe is also the co-founder and executive director of CJ's Thumbs Up Foundation (CJSTUF)Rachel lives in Ashland, Virginia with her husband and two incredibly annoying (but completely adorable) cats. In her spare time, she obsesses over Don Draper, dark chocolate, and public radio personalities (not necessarily in that order). Four Seasons for Charlotte is her first book. 

 

If you would like to win an autographed copy of Rachel's new book, Four Seasons for Charlotte: A Parent’s Year With Pediatric Cancer, you can enter the giveaway on her author page on FacebookThe giveaway will be open until June 1st.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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