Within & Without

by Haniya Khalid

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I’ve been experiencing some pretty serious writer’s block lately. I can’t pinpoint exactly where my relationship towards writing, blogging, sharing my work and so on changed, but it definitely has over the last few years. I suppose like most changes, it happened in increments– so that’s how I will attempt to break this down.

About three weeks ago I pitched an idea for an app to three people that I had handpicked for their knowledge, taste, and personalities in general. I was nervous because I look up to them so I want them to like anything I’ve invested my time in. I kept my mind open for negative feedback and they didn’t disappoint–calmly outlining everything they thought was absolutely wrong about my idea. When the meeting ended, I thanked them, and I meant it. They didn’t realize that every question with which they challenged me further opened up my inner dialogue (no, not monologue) of how I wanted to archive things: stories, people, facts and more importantly–why? I was put under the clever but stressful why why why test, and while I squirmed my way through the answers I did eventually land on one.

I’m a sucker for archiving things, and I know I’m not alone. Probably one of the last people of my generation to get an smartphone (I got it in 2013, upon graduating university), initially this “collecting” was in the form of magazine cutouts that papered the insides of my closets,  yellowed paperbacks I’ve inherited from my father, maps of places I had visited, quotes I’d outlined, movie scenes that spoke to me, even songs. I never collected clothes, makeup, or “things” as such, not so much out of a disdain for materialism which in all honesty doesn’t even exist, but for a lack of storage space in my tiny bedroom. I tried, instead, to collate and archive ideas, in journals, sheets of printer paper, even MS Word documents. While my bookshelf was often overloaded, the insides of my closets over-lined, I kept my walls and table surfaces relatively bare: my own personal acknowledgment of distinguishing between the space for inspiration and the space for creation. A mood board, if you will– a mood board for potential innovation.

When I upgraded to the dreamy landscapes of Instagram and Pinterest, I continued to do so. But something changed. I was no longer alone. I was now accompanied by peers saving the same images, admiring the same things, a shared nostalgia. For once though, being in the company of others made me feel less comfortable. It certainly made the whole process progressively less enjoyable as the images became circulated, quotes re-used and edited on starry backgrounds (or worse yet, as captions of yoga-beach poses/ coffee and a Moleskine flatlay). I myself am guilty of a flatlay or two, uncomfortably trying to fit into whatever category of social media person I was supposed to be. Maybe the experience, once shared, shed an embarrassing light on just how unoriginal I was. I mean, everybody loves Audrey Hepburn (“but how many of you have actually seen Funny Face?” is a disproportionately feisty voice I silence regularly). Similarly, if previously I had written for classes (yes, I actually studied creative writing in college, a fact I have started re-iterating lately if only as a feeble attempt to emphasize my own seriousness), research labs, or even a local tabloid I interned at years ago, I now “took to the page” on Tumblr.

Around the end of 2015 I deleted pretty much everything. My Instagram, my Tumblr, you name it. This didn’t come out of some kind of thoughtful process of re-vamping my own image, rather, it was a result of a very painful (and in retrospect–pointless) personal experience. Just around this time I had written a blog post for my newly-minted WordPress entitled “The Inverse of Vulnerability”. In it, I spoke about how I had always been open and naturally vulnerable. I was surprised when I attended meditation classes and mindfulness workshops (yes, there is such a thing) how we were encouraged to let loose, let ourselves out, share, be free, be vulnerable when I, as a part of my own healing process, had started to do the exact opposite. I had experienced interacting with people who led me to believe I was too much: too much lipstick, too talkative, too out there, and so on, and two years of back-to-back profession belittling and personal rejection led me to make the choice of zipping myself shut, closing myself off. And so I deleted most of my social media profiles and became quiet (well… as quiet as I can be). I even deleted my post–The Inverse of Vulnerability, in the most meta of meta moves.

My absence wasn’t for long and I returned–in increments. Sometime during winter last year I spoke to a soft-spoken Italian mental health professional in which I pitched my own (not so brilliant) idea that “there was a wisdom to good old-fashioned stoicism”. He agreed. More readings, like Could Stoicism be the New Mindfulness, helped support this theory which was not unique to the world, but completely novel to someone like me.

An important distinction, but one that is often lost, is the difference between sharing content versus sharing personal information, either of which can be blogged, the unique characteristic  of a blog being regular posts or “logs”. Web log. Weblog. Blog. Two people who have successfully capitalized their content-management skills and turned them into enterprises are Tavi Gevinson (RookieMag) and Emily Weiss (Founder of Into the Gloss and Glossier), one taking a more journalistic approach, the other more entrepreneurial.

During the app pitch I was encouraged to try my idea as a blog as my panel saw no value in it actually being a mobile application. I stubbornly held on to my original idea, even though I knew that they were correct in their assessment. In doing so, I realized full well that it came from an unfair bias I have towards blogs and how I tend to think of blogs as being saturated, repetitive and associated with a level of self-promotion I could simply never reach (not even if I take the journey back to being my formerly uninhibited self).  I often ask my friends who have always been incredible writers but do not having professional writing jobs why they don’t have a blog or share what they write. The answer may surprise you (if you’ve read this far–congratulations! You’re probably really bored of your job or you’re secretly very interested in what I have to say): fear. Fear of not being good enough. What stifles most of the writers I know is the realization that they are not near the level of perfection they aspire to be. I include myself in this group and am constantly conflicted between sinking in and putting myself out there. In my last discussion with one such friend, we concluded that all content sharing on social media is fair game or worthy of praise–as long as it is original. I also realized that my somewhat broken-record statement of “blogs are so saturated” is a superficial one, as someone pointed out to me that people don’t just stop writing books because there are too many of them. Blogs are just a new medium, and maybe the traditionalists like myself, are taking some time adjusting to it. At least in my circles, confidence in self-expression seems to fall on either end of a spectrum–but it is precisely that, a spectrum, and here I am, trying to navigate the gradations.

So I might finally muster up the courage to complete the projects I’ve been working on for the last year and a half and just do it, as Shia Lebouf would say, maniacally thumping his fists. Or I may prolong all the projects further, spend another year exploring and learning, and repeatedly asking myself, why?