Why I Don’t Write

Why I Write is a very common essay topic. If you’ve ever taken any writing class, that’s probably the first essay you get asked to write. No matter how many times we were asked this question, we would always scribble away furiously on our sheets of paper, conjuring up images of our childhood, similar but different, some of us reading CS Lewis under the covers at night, the others writing fantasy plays for our siblings. There was always a reason, sometimes charming and sweet, sometimes less so. #WhyIwrite was even a trending hashtag on twitter recently. I said something vague about storytelling lasting through the ages.

But much more often than asking why we do write, I think it’s important to ask, why we don’t write. I can think of a lot of of good reasons why, though not many corresponding ways to combat those reasons. I can also think of a lot of my friends and peers who are talented writers but rarely take to the page.

Writing comes very easy to me. I am not saying I’m a particularly talented writer, I don’t think I am, but for better or for worse, I can write, in large volumes at a time. I don’t suffer from writer’s block (although to be fair I have never worked as professional writer with deadlines so who knows?). I write for leisure and leisure can just shut the laptop whenever it wants before writer’s block rears its ugly head.

There are many reasons why I don’t write. Firstly, I have a lot of expectations from writing. Not only does it have to come out exactly as I want it to be, writing needs to reveal some kind of amazing truth to me and the reader. It needs to be witty and unique in its observations, it needs to remove veils, otherwise, what is the point? Yet my most read post on WordPress is the one where I ramble endlessly, no purpose in sight, quoting Shakespeare and Into the Woods, and making no sense whatsoever. I don’t write because I am afraid that it won’t be perfect. I am terrified, in fact. My journals are filled back-to-back with entries and I have at least 20 drafts in my WordPress that I don’t publish because they’re not good enough.

Another reason why I don’t write is because I have been brought up to believe writing is frivolous, even useless. There’s two kinds of people (okay, maybe three but let’s not bother defining the third category)- one: the kind who derive their purpose from life from utilitarian work, they need to count numbers on a page, or lay brick, or cook hot meals. There’s the second kind, who derive their purpose from creative expression–they perfect their pas des deux, their brushstrokes, their music, their writing. I don’t really know which one I am, and it is possible, like everything else, that I am both. And while this is good it’s also bad, because I suffer from #masterofnone syndrome in that, well, I am not the master of anything, but slightly good at most things.

I am a serious-minded person so I always wanted to be taken seriously. There is a stereotype in East Asian countries that creative or artistic fields are not serious ones. This doesn’t come from a superficial bias ,as we can mistakenly think, but from a very realistic awareness of what career choices will secure your bread and butter. You’re much more acutely aware of your bread and butter when you or your family or your nation has seen a life without bread and butter. Ergo the generations and generations of doctors, engineers, and businessmen. A pas de deaux will likely not secure your bread and butter (tempted to make a food-related ballet joke here but I will not).

So every time I write, feelings of guilt and shame creep up within me. I am being silly, I think and nonserious, and indulgent. Creative expression first and foremost comes from an expression of self, and if you have real problems and real responsibility, then you cannot afford to paint or write a very accurate self-portrait. I call this third-world guilt, and I am sure many more suffer from this, perhaps without even realizing it. Interestingly, I think this phenomena is what attributes to some of the crises faced by people who are more privileged, making us wonder what is the balance we should strike in being luxuriously self-aware and self-reflective but also looking outside of ourselves and being practical. I don’t really have an answer to this question, but I’d be happy to do some Camus-related research to get to one.

Finally, I am afraid of over-sharing on social media. It is a huge pet peeve of mine. I find most overtly self-indulgent social media posts to be nauseating, so why wouldn’t mine elicit the same reaction from my readers?

So as this new year is rolling around, I am going to try to face my fears a little. I will post unabashedly, worrying less about how I appear and more about improving my craft and sharing my thoughts and ideas while they are still fresh.

What’s there to lose?

Don’t answer that.

The Field & the Gate

Been four years

And im listening to the same song

The swelling orchestra is louder but the words haven’t changed

The beast and the little lady

Do you know?

I don’t think so. So I guess that has changed too

I was a child once, twice, then three times over

Even still, I don’t know.

Inorganic dreams of fields and gates

Stolen from movies and books and advertisements

Blurring the lines between my memories and planted stories.

I don’t know.

There is delicate dew on the grass and the sun

Is either setting or rising

Voices are heard, in a distance

Enough to be warm but not intrusive: my favorite distance:

The arm’s length

This I know.

I am cruel and unsorry

Time is cruel and unsorry

My book is unfinished and packed page to page with fears

The story is clear but the ending is not

You are cruel and unsorry

Look closely (or don’t): faded scars etched into my skin

They aren’t engraved, but embossed

Random ones, and then three lines, altogether

As though I was scratched by an angry animal with hot claws

They look like worms,

small pale worms littering my forearm and bicep

Nobody knows but they aren’t hidden, either. If someone asked

I’d tell them

But no one does

Been four years and the orchestra’s loud and clear

The words unchanging

I am accompanied at the field and the gate

It welcomes me, the air is still and blue

I sit cross legged and listen to the warm voices—

I am here now, where I have always belonged

This I know. You know it too.



The Hero with Feathers

neither our frenzied hearts
nor the aching blistering cold
will stop us from feeling
the inevitable, stubborn hope
banging on our doors; shining through
cracks in floorboards and windowframes
reminding us of the things we had forgotten
like the happiness of unworn clothes
our favorite snack with a glass of chilled Coca-Cola
and lips and nails painted artificially bright.
the indisputable and unstoppable
comic book hero that is hope
he will fight the bad man: green, red or black
he will save us from the woeful burning bridges
and the despair that holds us at gunpoint
he will always come back- that’s his job
he is the thing with feathers
so long as we let him-
he will knock the gun to floor
and contain the fire
until we breathe the clean air,
this time better prepared
for round 2
the sequel, the first of many
each battle easier, and less interesting, than the last.


October Favorites



I’ve always enjoyed Vampire Weekend but didn’t even realize Rostam Batmanglij had started a solo career. I discovered his music through Shazam–I knew I liked it almost instantly. People have described him as sounding like he has a smile trapped in his voice. I’d say this is pretty accurate.



Bike Dream

Glass Animals

I am not even sure how to describe their music. I was really into Gooey (which is still my favorite song of theirs) 6-7 months ago when I first discovered them. This month I’ve been playing Life Itself on repeat. Some of the tabla in the song was actually inspired by Lollywood music (go Pakistan!)

Life Itself



I mean, Beck is the musical genius of our generation, if there was one. I’ve loved Morning Phase since it’s release in 2014 (when it beat out Beyonce at the Grammys and started the hurtful #whoisbeck trend) but I’ve been listening to it tons lately

Blue Moon

Heart is a Drum and Turn Away are also great tracks on this record


The Letters of Sylvia Plath

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of this book, I haven’t actually read it yet. Here is an amazing review by critic/professor/ted speaker Parul Sehgal in the NY Times which highlights why these letters could tell us so much about this endlessly mysterious literary figure:

Sylvia Plath’s Letters Reveal a Writer Split in Two


The Great British Bake-Off

I’m pretty much obsessed with this show. I don’t think there’s anything more satisfying than watching British judges politely tell a disaster of a dessert that it’s “not quite there yet. But don’t give up!”

Also, what is curd? Why does every dessert in The Great British Bake Off have fruit curds and fruit jellies? I love this show so much.


I described this show as Twin Peaks meets Archie Comics meets every 90s teen slasher movie meets Grease. Season 1 was amazing. Season 2 TBD. This show got me in such a mood I decided to watch Charmed and gave up in the first episode because I quickly realized how terrible that show was.



Much Ado About Nothing

One of the criticisms I’ve gotten about my blog is that it is too structured, too formal, and not “blog-like”. Even though I write almost weekly, I never fully commit to a stream of consciousness–it’s too free for me. I start organizing my thoughts into themes and genres (often accompanied by appropriate music) even before they hit the page. If they hit the page. Yet whenever I posted something without thinking too much, it was better received by my (small but loyal) group of readers. I’ve made a resolution this trimester to blog regularly, and not think too much about what I will say. This is hard for me, I enjoy preparation and structure. I can also be too blunt and too honest–stupidly so. I am not saying this a backhanded disguised-as-an-insult-but-really-is-a-compliment. I really need to learn how to be smarter about when I say what, and to whom, and so on.  So I guess this is where I’ll start.

Recently I was talking to a close friend about how another, relatively close friend had let me down. As one does when talking to one’s girlfriend, I was expressive and animated and because this was the first time I had even vocalized the issues, I let it all out, not realizing there was someone else in our company. Who, inevitably, and through all fault of my own, told on me. I felt, and still feel terrible, not intending at all to spread ill-will. In retrospect, I am glad I learned my lesson at a (relatively) low cost. My lesson, you ask? Stfu.

I am in Milwaukee for this trimester. No, I am not pregnant, that’s just how my program is organized, split into three assignments per year. “Isn’t it called a semester?” someone snarked this past HR (home return… please forgive all the acronyms, I can’t seem to shake them off), not understanding the basic concept of prefixes. My first was in Boston, and I didn’t really see Boston, not really, didn’t see the Freedom Trail, or Matt, or Ben, or Mindy Kaling. I did spend my Saturdays wandering around Newbury Street and the big green park, but that’s pretty much it. I have family in New Jersey (like every Pakistani you’ll meet) so the East Coast/NY area isn’t super unfamiliar to me. But the Midwest was, once upon a time anyway: home. And I’m back after four and a half years. That’s a long time. I am amazed at how much of Iowa I had forgotten about, or at least let it slip to the back of my mind and just how much it is rushing back now.

Firstly- the air. I haven’t seen much of the world, but never have I breathed air as fresh and crisp as Iowan air. When I had finally adjusted to living in Iowa City, it was the single thing I would miss the most when I was in Dubai, convinced the freshness of the air could solve depression, could solve anything. I took one deep inhale on my first walk from one office building to another, the path covered in the first of the yellow fall leaves, and it just felt so good. So familiar.

My apartment reminds me of Iowa too. It’s strange, the fixtures are the same. The light switches, the door handles, even the carpet. My bathroom looks exactly the same, it’s like a freaking time machine.

I might go back one of these days but a part of me keeps putting it off. Partly because I am tired and it is a four hour drive. And partly because I am always slightly nervous to go see what used to be home but isn’t anymore. You know, like Dorothy, you can’t go home again, etc. etc. I’ve only gone back once since graduation and it was a weird trip. It was the dead of winter first of all, February in Iowa, not so great. It was also a weird mix of intense emotions, old relationships/friendships coming up, fizzling, and so on. It’s different now. So much time has passed I bear almost no recollection of my memories anymore, except in random, tiny bursts. Those are the most jarring. I don’t know what is more painful: having painful memories or forgetting them altogether and then it’s almost like you haven’t lived them at all. The latter is probably the greatest insecurity of any writer, or why we write, it’s our unhealthy obsession with preservation. When I was a child I had a panic attack (I was an anxious, hyper child) in which I thought that every memory that left my head was a chunk of time of my life that I had lost forever. To combat this terrifying crisis (too terrifying for a ten year old), I would painstakingly write down the events of my day onto pale pink post-it notes, in bullet-form, under the date. I learned something strange from this exercise: writing down the events in such a way didn’t do much to preserve the memory at all, in fact, I seemed to become even more disconnected from that day once it was recorded in such a robotic manner:

April 15 2001

-Went horse riding

-Ate Chicken and Chawal For Dinner

-Fought and then made up with my sister

-Finished all my HW

And with this realization came the end of my bizarre obsession. Maybe this is why I write so carefully, not thinking that I’ll ever derive any connection from a recollection of mundane details of my life. I find mundane details of other people’s lives endlessly fascinating, and am especially keen to read about famous minds who journalled obsessively, and fancy myself as someone who will built archives of my journals one day. I am not even close, because I am irregular and neurotic. And scared.

I have been acting like my mother lately, replicating her behavior in our house in my apartment – cooking, baking and cleaning. But absent are the steady stream of visitors, the arguments over AC temperatures and TV volumes, the frustration over too many trips to the grocery store, the rush to the night prayers in Ramadan, the fighting to stay at home and watch movies during the night prayers in Ramadan. The absence is heavy, and I wonder how long and how hard we will have to work to create what our parents created so effortlessly.

And for all the independence and personal space we craved (I am kind of late to the game in growing up, but I think that’s pretty obvious), nothing seems so exciting anymore. The TV remote control isn’t as exciting if no one wants to fight me for it. The personal space is just too much, it’s everywhere, so much so that I am not even that comfortable with my own person. I am in the constant conflict of an ambivert: I miss people when I am on my own but make no effort to meet them (and sometimes even avoid them) because a part of me just needs to be alone and finds the idea of socializing incredibly draining.

It’s a cliche, but you have to travel far to figure out where you belong. Giants In The Sky from Into the Woods always sparks such feelings (don’t judge me- I really like musicals):

The roof, the house and the world you never thought to explore.
And you think of all of the things you’ve seen,
And you wish that you could live in between,
And you’re back again,
Only different than before,
After the sky

Powerful stuff, right? Jack, the Giantess and some prettyyy hardcore Psych 101 happening right here. I wish I could live in between, too, and the sky does change you even if it is in subtle ways.

The point is… well, there is no point. This wasn’t a post about anything at all, with no preceding thoughts, no afterthoughts, just the thoughts themselves as they came, free-flowing and unedited. Much like life itself? I guess. I need to stop trying to make an analogy here. That would defeat the purpose, which is to have no purpose at all.

And because I quoted Shakespeare just because I felt like, and because I can feel the onset of winter coming, here are a few more lines from our favorite Shakespearean Prince:

“Why, what’s the matter,
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?” 


Within & Without

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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?







Does Factory Kill The Magic?


My playlist shuffled through and stopped on Viva Forever by Spice Girls. I was immediately taken back to a musty living room in the early 90s, ensconced in a baby pink comforter and completely lost in the visuals of the music video: bright-eyed, animated fairies planting lipsticky kisses on the cheeks of a young, non-animated face. The surroundings were green. They were in a forest, maybe, and the Girls, now in faery-form (it sounds better if I say faery, doesn’t it?) were fluttering around, tiny and hummingbird-like, making some point that didn’t quite translate. It made little to no sense, yet somehow paired with the poppy aaahs of the song, it hit you somewhere; took you someplace. A CGI-fairy-freckle-kissed heaven.What made it, and so many other random memories from our childhood so precious is that as children, we tend not to question things too much. And though analysis can lead to a cathartic A-ha! moment, that warm feeling of when things just click into place, there is a mystery and a magic that is lost when boundaries are completely and finitely defined.

Like going to your favorite chocolate factory.When I eat a Ferrero Rocher, I dont really want to know much about it. I want to peel the crinkled gold foil, roll it into a ball in my palm and pop the whole chocolate into my mouth. I want to bite past the hard, nutty core, into the soft chocolate and let the velvetty flavor hit the roof of my mouth–and then everywhere else. That’s it. At the most, I will turn the dark brown paper doily into a boat, or fill it with paper clips and thumb-tacks and continue whatever it was I was doing before the mini-ecstasy took place. I don’t want to know how it’s made, nor see the insides of the assembly line it takes to drop that one chocolate I ate into a pile of thousands, maybe millions of chocolates that will be distributed around the entire world. That I am sharing this mini-ecstasy with thousands, maybe millions of people just like me. I especially don’t want to know about Jon Doe, and how he works at the factory, or the plant, and starts his day at 6 am to turn on some Vonnegut-esque machine, how my entire mini-ecstasy is his bread and butter. And I absolutely, in no possible way want to know about the calorie content or sugar levels in this tiny chocolate, how much nutritional value it does or does not have. Hec, I do not want to know anything at all. I want to keep the factory, Jon, and any other potentially damaging information (damaging to my ecstasy!) safely away from me.

And just like that, the goofy fun of music videos is pretty much over. I can no longer dreamily stare at Britney Spears’ sparkly green eye-shadow or admire the color-coordinated sets of Destiny Child’s Say My Name without immediately picturing every piece that goes into it: the set designer, the makeup artists (now on Instagram, with their skills and products available for everyone to see), the costume designers, the choreographers. An assembly line unto itself.

Maybe it is more cathartic to understand the breakdown of something if contributes to the buildup of something else, or another iteration of the same thing.

Or maybe–just maybe– there is a sweet spot of knowledge: when you know enough and right before you know too much. And if this sweet spot exists, is it in our control to manage, even manipulate it? And if it is something that we control, then is the resulting magical-fairy-dust-on-your-shoulder feeling as organic as it was in that musty 90s living room? Probably not. It may be worth trying, though- if only to be hit somewhere. Taken someplace.