The first time I felt time stop was when I saw my younger brother's face grow unfamiliar as his mind tried to process Islamophobia. A single drop in his consciousness of what had long since flooded mine felt like I had stepped barefoot on a rusty nail.
The second time was last week, looking at a dead body for the first time. Murdered. An eye collapsed. Patches of maggots. The body so swollen, seemingly about to explode. His shirt a few feet away in a brown bag, passersby reflexively scrunching their noses. What's that smell? Now I know.
The third time was when a staccato of swipes and taps fell silent. "BREAKING NEWS-", followed by an image of a young girl in hijab. A deep breath. A slow swipe. "-17-YEAR-OLD MUSLIM GIRL ASSAULTED AND KILLED AFTER LEAVING MOSQUE". Like I was sprinting across a neverending floor covered in rusty nails, seeking relief, finding none.
The third time was yesterday. With closed eyes, I felt the soft, clean carpet below, smiling at the happy symphony of "Eid Mubaraks" and laughter, smelling the sun hit food in a new way after a month of fasting. Suddenly I feel my face mirror what I had seen on my brother's years ago. A terrifying thought - am I going to exit our mosque alive?
What's that feeling? Now I know.
Last year, the media was abuzz about how a fatwa had been issued banning Muslims from taking up one-way tickets to Mars. The reasoning behind it was that it was essentially suicide, a great sin. But let's assume that we do reach a point where the Earth gets so choked up with our pollution that we're projectile vomited into the galaxy, and that all of humanity miraculously has the choice of being eaten alive in the acidic pulp of a post-Earth or fleeing to a life-sustaining Mars. What would Muslims choose? Would they be compelled towards one choice for religious reasons?
I've showerthought about it for a while, and I think this is my answer for now: some Muslims would choose Mars but they would practice a different Islam than what has ever existed. Because religions have adapted, some more drastically than others, to the world it exists in to make life easier and religions will continue to do so to survive in an ever globalizing world that asks for cooperation above all to achieve progress. So, you're probably thinking, most Muslims have shed outdated practices - so what? What does that have to do with putting mosques on Mars? Think about it this way - if I cut a few leaves and branches here and there on a tree to make it more pleasing to the eye, it's still a tree, right? But if I cut down a couple more branches, at what point is it no longer a tree? Is a stump a tree? It is, and it isn't.
Islam is so intertwined with several cultures in the world, that displacing those cultures means, in a way, that Islam becomes displaced. On Mars there is no Mecca, no Kaaba, no place on the planet that we can point towards and say, "this is the heart of our religion, this is where we gather, this is where we pray towards". For me, Islam is a way of living, a way of thinking, but an integral part of the religion is its repetition and continuity, its repeated motions that provide comfort in a non-obviously random world. So to disrupt that makes me wonder if Islam would forever be altered, and if so, in what ways? Perhaps I'll live to find an answer in my lifetime. I hope I don't.
I've been thinking about the currently popular phrase, "Netflix and chill". When we bingewatch our favorite shows, it seems intuitive that we surf on tsunamis of dopamine that smash our systems and result in waves of pleasure. Common productivity techniques advise us to organize some sort of reward system - for every three hours of work, watch one episode of your show so that you can come to the conclusion that hard work yields reward.
But I think this technique can be reversed. Work-for-reward insinuates that work can't evolve beyond being a means. I offer that resistance to work can be inverted to make work an end in and of itself.
Instead of ending your work session with a show, start off with it. Pick a show that gets your heart to shadowbox. Shows can stimulate as often as they relax. Stop using Netflix to chill - try using it to get your blood pumping and palms sweating in anticipation for what the future could hold.
I came back from CMU on Saturday. I've spent all of my waking hours working on pieces since then. I'll be flying out again tomorrow. This four-day-cosm-of-work has felt surreal in that each day has had the robust feeling of a ripple effect. I feel like I've always taken a sort of "work now, sleep later" attitude towards things, but never to the extreme level I've been functioning at for the past couple of days. So this question of where the ripple effect originated from, the pebble in the pond so to speak, remains. Is Mercury in retrograde? Did I inhale too much fixative in the spray booth? Has a productivity chip in my brain been activated by some extradimensional beings? All valid questions. Truth be told, I think the best answer is this: saturation.
And I know you're probably reading this and thinking something along the lines of, "Carnegie Mellon finally broke Maheen", a thought that I won't completely deny. Because in a sense, six weeks of creating things did break-no, shatter-a version of me. See, I think it can be said with some degree of truth that our thoughts are what make us us. And there are thoughts that we accept, others we deny, some we pretend don't exist, many that grow to become action, and a potentially infinite other sorting boxes for thoughts. How we compartmentalize those thought creates some level of distinguishability between one being and another - for instance, me and you may have the same thought if we see a crying child. We both think, "I should help that child out", but perhaps I act upon that thought and help the child and you don't. Or vice versa. Do you see how we react to our thoughts can define us?
I digress, but I'll digress some more. This is a story that I've rarely told others, but now you and dozens of others will read. When I was a child, I moved around quite a bit. At some point, I knew I was only going to be at a school for six months, so I decided to have some fun with it. I faked an accent. In retrospect, it probably wasn't even a vaguely convincing accent, but the point is that I saw an opportunity to create a new version of myself and I took it. That opportunity existed because I understood that my interaction with these people was only temporary. Now, nearly eight years later, that opportunity arose again in the form of Carnegie Mellon's pre-college art+design program (say that five times fast - I quintuple dare you).
Remember how I said the reason why I've been working so much recently is saturation? While I was there (Pittsburgh), there was little need to hold back on my quirks and quazitones because I knew that my direct interaction with everyone was limited to six weeks. I had an opportunity to throw all care to the wind and be the most saturated version of myself I wanted to be - and so I did.
And that feeling of existence in its purest form, in responding to my thoughts in the most honest way, provided a sense of liberation that's rippled out to even now. Recently, I feel like I've been adding some sort of gung-ho moral-to-the-story layer to these showerthoughts. This quote that originated somewhere in the deep abyss of Facebook (Chris Crocker? Patti Russo?) best encapsulates what I've learned in the past six weeks:
You will always be too much of something for someone: too big, too loud, too soft, too edgy. If you round out your edges, you lose your edge. Apologize for mistakes. Apologize for unintentionally hurting someone - profusely. But don't apologize for being who you are.
Some context: For the past three weeks, I've been on campus at Carnegie Mellon for a six-week art+design program. I've been living in a dorm. I haven't been dreaming. I HAVEN'T BEEN DREAMING.
I think for most people, they're content with waking up and remembering emptiness or even waking up with a feeling of almost-remembering and then letting go. I am not most people in and of that sense, because some of the most fantastic things to have happened to me happened in dreams.
And so you may be thinking, "Maheen - you live a sad life if dreams fulfill you", to which I nod in partial-agreement. But only partial. Because if you look at what we know about dreams today, there's no set answer as to why we have them. Only theories. And the theory that I associate with the most, and feel the most excited about, is the one that suggests that we dream to organize our memory.
Now, I don't know about you but that idea that our brain does some sort of "independent thinking" when our bodies are in a state of almost-death is exciting! And if you don't find it to be that way, I think that's just an inherent difference in personality that is what it is what it is.
For the past several days, I've been sleeping and sleeping and sleeping and sleeping and sleeping and sleeping and sleeping and sleeping and sleeping and still waking up tired. And so you may be thinking, "Maheen - don't you know that sleeping too much makes you more tired?", to which I nod in partial agreement. But only partial. Because I know for a fact that if I want to be working at my peak, I need to sleep 12 hours. Thank goodness for coffee.
And right now I just woke up from a 4 hour nap, with the most fantastic dream that had elements I can now connect back to my recent memory. And right now I feel like I could take on the world, like I'll never need to sleep again. For as long as I can remember, I've woken up in the morning and remembered all of my dreams from the night before. Waking up felt like returning from another dimension, a break from reality.
When I came here, to Carnegie Mellon, those dreams stopped and that vacation from reality stopped. And now, I've learned a little more about myself - I've learned that impossibly, dreams are likely the most dominating second-tier-need to be met in my existence. I don't really know what to do with this information - maybe I'll just sleep on it.
It's been 12 days since I last posted a showerthought. There were several times I had a great thought, but I just didn't have the time because teachers decided that these last two weeks are the perfect time to assign gigantic and heavily weighted projects. I think in the past I would have taken this onslaught of exams and projects with offense, but this time I just felt like this is what I had signed up for. I think with this year I've grown a lot and I've learned to accept challenges and embrace them when I can. It feels good.
Anyways, I wanted to talk about the title of this post. During some event (open house? open house.) first semester, my mom was walking the halls and meeting my teachers (she's very adamant that it's Mr. Willy and not Mr. Wiley). I think it was near the end of the night when Isabella Gomez was standing in the crossroads between the engineering department and math department, and my mom just hit it off with her. It was kinda strange to see two worlds colliding, but I took two and a half things away from it.
My mom always jokes that I'm a clone of my father - we have the same body language, the same body type, similar interests, and we share a few personality traits. We're both pretty reserved with strangers, though I think I'm less so than he is, but my mom will talk to anyone she thinks is interesting, which is a classification pretty much reserved for adults. There's been times where when getting rung up, we have to wait in the store for an extra 15 minutes because my mom is learning about the cashier's lifestory. So, when she hit it off with Isabella G. I was pretty surprised that she found a teenager interesting.
For a couple of years I felt pretty distant from my family, and in retrospect it was probably just that tween-y and hormonal phase that most kids go through. Recently, I've been a lot more involved with family life and I really enjoy it. One thing that I've noticed about myself is that I've started taking my parents' input much more seriously than I had before because I'm growing closer and closer to a point in life where I don't know anything. So the fact that my mom was able to connect with someone 30 years younger than her, really impacted me and grew my love for SciTech as well because it's so densely populated with driven and amazing people. My mom loves Isabella Gomez, and it made me love SciTech.
Change is many things. It's guaranteed, inevitable, and easy. Change will occur no matter what - our universe and our species are sprinting through spacetime, gaining speed with every second, becoming more entropic with each millenia, falling further into disarray with every eon. Because of change. Change is guaranteed. Change is inevitable. Change. Is. Easy. Progress - now progress requires sacrifice and intent. Progress is not guaranteed. Progress is not inevitable. Progress is not easy.
The universe exists and persists without us, without humans. Or does it? It can be argued that the universe only really "exists" because we are here to observe it, but who cares if we can't realize that we need to deserve it. Deserve the chance to take what we've been given and turn it into progress, but instead many of us give into our entropic human nature and destroy the nature around us. We are complex beings, getting more complex by the second because change is guaranteed. Change is inevitable. Change is easy.
Too many of us don't realize that change does not equate progress. It never has and it never will. Those who realize this, the ones who work tirelessly to carry the rest of our species on their shoulders, the Atlases of our generation, they have realized that it is their duty to defy our entropic human nature. They serve us so we can deserve this universe instead of destroy it. Progress is not guaranteed. Progress is not inevitable. Progress is not easy.
The number of Atlases grows with each generation. I think there are more now today because unobstructed reporting of global issues and events is available to the public. Our scope of the world is so much greater than our parents, and from this disparity arises issues, namely balancing selfishness and selflessness. It's fine to enter a field for our individual progress, it's great to enter any field really, but we need to shift our focus from individual progress to global progress. Everyone carries the burden of achieving their own definition of success in one lifetime but the Atlases of our generation realize that we also carry the burden of leaving the world a better place. It's not about satisfying our parents by entering their career of choice, it's about ensuring our children will live a better life than we did even if it means rejecting our parents' definition of success and implementing our own. We are the ones who need to carry the world into a better era. Progress is not easy - but it is our duty to do everything we can, to synthesize our talents with our motives to make sure that progress surrounds us.
Be an Atlas.
Change the world.
I don't know how to feel about the American education system. Or rather, I'm barely starting to realize that I have some inkling of an opinion of what I think is right. See, I've only recently (like, this semester recently) started weaning myself off of the idea that my high school transcript is the do-all end-all piece of paper that will determine my life's worth. It sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, slightly dystopian, and (dare I say?) hugely terrifying that so many of us have been sold the idea that four years will determine how our entire lives will play out. Still, I've gone along with the status quo and will probably continue to in the future, just because I'm human and our collective number one priority is self-preservation. I say probably because I've seen High School Musical.
The belief that validation comes with exhaustion has always been a daunting one for me, because it's one that I've felt constantly emanating from my parents. Even though they swear on "health before wealth", their actions have spoken otherwise - 100 hour work weeks are both inspirational and deterring for a young, spoiled American. Back to High School Musical.
If this work ethic is Ashley Tisdale, tirelessly working to cater to the world's definition of "success", then another work ethic is Zac Efron, worrying more about what he thinks is worth pursuing. Now, recently I went to PASF's Convention and while there I found myself talking to Isabella and Mashad about college applications and their experiences. I don't know if it was their intent to do so, but talking to them confirmed for me that trying to fool admissions officers with pure resume-builders shouldn't be a priority (especially now when most everything has been set in stone). Isabella and Mashad are basically the Zac Efrons we need in the sea of Ashley Tisdales that is SciTech. They've been able to work their butts off in pursuing successes that they've defined for themselves, and I think they are among those who will inspire change in the world. Hats off to both of you and the others I'm sure have gone, are going, and will go through SciTech with the same mentality.
Even with just this past week of SHOWERTHOUGHTS, it's been enough for me to realize that these upcoming months should be filled with doing what I think is worthwhile and trying to stimulate change through my efforts. I admit, I may only be comfortable with accepting this because in the past three years I've done all I can and am satisfied with how I come across to others who buy into the world's definition of success. Reaching this point has made me realize that if I have to attend a university that only accepted me because I was a cookie-cutter student to the end, I don't think I'd be truly happy with myself. My beliefs tell me that I only have one life to live, and if defying the norm leads to my definition of success then it's validated. I don't want to drop.
So on 4/20 I posted on the Class of 16 Facebook page, and at the very end I told people to ask questions in the comments. This was the only question I got and my response -
Samia's joke-question kind of began a connect-the-dots process that involves me being desi-thin, today's limbic-vomit, and future college apps (as a soon-to-be-senior, everything kind of goes back to college apps).
Read on if you're interested.
For most of my life I've been desi-thin. What's desi-thin, you ask? It's the kind of thinness you see commonly amongst South Asians. Think about it - Niroshan, the Jalils, Zooha, Ramlah, most of the South Asians you see at SciTech are pretty thin, and if you're wondering why - it's just genetics and culture more than anything else. I used to be desi-thin as well, and after gaining nearly twenty pounds in the past four years, I can tell you that (for me anyways) gaining weight has totally sucked. No, I'm not talking about joining in with the rest of teenager America's obsessions with diet pills, starvation, and being "model-thin". I'm talking about heat. Sweaty, nasty, heat that is a direct result of gaining weight. The kind of heat that made Mercutio straight up kill a dude and made me limbic-vomit on my mom today.
So now, you're probably asking what limbic-vomit is. Limbic-vomit is when you couldn't care less about the repercussions of vocalizing your anger, a.k.a. letting your limbic system take over, towards someone. Today that someone happened to be my mom. See, my mom is awesome. She loves me a lot and she's taken care of me for almost 17 years now. But what she has yet to understand is that when I go outside in the summer, I overheat. And when I overheat, I get pissed. Today, my buttons were pressed to the limit when my fam left me outside for half an hour while they went to BR's to get ice cream (seriously?). They thought I wouldn't sweat it (hah! get it?), but they were so unbelievably wrong. I'll spare you the grisly details, but to give you some idea of how hot I got my iPhone went into limbo because it had overheated in my hand. Seriously gross - I haven't felt this affected by the heat since I got heat-stroke in Pakistan 10 years ago.
When I got home, I made like a sophomore with wire-cutters and stripped. The shower was my only hope, and while taking my shower I did what so many of us do and became introspective about life. Is the universe real? Does Obama really care? Why does Sister Wendy have such a weird lisp? These are all valid questions, but one question became the subject of today's showerthoughts - are my showers trying to teach me a life-lesson? I know I'm weird, but humor me and hopefully I'll humor you. See, I love taking hot showers because I'm young and inclined to choose instant gratification. Hot showers are relaxing while I'm in there, but afterwards I end up with an overabundance of oily skin and a low-grade fever. The only solution to my inability to achieve homeostasis? Polar-showers.
So now you're probably asking what a polar-shower is - polar-showers are when you take showers in water so cold you might as well jump in the Arctic Ocean with the polar bears while you're at it. When I took a polar-shower an hour ago, I began thinking about Samia's question-joke, thinness, limbic-vomit, and instant gratification, and how much better polar-showers are than hot ones in the long-term. Today's polar-shower, of all things, led me to the final line in my mental connect-the-dots - college.
See, I've always wondered why people say that going to SciTech helps later on in life. Right now, all I know is that I'm suffering with the bajillion things that need to be done by yesterday. After today's shower though, I think I can kind of understand. My home high school was like the hot shower, where it's easy-peezy-lemon-squeezy for a little bit but not the right choice for me. SciTech has been the longest polar-shower so far, and all I can do is hope that this little bit of suffering will lead me to much better places. I just hope I can achieve homeostasis by then.
Thank you for reading! Leave any comments and feedback below. I look forward to reading them, and hope that you read my future posts.
I began this blog to document my growth.
This is my first time publishing any of my thoughts online. I just finished my first blog post, and I can tell already that this blog will be rough around the edges. I hope to post a couple times a week an devolve past this embryonic state when summer break begins.
I hope you enjoy!