Gender & Identity, Love, Life Stories

My Pakistani family told me I couldn’t do it, so I’m a secret writer

My sister told me that I could continue writing as a hobby, but that I needed a “real” degree at the end of the day.

I sat at a corner table, alone, trying to finish a last-minute assignment for my history class, munching on French fries and sipping on the Oreo malt the waiter had given me about a half hour ago. I paused, slouching in the 1950s style chair and observed the environment.  I was fascinated with this hole- in- the- wall restaurant: 50s style vibe, walls covered with posters of Elvis Presley smiling down at the customers, and a jukebox to seal the deal.

Although everyone is a sum of their experiences; as a novice writer, I am not only struggling to add more adventures into my tiny experiential collection, I am also trying to interpret the how each and every experience impacts my identity. I go on these adventures to find new places on my own. My family would not understand why I seek to find strange places or try foods such as Mongolian dishes or Thai tea.

I am a secret writer. Despite the fact that I was an avid introvert, my attention to detail distinguishes me from everyone else.

My family did not want to understand how much I wanted to make a profession out of my writing. My parents did not take it very well when I told them I was serious about pursuing my English major – not as an English or Literature teacher, but to make an actual career out of it.

My mother threatened to stop supporting me financially, and my dad just went along with whatever my mom said. My sister told me that I could continue writing as a hobby, but that I needed a “real” degree at the end of the day.

The last person I expected to support me was my little brother, but he came through. I’m not sure whether he backed me up on my behalf or because his liberalism inclined him to do so. To this day, I have not asked why he told my parents to allow me to do what I wanted for my own happiness.

This story is not new. It’s not unique.

There are so many people out there, all coming from different cultures, regions, and continents, who struggle to pursue a so-called “unconventional” degree in subjects like political science or history because they are constantly bombarded with criticism around their career choices. Their larger communities, who believe that the liberal arts major is way too “easy,” or that it’s not a legitimate degree, barrage women with questions like, “what jobs can you get out of that?”

Even better, community members just subtly roll their eyes, as if they’ve already predicted that the student will eventually drop out and pursue an “actual” career.

When I think back to that argument with my mother about my career choice, I feel ashamed of myself for not standing my ground and defending my position, for not fighting harder. I also think that at the tender age of 18, I didn’t realize the limited scope of my dream.

It is not that easy to make a career out of writing; to make a profit out of it and still hold on to your values; in fact, a Creative Writing teacher told me that it was either one or the other.

One thing is for sure: I never wanted to use writing as a fast track to fame and fortune.

I knew that I wanted to help people. This criterion was the deciding factor for whatever career I chose.

It didn’t mean that I would have to stop writing.

I was a Pakistani Muslim American woman who chose to cover and also happened to destined to be a writer.

I wanted to use my writing as a way of educating those around about the atrocities happening across the globe, increase awareness about the hypocrisies of society and cultural norms, and lend a hand to those who felt alone.

I have always believed in the power of words: how much they could mean if they are used appropriately and uttered with sincerity. How they can become like knives when spoken with the intent to hurt, and how meaningless they are when not followed up with actions.

I had the ability to build a comfort zone through stories, not only myself but for those who want to lend an ear to what I must say.

After a long time of doubting, thinking, redrafting, and keeping quiet, I have finally decided to speak up about it.