Book Reviews Books

When You and I Collide is the YA sci-fi you’ve been waiting for

Parallel Universe. The idea that your life in its entirety exists somewhere else in the universe is a hypothetical notion that we have all heard about it. It’s either because you’ve watched it in your favorite anime or because this certain friend of yours cannot stop talking about it… unless you actually study Physics. I belong to the first category. And given my incessant need to know everything, I’ve done my fair share of research. So, imagine my delight when I found out that When You and I Collide by Kate Norris explores the existence of multiverse theory in young adult fiction.

In her debut sci-fi YA novel, Norris exceeds expectations by effortlessly blending science and war with love and loss. With a backdrop of WWII, reliance on science and technology, Norris beautifully tackles heavy issues such as mourning a loved one, dealing with grief, and being treated as a foreigner in a land you’ve always considered home. A concept most of us are a little too familiar with.

As immigrant kids, on one hand, we are encouraged to hold onto our culture and embrace it as our sole identity. But on the other, we are also expected to effortlessly fit into our new surroundings. But there is no such thing as a seamless transition between two cultures. Especially in a society where any kind of difference leads to hurtful scrutiny. And, at most times, these differences cannot be changed.

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All the way from little things like accents, language structures, and vocabulary to racist questions like “but where are you really from?” when someone doesn’t look a certain way. An immigrant kid is forced to play a lose-lose battle where the host country does not completely accept you for not being quite like them but at the same time, the people from your very own culture think you are too “western” and “modern” in your approach.

Unfortunately, these kids find out the hard way that life isn’t quite like the Hannah Montana series where we thrive in both of our realities. It’s more like being part of two different worlds, but never quite knowing where exactly you belong.

Kate Norris beautifully explores this everyday identity crisis of an immigrant kid through her main character in a multiverse reality. Winnie Schulde, the sixteen-year-old protagonist, can see splits – a quick moment where two possible outcomes for every scenario can be separated. In a moment’s time, you can see both outcomes and possibly choose the most favorable one. In a world plagued with war and destruction, you can see how this could be the ultimate weapon.

Therefore, to avoid any unwanted attention from the proponents of WWII, Winnie and her father kept this a secret from just about everyone. This included Scott, the incredibly smart, kind, and good-looking lab assistant she was working with, in her father’s lab.

After her mother’s tragic death, Winnie’s unrequired love for Scott was the only thing that kept her going. Her physicist father had become distant after this incident. Always wrapped up in research, he believed that if he pushed Winnie to be better, she would be able to choose one split over another. Perhaps, she could change their past and fix things for the better.

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While Winnie did not agree with the methods but for the sake of her father, she played along. Choosing outcomes and time-traveling were merely derivative theories that she did not believe in. Despite that, in every single experiment, Winnie gave her absolute best. But her father was never satisfied.

With this storyline, Norris explores how the grief of losing a loved one changes people. Some people, blinded by grief, tend to withdraw from just about everything. They don’t quite give up but at the same time, they don’t have much to go on either. Therefore, people around them end up overcompensating to make them feel better while being in equal measures of pain. In this context, that’s what Winnie ends up doing, doing whatever it takes to help her father cope with the grief he will never admit to.

However, things change when Scott gets seriously injured from an experiment gone wrong. Merely trying her best was no longer an option for Winnie. With the sole motivation of wanting to help Scott, Winnie is forced to deal with a reality that’s very familiar to her and yet completely different.

In a book that includes annotated research designs and the exact type of apparatuses required for the experiments, Kate Norris expressed that the idea for this story was completely unscientific. Instead, it was a rather simple question: what would it be like to meet the perfect you with all the best-case scenarios?

Therefore, in a reality where we are all constantly striving to be the best versions of ourselves while struggling to cope with the struggles, grief, and challenges, When You and I Collide makes us realize that it’s actually this hurt and pain that makes us who we are.

With interesting settings and relatable characters, this book makes you reflect back on your life and wonder: if you could have it all, what would you be willing to give up?

Support local bookstores supported and buy the book on Bookshop or Indiebound.

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Love Advice

Stop romanticizing my friendship

Friends to lovers have always been a go-to when it comes to romantic movies. There seems to be something romantic in watching friends who obviously like each other end up together. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t absolutely love this troupe, but it shouldn’t be applied to every situation.

I’m a big supporter of having a mixed friends group. Especially when it comes to relationships, I always end up going to my guy friends for advice. The advice is always useful and they are always up for knocking sense into me when I need it!

I think it also helps me become more grounded; too many people who have only ever been surrounded by one gender struggle to socially interact with the other. Especially when it comes to relationships and marriage, you need to be able to see red flags. I don’t think that’s possible without a mixed friendship group.

What really grinds my gears is when someone completely misreads a friendship and starts to make feelings that aren’t there. One of my closest friends I always refer to as ‘the big brother I never asked for but I’m glad I have’. He has my back, especially when it comes to relationships and advice.

However, thinking of him as anything but platonic makes my stomach turn and makes me feel ill. The justification behind this was that we talk almost every day and send each other memes (ah yes, the love language of 2020).

But there were no ‘feelings’ when it came to my female friends who I treat the exact same way.

Of course, some romantic relationships do evolve from friendships, but we shouldn’t expect every relationship to do so. People shouldn’t have to second guess going out for drinks with a friend because a third person who has no part in this relationship thinks they should date.

Not to mention when a person in the friendship is in a relationship it’s disrespectful to everyone involved. It makes the whole thing toxic when there is no need for it to be.

The double standards are startling. Why is it that when it comes to boys the narrative suddenly shifts and you have to be in love with them? It makes the friendship weird and suddenly you’re questioning every message you send. If someone doesn’t ask your opinion on a relationship keep your opinions to yourself.

Platonic relationships are some of the most rewarding relationships you can have. When I think of the most important times in my life, my friends have always been constant. Sibling-type friendships are definitely one of the best because they feel like you’ve known a person forever no matter how long it has been.

When other people try and put a label on an innocent friendship it can get really awkward but you have to be honest with yourself. When a third person is involved (as in if one of you is in a relationship) it’s important that you respect their boundaries because guaranteed this is not fun for them!

For me, it was a boundary issue, I felt that so many people I called my friends were violating this boundary, and made me feel uncomfortable about an innocent friendship so in a lot of cases I drifted away from them. The friends I have now don’t bat an eyelid when I mention another friend regardless of gender and it’s such nice relief!

It’s so heteronormative to think that every girl is in love with her male friends and vice versa.

Building healthy relationships with people should be seen as normal regardless of gender.

If you can’t see that, maybe you need to stop looking at things from a romance novel and come into the real world.

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Career Now + Beyond

Just because I teach children does not mean I have maternal instincts

While I have never thought of myself to be particularly maternal, I find it relatively easier to work with children. This is why I have increasingly considered exploring a career in teaching. However, this may come with a cost. In an interaction with a distant relative, I expressed my interest in pursuing teaching as a career and simultaneously not wanting children of my own. What followed next was an inexhaustible lecture on how having children is one of the greatest pleasures of life. I tried to explain how I do not picture myself as a mother in the future. According to them, however, I might have the instincts in me somewhere because nothing else can explain my desire for teaching. On the contrary, I think that teaching as a profession would provide me with a sense of fulfilment that is separate from my parental choices.

It is often inherently assumed that most women want children of their own at some point in their lives. In recent years, there has been a growing conversation about normalizing women not wanting children of their own due to various reasons. Many women choose to prioritize their careers instead of starting a family. More often than not, these women are still interrogated and counseled on the importance of having children. Ever since I began teaching, I have been questioned by various colleagues and friends about having changed my opinions on having children. I, however, do not feel that teaching has affected my maternal instincts. 

Teaching is often perceived as a gendered occupation. Whilst this has changed in recent years with more men entering teaching, it still remains largely female-dominated. According to author Bryan J. Nelson lack of male teachers is mainly because “working with children is seen as a woman’s work, men are not nurturing and something must be wrong with them if they choose to work with children.” Nelson explained that there is also the existence of a fear that men are more likely to harm or abuse children compared to women. It is difficult to determine whether or not men are more likely to be abusive than women in teaching, however, these stereotypical notions have undoubtedly added to the gender gap in the profession.

There seems to be a preconceived notion that all teachers would want to have children of their own. Even if they initially begin their careers with not wanting children, after spending an ample amount of time with kids it is assumed that they would eventually embrace motherhood. I, however, wish to challenge this view. As a teacher myself, I have never felt the desire to have children of my own even after spending long hours working with them.

I began teaching in my early teens and since then I have periodically taken on teaching/tutoring jobs. In all my jobs thus far, I have found teaching to be the most gratifying and a career that I see a future in. However, not once have I felt the desire to have children of my own. People may assume that this will change once I get married but I have also spoken to teachers who are married and would not like to have children of their own. Some teachers have also said that they would not have had children of their own had they began their careers before having children.

People find it difficult to dissociate one’s career choices from their life choices.

People often say that ‘childless teachers cannot truly understand children’. This statement automatically implies that women without children may not have maternal instincts. Maternal instinct, however, is largely a myth. It comes from deep love, devotion, intense closeness, and time spent thinking about the child. And is not limited to just mothers. Psychotherapist Dana Dorfman agrees that many aspects of maternal instincts are a myth. It is not necessary to be a mother to understand and care for children. Understanding and care come from observation and experiences. Many people land in jobs that they have had no prior experience in, however, with time they learn and excel at their job. So, why are teachers subjected to this form of generalization?

The idea that being a teacher affects one’s maternal instincts or vice versa is largely misogynistic as it exposes the underlying trend of women being incomplete without children. In the case of teachers, it becomes rather problematic because people find it difficult to dissociate one’s career choices from their life choices.

Globally women have gained greater autonomy to choose their careers and overcome misogynistic trends prevalent in societies. Choosing teaching as a career option and simultaneously not wanting children is largely questioned and viewed skeptically. So much so that people often go to extreme lengths to explain to me that working with children will lead to me changing my mind sooner rather than later. However, that is yet to happen.

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Culture Family Life

Why living with your parents is not something to be ashamed of

Aishwarya Rai (who was then residing with her folks) was once asked by David Letterman if it was common in India for older children to live with their parents. She was being interviewed in his show and the snippy comment wasn’t lost on her. She simply fired back saying, “It’s fine to live with your parents because it is also common in India that we don’t have to take an appointment with our parents to meet for dinner.”

It is a Desi tradition, to eventually reside with your parents after you have completed your education and are working. Most Indians don’t even move out while they are pursuing their undergraduate degrees, and some stay with their parents even after the children are married. This might sound strange to anyone from the Western region of the world, but living with your parents is not really that big a deal.

Sociologically speaking, kinship and family were constructs created to enable companionship among men and women. Nuclear families evolved with the passage of time, due to industrialization and the capitalization of goods and services, and extended families have dissipated with time. Now, joint families are hugely common in the Indian subcontinent. There are sisters and brothers and uncles and aunts all living and cooking under the same roof.

The fact that it is so looked down upon in the United States is very depressing. It almost seems to be more foreign and scary than Kanye West running for the presidency. The fact that Americans disregard and shame anybody who chooses to live with their parents is juvenile. Why are American adults so ashamed to be linked with their families? The fact that they choose not to associate themselves with their parents makes them rather conceited. The overbearing nature to prove yourself to be independent beings is honestly tiring. You can be independent without having to live alone. I do it, everyone in my locality does it as well.

Family is a basic building block of Indian culture. Now, as an Indian it is easy to notice the similarities and the differences between the east and west, predominantly noticing the varied range of cereals available in the West and how people are judged if they live with their parents.

I live in a 3 bedroom apartment with four people and I don’t have to pay rent. That’s how it works. You stay with your family and you are loved and surrounded by people who unconditionally love you. You don’t need to be estranged in order to feel like an adult; coursing through the difficulties of life is being “adult” enough. Having homely comfort would only be a step in helping you deal with it properly.

I respect everybody’s choices in how they wish to live their lives. However, judging someone just because they live with two people who brought them up is unnecessary. Whoever served as your guardian, it is your duty to help them anyway whatsoever. They have brought you up, clothed you, sheltered you, and gave you a happy (albeit emotionally scarring for some) life. You owe it to them to be considerate towards them as they are growing older and do what they have done for you.

You cannot measure your success and worth just by whether you have moved out or not. This millennial tradition needs to be booed away because living with your parents doesn’t make you pathetic or a loser. Rather, it makes you kind and considerate and saves you a lot of money (because I know you are broke). It has nothing to do with pride, they have taken care of you when you have had diarrhea. Don;t forget that.

TV Shows Pop Culture

Watching “Jane the Virgin” in Spanish brought me closer to my mom

Before I sat down to watch Jane the Virgin, I thought it would be completely unrelatable. After all, I wasn’t a virgin, and I definitely wasn’t accidentally getting pregnant.

However, after watching it for the first time, I found that so many aspects of the show resonated with my life. Jane the Virgin is a refreshing drama and comedy that showcases the life of Jane Gloriana Villanueva, a  religious 23- year old virgin who has planned out her whole life and is completely on track for her own personal success.

I thought I wouldn’t resonate with the show— but I was wrong.

She is studying to be a teacher and she dreams of being a published author. She is also dating Michael, the perfect man for her. Everything in her life is going the way she wants it to until she accidentally gets artificially inseminated and becomes pregnant with another man’s child.

This satirical telenovela allows viewers to feel a roller coaster of emotions. I loved it so much that I rewatched it again in Spanish with my mom. 

The idea for this stemmed from a feeling that I wasn’t spending enough time with my mom. After all, I had just graduated from college and moved back home after 4 and a half years. It was a hard adjustment to start spending time with her in person rather than just having a few late-night calls a month. We had never watched a show together, so I thought it would be a great idea as a way to bond. 

This show touches many important issues for the Latinx community

Shows are also great conversation starters, and Jane the Virgin was not an exception. This show touches on so many important issues for the Latinx community including matriarchy, religion, immigration, sexuality, and the idea of family bonds. We laughed, cried, and definitely grew closer during the months we spent watching this show. 

With the female protagonists and lead actresses, Jane the Virgin does an amazing job at highlighting the different experiences that women face in life. While Jane is ‘little miss perfect’, her mother Xiomara is an outgoing and eccentric dance teacher with dreams of having a singing career. She had Jane when she was only 16-years old and Jane never got to meet her father until she was 23 because her parents split when her mother got pregnant. Jane’s grandmother, Alba Villanueva, is a deeply religious woman who helped raise Jane and made her vow to not lose her virginity until marriage.

I love the fact that this show is centered around the relationship between the women of the Villanueva family. The relationship between the women in my life is very similar. My grandmother, who I’ve always considered a matriarch, raised 6 daughters, my mother and my aunts, who I will always look up to as the strongest women in my life. My mother raised myself and my 3 younger sisters all on her own. Our relationships and the life experiences they taught me about are part of what defines me and who I am today. I was raised by strong women, and it was beautiful to see the same kind of powerful female energy captured in the show. 

Alba’s story of becoming an American citizen after being terrified of getting deported for almost 30 years is one aspect of the show that resonated with me. My parents are immigrants, and the whole immigrant experience, in general, is one that many of our Latinx families can relate to, especially because many of them came here to start a new life just like Alba. My mom definitely teared up when Alba had her citizenship ceremony, because it brought up memories and feelings from when she went through the process. It also came at a time when immigration became an important issue in this country. 

I’ve had many important conversations with my mum as a result of the show

Jane the Virgin also includes representation of the LGBTQ+ community. This is a subject that my mother and I never sat down to speak about, but the show definitely enabled us to have that conversation. There were various lesbian women on the show and even some gay men. At first, I could tell that my mom felt a bit uncomfortable watching lesbians making out on TV, but, after some time, she accepted it. And she wanted the characters to be happy. That was progress for someone who comes from a culture and family that is not very approving of the LGBTQ+ community. I’m glad that she was exposed to the topic through this show. 

Not only does this show touch on important subjects of sexuality, but sex itself. Jane, who was a virgin when she had her son, finally loses her virginity in the third season. Other characters freely explore their sex lives and own them. Jane’s mother, Xiomara, dates various men throughout the show and openly talks about her sex life with her daughter. Eventually, Jane’s devout widowed grandmother confesses that she is scared of having sex because she hasn’t experienced pleasure in over 30 years. Jane even takes her to buy a vibrator!

This was a very touchy subject for my mom and me. When I confessed to her that I wasn’t a virgin she got a bit upset at me but, eventually, we came to terms with the fact that sex is a natural part of the human experience. 

Watching Jane the Virgin in Spanish not only helped me appreciate the language even more, but it opened my eyes to so many important issues that we do not talk about enough in the Latinx community. Many of the important conversations that I have had with my mother recently have been a result of this show. I am grateful for this intricate but refreshing portrayal of my community. It is a gem of our generation.

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Sexuality Dedicated Feature Love + Sex Love

Even experimenting with my sexuality seems like a step too far

My whole life, not being straight wasn’t an option I allowed for myself. I knew it was just so much easier to what was expected by my family, friends, and society. A remnant of my upbringing, sexuality in general carried a lot of stigma and pressure. But now that I am on the cusp of adulthood, I wonder how different everything could have played out if I allowed myself to explore. 

I can’t even recall the first time a girl had caught my attention, that’s how far back it was. I must have immediately justified it as liking her hair, or the way that she dressed. Perhaps, I reasoned that I just wanted to look like her, and maybe I did. But then, as I went through my teenage phase, I would often fantasize about girls. I didn’t develop any crushes on anyone I knew, but I wondered what it would be like. 

Scrolling through Tumblr, a haven for young people questioning their sexuality, I found myself wandering over to those pages with the artsy nudes. Appreciating them just for their artistic merit, of course, I would say to myself. But afterward, I would feel such shame that my chest grew tight. What was I doing? Who was I? I never brought it up to anyone else, but I remember being on the verge of tears as I reasoned to myself that all girls were like this. I was just young and curious. From then on, my sexuality became a tough cycle of self-denial and censorship. 

But it didn’t always feel that way to me. Even after I started questioning my sexuality, I was still okay with moving on as I always had, being straight. I normalized it to such an extent that for a while, I stopped questioning it. I pursued relationships with guys and it felt normal, if still controversial to the conservative community around me. When I got older and went on an exchange program for a year, I did the same. On the dating apps, I didn’t hesitate to click ‘men’ as my preference. During my last week there, I swapped phones with a friend to swipe through a dating app for fun. On her screen, a woman’s profile popped up. I knew that she was bisexual, but for a second, it felt like the world was playing tricks on me personally. “She’s cute,” my friend said, peering over. She was.

I felt regret. It was my last few days away from home, so I felt that I had missed my chance to try going on a date with a girl. Although even the thought made me feel nervous, I still regretted never trying and now the door to experimenting with any of that seemed firmly shut. I already planned in my mind how I wasn’t going to tell any of my friends, how I could downplay it if they found out. It was crazy, that I was already prepared to keep it a secret. It struck me that day that I was afraid of experimenting because what if I really was bisexual? Just placing that term anywhere next to me felt earth-shattering.

Perhaps it was fear, or just a desire to avoid conflict. I had always been a non-confrontational person and would rather choose to avoid tension even if I have to give some of myself up. Already in a precarious relationship with my cultural identity and family because of my so-called liberal ideas and forward-thinking when it came to feminism and gender, I didn’t want to seem even ‘stranger’ in their eyes. I didn’t want to be rejected. Every move I made caused ripples, even that year away from home was a scandal. If I dared to experiment, who knew what would happen? It seemed like whether or not I was bisexual, just experimenting had the potential to complicate my life. 

I was afraid of that uncertainty. So I never put myself out there. The fact is that I might have tried it out and found that I actually wasn’t romantically or sexually attracted to women. I could find out that I was. If I had known then that sexuality could be fluid, that it could change over time even without the pressure of labels, would experimenting have been any easier of a choice to make? 

But I still wonder, what if? I think I’ll always wonder about that. I also think about other things I am afraid of exploring because of culture, family, friends, and other external factors. Hopefully, as more awareness is brought to experimenting and sexuality, things will change for the better, and more people will feel comfortable exploring important parts of themselves. As for me, I’m not sure where my life will take me. I wouldn’t rule out anything in my future. This is only the first step, confronting my internal ideas of ‘normalcy’, and I suppose it’s okay to not know if and what comes next.

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I am more my true self on my fake Instagram account than on my real one

Linda leaned against the glass window of a used book store, her cheeks painted red under the gleaming neon light. The glowing “BOOKS” sign reflected in her tiny white shades which were balanced precariously at the edge of her nose. She peered over them in the direction of the camera, grinning. The accompanying caption was the starting point for many jokes to be had throughout her account: “She can’t read”. This was mostly amusing due to the fact that was Linda, a then-junior English Literature student.

It was my roommate that came up with the tasteful name, Linda, as soon as I put on those white shades for the first time in an Urban Outfitters. They were so unlike me, a girl who exclusively wore black. They were a very “bitchy accessory” that drew attention. With their encouragement, I created a finsta (a fake Instagram account) embodying Linda and her bold fashion choices– the list of which grew gradually as I was in New York City after all.

Is having an alternative online persona or a finsta dishonest? We’ve moved on from thinking that everything we are being presented online is genuine. We know social media warps our expectations of each other and is not a true reflection of someone’s reality (although there has been a call for users to show more authentic versions of themselves). 

I pressed ‘share’ more times in a day than I blinked.

Having an alias, finsta account, spam twitter or any other side account allows you to let loose. I believe that they allow you to explore different parts of yourself. Your unbothered side, that unironically enjoys Tik Tok videos, gets to shine through. Or your liberal views get to be made known despite the sternness of your conservative home. Who is to say which is more authentic? And does it matter? 

In my online persona case of Linda, I could play with inside jokes. I could post whatever I wanted whenever I liked. Gone were the days where I had worried about any curated scheme or began overthinking about whether the content seemed like ‘me’. I didn’t have to care if people from high school (who I don’t even speak to anymore) or my mother’s cousin’s nephew’s friend got the ‘wrong idea’ about me. 

Having an alias, finsta account, spam twitter or any other side account allows you to let loose.

My online persona was confined to my private finsta account and I only followed people close to me. I enjoy having a page that I can look forward to posting on. It wasn’t about the likes or comments. It was about the joy that came with the account itself. The fact that it was clearly a finsta made it clear that I was saying, “Don’t take me seriously. Not here at least”. 

In propagation for finstas, I’d like to make it known that the ‘share’ button is always a site of anxiety for me. That looming moment just before you press it often fuels a lot of tension within. I know that it isn’t a real social interaction, not in the same way as a handshake. But it would rather be eternalized in the digital realm – something a finsta can combat. Having an alternative persona allowed me to overcome this anxiety and let me share whatever came to mind. I pressed ‘share’ more times in a day than I blinked. If the post contained a poor fashion decision or an ill-received spoken word video, it was Linda’s doing. 

In my experience as a Muslim woman, we, as well as other women with more conservative backgrounds, use finstas and online personas as a personal outlet. An alternative account is seen as a haven away from the male gaze or even their family’s eyes. The accounts become a way to have a presence online while also remaining private.

Other friends of mine use twitter accounts with aliases to release any pent up thoughts. They read like journal entries. They aren’t forgetting who they actually are or trying to fool anyone. Instead, it is simply a space for us to put ourselves out there while not fearing anyone’s judgement.

The accounts become a way to have a presence online while also remaining private.

There is the fact that any of these side-accounts could turn into a breeding ground for gossip. I can’t deny that I haven’t seen the dark side of being unfiltered and unencumbered by social judgement. People tearing each other down behind aliases and exploiting anonymity to be cruel to those around them or other strangers. But there is a potential for so much more. 

We need these spaces. We need to be under-the-radar and ourselves…or maybe someone else entirely. It may be an illusion, but finstas and alternative accounts do feel more private and personal. Linda can attest to this. 

Culture Family Life

I long for the day I get to finally meet my mentor

When I was 15 years old, I became friends with a popular girl in my school. She was everything that young people wanted to be back in the day. Intelligent. Beautiful. Confident. Over the years, I got to know her more closely. And that’s when I realized she had someone guiding her through it all. Someone preparing her for life. She had a mentor—her older sister. She looked up to her. She learned from her. I wanted to have the same kind of relationship with someone…anyone. I just didn’t want to be on my own.

Over time I realized, most people around me had found their mentors. When I was in school, my friends found teachers who believed in them and guided them. Some of these teachers are still in touch with their students—appreciating them, supporting them, feeling proud of how far they’ve come. I envied my friends for having found people that they could turn to for help. I felt left out because I had no one that I could reach out to on days I felt at my lowest. Or when I simply needed to hear a few words of encouragement. 

For me, finding a mentor almost feels like a distant dream. 

I don’t know how many days I’ve spent in a haze of yearning, emptiness, and gloom; desperately longing for someone who’d give me the courage to move on and fight my battles. For me, finding a mentor almost feels like a distant dream. 

As a little girl, I read a lot of books. I liked immersing myself in fiction, metaphors, and descriptions that were a work of someone else’s imagination but resonated so closely with my own life. I believed the heartbreaking, mind-numbing stories that I read. It felt like the writer had deliberately scooped up pieces of my life and scraped them together. Almost as if they knew me. Almost as if they had lived my life. I took books and everything they told very seriously. 

My obsession with reading continues. And it still affects me deeply. Almost to the point that I even envy characters in books who find someone who prepares them for the world. I last felt this inexplicable feeling when I read Perks of Being a Wallflower. Mr Anderson believed in his student, Charlie. He helped him grow out of the darkness that consumed him. I thought so many times while reading the book that if someone would ever believe in me in the same way.  

I always dreamt of being a writer. I started by writing stories. Fiction. And I felt so close to my dream. I thought I could be anything I wanted to be. The world was my oyster, and the only limit was my imagination.

But then I eventually realized that I couldn’t do it all alone.  I needed appreciation. I needed acknowledgement. I needed validation. I needed someone to tell me that I was doing okay. 

But no one ever did.

Anything that I ever wrote was dismissed. I showed it to my teachers, my friends, my family—but they weren’t interested in reading my work. They never had time. They had ‘better, more important things’ to do. And after each dismissal, I wilted a little more.  

But I persisted, even if there were days when I felt like giving up. 

I can’t help but think what would everything look like if I had a mentor that I could reach out to and seek guidance from. 

When my name first appeared underneath my writing in a publication, I felt like the happiest girl in the world. But when I broke this news to the people I loved, I only received weak nods of encouragement. Almost as if they didn’t care. And then my excitement dried up.

So often, I find myself submerged in a gloom thick with longing for a person who doesn’t exist. I feel so consumed with hopelessness that I want to stop right here and let go of things that mean everything to me. What’s the point of success if I don’t have anyone to share in its joy with?

My life seems so empty sometimes. It holds so much space for a person whom I’ve never met. And who knows if I ever will meet them.

Even now, some of my friends drop comments beneath my writings without reading what I’ve said in them. It’s their way of showing support. But to me, their threadbare attempts to make me feel better are meaningless. Their words feel hollow because they’re not real. They’re not borne out of the need to say something to me on what I’ve written.

Each time I find myself incessantly clacking at the keys of my computer in a darkened room, I can’t help but think what would everything look like if I had a mentor that I could reach out to and seek guidance from. 

Would life be different? Would my work be different? Would I be different? 

I’ve been trying to hold on to writing, despite the lack of encouragement and support. I’ve been trying to find my way, even if all alone. There are days when I feel like I’m swimming in the dark waters, trying to stay afloat, but failing.

Mentors are important. And I’ve only realized their importance by never having found one

But I’m hopeful that I’ll find someone one day. I’ve lasted so long without a mentor, I can wait a little longer.

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Family Life

Even though my family urges me to be quiet, I’ll be louder

Living in a patriarchal household in India is difficult considering the usual misogynistic responses to everything that you do. I was brought up in a middle-class family, where my parents provided me with love, affection, and the usual expressions of disappointment and dissatisfaction. My father brought me up to be independent and encouraged me to speak my mind, but the rest of the family wasn’t down with the way I acted.

You know how when you’re young you seek love and approval from your family, and all they say is what they think you need to change about yourself? That’s how I have lived my life for the past 20 years. Nobody, apart from my father, has validated my zeal for asking questions and exploring new ideas. I am a vocal intersectional feminist who tries to express her opinion in a house where nobody cares, and that bodes as well as you can imagine.

My mother always pressured me to act like a ‘lady’, whatever that means. I was supposed to remain hush-hush about topics like periods and sexuality and refrain from preaching about intersectionality, men, and politics. So to my mother’s amazement, I turned out to be everything I was told not to be.

I was told to speak like a woman, softly and quietly, and not shout out or question authority. Turns out I love expressing my opinions, and love to shout back at someone who’s speaking absolute shit (for example someone who’s cracking racist ‘jokes’ in my family). I have always believed that mere age isn’t enough to demand respect. Respect is earned. This ideological difference causes a rift in my family.

In India, parents believe in the idiom, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. This means Indian parents feel obligated to hit their kids in order to punish/condition them into being good kids. Thus, I have been physically hit by my mother when I have raised my voice during an argument. I know many parents love this hard-parenting approach, and I don’t have a kid to comment on parenting procedures, but trying to beat your kid’s opinions out of them is not the answer.

I have been body-shamed every day of my life, been told I need to become ‘fairer’. I’ve been asked not to shift to menstrual cups because apparently inserting something into your vagina makes you a ‘bad, dirty woman’(literal translation of words said to me by my mother). I have been slapped countless times for arguing against illogical practices. I think if someone chooses to be quiet upon hearing such statements, it is just wrong.  What is the point of being an educated woman in the 21st century if you can’t articulate your views?

My family members have urged me to consider meditation in order to ease my restlessness (which apparently makes me opinionated.) They thought I was faking my depression and even considered that my therapist was trying to turn me against my own relatives because through therapy I had finally realized how toxic our family actually is.

I have learned to be blunt, and open about everything, taught myself the meaning of honesty. Hypocrisy runs deep in my family. I am called a terrible person, berated about my “behavior”, and told that I am selfish. What would you do if you heard an Islamophobic joke or a misogynistic comment?

Yes, I am painting my family in a bad light. I am grateful to them for providing me with a good life, but they don’t own me and my voice just because they paid for my education and gave me clothes to wear and food to eat. No girl should be asked to remain quiet.

So, Mom, I am tired of asking you for your approval. You don’t care about how I fare mentally; rather you just want me to be a “fair lady.”

So, to hell with being a lady.


Family Life

My mom survived breast cancer. Am I next?

On average, an estimated 15.2% of new cancer cases in the United States are women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. That means that 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. 

These statistics are indicative of families, touched eternally by a cancer that is more than just a disease – it is linear. Breast cancer often weaves a thread, mangled in fate and fear, through mothers, daughters, and sisters alike. The survivors among them are the superheroes of nearly every generation of women, powering through all of the anxiety, body disfiguring surgeries or treatments, and impromptu decision-making associated with the onset of such an illness. They take this disease and nip it in the bud, almost passively, acknowledging the unforgiving weight that will forever be weighing down their bodies and minds. 

In some cases, before these women can even think about what comes next, they are sewed up, stripped, and shaved. Left without any sensation in their breast area after a mastectomy, and feeling less and less whole with every visit to the oncologist. It is hard for most women to even feel at home in their bodies anymore. 

In February of 2017, my mother sat in a bleak and claustrophobic doctor’s office for her regular mammogram visit and heard the dreadful words that every woman lives in fear of, “I think we’re going to need to take a second exam. There may be cancer.” 

There was. 

She has told me that she spent most of her life, 38 years to be exact, in terror of what was surely to come. When my mother was 17 years old, the same age that I had been when she was diagnosed, her mother passed away after a long and debilitating battle with breast cancer. Afterward, this disease became a constant threat. So, in some ways, her diagnosis was more of a relief than anything else.

For me, however, it was excruciating. I had a hard time fathoming the enormity of it. Often, I would find myself drenched in hot and burning tears, unable to put into words what I was feeling. I was incoherent and unable to be comforted. I really hated it when people tried to comfort me, too—it felt condescending. I didn’t want to need them.

But, at the same time, I wasn’t even close to being the strong person that I presented to the world. I was falling hard—and fast. Most days, I would go to school or hang out with my friends, but the entire time I felt as if there were a million knives stabbing my chest at any given moment, and I couldn’t help it. Sometimes, I even liked feeling the pain. If my mom had to suffer, then, I thought, so did I. 

Years later I’m able to articulate my thoughts a little more clearly. I was terrified, desperate, and I didn’t know where to turn. So much was happening all the time and I was grieving my old self. That is, the self that hadn’t yet felt such complete and sunken remorse. There was this urgency to do everything right. In a situation like that, there’s no room for mistakes and I was incredibly nervous that I would mess up. Or maybe I was nervous that something would mess me up. Either way, I changed a lot that year. 

Unfortunately, our story is not an uncommon one. 

A woman’s chance of developing breast cancer increases if her mother, sister, or daughter has been diagnosed. In addition, women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene are at an increased risk of breast cancer than women who do not carry the gene. 

My mom is thankfully, and gracefully, in remission today. Her fight seemed, on the outside, to be continuous and suffocating. But, she is a survivor, bold and vivacious, in all of her glory. She has the scars and the strength to prove it, too. 

I am well aware that my risk of this disease is high. But, I am also confident that this does not mean that it is a death sentence. Regardless of being only 21 years old, I am diligent in conducting breast exams on myself at least once a month in an attempt to detect any early warning signs of breast cancer. What I search for is any abnormal lumps or changes in the breast tissue/skin. 

The good news is that with advancing technologies the survival rate of people diagnosed with breast cancer is steadily increasing, even though the number of people getting sick remains stagnant. 

Any cancer diagnosis is terrifying, but breast cancer for me feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I won’t be able to stop being overwhelmed by this sharp and unrelenting nervousness until it is completely out of my system. And we all know that there is only one way for that to happen. 

For now, I am trying to focus on what I am able to control. Breast cancer is certainly not one of those things. But, I am in control of my mindset. While it is important for me not to let my guard down, at some point I have to just let go and let it be. I trust that fate will run its course. 

I come from a long legacy of confident and courageous women, all beautiful and bountiful in their own right. So, it would be a disservice if I did not take their wisdom and hold onto it tightly. I mean, I watched while my own mother boldly stared her fears directly in the face. She never skipped a beat, not even for a second. Her resilience against a disease that is otherwise overbearing is nothing short of inspiring and I am so proud of her. Because of her, I am starting to think that maybe I can handle it too, that maybe I can be as brave as her, when and if the day comes. 

I am not alone in my fear, although it may seem like it sometimes. I am one of millions living and feeling these same anxieties at full volume, so I must not let it overcome me. Instead, I have to remind myself to be introspective and to keep moving forward.

Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half” is a timely tale about white-passing privilege

Being an avid reader, I love to participate in various book clubs and reading challenges. In the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests, it was extremely important that I picked the newly published The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

Reading books by Black authors can allow us to better understand black voices. The Vanishing Half is set in the 1960s and 70s, but draws eerie parallels to what is facing the Black community right now. The book focuses on two Black twins who try to escape a town obsessed with light skin. As deep as these prejudices ran in this community, light skin did not save the twins’ mother from working for white people in a neighboring town or their father from being lynched. 

One can assume that this trauma made the twins realize what it means to be Black in America. The death of their father changed the twins irrevocably and caused them to take two diverging paths.

“Stella became white and Desiree married the darkest man she could find.”

After abuse from the dark man, Desiree returns to town with a dark-skinned child, Jude. Desiree’s return causes lots of surprise among the town’s residents. 

Even though I cannot relate to the struggles of the Black community, I saw my own community reflected in how Jude and other dark-skinned characters were treated. Colorism is a major problem in the Desi and Muslim community; and reading some parts of the book made my blood boil. Jude did not feel like she belonged in this community simply because she was dark. I instantly thought back to how many aunties have bullied friends and family members for “being too dark.” 

Women, in particular, are scrutinized. I cannot begin to imagine Jude’s feelings, where you experience disgust from outsiders and your own community. It’s disheartening. 

But besides the town’s obsession with being light, folks were wondering about Desiree’s twin, Stella. Being white-passing, she had gone on to become “white” by dressing and talking differently.  She married a white man and that made her life remarkably better than her sister’s. But in the process, Stella’s sense of identity seemed to vanish. She lived in constant fear, nervous that one day, her husband would realize that she is Black. 

Passing as white made Stella lose touch with her family, but the privilege that came with looking white was undeniable. That privilege has not gone away in our “modern” society. 

Stella continuously plays a white woman and does not even tell her daughter, Kennedy, that she is Black.

When a Black family “invades” Stella’s white bubble, Stella panics and even gets upset when Kennedy plays with the neighbor’s child. She feared that the Black family will see Stella for what she is. Eventually, Stella allows herself to befriend the family. However, the other neighbors do not hide their hatred towards the new family and throw bricks through their windows.

They were sending a message: Don’t they know they aren’t welcome here?

As fate would have it, the twins’ daughters meet each other. Ironically, both struggle with their identities as well.

After failing to lighten herself, Jude is slowly learning to accept her color. Her boyfriend, Reese, who is transitioning from female to male, has played a crucial role in her character development.

I am grateful that Reese’s character was included in this narrative. He highlights the intersectionality of marginalized groups and how much we still have to fight for transgender rights.

Jude never really spoke about Reese’s transition. But she silently worked in order to save money for his surgery and threw herself into education so she could have a life that her mother could never have.

Kennedy always felt like her mother hated her and perhaps there is some truth to that, Kennedy was a manifestation of Stella’s lie. Additionally, Kennedy did not seem to understand her privilege much and felt “whiter than before” when she dated a Black man.

I feel like Bennett did that on purpose. Kennedy (thinking she is white) only sees her whiteness when it is in juxtaposition with someone who is not “from her world.”  It reminds me of how people say that they have Black friends so they totally understand when they do not.

All in all, The Vanishing Half, tackled problems that were seen as “issues of the past,” but clearly are not. Racism and transphobia are still very much alive today. The book should not be timely in 2020, but sadly it is; so, let’s reevaluate ourselves by acknowledging privileges and working against systems that oppress minorities.

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Culture Family Life

A love letter to libraries

I know that I am not alone when I say that we, as humans, find a lot of solace in libraries. They are temples of knowledge, housing collections of stories and dreams alike on their shelves. Libraries are as much a part of our culture as anything else. People have relied on these spaces for warmth, insight, and marvel for centuries. In a way, they hold the key to all of our stories,

I love libraries, and I am terrified to see their eventual demise, especially as our world becomes almost entirely digital. They are gems from the past that have maintained vitality no matter the circumstances or happening outside of their walls. Not to mention they are the cornerstones of entire communities, maybe even countries, granting light and stability to people when nothing, or no one, else seemed able to. They offer more than just books; they offer entry into a space that seems more like a sanctuary run by people grounded in compassion, commitment, creativity, and resilience.

People have relied on these spaces for warmth, insight, and marvel for centuries.

I used to go to the library near my grandparents’ house every other Friday. For the most part, my mom took my brothers and me there to get a new book for school or to see what DVDs we could bring home to watch that evening. But I remember roaming around, starstruck, in between the tall shelves, wondering about the people who wrote each and every single one of those books and how long it might have taken to get them all here.

Most weeks, my mother let me get two books instead of one. I could spend hours there if it was permitted. I always liked watching my mom pick her books for the week, too. She seemed so sophisticated and gentle while scanning the shelves, yet she never knew exactly what she was looking for. If it was winter, afterward we would all pile back into the car with our hardcover books and grab a slice of pizza. If it was summer, we would walk to the Italian Ice shop down the street for some cream ice – those were the best days. 

I fear that libraries have been taken for granted, even in my own life, and am always spellbound to find them chock full of unexpected people, doing unexpected things, with unexpected passions. There is absolutely nothing that compares to the feeling, the pure excitement in my stomach, that erupts every time I am searching in a library for the perfect tale to dig into. A trip to the library seems, to me, to be enchanted. I become whimsical, enveloped by the completeness and simplicity of the entire journey.

Even the smell of a library is impossible to replicate because of its specificity and poignance. I am reminded of sandalwood, dusk, and a particular, antiquated, dampness. Its familiarity is beyond comforting. The air itself seems to be saturated in possibility and imagination. 

I feel at home while pattering around and tracing my fingers between the shelves of books. I fall in love while blowing the dust off of the covers, revealing bright colors and exquisite lines. I spend hours crinkling through the aged, already yellowing, pages of novels wondering which I will pick this time. It is never an easy decision, and I always leave with dozens underneath my arms wondering if the others will still be there when I return the next week. But, that’s the beauty of libraries, isn’t it? Every visit is entirely different from the last and there is no telling what you might stumble upon. Yet each visit is also starkly familiar. 

The air itself seems to be saturated in possibility and imagination.

Books have changed so much of my life, with plotlines, characters, and lessons that have been woven into nearly everything I do – that is every decision, every consideration, and everything that I have grown to appreciate or even pay a little bit more attention to. Books are there to remind me of what’s important, and when I’m not so sure, they’re there for me to lean on. Without libraries, though, I might have never been allowed membership into such a world of splendor.