Editor's Picks History Forgotten History Lost in History

The world’s first author was a cool priestess with an even cooler backstory

Imagine a world where the pronoun ‘I’ isn’t used in writing.

The entire genre of narrative writing probably wouldn’t exist. Op-eds, personal essays, even music and poetry. Most of these writing styles are a product of our inner feelings and personal reflection, and are usually the styles of writing that we emotionally connect with the most.

It seems natural for this form of writing to always have existed, being so related to human opinion, but like almost everything else, it was invented by an author.

4300 years ago, in the Ancient Sumerian civilization, lived the princess of Ancient Sumr, Enheduanna.

She is history’s first known author, and she is the reason we use ‘I’ when we write.

Enheduanna was a triple threat of her time.

Her father, the king of Sumr, ruled when the old Sumerian culture and the new Akadian culture opposed each other and would often rebel against him.

Enheduanna was a triple threat of her time.

He appointed Enheduanna as high priestess, in an effort to bridge the cultural divide and bring peace to the nation.

Becoming high priestess meant that Enheduanna was able to receive an education in which she learned to read and write the languages of both opposing cultures, as well as learn how to make mathematics calculations.

[Image description: A relief of Inanna (also known as Ishtar)]
[Image description: A relief of Inanna (also known as Ishtar)]

It was with her acquired education that Enheduanna was able to unite both rebelling cultures via the 42 religious hymns she wrote, combining the mythologies of both cultures.

In those times, the form of writing used was cuneiform.

Its main purpose was for merchants and traders to communicate about their businesses over long distances – writing did not have a personal purpose, let alone a sentimental one.

So, when she began to write religious hymns and poetry, Enheduanna took the deities her hymns were dedicated to and humanized them.

In doing so she made the gods who once seemed so intangible feel emotions – happiness, sadness, anger, betrayal, love.

Her writing made the hymns emotionally relatable to read and connect with.

By playing on their emotions, she was able to appease the people of both Sumerian and Akkadian cultures, honoring their deities, bringing them together as one.

It was when she wrote her three hymns, Inninsagurra, Ninmesarra, and Inninmehusa, dedicated to deity Inanna, goddess of war and desire, that Enheduanna established a style of writing that was personal and attributable to the writer.

Thousands of years later, it’s impossible for us to imagine a world without saying ‘I’.

Inanna was known to be a powerful deity, so mighty that she transcended gender boundaries and was considered to be the very force who animated the universe.

In these poems, Enheduanna placed Inanna on a pedestal, marking her as the most important deity.

Her odes to Inanna marked the first time an author used the pronoun ‘I’ in a written text, and the first time an author describes their personal, private emotions in writing. It was the beginning of how narrative writing led to self-reflection and emotions could be recorded.

This is said to be her greatest contribution to literature.

An excerpt from one of Enheduanna's hymns to Inanna. It reads: Queen of all the ME, Radiant Light, Life-giving Woman, beloved of An (and) Urash, Hierodule of An, much bejeweled, Who loves the life-giving tiara, fit for High Priestesshood, Who grasps in (her) hand, the seven ME, My Queen, you who are the Guardian of All the Great ME, You have lifted the ME, have tied the ME to Your hands, Have gathered the ME, pressed the ME to Your breast. You have filled the land with venom, like a dragon. Vegetation ceases, when You thunder like Ishkur, You who bring down the Flood from the mountain, Supreme One, who are the Inanna of Heaven (and) Earth, Who rain flaming fire over the land, Who have been given the me by An, Queen Who Rides the Beasts, Who at the holy command of An, utters the (divine) words, Who can fathom Your great rites!
[Image description: An excerpt from one of Enheduanna’s hymns to Inanna.] Via Classical Art History

Above is an excerpt of one of Enheduanna’s dedicated hymns to Inanna. The full poem can be found here.

After the death of her father, Enheduanna was exiled in a coup, and it was when her nephew reclaimed the throne that she was reinstated as high priestess. She served as high priestess for 40 years, and after her death she was honored as a minor deity, with her poetry written, performed, and copied for over 500 years.

What Enheduanna succeeded in doing was taking the essence of emotions and translating them in a way that was able to unify two conflicting people.

She used emotion and ethos, and manipulated them in a way that began a form of writing that could connect with people’s emotions, rather than practical needs.

Know it was this Sumerian high priestess who invented it.

The creation of the written pronoun ‘I’ was the beginning of multiple perspectives being recorded.

It was the beginning of written storytelling.

So the next time you write in your private journal or read diary entries, the next time you study a soliloquy in Macbeth or read the emotional personal essays of critically acclaimed authors where the first person style is prominent, know it was this Sumerian high priestess who invented it.

Enheduanna changed history and humanity. Thousands of years later, it’s impossible for us to imagine a world without saying ‘I’.

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Culture Family Gender & Identity Life

I’m Kashmiri – poetry helped me embrace that

“I’m Kashmiri.” 

It’s a simple sentence – two words, to be exact. But it took me over a decade to say it with conviction. Or to say it at all, for that matter. Despite being raised to take pride in my ethnicity, it was something I never truly connected with. How could I call myself Kashmiri after everything that my family had been through because of Kashmir? 

I belong to the community of Pandits. As far as I’ve been told, our roots have been in the Valley since forever. That was, until violence cloaked its landscape in the 90s, and my kin was left with no option but to escape the land that was once home. What they hoped would be a week’s disruption lasted 25 years, and before they knew it, their lives would never be the same again. The destiny of their future generations had been rewritten forever; their sense of stability and identity had been gruesomely torn apart by politics. 

Growing up, I was a first-hand witness to the effects of this unexpected displacement. It was the little things that had the most impact on me, like the several times I caught my grandfather admiring a picture of the Dal Lake on his wall, to the way my grandmother wished she’d had a moment to say goodbye. There was this unspoken longing for home that seemed to linger just on the outskirts of every conversation we had. And throughout our talks, I’d wonder how they could speak so fondly of a place that reminded them of so much pain.

But it was perhaps years later, through the strangest of mediums, that I learned to embrace my identity. When I picked up reading poetry, I expected nothing but boring sonnets glamorizing love. To my surprise, I discovered accounts of women of color who had similar experiences and were using words as a medium to heal from their own transgenerational trauma.  I’d found my catharsis, and it altered my perspective on a lot of things, including what being Kashmiri truly meant. 

It made me look beyond my angst and realize the resilience my people possessed. The kind of courage and tenacity they’ve had – to rebuild their lives despite everything being taken away from them. And just like that, I fell in love with the sheer spirit that ran through Kashmiri blood. We weren’t lost – we were simply paving another path for ourselves, overcoming obstacles and moving forward like never before. Eventually, it also dawned on me that the Kashmir my grandparents spoke so lovingly of was the one inhabited by these very people – ones with unparalleled resolve and strength – and it was the people of Kashmir they missed more than anything. 

In one of her poems,  Rupi Kaur stated that she was “the product of all the ancestors getting together, and deciding these stories need to be told.” Perhaps, I am also meant to tell this story. One about the indomitable nature of my people, one that I am still in awe of. 

Maybe one day the grey skies in the Valley will finally clear, and we’ll have a chance to go back home. Or maybe we won’t. But all I know is that the next time someone asks me about my ethnicity, I won’t shy away from telling it like it is.

After all, I’m Kashmiri. 


Money, rather than fulfillment, is my community’s main career concern

“I think I’m going to apply for Journalism,” I said without a second thought. It was the last year of high school and teachers were constantly inquiring about our future plans. I saw my teacher stop in her tracks. I could almost see the knobs turning erratically in her mind while the wires glitched and sparked. “Journalism? How is that going to make you any money?” she asked while looking incredulously at other students who stared back at her in confusion.

This was not an isolated incident. My plans to pursue a career in journalism were constantly interrogated and mocked in my last years of high school, especially by my teachers. The same treatment was not afforded to students who sought a degree in medicine, mathematics, engineering, and computer science. The sciences were simply glorified more than the arts.

I lived in a community that was founded by the first Indian settlers who were brought as indentured laborers to work in sugarcane plantations. Their lives were difficult, and education, as a means to escape poverty, was (and still is) an immense privilege. A culture of striving to attain high paying jobs was born out of this poverty my ancestors constantly fought to escape from.

Both India and South Africa are developing countries. When my ancestors left India for South Africa, they brought with them the mindset of only pursuing things that are monetarily advantageous. Studying towards a high paying job was the goal, and that demanded one to excel at mathematics and science. Many believed the average doctor or engineer to bring in a higher income than the average painter or poet. However, being good at (or simply just passionate about) English Literature and writing? Well, that was of no use.

My grandfather saw his own father pursue his passion to the detriment of his family. My great-grandfather fought against the Apartheid government – an undeniably admirable thing to do. However, this did not afford him the luxury of having a stable job or home. He was constantly on the run. Constantly in hiding. You can imagine the effect it all had on my grandfather’s childhood. To put it quite simply- he grew up with zero financial security. It shaped the way he thought about work, which in turn, shaped his life.

My grandfather loves singing. In his youth, he was in a band. When I was growing up, he used to burst out into song whenever the mood suited him, and all his grandchildren loved to listen. However, despite expressing regret at not being able to pursue his passion, he knew that becoming a factory manager was the responsible thing to do for his family at the time. They needed to eat, and singing did not pay the bills.

No one can deny the immense sadness that comes with this mindset. Many in my community had to sacrifice their passions in order to live with the security that a stable income brings. This is not to say that people aren’t passionate about maths or the sciences, or that the arts can never make one any money. However, occupations paid through a commission system or only pay once someone gets a gig provided a less constant income – something people living in poverty can just not afford to risk. As seen in my grandfather’s case, some just do not have the luxury of pursuing what they love.

Things have changed for the worse in my experience. This culture has evolved into not just viewing education as a means to earn more money, but it has become a shaming tactic. The prioritization of the sciences over the arts resulted in my community attributing intelligence to only those who excel academically in the former. Anyone else was basically considered stupid.

There is a stereotype that both East and South Asians excel in school. My mere racial identity placed this pressure on me to prove my worth through academic achievements. But even when I did well in school, if it was not in mathematics, then it meant very little.

Though the historical context of gravitating towards certain professions to alleviate poverty makes sense and once served a purpose, I now see how outdated and unhealthy it can be for a community, especially their youth. Money can be a powerful thing, so choosing between what you love and how much you want to earn can be an incredibly difficult decision. However, I like to believe that if you follow your heart, you’ll figure out the practicalities along the way.

Some may believe my decision to make a career out of writing was too risky…perhaps outright irresponsible. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Work Now + Beyond

The five things I learned as a young writer writing for The Tempest

Growing up, I always wanted to be on the other side of the articles I read, the one doing the writing, but it always seemed unreachable, impossible, and overwhelming… especially as a young writer.

Last year though, I came across an article on The Tempest and I fell in awe with its raw narrative style and its mission to disrupt the norm. Once again, I yearned to be on the other side and, by sheer luck, I came across a form to apply for their Spring Editorial Fellowship 2019.

Today, I’m here. A year later, a year older, on the other side of some of the articles I read and with five pieces of advice to every other young writer starting out:

1. Reach out to people who you know are a part of the company you want to write for, even if you don’t know them.

A baby penguin waves in greeting.
[Image description: A baby penguin waves in greeting.] Via GIPHY
I was incredibly lucky to have known someone at my school who could help me with my application process. That said, don’t ever hesitate to message people at the company itself and ask for guidance! As young writers starting out, we become so determined to make it on our own, almost as if we need to prove ourselves ten-fold to feel like we belong among the older and more experienced. I felt the same way.

Even today, a year after being a part of this wonderful community, imposter syndrome attacks at times. What combats it is improving and knowing that your ideas are important. If I’d never have reached out, I may have never applied. Sometimes, you just have to ask.

  2. You’re going to need to word vomit. A LOT.

 A cartoon gnome is spewing rainbows from his mouth.
[Image description: A cartoon gnome is spewing rainbows from his mouth.] Via GIPHY
There are many writers out there capable of organizing their thoughts and penning them down with very few edits. I, however, usually run through mutiple vomit drafts and see myself doing it 10 years down the line as well.

Sometimes, your first draft will be wonderfully raw and exposed, the way a chilly wind feels after rain. And sometimes it’ll feel like quicksand and sludge and you’ll need to become a writing architect to transform it into a sandcastle. There is beauty in both routes. It works, just don’t stop drafting.

3. Articulation can be a bitch.

A woman with dark, curly hair looks confused. A bunch of animated question marks bounce around her.
[Image description: A woman with dark, curly hair looks confused. A bunch of animated question marks bounce around her.] Via GIPHY
Sometimes, your fingers will be stuffed with emotions and words, words that you so carefully want to type out. You’ll want to explain the eccentricities of the chocolate box village, the reason fairies glow, why she cut her hair, etc. All these emotions and words will be bubbling over the surface and you want them to resonate equally with your readers. So it can be so disheartening when your first draft doesn’t reflect the depth you found yourself writing from. It’s tough but it’s okay.

Tell the voice whispering “you’re too young to be a good writer” to sod off and try again.

4. Find your writing style, and don’t let anybody change it.

: A group of seagulls sitting on a lifeboat shouting, 'MINE!
[Image description: A group of seagulls sitting on a lifeboat shouting, ‘MINE!’] Via GIPHY
Flexible yet formal? Factually informal? More than anything else, a writer’s style is their biggest weapon. Craft it. Hone it. Use it. It can be a combination of anything – simply discursive or abstractly argumentative.

The point being, don’t let anyone trick you into thinking your writing style isn’t good enough. And no, I’m not talking about presentation, grammar, and punctuation. I’m talking about the bones of your writing, the voice that carries it. If you can be confident in that and allow your voice to carry the message you truly want to share, the authenticity will always show.

5. And finally, the struggle of writing something, you don’t feel is good enough. It is. It is.

A cartoon blonde girl says, "This is getting good."
[Image description: A cartoon blonde girl says, “This is getting good.”] Via GIPHY
I’m talking about content, not style.

I recently wrote this article on skincare acids. I spent quite a while on it, doing extensive research, finding reliable sources, and facts. It’s something I’m super interested in – writing it was easy. However, when it came time for it to be published, I found myself feeling like the topic itself wasn’t important enough to put out there.

I couldn’t help but feel, that in the grand scheme of everything in the world happening right now, skincare acids are so trivial but you never know who your words will touch and how they will resonate, so take that chance – your voice matters.

It might seem scary, this feeling of vulnerability that comes with unleashing your voice. It feels almost paradoxical for vulnerability and power to co-exist but your experiences, your voice, your thoughts are what makes those words mighty.

Standoms Books Pop Culture

Confession: I haven’t read books for fun since I was in 8th grade

One of my biggest obsessions used to be reading books. I was that typical fangirl “tween” who even wrote for a fandom magazine at one point. Hearing about all these different stories and worlds was exhilarating and I just got so involved with them. Picking up a good book, reading it all the way through in one sitting, and getting invested in the characters and plot was so easy for me. I would cry with the characters and throw my book across the floor when the author killed someone I liked.

Books were my thing.

From Harry Potter to Divergent, I was one of the most passionate readers you’d ever meet. I even used to write a bit of fanfiction, if I were to be completely transparent. In fact, I attribute my writing journey beginning to 8th grade journalism. However, it actually started before then in 6th grade when I started writing about my favorite books. And most of the kids at my school would make fun of me if I ever told them. Right off the bat, I think it would be kind of unfair to attribute all of why I stopped reading to just academics taking over. I will say this – judgemental teens suck. That didn’t stop me throughout middle school from reading the cheesiest, best Wattpad and YA stories ever. But, it did in high school.

In addition, once I started high school, academic reading became increasingly important, and reading quickly became more of a chore. At first, I still read novels to keep me sane in between all of it, because here’s the thing. Academic reading can be BORING. But as I progressed through high school, the readings became harder, the time became smaller, and the leisure reading became nonexistent. Going to the school library to check out a book is unheard of at my school, much less taking the time to go to a public one. I think this stigma around reading at my school actually stemmed from the fact that everyone cares so much about getting into college.

Reading a YA book can’t possibly get you into Harvard, right?

But, I think it totally can. Reading is an incredibly valuable experience. It can teach understanding, acceptance, and other values that you just can’t get from anywhere else. Books contain thousands of new words that you’ve never heard before. They have rhetorical strategies (that DO NOT need to be analyzed so in-depth in my opinion). In academic reading, we tend to read too much into the book, which makes it so unbelievably boring. But when you read simply because you want to read, there is so much more to gain, as your brain is also more invested.

I do miss reading a lot though. I want to go back to reading the best YA novels I’ve ever read and dressing up as Hermione from Harry Potter and simply enjoying living in a different world. Reading was kind of an escape for me, and I need that escape now more than ever. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get back to it while in quarantine.

For now, I’ve amounted to reading digital magazines, news publications, and, of course, the books that are assigned to us in school. There’s nothing wrong with any of these, and if it’s your style, you should definitely check out some great digital magazines. However, for me, reading was about romance, fantasy, and the stories that just won’t appear in a news publication or a magazine, or even an academic book. Reading was about the things I dreamed of and the things I desired. It wasn’t ever about why the author chose to write a capital ‘S’ rather than a lowercase ‘s’. Ultimately, reading still is and will always be one of my most favorite things to do in the whole world, but I just don’t do it anymore with a real, 500-page hardcover book. But you should.

Have YOU submitted your book nominations for our Reading Challenge yet? Hurry up, you only have until April 30!

Feel-Good Love Life Stories Advice

5 reasons why I still write love letters

I know it sounds corny, or like I should be the main character in a gushy romance novel but: I love writing love letters.

I am unapologetically a hopeless romantic. I find so much splendor and awe in my favorite love stories, I could talk about them for days without ever getting bored.

I started writing love letters when I was young. I would send hand-written letters to my family members on birthdays and holidays. These were usually scribbled on with red crayon and glitter. I eventually moved on to crafting long and provocative cards, using words you’d only find in a thesaurus, to my friends when I found myself thinking of them sporadically.

Now, I write letters of love, lust, and longing to my boyfriend. These are almost always intense, passionate, and consuming notes. My favorite sign off is, “I kiss you millions of times. Your affectionate, Vanessa.” 

I love the feeling, I love the hand cramps, I love the rush to get everything down on paper, I love kissing a sealed envelope. I love it all.

Here are five reasons why I still write love letters in no particular order: 

1. They are therapeutic

(Two cartoon characters are talking to each other, one from their window and the other on a balcony, who is holding a pen and paper. The one from the window says, "And you've written about a hundred of these secret love poems." Via Giphy
(Two cartoon characters are talking to each other and one says, “And you’ve written about a hundred of these secret love poems.” Via Giphy

Writing and receiving love letters reminds people to try not to get caught up in all of the wires and gluttonous mess that we confront everyday. It is good to take a step back, embrace the moment, and to remind yourself of what really matters in relationships, along with the feelings that accompany them. It would be a shame for genuine love and empathy to be lost to our current, and sometimes hasty, routine. 

 2. Some things can only be said on paper

(A person places many love notes into a box and then hides the box under a blanket) Via Giphy
(A person places many love notes into a box and then hides the box under a blanket) Via Giphy

Writing these letters forces me to confront my scattered emotions for a person. Because they are so specific, love letters help to bring to the surface things that you might be nervous to say. And, because sometimes it is hard to find the right words to say in a situation, letters allow you as much time to revisit it and to get your words down perfectly. They also encourage the use of expression and description as a means to break down emotions, and to say exactly what you mean in as much space as you desire. 

 3. They are authentic

(A white dog pops out of a blue mailbox with a letter addressed to you that reads " I love you") Via Giphy
(A white dog pops out of a blue mailbox with a letter addressed to you that reads ” I love you”) Via Giphy

For me this kind of expression is organic and does just enough to bring me back down to earth. When was the last time you saw either your own or someone else’s handwriting? Love letters are not filtered through social media, but rather they are special and private. Also, having received love letters myself and having watched the people I love open theirs, I know that they have the potential to bring a physical happiness and sense of affection to a person that is difficult to replicate.

4. I am able to explore my more poetic side

(A red paper mache heart opens and closes. The letter on the inside reads, "A thousand hearts would be too few to carry all my love for you.") Via Giphy
(A red paper mache heart opens and closes. The letter on the inside reads, “A thousand hearts would be too few to carry all my love for you.”) Via Giphy

Writing a love letter is like writing a poem. When I start writing I never truly know where and how I am going to end, but no matter what the words come pouring out of me. I like that this kind of writing is lyrical and fluidit’s more romantic that way. It is not uncommon for me to cry, both when writing or reading a love letter, and I think that that in itself is beautiful. 

5. Letters last forever

(An open envelope with the words "I love you" written on it. The letter on the inside switches between floral patterns) Via Giphy
(An open envelope with the words “I love you” written on it. The letter on the inside switches between floral patterns) Via Giphy

All of the letters that I have ever received are kept in my room and in a draw that is designated for them and all other sentimental items. From time to time I will go back to these, read them over, and dote on them. This feeling is only exacerbated when a loved one tells me that they found a letter that I wrote to them a while ago and have re-read it.

I cherish every single letter ever written to me.

Books Pop Culture

NaNoWriMo is about trying, and it’s worth it even if you fail

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for those who like fun acronyms, is every November. It’s when writers all over the world lose their minds trying to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. It’s super fun, I swear.

I’ve participated three times, and “participated” (aka written about 500 words) another three. I wasn’t going to try this year, because I was in the middle of revising an entirely different novel, but somewhere in June, this idea popped into my head.

It was a scene, really: a girl walks down a street in New York City. It’s summer, the air is thick and condensation drips off air conditioners above her. I knew she was headed toward an important interview.

Halfway down the street, the girl stops and has a panic attack.

That image stuck with me. I’m really big on writing stories about mental illness, in fiction and nonfiction alike. And this character, I quickly learned, had OCD, something I’ve never officially been diagnosed with but that several mental health providers and I agree I likely have a version of.

So this story, this image, it stayed in the back of my mind while I worked on my other book. It wouldn’t let me go. 

Writers all over the world try to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s super fun, I swear.

But I was committed: I needed to finish the novel I’d been working on since late 2016! Until one day halfway through October, I was eating Dunkin’ Donuts in Central Park with a writer friend, and mentioned I’d thought about trying to finish my book before November 1st so I could start NaNoWriMo.

Long story short, my friend encouraged me to do just that, and somehow a week later I found myself done with one book and diving into preparing for the next.

It was a daunting task, honestly, because I had so much ground to cover and I’d been working on one draft of this book since February 2018. For 20 months, I slogged over one book, rewriting word after word, trying to make it perfect, trying to make it enjoyable and amazing and the kind of book I can eventually publish someday.

I just couldn’t motivate myself. Which — what an awkward thing to admit right as I’m talking about doing NaNoWriMo, which requires so much motivation. Even though NaNoWriMo is a whole nonprofit organization, and they provide a lot of support to writers throughout the month, there’s no one forcing me to write the book. 

The burden is on me, the writer, to sit down and make time.

When life gets busy and it feels like there isn’t time to do anything, NaNoWriMo gets cut.

Which is where I’ve gotten into trouble in recent years, and especially this year. Because the truth is, no matter how much the organizers try and encourage writers — through authorial pep talks and community events and little badges on your profile essentially saying “you’re doing great” — when life gets busy and it feels like there isn’t time to do anything, NaNoWriMo gets cut.

It’s really easy to just shrug and say that since no one’s expecting a book, I’m not going to finish it. If there’s no one to disappoint, what’s the problem?

Well, that’s the thing. I’ve held this story idea in my heart for close to five months now, letting it percolate, and I’ve grown attached to it. I’ve grown attached to my main character, who just wants to go to the school of her dreams and tells one lie, which leads to another, which leads to a whole summer full of lying. 

I think this story can be really good and important. So as hard as it is to sit my butt down and write when there are a million other things to do, including just wasting time watching YouTube videos, I’m going to keep writing. Whether I make it to 50,000 words or not is an entirely different question, but I’m not going to give up before Nov. 30

Because that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about: trying. Maybe you fail, maybe you succeed, but no matter how many or few words you put down, you still wind up with more than you started out with.

Life Hacks Mind Career Life Stories Career Advice Now + Beyond

What happens when you’re a creative without a creative space?

Since I was a little girl, I’ve been a creator – molding clay into tiny people, building houses out of cardboard, stitching scraps of cloth together.

It’s been such a big part of who I am that some days, I forget that I have the power to create even though I’m still doing it. And sometimes, finding that power comes with finding a creative space.

I write but it somehow seems so normative, I draw and it feels average. That fire – that feeling or realizing that you are creating something out of nothing is exceptional – and that’s the feeling you need to always connect with.

I carry my creativity with me wherever I go. As a teenager, I suppressed it because my school didn’t care much for those who thought outside the box. I was almost afraid of it, afraid of claiming the title of artist in a world that didn’t seem to have the patience or creative space for art.

Then, I lived in Rome for four years – four years of history, art, and literature coming together, pulsing through the city.

Everywhere I went, there were artists and art. Everyone was staking a claim in the metropolis mess of the city of the past. Taking cover to paint on a lone bridge in the city, singing in the middle of a crowded piazza, and drawing at the modern art museum.

Trapped in the crevice of Trastevere, there were open mic nights every Wednesday night, space where all kinds of writers, artists, creators came together and read or played their sounds of music – there is always a creative space for artists in Rome.

And god, I belonged. There is no one that wouldn’t belong there. That’s the true power of art.

Now, it’s been three years since I’ve moved back home to Karachi. The artist community here is growing. There’s been a revival coming and you can feel the city come alive with shows, readings, and crafts, but getting your foot into that door is not an easy task.

It’s not enough to just show up and say, “okay, I’m here, I’m an artist, and I’m ready to be a part of this movement”.

Here, everything comes down to the clique game. I go to open mics, and yet somehow I feel like poetry loses against the strumming of guitars, beatboxing, and comedy.

No one likes sad poetry.

People want fun. And laughter. And hope. Confetti dancing in the open air.

The thought that art, sometimes, has to be geared towards the sole purpose of entertainment frustrates me. More so because I know it takes a lot more to sit down and read a story, as opposed to listening to a song or immersing yourself into a piece of art. It’s a commitment, one that most people aren’t ready to take. It’s not like I’m writing mainly for other people, I always, always write for myself before anything but the idea that the work you put into the world may not have the value you hoped for… that’s what we need to work on.

I always hear about poetry nights and open mics just for writers, so I know they’re happening. I myself have hosted some as well but the problem is deeper than that. The problem is that you can’t just walk out your door and find a place to share your work. Karachi isn’t like a lot of cities, it requires effort to find the things you want to do, and sometimes, after a long day of work, you don’t really want to make that effort. And what ends up happening is that your writing takes a back seat.

You become complacent. You forget that writing is a craft that needs constant work and care and nurturing.

So, for myself, I’ve decided to take some time off and really focus on my work, community or not. At the end of the day, being a writer is lonely and it’s a journey that you gotta take on your own.

So find that room of your own, claim it, and create some beauty with your words.

Mind Love Life Stories

How I finally allowed myself to choose my voice

If you had asked me who I was four years ago, I wouldn’t know how to answer. I’d give you a generic response – writer, English Literature major, Pakistani – three basics. 

Four years ago, there was a lot about myself I didn’t know. 

I didn’t know what the meaning of my pain was. 

I didn’t know what the importance of writing in my life was.

But mostly, I didn’t know what the importance of being selfish was. 

For years I had been giving myself to the people around me. Cutting tiny pieces of myself and sharing them with a world that sometimes didn’t want them.

Here’s a piece for you…

And one for the woman on the road,

One for the friend I tried too hard to keep,

One for the friend that took me for granted,

One for the girl from my class who needed my notes…

Today, I collect all my pieces. I scoop them up and decide when they’re right to give. I smile when it’s earned. I laugh when I feel it. I express my feelings when I need to. Because otherwise, it all falls through the cracks and pulls you down with it.

Today, I sit at a cafe. My favorite cafe. Drinking my favorite iced coffee. Writing about what this moment tastes like. And let me tell you this, it tastes like deciding. It tastes like owning my choices. It tastes like the dreams I dreamed of at 13.

For a long time, my life was just passing by, and I didn’t seem to have any control over it.

I fell into two jobs. At the moment, I did really want them and they helped me, in many ways. But they weren’t really, truly pushing my career into what I needed

Now, I’ve finally allowed myself space to be selfish and say what I truly want out of life – to write. To carry emotions on files, feelings in my pockets, and lace my letters with the written script so it dances when it comes to life.

Many people ask me: you have many talents, why do you want to write?

It’s a life without money,

It’s a life that is unstable,

It’s a life that lacks direction.

And I want to tell them all the truth behind it…

It’s a life with rewards,

It’s a life with meaning,

It’s a life filled with promise,

And it’s my life.

I wish I could tell them that nothing feels as good as when I finish a story or a poem. And I know it’s painful, as a process. I know that sometimes it feels completely useless and it’s completely frustrating. I know it’s incredibly isolating and when I feel it, when I really truly feel it, I can’t be around anyone or anything, just my hands on the keyboard. 

Clacking away…

a… b… c…

because this is who I’m meant to be.

Everything that happens in my life, I see it on paper. Over and over again.

It becomes evocative and purposeful, and turns what was dull into color. And isn’t that the inherent beauty of life?

Because for me, it’s always been about that.

And four years later, this is what I’m happiest about.

That I chose the one part of me that feels most like home – my voice.

Gender & Identity Books Life

Author Tamora Pierce was the hero I didn’t know I needed

When I was a kid I was obsessed with reading. Nothing was as interesting opening the pages of a book and becoming someone else. I could hear thoughts, talk to birds or sword fight a wizard. Whatever I wanted. It was amazing. 

I used to go to my elementary school’s library every other day and hand in my book and ask for the next one. My mother quickly learned that I burned through books just about as fast as I would burn through her wallet at a candy store. If she bought me a new book every time I finished one, we would be poor. I become great friends with the librarian. She taught me how to find what I was looking for on the shelves and how each was categorized. I remember getting a thin book handed to me while the librarian said, “you’ll like this one.”

I did. I liked it a lot.

That book was Alanna: The First Adventure and I finished it by the next morning. I then read through the entire The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce. I was spellbound by her world and her stories but most of all by her characters.

Alanna was not only someone I wanted to be, but someone I already saw myself in. Strong-willed and fierce, she defied gender roles and went against the status quo. But she wasn’t one dimensional. She cared about the weak and she wanted to be loved. I hadn’t read about anyone like her.

Tamora started writing young. Like me, she was obsessed with stories and books. She grew up moving from place to place due to her poor family’s unstable situation with her siblings, one of which she based her character of Alanna. She forgot about writing for a while and went to the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship for psychology. She worked summers at Women’s Centers and taught a history class on witchcraft at the Free Women’s University. She started writing stories again in her third year at University, it was only a couple years later she started sending out her manuscript for The Song of the Lioness.

Alanna clearly reflects Tamora’s upbringing. A no-name girl taking more than what she was given and holding on tight seems to be a theme in nearly all Tamora’s books but especially in Alanna. Tamora’s interest in both women’s studies and the arts shine through her characters.

Without knowing it at the time, her books were my first introduction to feminism. I read a lot of books as a kid but none stuck in my mind or had as deep an impact on who I am as Tamora Pierce’s did. They had a captivating story that kept me hooked for all four books and then for two series I immediately read after that were set in the same universe. They had characters that seemed to grow with me. That I could relate to as well as aspire to be. They were books that made a scrawny girl feel like she could do anything. There is no doubt in my mind that Tamora Pierce is a hero, for me and for thousands of other girls and women.

Work Career Now + Beyond

I did not make my career mark at my first internship, but I sure as hell grew from it

When I started my internship at a local magazine, I was very excited. This was my first chance to work in a place like this. I was going to learn so much. I was going to be the best intern! Who cares if it’s unpaid? I would learn how to write, edit and conduct interviews. I would learn how articles go from an idea to a draft to print.

Well, it did not go quite like that.

In the beginning, I told myself that this feeling of exclusion came from the fact that most of the staff were already friends or family. The editor-in-chief was the director’s wife, and the rest of the staff was an indication of blatant nepotism. The staff wasn’t even big, with just about 30 people.

For the first few days, I waited for something to do. When I asked people if they needed help with anything, they told me to go back to my seat. After a few days, I was given a database of contacts and told to call each number and check if it was still valid. I suspect this was to keep me out of their way. I figured I’m the new kid and I’ve got to do the drag work to earn my keep.

The previous interns were taken along to help with articles and interviews. I wasn’t. Management intentionally kept me at a distance because they said, “We don’t do that anymore.” During this period of time, I only got to proofread three articles. I went and proposed ideas to my editor. Se told me to go ahead and write them, but never gave any guidance. Nobody in this place considered my work, nor did they tell me why, or how I could have done better. I still kept telling myself that this was a learning opportunity. It would be worth it.

Meanwhile, I saw two of the interns I worked with being used as fashion models. One was a design intern and the other, an advertising intern.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a learning experience the way any internship should be. The staff gave off serious vibes of not wanting anyone around, knowing-it-all but having no interest in teaching anyone anything, and not liking anyone trying to get involved.

Weeks passed this way until one day the director called me into his office and told me to not come back anymore. Surprised, I asked if someone had a problem with me. Was there was someone I could apologize to, or if there was anything I could do. He refused to tell me anything, refused to give me a reason, or even listen to me. He just asked me to leave and not come back anymore.

When you lose a job it’s common to go down a spiral of self-doubt.  Going over everything again and again and wondering, “Was it my fault? What could I have done something differently?”. I was no different. My mind went around in circles the week afterward. I switched from hating the place and everyone in it, to blaming myself for everything, despite not knowing what that “everything” was.

But this is where it’s healthy and important to realize the difference between a learning experience, and a workplace that isn’t worth your time. This experience taught me to be better at trusting my gut when I sensed toxicity. While some may offer well-meaning advice to stay strong through it, I realized it would have better served me to cut some losses and find a better fit. I took responsibility for not following my gut and leaving when I knew it was the right thing for me to do.

Here’s the moral of my story: know the difference between paying your dues and being taken advantage of. Being an intern, even an unpaid one, shouldn’t make you a doormat. So instead of letting someone else devalue you, walk out with confidence.

It’s important to realize that leaving a toxic workplace – whether it is your decision or your employer asks you to leave – does not mean you are incompetent or unsuccessful. It is a small hurdle that will lead you to something even better. What I went through in this experience has served me much better in years going forward, as I worked in various places and dealt with different groups of people and different kinds of bosses.

I know that a good boss, and a good workplace, is one that might bruise your ego, but still feeds your mind.

Mind Love Life Stories

I’m a 21-year-old Pakistani Muslim and I know marriage isn’t for me

I recently celebrated turning 21 when I returned to Pakistan during my winter break. 21 is an interesting age. I always believed it to be a young age, when you just arrive into your ‘actual twenties’ and start to discover the world on your terms. But recently, I have witnessed some old school friends tying the knot while others post honeymoon pictures on Instagram captioned #chillinwithbae.

And this terrifies me.

What was even scarier, though, was when I heard my cousin younger than we was set to be betrothed. Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t have anything against people who have chosen this path of early marriage. They must have chosen wisely and are probably happy with their lifestyle. But it’s made me realize that marriage is something I will not do now (or maybe ever?).

From a cultural standpoint, I’m aware that as I ascend the twenties ladder, the questions from the conservative side of my family will inevitably rear their ugly head. In fact, some have already appeared.

The common one? “Shaadi kab karo gi, jab ham boorhe ho jayein gaye?”

(When will you get married? When we’re old and wrinkled?)

Is it so wrong, that I, a Pakistani Muslim woman, have started to consider the concept of marriage and how it’s a path I may possibly not want to walk down on? I can literally hear the collective gasps of all the aunties, and maybe some uncles.

For me, a super type-A personality, marriage and relationships are not on my radar. I just entered my twenties and, simply put, I feel like the world is my oyster and its my time to seize the moment; carpe diem, if you will. And I know that this kind of mentality is a rarity.

But I also know what I want.

University and the simple experience of living abroad, have brought an abundance of independence with a desire to grow and challenge my ideas and alter my set-perspectives. All these have made it less likely for me to be tied down or enter a relationship, at least in my twenties.

I believe that your twenties are a time when you should go all out on taking risks and pursuing their goals. It’s an age when you’ve just left college and have dipped your foot in the real world, so to say. You’re at an age when its okay to take risks and try out new ventures.

For me, I see marriage as a major compromise, one which will require one’s dreams to be moulded, to be put on a hold so that a woman can raise kids or to allow her partner to shine in his/her career. Acting, writing, and learning are goals which I want to pursue whole-heartedly and on the love versus career scale, career will trump love many times over.

My father has raised three girls, including myself, and he’s raised us to always pursue learning, because, with learning and educating your mind, you gain a perspective. Not to mention, you’re more valuable in society. Once you have your education, no one can take it away from you. And it is perhaps, because of this, that the order of my life is bigger than university-job-marriage-settling down-children.

My life just can’t centre around a concept like marriage.

It’s 2019. Women are being unapologetic in their pursuit of higher education, government posts, leadership roles or even acting roles. They’re breaking the mould: Stepping out of the four walls of patriarchy which have kept them bolted to the ground. And it’s these women who have ignited ambition and desire in me.

So, #sorrynotsorry to aunties who make me feel like the “other” in the room, because, frankly, I’m too big for this room. I will certainly not align to what society deems “appropriate” for a girl entering her twenties, which is marriage. Ticking off domestic accomplishments, like making a round roti, are not on my to-do list for becoming the acceptable version for a future husband and in-laws.

I’m 21, Muslim, and Pakistani, and may never get married. And this year, I’m doing me.