Archive for the 'Background' Category

Liberal Arts and the Culture of Self-Examination

August 17, 2011

Last week I had the pleasure of a visit from one of my dearest friends from college (to whom I’ll refer as A.). Together we engaged in one of our favorite pastimes in all the world: trying to make sense of our experience at a small northeastern liberal arts college (via much conjecture and conversation).

For four years, our school truly made up our world—”bubble” culture at its most bourgeois-bohemian. But the truth is that our experience as liberal arts students, compared to those of the rest of the world, was unfathomably specific—and learning to reconcile that now (1.25 years out of college) seems to me so daunting a task that it’ll take up the remainder of our lives.

For us, the link between the liberal arts tradition and the pursuit of some greater consciousness of the self (à la Western Enlightenment—thanks A.) appeared to be rock-solid and pretty obvious (though, writing this now, I guess that doesn’t need to be the case).

Under that premise and with my undergraduate experience, endeavoring to write this blog is the most natural thing in the world. I’ve always a) prized the “Know thyself” mentality as valuable in almost every respect; b) shaken off any claims of corrupt narcissism with the self-reflection framework’s implied virtues; and c) lamented other people’s shortcomings when it’s clear that on this point we don’t agree.

How this exposes my own nearsightedness is perfectly ironic. We—A. and I, at the very least—assume that this sustained, unrelieved reflexivity is the highest, most evolved form of existence (placing value like it’s our job, almost as if we have something to compensate for). But is it really the road to happiness? Does less self-reflection really lead to a lower quality of life?

I haven’t changed my mind about it, but A. and I both decided it’s best to try as hard as possible to acknowledge a lifestyle of constant and critical self-examination as just that: a lifestyle, among many others, and not necessarily the best one.

A sketch that developed out of a nerdy mood a few weeks ago.

To follow up:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates

cf. “The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the life too closely examined may not be lived at all.” Mark Twain

P.S.: I’m still stumbling around with the vocabulary of this topic, and am 100% sure that there’s many a scintillating essay about it out there. If you have any interesting reading on the aforementioned culture or the liberal arts tradition, I’d love it if you sent it my way! It doesn’t bear repeating that I navel-gaze like it’s the degree on my diploma.

What Were My Game Changers?

March 16, 2011

(This is an idea I’m thinking about turning into a category of blog post.)

What do I mean by “game changer”?

You should know: in addition to wearing hijab, I spend quite a bit of my time being unnecessarily nerdy. Reading useless information, endless list-making, googling how-tos on things that don’t need how-tos (purely to compare notes). Moleskine notebooks and everything. I can probably out-journal you in a blindfold.

Anyway, one of my guiltiest pleasures is reading business/marketing/entrepreneurial blogs; I suspect it’s the hobby that introduced this particular term to my subconscious.

So, by “game changers,” I mean specific events, people, decisions, or new situations in my life that changed the way I think about wearing hijab. They’re the things that redefined the game itself (or, at least, the way I play it).

The first and biggest game changer, of course, was my decision to start wearing the hijab, sometime in late 2000. (It still surprises me sometimes to think of how very young I was—but no regrets.) Anyway, my choice forever transformed a) the way I think about myself and b) the way others think about me—and since those are like two mirrors placed opposite each other, the impact is infinitely reflexive. It set a precedent for the game, established rules, lay the groundwork for scorekeeping.

G.C. #2 came less than a year later: September 11, 2001. I have more to say about the subject than I’d thought, so more on that to follow.

A Matter of Language

March 6, 2011

This blog is hard to write in part because I find myself worried so much about tone. Language is inevitably political, so how can I choose just one vocabulary on every related point?

1. I can have lunch with a wonderful Muslim friend and feel a warm sense of pride in what we share, ready to come back and relay that enthusiasm for faith. 2. I might have a fantastic, effervescent conversation about sexism and make a mental list of all the fascinating gender-and-sexuality-related things that it occurs to me to consider. 3. The class I’m in reminds me of the importance of careful research and even more careful articulation, but I can’t stand the idea of sounding unapproachable or lofty. 4. I’m also worried about sounding too sure of myself because I am rarely all that certain about anything. (And so on.)

I think about how some people (myself included) tend to write off experiences that are too one-sided or fanatical, immediately off-put by any of a number of buzzwords. So I try to tone down the zeal a little bit, even just for myself, leaving traces of betrayal.

It’s not about balance: there’s no “right” formula, because they all apply at once.

Auditing: “Women and Gender in Islam”

February 10, 2011

I have the good fortune right now of being able to audit a college class called “Women and Gender in Islam.” It wasn’t specifically in the plan, but after only a couple of sessions I can see that it’ll provide plenty of blog fodder: the professor is phenomenal, and since it’s a discussion class, it’ll be great to hear others’ perspectives on a set of highly related topics.

It’s like a turbocharged jump-start of topics to think about, which is SO convenient.

The reason I bring it up is to explain that my experience in the course will give my posts an inevitably academic bent, at least for the next few months. Its syllabus includes a whole bunch of relevant and valuable texts, so I’ll likely be referring and responding to them throughout. While I don’t want to rely on the class too heavily, I can’t pretend it won’t affect this blog.

More than anything else, this is me forcing myself not to plagiarize, because I know I’ll want to!

Why I’m Blogging About Hijab.

January 25, 2011

Why do I wear hijab? It’s high time I started asking myself the question, from its superficial levels—why do I cover my head every morning?—to the deeper ones: how is this shaping my life, and why do I allow it to do so?

Am I having a change of heart, questioning the decision I made just over a decade ago?

Yes and no. Almost constant in my mind is the notion—reassurance, maybe—that I would be prettier, more attractive, maybe even more successful here in the U.S. without it. It goes without saying that I’m sometimes tempted to take it off.

Ultimately, however, the answer is no, if perhaps partly with the “wrong” motive. I remain convinced, for reasons long and complicated, that my hijab is linked directly to my self-esteem (which happens to run high these days). Without that, grooming and parading my hair is hardly worth the trouble.

So while it’s not the most altruistic reason, it’s the most compelling one for me at the moment.

As far as the blog is concerned, the idea that hijab is correlated to self-confidence is true exclusively in my case. I can’t speak for others, and have only my own experience to conclude from.

This blog is a self-conscious attempt to put words to that point—the choice to stick with it for now. I’ve always struggled in articulating the answer, whether for lack of vocabulary or conviction, so this is my trying to hash it out.

I get asked the question by plenty of people, but if I can’t first explain it to myself, however will I do it for others?