The glorious and triumphant return of now-19 year old Blogger, the revival of a once-grand and dare I say influential webspace that produced daily content, and the crippling anxiety of a young woman who no longer has any time or motivation to write, and feels like any ability she had acquired in the past through repetition and sheer will alone is now slowly slipping out of her grasp. Brief history of the Blog and Blogger can be found here.

Here be personal journal entries, observations, slices of life, questions and conclusions, as well as exploration of social and political topics seen through the lens of a Malaysian Muslim, feminist, lesbian, Marxist, and horse enthusiast.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

Content warning for extreme arrogance, high self-esteem, and nary a show of humility in sight the likes of which you would probably be shocked at. If you're the type to get envious, or have any sort of problems with a teenage girl expressing confidence, then I suggest you go talk it out to someone instead of wasting your time.

I'll start with the Broadway Academy drama classes I took last year and January of this year. I would say that I've changed a lot since January, so maybe if I were to be placed in that situation again, with that group of people, I would have acted differently. I do remember the director calling me meek and mousy, as the rationale for choosing me for the role an 8 year old girl who was quiet, insane, and had killed a man. I found this odd at the time because I don't really see myself as shy and closed-off, but a) I shouldn't really place much trust in my social abilities (which are already shit to begin with), and b) I was still not completely over what happened earlier that year, with the whole dropping out of school thing. Getting to my point, though, I think I did well in the class. Could have been friendlier, more open, less uptight - criticisms you would expect me to give myself. But overall, I was pleased with myself and most days, so was the director, who said that I was consistent, but complacent.

I'll get back to how that whole paragraph up there is relevant in a few, but for now, I present to you 

How Effie Has Changed Since Dropping Out of School

1. Let He Without Sin Be the First to Condemn

The biggest change, for me on a personal level, would just have to be how I view the world. How I'm trying to view the world, and its people. I threw around the word misanthrope like Halloween candy last year and I truly regret it because I don't think there's a way to spin that to make me not sound like a dunderhead. Depression and anxiety aside, it was really unfair of me to be so caught up in myself and just, like, throw everyone else's feelings to the side. I'm not going to pretend like I'm no longer selfish, because hell yeah I still am, but I've found ways to channel it that doesn't involve constantly shitting on friends or people I admittedly care about.

The hardest thing was training myself to be less judgmental, trying to see where people are coming from, and trying to engage with them on their terms. I failed miserably on the last two. I don't really think my two huge achievements of last year count as a win in being less judgmental - when a schoolmate of mine I barely talked to wrote a blog post about me and my dropping out of school (it still shocks me that, for the most part, I was only angry at that because I thought she had called Khairina a busybody), and my cousin saying all those stupid things about me on Twitter. Mostly, I got angry, I didn't engage with them, and then I wrote long and elaborate (but private) blog posts about how much I want them to suck my balls. Not really the best conflict-resolution method, but it was all I had in my arsenal at the time, and it didn't cause me (or anyone else) any pain so I'm going to go all positive and call it a win. 

Growing up and growing out of the person I was, I did encounter a few minor hiccups. I let some people walk all over me because I was either too scared to hear their retorts (what if their points are better than mine, what if I make a fool of myself, what if I just can't think of a response to what they have to say), because I wasn't confident in myself to respond with something strong enough, or because I think Twitter's character limit makes me sound stupid at best. So, not proud of sucking up to some people because they intimidated me, or letting that total loser call me rude because I wasn't waving the American flag with a huge boner between my legs, but they don't match the shame and annoyance that I had with myself for handling certain (more recent) situations wrongly, like I did with some of my friends.

My go-to defense for this is always to say that they just caught me off guard because I had written a few friends of mine off as lost causes, and a few as possible converts, and fewer yet as allies. And I'm always shocked when that last category of people say things I would not expect them to say, or are unable to understand concepts I already thought they had mastered. So, honestly, it shouldn't at all be a burden or blame placed on their shoulders, it should be entirely on me, because I was the one who made snap judgments and bad calls and ended up really grinding their gears by calling them stupid or morons or other less family-friendly things. But something really cool happened in the weeks that led up to Eid.

I managed to apologize (and meant it!) to two people I had already written off as ex-friends I have lost to abyss, and they actually took the apology well and even apologized themselves and I got to hear, like, everything I needed to hear from them when we had fought in the first place. I don't think people change overnight, or that I'm not at all going to cringe when I hear anything they (or any of my other friends) say in the future, but it really is such a rewarding feeling to know that I had assessed the situation, I had thought about it a lot (to the point of obsession for certain instances), and I had made a decision and crafted my apology in a way that was acceptable and even appreciated. And I got apologies in return! And I actually am okay with these people now!

It takes a lot for me to apologize to people and mean it and it takes even more for me to put aside my ego and put myself in a position of vulnerability, where people can and perhaps rightfully should write me off entirely from the get-go. But I did those things! And I did them well and I'm extremely satisfied with the results. 

I'm working a lot towards being a more educated person who's both self-aware and not judgmental of the decisions others' make about their own lives. The take back (on a usual day) is a lot of pent-up rage at my friends and a lot of blank faces turned my way, but I think it's preferable to being bitter and self-pitying all the time because that took a huge toll on my self-esteem.

2. What Makes Me Beautiful Is the Fact that I Know I'm Beautiful

I don't know when I started looking in the mirror and actually liking what I saw. Probably sometime after the braces came off. And it's not a story for the ages, it's not self-acceptance and self-love out of an appreciation for what I was naturally born with. I just like looking at my nice teeth. I like looking at my nice hair. I like looking at my nice boobs and my nice legs and my nice lips. But I've made compromises too.

Like the whole hair thing. I still hated the curls at the beginning of the year, and it's no wonder really given how much people tease me for it. I found a nice middle ground though, even if I still feel like straight-ironing my hair most days. But it's not about individual parts for me. It's not even about looking in the mirror and falling drop dead at the sight of the beauty staring back at me. It's just about being comfortable in my own skin, being happy, being grateful. Whether I turn heads, whether people think I'm too young-looking or ask me where I work, whether guys will notice or leer at me or not - those are all secondary. I came to where I am today not through other peoples' validation, but because I worked at it. I worked on loving myself and I worked on telling myself that subscribing to and punishing myself because of society's arbitrary standards of beauty was a blow to my self-esteem, and it was a blow to my perfectly constructed, perfectly healthy (as far as I know) body.

That all sounds like total crap. None of those lines would have worked on me back then, it still barely tickles me now. All I know is that I woke up one morning, thought I was hot, and went the fuck back to sleep. Taking me out of the school environment really gave me a lot of time to work on my most important worldly relationship - my relationship with myself. Learning to not just bear with but actually fall in love with every mark, every spot, every single contour and hair on my body, came naturally with the confidence I gained in other areas. They came hand-in-hand. And to be honest, I didn't really have to work on it all that much, because the only hurdle I had to jump over was automatically taken cared of as soon as I sacrificed the perfectly laid out life school had set up for me.

I used to be scared that I would end up living up to forty still shopping for jeans in the kids section. Now I can fit jeans from whatever section pretty easily and I've been trying to overcome my embarrassment and actually pay a visit to a kids section once in a while (I've bought stuff from it, too). I used to think that if I wore the hijab, I would not only look ugly, but stupid as well, and one day I just looked at myself with my headscarf on and though, 'Huh. Still hot.' So now I told my parents that - in exchange for being able to go out with my friends in whatever the heck I want to - I would wear the hijab when I'm out and about with family members. It gets them off my back, it makes me feel just as pretty as when I have my hair down, and overall, everyone's happy. (I don't actually think covering up is compulsory. I'm not doing this out of some religious belief. I just genuinely think it would benefit everyone involved and my parents would get off my case, so.)

There were so many things that I didn't like about myself, so many insecurities I kept regarding my appearance, ones that were constantly thrown back in my face, most of the time by friends and family. When I was at school, I didn't give a stone cold fuck. I wanted out, I wanted out of the mainstream, I wanted to not be cattle. But obviously that was still some form of caring. I thought I didn't care what people thought of me but I don't think that was possible with all the self-esteem issues I had. I'm comfortable now in a way that I never would have imagined myself to be a year ago. I'm really good.

3. And I Cry to You as the Prodigal, I Have Sinned Before You

I spent majority of my 'homeschooling' hours on the Internet. The month before my O-Levels started, I dived back into the Tumblr cesspool that is the Glee fandom, specifically the lol blaine subfandom. I didn't study Maths or do any worksheets and, like, a day after I bombed my Maths paper, I found a book of worksheets that was pristine and untouched. I didn't study Econs until a few days before the paper, even though I had days to work on it. Didn't touch Add Maths for two months and barely knew my quadratics from my vectors three days before the first paper. Didn't have a calculator that would do quadratic equations until the day right before the first paper when I went and borrowed Hanna's. Basically, I was the actual living breathing walking talking version of What Not To Do For Your Exams.

I cried. A lot. Mostly because I was just scared. The hardest thing I've ever had to do was separate what I want for myself and what others want from me, and my expectations of myself from what others expect of me. I was still toeing that line, going back and forth on good days. But it wasn't until so much more recently (like a month or two ago) that I finally let go of the last part of me that still clung to the 4.0 GPA, straight-A student of high performance school version of me. It was nerve-wracking because of the fact that the possibilities of me getting a mixed bag of results was very high, and I didn't care anymore, but my parents sure did. And what if my Dad tells me off for not studying hard enough, or expresses disappointment in me for wasting his hard-earned money? Would my getting bad grades be predictable, because I just didn't put in all that much effort? Would my insouciance be chalked down to me trying to cope as best as I can with results that I would not have predicted for myself a year ago? It was all mostly me trying to deal with how others would cope, or react, with me getting imperfect results.

It was terrible to read back everything I have ever written, during or around exam weeks or months, about how badly I just wanted to fuck it all, about how much I deserved that number one spot, about how all those other losers mean shit to me because I'm just naturally smarter than the lot of them put together. It was painful to read. My desperation was so blatant, it was just pathetic. I was just as equally pathetic as every single one of my classmates, who either pretended not to care or didn't bother to hide their obsession at all, who worked themselves to the bone but still felt that their efforts weren't enough, who do judge people based on their grades and their positions in class. It's a system that takes a hold on you and doesn't let you go. You do what everyone else is doing, and you do it to the last threads of your sanity, because there were no other option.

I got my results the other day. 95 A* for English; 90 A* for Biology; A's for Physics, Chemistry and Economics (with the last being only 2 marks away from an A*); B's for Maths and Add Maths (where I expected C's - and Maths was also 2 marks away from a borderline A). I hate saying this because I know that if God willed it, I can just wake up one day dumb as a pile of shit, but I'm good. That's a talent, something I've been blessed with, and while I know that talent just doesn't exist on its own without anything else to prop it up (I did have to figure out my study methods, which technique worked for me and which didn't, the whole skim-the-books thing and of course it's not like I ever aced a test without actually attempting a mock-up beforehand), this is just something I'm good at: standardized tests. I've worked on perfecting my techniques (which is mostly just eating, jotting down some notes, eating some more, reading fanfiction, marathon new television shows, eating, and flipping through reference books with a frown on my face), I've worked on identifying my strong points and going with it (studying at night to the wee hours of the morning at the last possible second), I've worked on finding out what puts me in the exam mood and what kills it entirely (meditating to calm myself, talking to myself, and playing a round of Speed Chuzzles before a paper to get the adrenaline pumping). 

The thing that I worked the hardest on, though, was not defining my self-worth by the number of A's I get, which is something that has been hammered in me since the day I stepped foot in primary school. It's always a puzzle to me, like, am I just naturally smart, or will I one day just lose this ability and all eleven years straight of test-taking and exam-passing was just a really, really, really long streak of flukes? Well, sucks to be you, I guess because I actually am just naturally gifted in this particular area. It's not really a point of pride, because I didn't put any work in it, I mostly just cry a lot. And I don't think I'll ever shake off the feeling that one day my lucky strike would just end without any warning. But you know what?

I am smart. I'm also really good at doing well on standardized tests with three hours of sleep, four hours of study and a week worth of crying and binge eating. Those two aren't even linked at all. One's a talent, and the other one's just something I know about myself. I know I'm smart just like I know some people have blonde hair, some others have black, and some people are short and some are tall. Some people are smart, others are smart in other subjects, and there are also a ton of people who won't be called smart in the conventional sense, but have other redeeming qualities that they can and should be proud of.

This is something that a lot of people know. I mean, I knew this since I hit puberty (which was ten years old so it's not like I was late to the realization or anything - if anything, I got there first). But actually understanding and believing it, and being okay with it - that was a long time coming for me. And it did take pulling me out of school and thrusting me into a life in which I had full control over every single minute of my day to get me to where I am now.

I had the computerized law test today that you need to pass to earn a learner's driving license. I took the course, like, last week? I don't remember but I do know I had a lot of time to study and I started at 11 PM last night. My dad was furious and called me a know-it-all but I can't really help it. That's just the way I study and it treats me well. I went to the center and took the test with the same girl I went to the course with. Her name's Amirah. She asked me how I did and I told her that I had happily obtained a 45/50 (the passing mark is 42). Her face kind of fell when she told me she got a 47. 

The best thing about school was winning. And for me, winning meant getting a higher mark than everyone else. Don't ask me how I got that idea, ask the school and the education system. But today I didn't feel lesser, or inferior, or at all upset at the idea that tons of people have taken the test and gotten more than I did, nor did I care that I got better marks than the guy who went in before us and apparently failed for some fifth or sixth time in a row. I was just happy for my own marks. I was happy I passed. I was happy I did a good job and I was happy that Amirah didn't have to retake the test as well because she's trying to finish this whole learning how to drive thing as fast as possible. And it's the same with my exam results, really. The old me would have broke down crying in front of the British Council staff. But I was just happy. I did good.

I don't know if there's a way to articulate how proud I am of myself. I've come so far and dealt with so much shit, from others and from my own self. It just feels good.

4. If I Play the Ukulele Just Like a Little Lady

Don't let anyone tell you shit. You do what you want to do and you do it your way. I was scared of so many things going into this - that I would fail and make a total fool of myself, that I would disappoint my parents, that I would ruin myself in the process and lose all my friends as well. But none of those things happened. I wanted to get out of school, for whatever reasons, trivial or otherwise, and while I didn't exactly have full confidence in myself to kick-ass at homeschooling, I had the confidence to know that I would try my hardest. 

And I didn't do that. But I built up my self-esteem, from the ground up, and I grew increasingly confident in my own abilities and my self worth, and I worked my ass off and cried my eyes dry to constantly assure and reassure myself that what others think of me don't matter.

Consistent, but complacent. I tried out Broadway Academy to get out of my comfort zones and I was good at it and would have been a lot better had I put in more effort.  I was consistently good in just about whatever endeavor I decided to undertake. Not spectacular or distinctive by a long shot, because that required actual effort. But through some shortcuts and, uh, cheating, I managed to get to where I am today. 

I put in a lot of thought into the people who were a good influence on me and who made me happy, and those who didn't. I don't enjoy saying goodbye to people, discarding them without a single glance backwards, but I did what I did so I could have a better life. I learned to compromise and am in a daily struggle to learn the distinction between situations in which people are required to apologize to me, and ones in which I'm in the wrong. For the most part, I'm happy with the friends I have managed to keep because I had applied my judgments with care. I'm happy with my friends right now in general. I'm not in a major fight with anyone (except for Nisa but she's the one giving me the cold shoulder and I don't really think it's worth it to engage). Even my relationship with my parents is getting better, if only because I decided to wear hijab when I go out with them both to appease them and so that I can look in the mirror and see another, equally hot side of me.

I'm really happy with my body, the hair that I have (whether straight or otherwise), my clothes, my appearance in general. I don't really look in the mirror and start to critique every single flaw I see, I just try to look at everything at once and be grateful because God made me hella cute. I'm comfortable with my sexuality, and while I'm working on a few relationships right now, I honestly don't have much room to complain because two girls offered to hook up with me in the span of three days. Like, there's no beating around the bush when it comes to this: I am every single positive adjective to describe a person's appearance ever and I can work with whatever the good God has given me.

I cry a lot about some things that others might consider small, like my fandom identity crisis. I often think back to those Glee-filled months as a huge waste of my time but then I think of all the people I got to talk to, all the things I wrote, the amount of Followers I got in such a short span of time, and how many of those mutual Follows of mine were people I highly respected and admired, and I realize that I really had won. Putting aside how it affected my mental health and how it got in the way of my studying schedule, there was still a lot I had to take back from that experience. I was good, in a few short weeks I got really good, at doing something I enjoyed for that period of time.

I got good grades even though people were dubious that I would be able to make it and succeed on my own terms. I did it all while also managing to build a healthy relationship with myself, to put myself first in the best way possible, to pay attention to my relationships with people that I care about, to compromise with this relentless world. I read books. I read a lot. I learned a lot and I'm better for it now. I try my hardest to be self-aware and I would offer my arm and leg to help my friends learn to love and respect themselves and each other. I'm working on my relationship with God, with a lot of bumps in the road, but I'll get there. On my own terms. I'm learning, questioning, reading, writing, talking, and expressing.

They told me no, that it was not possible, that I wouldn't be able to get good grades because class was what had made me smart. I paid attention in class apparently (despite the fact that I slept most of my Form 4 away), and I needed school because I needed to be around people and socialize (despite the fact that I fixed and rekindled some relationships, and got rid of all the unnecessary baggage and toxic people in my life, and made some really dear new friends, all post-dropping out). I needed school because it taught me life lessons I wasn't going to get from sitting at home all day (I'm now fully equipped to go out into the world with a self-esteem you can't shatter, pride at who I am as a person, with enough self-awareness to help me in building and rebuilding relationships with other people), because it taught me good values (I shook off my small town mind and became more open-minded, kinder, and more empathetic, without compromising my independent streak, my stubbornness at knowing what I know to be right, and my rude, if not necessarily uncalled for, way of dealing with idiots), because I can't and shouldn't be alone (I'm not alone because I've got friends but I really do enjoy my own company the most, and I can't say I love anyone more than I love myself, not yet).

They told me no, but I told them no back. I fucked up a lot, and I'll continue fucking up to the day that I die, but I did a lot of good, and I feel really proud of myself. I knew what I wanted, I got what I wanted, and I fought hard to keep what I wanted. I came out on the other side a better person. School really inhibited my journey to become the best possible version of myself I can be (and let's be real, I'm not even there yet). But I know now that that version of me is possible, she hypothetically already exists and is just waiting for me to hurry the fuck up. I don't want people to read this and get away thinking that they have to leave school, but know just how bad school was for me, as an individual, and how happy I am that I've managed to overcome all the chains and restraints that school had clamped on me and my mind. I'm free.

I do what I want. If I know what's up and you don't, then I don't have to listen to you. I don't have to let anyone make me feel bad, and I don't. I'm proud, I'm happy, I'm confident in myself and my friends, and I want everyone in the world to get to the point where I am now. Because it's possible, and it's so easily attainable. Identify what's holding you back and just go for it.

I may be complacent. I'm still working on that. I'm resting too much on my laurels, coasting by through the skin of my teeth. I have the resources, the tools, and most importantly the self-awareness to get to what I want. I know I should up my game and I'm working on that. I'm working as hard as my consistent but complacent self is allowing me, breaking that label little by little along the way. I know what I want. I'm going to get what I want. And you're going to be in awe of me.

(Sorry for all this cheese. In my defense, the things that I wrote about myself in the last post really bothered me because while I do know there's a huge flaw in my design - my inability to connect with people - I'm also having a really good week. And this is just a retort to every single stupid thing I've ever said about myself in the past, or about other people. I don't think I can actually read through any of the things I've written last year and the years before that. But I'm good now. I'm better.)

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