Didja miss me? Cos I sure have missed you.

Terry readers! Dear wonderful delightful readers. Oh how I’ve missed you these past few weeks!  I’ve been absent from the action here lately- there’s been a lot going on personally, and that’s translated into me doing a bit of a disappearing act. Even the pieces I’ve been trying to scribble lately haven’t worked out, and it’s been a bit scary literally being unable to talk to you all!

But today I re-read one of my favourite essays from my old beat up copy of the Norton Reader  titled “How to Write a Letter” and stopped at its gorgeous opening line: “We shy people need to write a letter now and then, or else we’ll dry up and blow away.” So true! I’m not sure if I’m shy but my pieces are like letters, and reading that line was inspiration enough to open up my macbook and rejoin your delightful company. Hopefully from here on  I will be sharing thoughts and ponderings on a more regular basis.

One thing I’m sure I’ll be talking more about soon: this weekend I’ll be in Toronto participating in a conference on identity and engagement, and am very very excited. More on this later. This evening though as I packed my things in my teeny tiny black suitcase and grumbled a bit to myself-“Oh dear, I’ll have to check the darn thing in, I’ve got hijab pins!” I started to think a lot about how although I am very interested in issues of representation within broader  structures, how we talk about ourselves within our tiny social circles impacts our behaviour in really powerful ways.

I admit, not a terribly groundbreaking discovery. But two years ago I wrote a post about how i had just discovered that literature teaches us about the world, so humour me for a moment and permit me to proceed.

We each have so many different descriptors attached to us. Descriptors such as immigrant, intelligent/unintelligent, artistic, religious, shy/talkative, conservative/liberal, arts student/science student/commerce student etc  the list goes on and on.  Some of these are factual (taking myself as an example, I am indeed an arts student and an immigrant), but some of these are really based on subjective determination. What is being shy really? Or being religious? Or intelligent? These are all fluid adjectives. One may be considered staunchly liberal in one part of the world, move locations, and then discover you’re suddenly seen as rather conservative.

Rather than being understood as constantly changing terms though, often people draw borders around us based on the identities/attributes we are believed to possess. We may in fact draw these borders ourselves. Either way, operationally, these  borders can become fixed, and a hindrance to a completely fulfilling and meaningful existence. We may feel expectations around how one behaves as a person who is (for example) intelligent. Or a literature student.  Or as someone from a particular ethnic community.  These attributes mark us: they impact how others view us, relate to us and respond to us. They impact what we might feel comfortable talking about, the choices we may make for ourselves, and in many ways, circumscribe particular worlds where we ‘belong’. (Think about how Sir Ken talked about how often people persist with a career because it seems like what someone who is good at math/physics/english/insert relevant term ‘ought’ to do).

(The flip side of course, is you may feel completely at home in an setting that seems stereotypical and you might feel like your life choices are being demeaned or misunderstood as a result. Hearing things like: Of course you like math…yes you would want to be a homemaker, yes naturally you don’t like to read..etc etc) is never fun.)

Regardless, the exciting news is that in so many varied ways, people are resisting being defined and limited by others’ conceptions of who they are/can be and are creating space for their voices to be heard. They resist by writing, laughing, creating art, speaking, and being unafraid to step into realms where they might not be expected. Or by unabashedly savouring being in places where they are expected, and delighting in their textured layered, complex selves at the same time. They resist by living full rich lives, where (for ex) one can care about Prada, prayer and the peace corps.  Or Austen and string theory. Whatever.  Tis all marvelous I say.

The common thread? Making one’s voice heard and telling stories-regardless of your chosen medium. And that’s why I love storytelling, and spaces like terry, which are so interdisciplinary it’s hard to really pin down the collection of ideas the site focuses on. It’s ‘just’ a space to  discuss and talk and share good ol intriguing ideas.

Oh how it’s good to be back!

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Shagufta is a UBC Political Science graduate with a passion for interdisciplinary thinking, writing, travel, reading, tea, and interesting conversations. She hopes to combine all of these things in her life work someday. For now though, she studies social policy and planning at the University of Toronto and shares her adventures in and out of the classroom at http://seriouslyplanning.wordpress.com.