Self Affirmation

In the style of Chani Nicholas horoscopes, I am writing a self-affirmation today. I know there are a great number of things I need to let go of before I leave home. It feels like it’s taking forever to move and start at my new job. I think my greatest weakness is not actually transitions, but waiting. Waiting is awful. It fills me with restlessness, knowing that something different is about to begin, but having to go a month or so with nothing to do, waiting for the damn thing to start.

Someone who I trust once told me that in order to move forward, sometimes we must let go of things that weigh us down. Frequently, I find the things I have to leave behind are actually things I hold quite dear. Without further ado, though, I give myself permission to let go of them.

I give myself permission to not ask permission. I give myself permission to do whatever I damn well please and to not feel guilty for doing so. I take the wheel in the car of my life. I direct myself to where I need to go and what I need to do because I know myself better than anyone else. If this means I spend money and indulge myself, I permit it. If this means I give myself pleasure and feel good in my own body, I permit it. If this means I eat all the sweetest, the saltiest, and the most savory things I can find, I permit it. If this means I do nothing but watch shows on Netflix, listen to music, or read novels for hours on end, I permit it. I will not feel bad giving myself the things I want and need. I will not feel bad treating myself like a whole, complete, feeling, thinking human being, and this includes giving my body a rest, giving my mind a rest, and feeling worthy of the gifts I give myself.

I give myself permission to not meet other people’s expectations. How I measure up in other people’s eyes means nothing if I do not meet the expectations I set for myself. The only expectation I give myself is to live life fully, to enjoy every minute. I promise myself that I will pursue the things that give me peace. Money is meaningless, time is meaningless, admiration from others is meaningless if I do not fulfill myself. Thus, I promise myself that I will walk in green places, that I will admire every tree and flower I come across because this reminds me that I am alive. I will wear clothes that I am comfortable in to remind myself that I have never been more beautiful, more attractive, or sexier than I am at this very second. I will cultivate relationships with people that are meaningful to me, regardless of what others may think of the people I maintain those relationships with. I will give myself fully to their brilliance, have faith in their judgment, and give them my utmost loyalty because they have done the same for me, and because society does not always deem worthy the people who deserve the most. I will go to places that feed my sense of adventure, places that intrigue me and fill me with a sense of wonder. I will go to the places that feed my soul. I will go where I can see the stars at night, where I can find the histories that are not told, where I can find artists like me, where I can hear the rain and feel the sun, and not just in 30-minute, pre-determined break periods.

I give myself permission to let some relationships lapse so that newer, healthier ones can grow. I give myself permission to let some relationships change. I will let go of the people who do not listen to me, who are not aware of my intelligence, and who are not capable of understanding how their actions impact me. I will let go of the judgment people throw at me for being so willing to let go of harmful relationships. Other people do not know me the way I do; they do not know what is good for me the way I do. It is not my responsibility to change people who are toxic. It is also not my responsibility to maintain relationships where there are obvious inequalities in feelings or investment in the relationship. Furthermore, I will learn to navigate the changes that come in relationships. I will learn to accept the things people I love do to survive, even though I think they deserve better. Just as they have no right to tell me what to do, I have no right to tell them how to live their lives. I will learn to accept that people I love might keep secrets from me. When they want to, they will tell me in due course. I will learn to accept that people I love may feel joy in different things than I do. It is not my place to judge them for what brings them joy. I will learn to accept that people I love may receive things that I myself want. It is not my place to covet them because I have so much to celebrate myself, and my time will come in due course.

I give myself permission to change my narrative. I give myself permission to ask for what I want from people. I give myself permission to change my environment to suit my needs. I give myself permission to feel the things I feel fully and without conditions because no one should feel shame for having feelings. I ground myself in the things that make me feel sure of myself, so that I may reach for things I never dreamed could be mine.


The End-of-July Emotional Follow-Up

On the 12th of July, I created this post on my internal state at the time. I think the word that could best sum up the sentiments then is “despair.” I told myself that I would come back to my emotional state in a week, and as it is now the end of July, I am well past my own deadline for that evaluation.

At this point, I think I have transitioned into a state of hope. While that may seem like a better place to be, I am always slightly wary when I feel hopeful. It could mean that I have, yet again, set my sights on something impossible.

In fact, I’m not sure if hope is what you can reasonably call this feeling. Perhaps this is just what it feels like to be motivated. I read an email yesterday that really pissed me off and has changed my opinion of the sender. The two of us both happen to be looking for jobs at the moment. I have vowed from this point on to unequivocally do better than them. I will be better than they are at all the interviews we go to together. I will get a job before they do. In the height of my anger last night, I swore I would get a job by the end of August. I suppose you will see a post in another month about that.

On a different note, I am simultaneously scared and somewhat happier that I am gradually making peace with living in my parents’ home. The fear comes from how easy it is for me to become complacent. While adjustment to any new situation usually takes me a long time (especially since I haven’t lived at home in 6 years!), once I’m done adjusting, I can be quite reluctant to move again.

Then I wondered, what is here in Tampa that was never there in Northampton? Bhangra! Garba! Durga Puja! Diwali! All my favorite dance teams! All my favorite holidays, celebrated in full splendor! If I am here, I will not watch from afar in October while other people dance, while other people light the lamps, while other people set off fireworks!

If I am here.

The other possibility is that I will spend October adjusting to a city I do not yet know. I will try to make new friends. I hope I will live alone. It might be a quiet month, if there is not a large Indian community in the city I go to. Who knows what I will and will not have access to?

I’ll leave on this thought. There is something wrong with a system in which I can so thoroughly relate to this sentiment:


Adam Ellis Comics

I generally feel worthless in school for not measuring up, and worthless right now for not “contributing to society” (quotes used here to question what kinds of labor are considered “contributions”, and in what ways they are measured). Ah well. Critical consciousness is such consolation.


11 Things That Helped Me Survive Graduate School

It’s been a hot second since I posted anything, and I am glad to be back! I just graduated with my master’s degree in May, so I figured I’d share a couple things with y’all–in true blog post style, a list. Admittedly, this might be a more helpful list for people in social science programs. These are also intentionally vague. I don’t think there’s anything specific you can do to prepare for graduate school because programs can be so different depending on where they are and what kind of program you’re in. Most of the stuff I learned is about people, so that’s what I’m inclined to write about, but I’m happy to answer other things, too. Feel free to post comments with any questions.


Sailboat in St. Pete Beach, FL. Stay afloat! You can do it!

1. If you ever make a request, always bring a bargain to the table. For example:

Leonie: Can I still turn in my paper?

Professor: The semester is over.

Leonie: I’ll clean out your office?

Professor: Done.

2.  Food.

Leonie: Hi students, today we’re going to talk about—

Students: *asleep*

Leonie: I have food.

Students: *wide awake, super engaged*

3. In organizations, there are mountain-movers, and then there’s everybody else. Mountain-movers enter your life at the rate of around 1 in 100. You’ll know them when you meet them.

Leonie: Hello, I am interested in a graduate assistant position.

Everybody else: I give no fucks.

Leonie: Hello, I am interested in a graduate assistant position.

Mountain-mover: Well, it’s great that you visited. Give me a second.

*leaves room*

*comes back in 7 minutes*

Mountain-mover: The office next door would like to give you an interview.

4. The reward for work is more work, so pace yourself accordingly.

5. This is grad school, not activist training camp. Professors will not hold your hand when you’ve experienced something blatantly racist or sexist. So if you’re emotional in class, be prepared for a complete lack of sensitivity to your feelings.

6. Talk to your professors. This is absolutely key. Tell them if the workload is a lot, or if the readings seem irrelevant or if you want to have more input in your classes. If they’re good faculty, they usually respond with some kind of pointers or individual attention. If they don’t, they’re not good faculty.

7. No one is going to give you the recognition you deserve. Keep your besties close.

8. Find your squad fast, if you need one. All grad students are not the same, and some are just cruel.

9. Don’t put too much stock into new friendships. Even the people close to you in grad school might hurt your feelings in the heat of a moment, out of political differences or because you just operate in the world differently. Be prepared to swallow your pride many times. Also be prepared to stand your ground. Hold out, though, because some folks are surprisingly kind.

10. Graduate school is unique (certain programs, anyway) because people of a lot of different age groups come together in an academic setting. Try not to alienate older or younger classmates/colleagues/co-workers. There’s a lot to be gained from a different perspective, something you can’t do when you’re surrounded by people who all have the exact same cell phone. This is a time to exercise your compassion.

11. Graduate school can really break you down. Just remember you’re not a bad person, even if you have made some pretty embarrassing mistakes. Usually, you will perceive things to be much worse than they actually are. It’s par for the course.

A Letter to God

Dear God,

It is the thirty-seventh day of the new year, and I meant to write this letter to You on the first. Perhaps this year I can work on doing things on the day I plan to do them.

I thought I would spend this post taking stock of all of last year, but instead, I would like to talk about dreams. I will admit, God, I thought I had forgotten how to for a time, not because I don’t believe there is anything to look forward to anymore, but because I couldn’t recognize the dreams I have now as dreams. When I was younger, the quintessential quality of dreams seemed to be that they were intangible. Perhaps it was my own helplessness that made me feel that way. I had so little agency to keep the things I loved, and to eliminate the things in my life that harmed me. Thought becomes action in a matter of seconds for me now. I can fully grasp and appreciate how my thoughts shape my personality, how they become who I am.

I remember I never knew what I wanted to be when I was a child. I remember I loved doing many things–painting, writing, dancing–and I thought perhaps I would dedicate my life to one of those things, but then again maybe I wouldn’t. As I grew older, I think my dreams were molded somewhat by what people around me said and did. I remember I lied about liking a boy when I was nine years old so I would feel accepted. Everyone seemed to like someone. I thought that if people thought I liked someone, maybe they would like me.

In high school, I thought I knew what I wanted. I recall how much the word “married” got thrown around. My girl friends would speculate about who among our friends would get married first. My guy friends would whisper to me about other guys who claimed they wanted to marry me. They would talk about what kind of parents people would become, what kind of a parent I would become. I didn’t think much about what I wanted to be. Someone said accounting might be a good choice for me, so I thought that was decided. I thought I would be rich and successful, that I would live in a swanky apartment in the city and wear Donna Karan dresses. Then when I turned thirty, maybe I’d find a nice guy and buy a house somewhere where there would be a lot of grass. I hoped I would have a daughter, continuing the tradition of having the oldest child be female, as did all my female ancestors. I thought at that point, I would quit my job and take care of my child, make sure she knows how to speak Assamese, teach her to read and write in English, play with her toys, paint with her, play outside with her, teach her to ride a bike. And maybe that would be it for 18 years after that.

That is what I dreamed, God. I honestly did.

I don’t remember when I stopped thinking that. I don’t remember a specific point when I thought to myself, “I’m not going to think that way any more”. But Sean asked me one day what I dream about, and I realized I could not answer him. I have forgotten the last time I had a dream like that, with marriage and children.

I don’t want a child any more, God. I couldn’t bring one into this world without it preying on my conscience. How could I do that when I know that child is going to suffer? They will either suffer for the same identity-based reasons that I suffered, or they will suffer from identity-based experiences that I have never had. They will suffer because every new age tortures its youth in its own way. They will suffer for reasons I can’t even begin to imagine. I can do everything in my power to make them happy: keep them healthy, give them toys, teach them so they are smart, take them to all the wonderful places in the world, tell them I love them every day, but it doesn’t matter. They will suffer merely because they are alive.

How do I know this to be true? My parents gave me everything. They fed me well. They gave me nice clothes. They gave me toys and books. They taught me to read and write. They taught me to swim, to bike, to garden. They loved me so much; they still do. I still suffered. I suffered from loneliness, alone among Indians and non-Indians alike. I suffered from an abusive relationship. I suffered from depression. I suffered from the sort of identity crisis that Camus only wishes he could write about. I have one of the better lives, and I suffered.

And I am not the only one. I know there are those who don’t even believe they are suffering while they suffer.

Do all parents know this, God? Are they comfortable knowing their children will suffer, and they can do nothing to stop it? Would they bring children into the world if they knew that all of them suffer?

No. No children for me.

But I still dream, God. I can see them now. Here, in the decade of my twenties, I can reach out and touch the things I dream about. I dream of figuring out what I want to be. I have, and I even found graduate programs that will prepare me for that endeavor. I dream of making real connections with other human beings. Every day, I talk to lively, vivacious, articulate people who celebrate me as a person and who have given back to me my faith in human beings. Every day, I am reminded of how many incredible people I met in the last four years. I dream of being a person who I can admire. I love myself. I have found the words that I want to use to describe me, not what others see me as. I have found the strength to overcome fears I didn’t even know I had. I have contributed something to my community that no one else could have given. I will no longer be the exotified, sexualized creature I was. I will not be the person to whom someone else’s dream is pinned. I will not be some voiceless fantasy. I am compassionate, introspective, and fierce. I am even better than what I dreamed I would be at this age.

And I will have a hand in creating a better world. Nothing else seems to matter, not where I live or what I wear. Not who I spend forever with. Maybe I am a child; maybe this is the age when you dream of impossible things. I don’t care. That’s what I want, God. That is what I dedicate my life to. It fills me with pride to finally have found what I was born to do.

As always, I appreciate all that You have made possible for me.