Ready, Set, Novel!

If you’re anything like me, you’ve recently found yourself with a truly incomprehensible amount of free time. After spending a couple weeks reading novel after novel on my “Books I Should Probably Get Around to Reading at Some Point” list and staring up at my ceiling light, I had an idea.

National Novel Writing Month (often shortened to NaNoWriMo), which currently takes place during November, is an event which challenges participants to write a 50,000 word (or longer) novel over the course of one month. To put that number into some kind of context, The Great Gatsby is 47,094 words, The Fault in Our Stars is 67,203 words, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is 106,821 words.

NaNoWriMo began in July of 1999 with a group of 21 people because, and I’m quoting from the website, “[they] didn’t have anything better to do” and, eventually, because “the writing process had been really, really fun.”

Since then it has expanded to 431,626 participants (as of 2015) and additional NaNoWriMo challenges currently take place April and July, called “Camp NaNoWriMo,” which I’ve decided to participate in. 

Of course, as with anything that exists, NaNoWriMo has been criticized for producing more terrible manuscripts than publishers previously thought possible and for somehow being an insult to the creative process by trying to force it into some cramped, arbitrary amount of time.

Here’s what I have to say:

Writing a novel has always been one of those vague dreams I have that have an equal chance of happening and not happening. I could write a novel one day. I could also decide to quit my job and travel the world, or go skydiving, or suddenly realize that my life’s true ambition is to run away to the circus. Who knows? Life is strange. But unlike world traveling, skydiving, or circus performing, I already have everything I need to attempt to write a novel–something to write about and something to write with.

Of course, as anyone may tell you, that’s not everything you need. The critics of NaNoWriMo may say that the missing ingredient in my recipe for novel writing is “talent.” From what I, and others I know, have experienced, that missing ingredient is a little push.

Everyone’s a little bit of a perfectionist, but I’ve found that writers are perfectionists like this:  you want every world to be gold. You want every word to be poetry. You want every word to be the right word and you want those words to be the kind of words that are tattooed on hipsters and misattributed to Albert Einstein or Mahatma Gandhi.  

Those are not the first words you are going to write. Realizing that fact is disheartening to say the least. To say the most, realizing that fact  is like driving down a long road when a large, concrete wall falls out of the sky in front of you. Spray-painted on the surface of this wall are the words,”THIS IS A DUMB DREAM AND YOUR (sic) DUMB FOR HAVING IT.”

The drafting and revision process, however, is endlessly useful in getting closer to the golden words, but, of course, it is impossible to have a second, third, or fourteenth draft when the the first draft is stuck behind a concrete wall.

NaNoWriMo provides that push. It provides a tangible deadline and a tangible word-count goal in order to get people to write the novel that they have always been too afraid to write. You stop thinking about the golden words and start thinking about what you are trying to say. The golden words can come after you’ve written the pyrite words.

And of course, not everyone can write golden words. Not everyone is going to be Shakespeare or J.K. Rowling or whichever writer had taken hold of your heart and refused to let go.

But who knows? You may surprise yourself. A lot of great, published novels started out as NaNoWriMo novels and ended up becoming (after plenty of revision and multiple drafts, I’m sure) like Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, or Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

But you’ll never know unless you try, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying.

“Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.”–NaNoWriMo website

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Berries: Exposed!

It’s 10 PM. Do you know who your berries are?

For my first ever blog post, I was going to write about some of my favorite berries because it’s berry season! (Yay for early summer, the otherwise most irritating season due to heat waves and forced interaction with people I don’t really know at outdoor events). However, as I was looking up specific times for when specific berries are in season, I saw that there are a lot of fruits pretending to be berries, and there are a lot of fruits who you wouldn’t think are berries but totally are. So, this post is now going to be dedicated to getting definitions of fruits sorted out.

I’m sure everyone knows by now that a tomato is actually a fruit. Tomatoes are actually the initial inspiration for this article because I had some really nice tomatoes recently. Literally the sweetest things, good tomatoes can be so amazing. Anyway, yes, people know tomatoes are fruits, but why is that? Again, relatively common knowledge, a tomato has seeds in it, so it is a fruit. The difference between a fruit and a vegetable is that a fruit is a structure that holds the seeds (developed from the ovary of the flowering plant) while a vegetable is basically everything else, such as the root, stem, or leaf of the plant. So, tomatoes by this definition are clearly fruits. But did you know that a tomato is more accurately a berry?

A true berry is a fruit that comes from one flower with one ovary. That’s what specifically makes a tomato a berry. Guess what else are berries by this definition? Watermelons, pumpkins, grapes, and bananas. That’s right, bananas. My sister was so mad at me when I told her this, and she still refuses to accept this newfound knowledge. I, however, am easily persuaded because I am not a botanist, so I will accept this information willingly. So, now that you know a banana is a berry, want to know what isn’t a berry? Blackberries and strawberries. Yup.

A blackberry can’t be a berry because it’s made of a bunch of ovaries, each surrounding one seed, all bunched together. The definition of a berry says it’s gotta be one ovary, so that’s ruled out. I’ve seen blackberries and raspberries called aggregate fruits, or druplets for short hand, because that’s what they look like. They’re called little druplets instead of one whole fruit. A strawberry has always been my favorite thing to explain to people. D0 you know about all the seeds on the outside of a strawberry? Those aren’t really seeds,  but little inactivated fruits. The deliciously tangy and sweet red part of a strawberry is actually a stem growing around all these little fruits. They also don’t grow from the flower of their plant. So, people call a strawberry an accessory fruit, not a berry.

Figuring out what an avocado was was annoying. I initially thought an avocado was a drupe because a drupe is basically a berry but with one stony endocarp surrounding the seed, like a peach, mango, or coconut. So here I was, all content with the idea that avocados were probably drupes until I looked it up and BAM, they’re true berries. So I guess the difference is botanists are saying that the rind, or exocarp, is fleshy enough and the endocarp is soft enough to be counted as a berry and not a drupe. This is fair, I guess, because the actual avocado seed is that big pit in the center, so it is surrounded by the fleshy stuff you actually eat. This is as opposed to a peach, which has that stone in the center covering the actual seed.

So, there it is. Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries: all lies. You can go spoil all your family and friends’ excitement over summer berries this fine summer season. You want a REAL berry? Hit up an avocado or a tomato, they’ll show you REAL berries.

Gov Ball 2016

With 90 degree weather and sunshine, summer is synonymous with music festivals. And last weekend, I went to my first one. Located on Randall’s Island in New York, The Governors Ball Music Festival, often referred to as Gov Ball, a multi-day festival filled with phenomenal musical guests, scrumptious food, and countless activities continued to prove itself as one of the East Coast’s best events. Since the first-ever Gov Ball in 2011 which featured a one-day lineup with only 13 musical guests, to now, in 2016, a three-day lineup with more musical acts and varieties in genres than countable, Gov Ball continues to suppress the expectations of the crowd. Just look for yourself at how much this festival has grown!

I attended on Saturday, which turned out to be a great decision, because on Sunday, dangerous weather conditions and heavy thunderstorms cancelled the entire day. Although even on Saturday,  I stood, danced, and sang through what felt like heavy rocks in liquid form pounding down on my head for hours, I found that it was absolutely worth it. Gov Ball basically turned into “Mud Ball” in the final hours, but there is nothing  like hearing your favorite band live while being 50 feet away from them, no matter the fact that you are absolutely drenched and on the verge of catching pneumonia.

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Brandon Flowers, the lead singer of The Killers mesmerizing the crowd with his talent.

Besides The Killers, I got to see quite a few singers that I love throughout the day, and it was such a unique experience. With just one ticket, I got to listen to a plethora of musicians, from different genres. I think that’s what makes this experience so unique–it does not cater to just one type of musical taste or one type of person. There is someone here for everyone, and even if there isn’t, I guarantee you will hear a band or vocalist you have never heard of before and instantly fall in love with their music.

Besides the music, there is so much to do. From photo booths to mini-golf to attending artist’s autograph sessions, there is not a single second you will be bored. And my personal favorite thing to do? EAT! There were dozens of food trucks catering everything from burgers to vegan ice cream to drinks in actual coconuts.

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Believe it or not, this is just a tiny portion of the park!

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With that, I hope you attend a music festival this summer or add going to one to your bucket list! I had such a fun time, as did, I’m sure, the thousands of others that attended!

 

 

If You’re Reading This… Ramadan has Begun

As soon as the sun went down last night, Ramadan began. Ramadan, one of the Islamic months, is a month of fasting, in which one fasts from dawn to dusk each day. This means no food, no water, no smoking, and no sex from when the sun comes up to when the sun goes down.

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, meaning it is one of the basic and mandatory acts that one must follow in Islam. It’s obligatory for adults, but not for those who are ill, traveling, elderly, pregnant, or menstruating. In Arabic, it’s called Sawm. These five pillars are for the Sunni sect of Islam, the sect of which I’m a part of; there are other pillars for other sects, and I think this Wikipedia article does a good job explaining the pillars.

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In this month, the Qur’an (the holy book of Islam, like Christianity has the Bible, and Judaism has the Torah) was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad, the one who brought Islam to the world. Fasting is not only to celebrate that Islam was brought down but it is also done to earn taqwa, which translates to fear of God, but means being devoted to or conscious of God. It can also be understood as God-consciousness. With fasting, we also remember those who are not nearly as fortunate as we are, those who don’t have daily food or water to survive.

Ramadan has always been a special part of my life when I go home. It’s a way to connect to my family, my Muslim community, and my religion and spirituality. When I wake up in the morning to eat for Suhoor (what we call that morning eating time), I’m usually pretty tired but the rest of my family is too so we all eat in tired silence, sometimes with minimal words. In hindsight, it’s kind of hilarious (in a good, satisfying way). Imagine a whole bunch of exhausted people sitting around the table eating food and kind of grunting affirmations or denials when being asked questions. But it’s a happy sort of sleepy that encompasses us and I value those moments. When we were younger though, my siblings and I would just stay up the entire night to eat in the morning. And we’d be so hyper! Our parents, sometimes amused but often times too tired to deal with us, would tell us to keep our voices down at the table but it would never work. We’d be loud until we had to pray Fajr, the earliest prayer of the day, and then we’d sleep. Some of my happiest moments are in those hours.

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Technically, we’re supposed to stay up for the rest of the day (after sleeping for a time) and carry out our errands the way we normally would, but as children, we’d sleep in until we had to wake up for Iftar,  which is what we call the evening eating time. It sort of defeats the purpose of fasting, but we were children and it wasn’t obligatory for us anyway. I remember a few years ago, I completely switched up my sleep schedule for Ramadan, in that I was sleeping from 8 AM to around 8 PM and staying up the entire night. The amazing thing I realized after I did that was that the sunrise never lost its beauty.

By evening, we were starving. We’d grab as much food as we could and gobble it down, after praying of course. I can taste all the wonderful food, even now. It’s different for other cultures, but in my Pakistani culture, we would have samosas (my dad makes the BEST samosas I’ve ever had), curries, chicken pilaf, and biryani. Although chicken pilaf is my favorite (my mom makes a mouth-watering chicken pilaf), chicken biryani is a fan-favorite among many Pakistanis.

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And Iftar is can be celebrated with many other people, so we’d always be invited to others’ houses for Iftar parties, in which everyone would break their fasts together. And if we were at a masjid, the Arabic word for mosque, or went to one after breaking our fasts, we would pray the rest of the night. These prayers were called Taraweeh. They could often last until Suhoor, if we wanted to stay that long. Sometimes, on the weekends, we did.

For Iftar parties, I and many others loved dressing up, although I think this is a cultural aspect rather than a religious aspect. I would don a beautiful salwar kameez. Here’s me in one, although this wasn’t taken during Ramadan:11225730_10152878310568039_588285998948020402_n (1)

I remember snippets of Ramadan, and more continue to be added. I remember my parents at the table, my friends and I praying in the masjid or just talking, reading the Qur’an in the quiet hours of morning, or finding my parents curled up near the lamp reading their respective Qur’ans. I remember watching sunrises come up with my friends, leaving the masjid at daybreak, the hustle and bustle of Iftar parties and Suhoors at the masjid, and late-night talks with my siblings and cousins about the meaning of life or our existences. I remember snippets of laughter, of community, of happiness. I remember feeling content.

*For the header image: Mubarak means blessed, so the phrase Ramadan Mubarak is to wish a blessed Ramadan.