50 books I'm reading in 2018: A growing list

I kicked off 2018 with a commitment to read 100 books as part of my Goodreads 2018 Reading Challenge. But with a new writing challenge and dedicated podcasts, I’ve realized I’ll need to tone it down a bit. So: 50 books! Here's the beginning of my list, which I'll be updating every now and then. 

Books I've completed are in bolded links. You can see I'm a bit behind...

50 books I'm reading in 2018

  1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  3. Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff
  4. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  5. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng 
  6. The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
  7. The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
  8. Nejma by Nayyirah Waheed
  9. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  10. The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
  11. Currently reading: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  12. Currently reading: Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  13. A Higher Loyalty by James Comey
  14. Sea Prayer by Khalid Hosseini
  15. Sold by Patricia McCormick
  16. Wallbanger by Alice Clayton
  17. through 100: TBA

Let me know if you have any suggestions! And feel free to add me on Goodreads.

Day 60: Podcasts I'm listening to (this week) #100daychallenge

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What I'm listening to on any given week typically comes down to how much time and mental energy I have to give. But I need my podcast fix on the daily.

There are hundreds of shows I'm subscribed to, so I had to change to this prompt and limit my list to what I'm listening to this week in particular.

The Daily - The New York Times

There's a reason this podcast is as popular as it is. Averaging 20-25 minutes an episode, this daily brings the top news story to you through unique, relevant perspectives and ends with a breakdown summary of the other big stories of the day. 

Buried Truths - WABE

Aside from the fact that my former journalism professor (and Pulitzer-winning author/journalist) Hank Klibanoff is behind this production, these buried truths of civil rights injustices past are compelling, maddening and so worth the listen.

Caliphate - The New York Times

After reading journalist Rukmini Callimachi's INCREDIBLE coverage of the inner workings of ISIS's bureaucracy and the fall of Mosul, I cried when I heard she was coming out with an audio series. For now, the first episode is only available for subscribers (please subscribe to the news outlets you read). You can catch it on iTunes next week (I think).

This American Life - WBEZ

I'm crying, I'm laughing and I'm crying again. Listening to TAL is a weekly ritual for me. Ira Glass is my hero and some of these stories have honestly changed my life (and given me so many new perspectives).

Hidden Brain - NPR

TEACH ME EVERYTHING, Shankar Vedantam! Oh man. I just love the intersection of storytelling and science/psychology. And this podcast hits on all the things you've wondered about and so many more you never would've given the time of day. As someone who's always been hyper aware of body language and speech, I love learning the science behind what drives human behavior to do and say the things we do.

But like I said, there are so many more podcasts on my phone and this is by no means a full list. This is actually kind of a slow week. Others I often listen to: Pod Save America, accessAtlanta, Still Processing and See Something Say Something.

What are some of your favorites?

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Day 59: How you're just like your mother #100daychallenge

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I've probably said this a hundred times already, but for much of my life, I've identified as my dad's "carbon copy." But I think I'm finally starting to notice some of my mom's qualities, most of which have always been aspirational and preferred (sorry dad).

My mom, unlike me, isn't the most stubborn gal on the planet. And she's never been the people-pleaser I once was. In fact, she's got this great zero-fucks-given attitude (excuse my French) that I've learned to adapt to situations that really aren't worth my mental energy. 

She's also got this great head for business management and knows when to get serious and when to show compassion. My dad jokes about how their employees know that if they want to have fun, they'll work with him. But truth is, she runs the ship and isn't afraid to call out people for being irresponsible or inappropriate. And that's something I'm really getting the hang of, though I've definitely got some work to do.

And I love my mom's ability to find contentment in the simple life. I want to show her the world and the magic of exploring the unknown, but I've learned that as you long for adventure, you've got to enjoy the little things. And now I really do.

I'm also like my mother in the way that I've never really identified with the status quo. Growing up, my mom was a total tomboy, often the only chick playing ball in the streets of Karachi. She grew up to become a physician and didn't care at all about marriage for years despite the constant pressure from the community. And she never felt the need to be some social butterfly, either. She did what she wanted to do when she wanted to do it. I think the constraints of eventual marriage and family got in the way for a long time, but she's relearning to prioritize herself and it's beautiful to see.

On my end, I struggled to feel comfortable in certain social circles for years before realizing I didn't have to fit in anywhere at all. My mom taught me to be my own person, and find comfort in that.

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Day 58: Your favorite beach #100daychallenge

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Kaanapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii

During our time on Maui two years ago, we stayed at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa in Lahaina, right on Kaanapali Beach. It's hands down the most magical place I've ever been. We'd wake up to this epic sunrise and watch the otherworldly clouds surround the majestic Haleakala crater in the distance. During the day, we'd laze on the soft sands with a mai-tai in hand or snorkel near the Black Rock until the skies turned purple and pink at sunset. What a dream. I can't wait to go back.

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Day 57: The last chapter of the relationship #100daychallenge

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There have only been one or two endings in my life that have totally blindsided me. But for the most part, I can feel them coming. 

Assuming infidelity and abuse are out of the picture, the red flags typically begin with body language, something I've always paid excruciating attention to since I was a little girl. 

It starts with wandering eyes, shorter kisses, one-armed hugs. Little to no eye contact during intimacy. Less intimacy. A broadening lack of empathy when someone's venting. 

When you're out at a restaurant, you're more focused on the food or the people around you than each other's company. You start to feel the need to have some kind of activity planned to spend time together.

Silences stop feeling as comfortable as they once felt and you no longer feel it's appropriate to ask for favors. Pushing buttons even in a fun, flirty teasing manner seems to add to the tension.

The laughter kind of stops, too. You begin to overthink before you speak and second-guess each word, leading to inauthentic exchanges.

Self-esteems drop.

And then there's the realization that the elephant in the room has been around for too long. And neither of you have felt confident enough, or maybe even cared enough, to address it. To me, this is the most painful part.

Maybe someone finds the courage to finally speak up and risk a little pride and pain to save a once-good thing. Maybe someone actually manages to reignite a dying flame. Maybe not.

But the truth is, final chapters often end without a proper ending and without a fight. And that's a shame.

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Day 56: A moment when you realized you were braver than you thought you could be #100daychallenge

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There were a few stories I was pitching, a series related to Muslims in America pegged around last Ramadan to give it a newsworthy edge. My boss pulled me aside and said the senior editor of my newsroom wanted to be convinced about some of my story ideas. So I was asked to put together some "points" and meet with him the next day. I'd never even spoken to him before.

I got home and was pretty anxious about the whole thing. I felt this need to defend myself and my religion, even though my editor made it pretty clear that he wasn't outright rejecting anything. He just wanted to better understand.

I felt like I needed some quantitative research to back some of my ideas. I needed to hear from more Muslims, people who might identify more with the religion than I ever did. Muslims of different backgrounds and sects and ideologies and spectrums. So I created an online survey and sent it around.

The survey contained a list of news headlines covering Muslims in a non-negative light. I wanted to understand which topics and words made them feel good and which rubbed them the wrong way. I sent it to my friends, acquaintances and posted it in some private Facebook groups, including American Muslims, CAIR and others. Everyone had 24 hours to complete it.

By the time I got to my meeting, I think I had nearly 300 (or 500?) responses. Some of the answers surprised me, but my pitches were on the right track.

I walked into the meeting with my heart beating out of my chest. When it was my turn to speak, I confidently explained that if we're going to cover Islam/Muslims at all, it can't just be when something terrible happens. That's not balanced coverage. I had participated in a Muslims & Media panel session moderated by AJC's EIC one week earlier and pulled some of the feedback from our community's Muslims into my argument. I talked about how Muslims are put into similar minority boxes as Latinx or African-Americans, and the volume of coverage other marginalized communities receive compared to Muslims.

I then brought out my survey results to show the senior editor what kinds of things work and don't and added that maybe I need to tweak some of my proposed language. 

By the time I finished, I was a little out of breath. And he said something along the lines of, "Well, OK then."

I remember feeling so...surprised by how I handled my nerves, by how much I really cared about the subject and how much I still do. It was a good day for me.

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Day 55: How do you get yourself back to sleep in the middle of the night? #100daychallenge

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Photo: you me

We've all been there. You get to bed at a comfortable hour and something wakes you up in the middle of the night — a bad dream, your neighbor's dog, a police siren...mother nature. And now you can't get yourself to fall back to sleep. And the constant reminder that you have to be up in just a few hours isn't exactly helping.

Here's what's helped me in the past:

  • Progressive muscle relaxation: This is essentially a way to relax your body by isolating different muscle groups when you're feeling especially restless. From Everyday Health: "During progressive muscle relaxation, you will focus on each muscle group in your body, first tensing selected muscles for a few seconds and then slowly relaxing them over the course of 20 to 30 seconds." Learn more here.
  • Put on a podcast. I don't know why this always works for me, but it does. Maybe don't choose something under true crime, though.
  • Take a warm shower or bath. Yes, you'll waste some time being up, but a warm shower or bath always helps me get all sleepy.
  • Don't keep track of the time. This is only going to leave you anxious. Ignore your clock (but make sure you have your alarms set!)
  • Check out this wikiHow guide I have bookmarked on my iPhoneHow to Relax and Go to Sleep. It's really so helpful and has tons of smart ideas to ensure you get a good night's rest.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, chronic insomnia affects up to 20 percent of adults, many of whom don’t seek treatment for it. If you're consistently having trouble sleeping at night, consider reaching out to a sleep specialist.

I recently listened to Hidden Brain's eye-opening 2017 episode on why sleep is so damn important and what lack of it can do to the body and mind. Shankar Vedantam (the host) talks to Randy Gardner, a San Diego man who went 11 days without sleeping, breaking a world record. Below are Part I and Part II of the Eyes Wide Open episodes:

ALSO READ: Day 47: A beginner's guide to getting up in the morning #100daychallenge

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Day 54: The closest experience you've ever had to having your life flash before your eyes #100daychallenge

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I can name a few instances, but there's one experience in particular that came to mind when I read this prompt.

One day last Fall, I left work a little early because I was feeling a bit woozy and figured I just hadn't slept well or eaten enough. 

When I got to my apartment, I briefly let my pup out. We usually either go for a long walk or play fetch in the park for half an hour, but I really wasn't feeling up to it. Instead, I got into bed and she followed suit. It was 5 or 6 p.m. and I didn't wake up again until 10 a.m. the following workday.

When my eyes opened that morning, my first instinct was to reach across my bed to check the time on my phone, which sat on my bedside table. But I couldn't move.

My fingers tingled and I couldn't get myself to sit up for more than 10 minutes. When I tried to turn to my left to make it to the ground, I felt this excruciating pain down my back and every nerve on my body felt like it was on fire. I was burning up and I needed to make it to my phone to call for help.

It took me another 20 minutes to crawl toward the other side of the room because I was in so much pain. I couldn't stand upright and my fingers and toes were still tingling. Lady, my 1-year-old puppy, walked beside me, giving me kisses any time I cried out.

I finally made it to the right side of my bedroom. But just as I tried to lift up and get on my feet, I lost all feeling again and fell to the floor. Everything went dark and I remember feeling like I was still falling into open space. I didn't really see my family, but I distinctly remember hearing their voices. I think that lasted a few seconds, but it could have been longer. I have no idea. 

I woke up to Lady kissing all over my face in a bit of a panic and managed to gather the courage to pull myself up and make a call before things got worse. And I really believed they were going to get much, much worse. It was so weird. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I was convinced I'd just like died and came back to life, lol.

I intended to call 911 but instinctually called my mom crying, which in hindsight I probably shouldn't have done. She immediately rushed over to my apartment to rescue me and took me to the emergency room where it was discovered that I was dealing with Coccydynia, an inflammation of the tailbone.

Since then, I've learned to manage any pain and take preventative care to avoid another frightening episode. I use a cushion when I sit at work and try to take more walking breaks, stretch before I sleep and when I wake up (and before/after workouts), schedule massage therapy at least once a month and use pain medication as needed.

P.S. That incident really made me want to get a roommate/ask the guy I'd been on three dates with to move in with me. Thankfully, no rash decisions were made ;)

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Day 53: List five different smells, and what they remind you of #100daychallenge

  1. Wet concrete after rainfall: Childhood, and skipping from my bus stop down the street to my Long Island home.
  2. Dior J'adore: A trip to Sephora with my best friend. It was the first time I fell in love with a luxury fragrance and I felt extra pretentious that day. Still my favorite.
  3. Samosas: Home, and my grandma and grandpa teaching me how to perfectly fold a samosa sheet at the breakfast table.
  4. Rose candy: Childhood, when my nana used to bring me these rose-flavored treats anytime she visited the U.S. from Pakistan. 
  5. Sweet almond oil: This specific scent reminds me of the exact moment as a 17-year-old that I felt beautiful in my own skin for the very first time. Sparked a love for essential oils and massage therapy.

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Day 52: What would you do if you weren't afraid? #100daychallenge

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You don't realize how much control fear has over your life until you're forced to answer a question like this one.

If I weren't afraid, I'd leave. Catch a one-way flight to somewhere I've never been with one suitcase, a backpack and my camera.

I'd get to know my fellow world citizens, learn a language or two, try foods I'd never imagined I'd eat, write a few books, jump off a cliff and into the twilight blue ocean. I'd sleep under the stars atop a mountain as the distant sound of crickets play lullaby.

If I weren't afraid, I'd leave the internet behind (with the exception of a weekly call to my loved ones). 

But I am afraid. Of missing those loved ones too much and of feeling guilty about leaving my beloved dogs behind. I’m afraid of wasting my time, talent and money. Of the impending loneliness and all of the uncertainty, of everything that could possibly go wrong. Travel woes and sickness. Of being taken advantage of, hurt or worse. I'm afraid of losing relevance and connection, or being forgotten.

For the longest time, I've treasured the idea of comfort. I've intertwined comfort with happiness, contentment. I was recently reminded that the magic happens outside of our comfort zones, that fear dissipates outside of our comfort zones and only then do we begin to understand what we truly want. It might be time to for me to take a step back, too. I’m feeling a little lost in my comfort.

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

 

Day 51: A moment of forgiveness #100daychallenge

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We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Forgiveness has never come easily to me. I've always attributed that to my constantly living in the past, a product of my introspective nature that's led me into the dark one time too many. 

I carried resentment through my teens and college years and didn't realize until just recently how much it was getting in the way of my happiness. I'd become hardened, skeptical and overly protective of myself and my heart. Resentment is like having a cloud follow you around wherever you go, or a string pulling you back just when you've got a shot at something good. I could never shake it. 

My parents always taught me never to trust people too much. As a kid, I thought that was crazy talk. I believed everyone was worth knowing and trusting. Then I was burned and seemed to jump from one end of the spectrum to the other. Years later, I think I'm finally beginning to find a middle ground. 

Some of my closest friends at this stage of my life are incredibly forgiving. I don't always agree with their choices or understand how quickly they can move on, but I'm trying to learn from them. I'm learning about second chances and mistakes, about regrets and the value of genuine apologies. I'm learning that sometimes giving up on people may be good for you, but carrying bitterness against them will destroy you.

Last week, over brunch with a friend, I reminisced about memories past with someone I used to know so well, cared for so deeply and who had once hurt me. During that conversation, I felt this all-too-familiar cloud of resentment creeping up over my left shoulder. I shook it off.

There was this lightness in my chest when I said out loud that I hope he's doing well, as if I'd just unpacked decades of rotting baggage. It wasn't until then that I realized I'd finally forgiven him. Or how liberating the act of forgiveness can be.

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

 

Day 50: Complete this phrase 6 times without mentioning the sky or water: "as blue as ___" #100daychallenge

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As blue as...

  1. Neptune and its slushy, gaseous atmosphere
  2. a magnificent sapphire prized by generations of kings
  3. a hot, electric flame, chemically confused and ready to burn
  4. an arctic blast, her eyes pierced right through me
  5. the familiar wool sweater he wore each winter
  6. limbs losing all sense of life 

 The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,

Fiza

Day 49: What type of person makes a better leader—someone who is loved or someone who is feared? #100daychallenge

My instinctive response: Love trumps fear. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether a good leader needs to/should be loved or feared to thrive at all.

To me, a good leader is respectable and respectful. A motivator with a vision that transcends themselves. A good leader prioritizes his or her people, establishes trusting relationships with them and empowers them to fulfill their own goals along the way. 

I love this quote on leadership by Lao Tzu:

Worst is the leader who is despised.

Next the leader who is feared.

Then the leader who is loved.

The good leader is the one where people say ‘we did it ourselves.’

But I really don't know if all of those attributes necessarily mean a good leader has to be someone beloved. Even that can backfire. For example, you might feel a leader with whom you can emotionally connect with as a friend is someone you love and can really trust. But research has shown that this kind of relationship eventually leads to a lack of respect for authority.

I do believe, however, that a feared leader brings a kind of toxicity into the picture likely to lead to an uninspired following (or no following at all). A strained relationship with leadership makes it nearly impossible to establish trust or loyalty. And as I mentioned above, to me, respect is what I treasure most in a good leader.

So...in the end: I'd pick love over fear but would hope that my leader is ultimately someone I can respect — and someone who respects me.

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Day 48: Your favorite quote #100daychallenge

 Photo: New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer Dick DeMarsico

Photo: New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer Dick DeMarsico

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On Saturday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 9-year-old granddaughter Yolanda Renee King joined survivors of gun violence on stage to address the hundreds of thousands of people converged in Washington, D.C for March For Our Lives.

King brought some unexpected joy to an event filled with hard truths, painful stories and justified anger. 

"My grandfather had a dream that his four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," she said. "I have a dream that enough is enough."

She then led the crowd with a unifying chant: "Spread the word! Have you heard? All across the nation, we are going to be a great generation!"

April 4 will mark 50 years since Dr. King was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. And this quote has always given me hope during the darkest of days.

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Day 47: A beginner's guide to getting up in the morning #100daychallenge

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My old college suitemates would probably laugh their butts off if they saw I was giving anyone advice on getting up in the morning. But so much has changed on that front.

For as long as I can remember, I identified as a creative night owl and total crank in the morning. Waking up was so difficult. I could never find the motivation to get myself out of bed.

It really wasn't until after I graduated college that I slowly taught myself to embrace and value those quiet morning hours.

After undergrad, like many folks out there, I really didn't know where life was going to take me. I had taken some law courses in addition to my journalism/psych major and wanted to give legalese a try.

So right after I graduated, I started working at a law firm and studying for the LSAT. I don't know if I ever really wanted to go to law school or if I just wanted to prove that I could get in, but that year, I was so determined to succeed at anything I tried that my entire outlook on a day's 24 hours changed. I needed to make the most of those waking hours.

It was like a switch went off in my head. I'd convinced myself to wake up at 5 a.m., do some yoga, drink some green tea and pretend it's this magic elixir, take a shower and hit a coffee shop near the firm to get a few hours of LSAT prep done before work. All that hard work and I ended up declining law school for journalism!

But the routine was so good to me. It taught me how to stick to a goal and made me realize I have the self-control to navigate my own life for the better. I just had to want that for myself.

If you're struggling to get up in the morning, whether it's because you've just never been a morning person or you're lacking the will to go on with your day, here are some things that have helped me along the way that I hope resonate with you:

  • Set your alarm to a song that makes you smile. Mine: Sunrise by Norah Jones. It's impossible to wake up upset.
  • Keep your phone or alarm clock far from your bed. I'll keep mine on the floor or even outside of the bedroom so that it's out of arms reach.
  • Get into bed early even if you're not tired. This is still something I struggle with, but I've realized that getting comfortable in bed with a book or a podcast over Bluetooth (no screens!) helps my body relax. I tend to fall asleep much earlier, too.
  • Create some kind of self-care morning routine to look forward to. Find something you'll look forward to each morning. Some things I do: Have a 5-minute dance-in-my-undies party, write in my journal for 30 minutes, make some tea and read that New Yorker article I've been sitting on for months, go for a nice walk with my dog, get a quick workout in.
  • Get outdoors. I love being outside in the mornings. With a dog, that's obviously a big part of my routine, but I recommend just opening the door and drinking your morning cup of tea/joe while breathing in some fresh air. Just wakes you right up.
  • Give yourself a mini pep talk. If you find yourself still in bed staring at the ceiling and wondering whether you really need this job, give yourself a comforting but firm reality check/pep talk to get you motivated. Remind yourself what your big goals are and if you don't have any or need a refresher, make those goals now. 
  • Eat good. I'm so guilty of having a bowl of sugary cereal every now and then, but for the most part, I try to stick to lots and lots of eggs or oatmeal. Give yourself the energy boost you deserve.
  • Stay in bed if you need to. Look, I want to tackle each day with the grit of my best days, but it's okay to feel sluggish, brain-fogged and just wholly unmotivated. It may be a sign that you're a little stuck and need inspiration, or it could be an early symptom of stress, anxiety or depression. These are things you should reflect on more. Take a mental health day and don't feel guilty about it.
  • Do as many of the above as you can *especially* if you haven't slept much. Sleepless nights will come around. And the mornings that follow are just brutal. But the sooner you get it all over with, the earlier you'll be back in bed to play catch-up. Again, prioritize your health above all.
  • Get therapy. I am such an advocate for counseling. If you're having trouble sleeping and waking up and it's affecting several facets of your life or even if you just need someone to talk to, make an appointment. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any personal questions about therapy.

Those are all the tips I can think of off the top of my head. Hope they help!

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Day 46: Tell the story of one of your scars #100daychallenge

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I was around 5 or 6 years old and living in Houston when I got the giant scar on my right knee.

We were a little late to mosque that evening and I remember parking farther than we typically did. I started picking up the pace and took off blazing toward the entrance, partly because it was almost prayer time, but mainly because I just wanted to catch my new light-up velcro shoes in action. 

I was just a few yards from the door when the edge of a license plate struck my kneecap. The vehicle was parked over the curb and the plate was already a little messed up. I was running up a hilly footpath and didn't really look down to see it. 

The plate went right through the top layer of my knee and took out a handful of skin as I fell onto the sidewalk. So gross.

My mom says I really didn't cry much when I got hurt or when I made it to the hospital. I was apparently more distressed about not getting to go home with a lollipop or ice cream cone.

Anyway, tens of stitches and decades later, my scar is still pretty prominent on my kneecap, but now it's got this nice, soft sheen to it. I'm realizing that still doesn't make it sound all that appealing. Oh well.

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Day 45: A tree from the point of view of one of its leaves #100daychallenge

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My tree is the only home I've ever known.

I first emerged on her branches in the springtime, when the buzz of the bees played soundtrack through the warmer months. I was just a little bud back then, fluttering about in the soft breeze.

The other buds in my neck of the branches were always ahead of the game when it came to sugar-making. But my tree never seemed to be upset with me. She was just so patient.

I remember one night, a storm nearly tore me apart by the veins. I was holding on for dear life when she swept me under a larger leaf for shelter. I was the only little bud on my branch to survive. Sometimes I wonder what I did to deserve another season with her.

I've been feeling a little weak lately. We're running into a short supply of food, which my tree says is only natural as the air cools. My color's turning a little more yellowish brown than green now. It's different. Not bad different, just different.

This morning, I watched as my branch mate waved goodbye and gracefully fell to the earth. It's only natural, my tree says again. I can sense she's preparing me for my own farewell.

But I'm not ready. I don't think I am. I beg my tree to give me one more season with her. I still have so many questions left to ask. I told her I wish I could live nearly forever like her.

She said if it was up to her, she'd never have to say goodbye again.

That's when I realized how lonely it must be, to have to watch your leaves slowly fall each year and then face the wrath of winter alone.

It's storming again tonight. A droplet hits my epidermis as my veins begin to slowly tear. It's time. I wish something would just rip me off like a Band-Aid. This is all far too painful to endure.

Hearing my cry, my tree forcefully shakes me off and sends me off the deep end. One last parting gift from the best home I'll ever know.

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Dogs waiting to enter the hospital rooms of sick children for animal therapy time.

The self-healing #MadeMeSmile series features moments, words, images and more that put a smile on my face. You can also follow my #MadeMeSmile series here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Day 44: What is one characteristic you hated about yourself as a child that you've grown to appreciate? #100daychallenge

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My curls. I grew up absolutely despising the way my mom would make me brush my giant mane into a big ball of frizz to keep it all nice and untangled. I always felt like I had to tame the disaster. My hair ties would constantly break and I could never properly tie the school ribbon around my bushy ponytail. And don't get me started on those itty bitty bobby pins.

All of my friends growing up had simple straight hair that just seemed so easy to manage. I always felt like they'd wake up to their soft locks and immediately feel beautiful. I, on the other hand, would open my eyes to a monstrous web of fur and somehow have to figure out how I'd ever manage to tame it, get dressed and eat breakfast in time to catch the bus.

My hair made me feel unattractive growing up. I even had a boyfriend tell me he preferred my hair straight — like the other girls, he said. Not a good look, I know.

The first time I was introduced to a hair straightener, I thought I'd never have to feel insecure about it anymore. From then on, I always kept my hair straight. And I had the burns and fallout to prove it.

But by the time I got to my junior year of high school, my hair was in ruins. Fried and totally damaged. I knew I had to slowly start weaning off my hot tools addiction. 

My hair eventually felt healthier and I remember noticing how significant the change was. But it wasn't until college that I started falling in love with my thick curls.

See, in high school, it's like you're socially taught to want to fit in. Act like the other girls, talk like the other girls, look like the other girls. But in college, it's the standouts that I always admired.

The day I had my hair colored in college — I think that's when I first embraced my lion's mane in all its glory. My hair was loud and vibrant and gave me this boost of energy I always seemed to want to suppress as a girl.

I've learned in recent years that my curls are a big part of who I am, and how I want the world to see me. A little unruly and 100% real.

Thanks to a few hair product samples here and there, I think I've mastered the art of taking care of my hair type without overdoing it. This isn't really a lifestyle post, but if you're struggling with thick, curly hair in hopes of just giving it a smooth finish and making it easier to style on a daily basis, here are some of my personal tips:

  1. Don't wash your hair so often. Stick to 3 times a week at most.
  2. Save any heating products for big occasions and when you do use them, use a heat protectant.
  3. Indulge in a costly (up to $300) smoothing treatment 1-2 times a year. Most of them last up to six months and they're honestly really worth it if you like to wear your hair natural but have very rough, dry hair.
  4. Instead of an expensive smoothing treatment, consider deep conditioning every couple of weeks at home. I like the Living Proof restore mask. I like to leave it in overnight with a shower cap on for extra treatment.
  5. Good shower products are worth the money. I use Aveda's dry remedy shampoo and conditioner.
  6. Hair oil (if you have dry hair like mine) is also a great buy. Aveda's Dry Remedy moisturizing oil is my favorite. 

The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's 642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza

Are you happy?

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When was the last time someone asked you if you were happy?

For me, it was last December. I honestly wasn't sure how to answer. 

There are times I'm happy and times I'm not. There are days I'm satisfied with the energy I put forth and there are days I wish I could redo or erase altogether. 

I'm happy when I'm laughing, when I'm around genuine people, amongst nature and when I'm with my dogs. I'm happy when I'm proud of myself, but I try to detach accomplishment from contentment to avoid depending on material success for inner peace.

At that moment, when I was asked those three words, I was not happy. But I didn't realize the extent until I said those words aloud to another.

While it's a loaded one to ask and be asked, it may be the most important question we could possibly use to inspire human connection (and personal reflection). Our lives are so filtered and hidden behind this false image of perfection that it's often impossible to really know what's going on behind closed doors, including our very own.

When I was a teenager, I remember posting these dramatically depressing away messages on my AOL Instant Messenger or sharing vaguely dark blog posts on my Xanga to hint to my friends that I wasn't ok and that I needed someone to reach out. We all used to do it. And because we all prioritized each other so much (often to a fault), it usually worked.

Though I wish I'd just had the guts to ask for help back then, my subtle cry was more than what I see and do now as an adult. Now, I'll act like everything's OK and try to convince myself I can handle it all on my own. I hate that. But I'm getting better.

My coworker and I were sitting at our desks last week talking about a beloved girlfriend who moved away to get married.

I said I wondered if she was happy, which sounds a little sad, but it's something I think about often. Are my friends happy? My parents? That guy with the St. Bernard down the street? How about the janitor in my building? Are you happy?

I haven't asked my friend the question yet, but I plan to. And I want to make it a point to ask my loved ones more often. Maybe even a stranger or two.

Unapologetically yours,
Fiza