I remember every English teacher I ever had—even back in the Elementary school days when it was called “Language Arts”.
It shouldn’t be surprising that English was my favourite subject. But in addition, I was also blessed with a good run of English teachers throughout my academic life (with one exception in Grade 8). I can say with confidence that the teachers who were the most influential, and most responsible for shaping my mind and inspiring my imagination were my English teachers.
After four long years of ink, sweat and tears I graduated from MacEwan’s Professional Writing (PROW). With graduating came a sense of finality, that this chapter in my life is officially closed now.
I cannot write enough about PROW. As a program, it was unique. Because it was an applied degree, many of our classes were project-based. Sometimes they involved actual organizations too, such as when we had to partner with a non-profit organization (my group got Kids Kottage) or when we had to present our re-branding of K-Days to actual Northlands representatives.
But what made PROW truly unique was the people. The PROWlers.
First thing to know is that we were very few. Maybe no more than forty students—less so when we were told that PROW was being cancelled and a shiny new Bachelor of Communication program would take its place. Some of us jumped ship. It was an honour writing, reading and learning with many of my peers—my friends. I remember in our first year many of us were isolated in our own private bubbles. I don’t think there was a single one of us who had a definite idea of what they were actually doing here. I was one of them. I took the program because I loved to write; I had no idea of what kind of job I would have at the end of it. Yet we carried on, learning more about ourselves and each other throughout the years. By the time we were finished, I was part of a network of some of the most talented people I’ve ever met.
The common joke between us was that the first thing people say when you tell them you are in Professional Writing is “Oh, like journalism, right?” No. It’s not like journalism. PROW was really about communication. It was about learning how to send a message through a variety of media. In addition to creative writing, non-fiction, short story, poetry, and various other writing styles, we also learned Photoshop, web design, internet writing, business communication, leadership skills, public speaking, screenwriting, rhetoric, magazine writing, media relations and a plethora of other skills. And some journalism was thrown in there too.
In a short time, many of us have accomplished amazing feats. Collectively, we published a book: The PROWlers: A Professional Writing Anthology, a fitting swan song to a program dedicated to the written word. Some have become editors at magazines like Avenue or technical writers for various companies. Some have gone the freelance route. Some write for businesses, non-profits or for government. Some have started their own businesses. Another has completed her own web series. One of us has even started her own publishing company. Pretty much all of us are working on our own books (and one of us has even published his book of poetry—the first PROWler to publish a solo book).
As I sat with my fellow graduates, I felt as though this would be the last time we were all together. We all crossed the stage and received our well-earned degrees, then gathered for a group picture and then dispersed. Four years brought together for a single moment, frozen in time, and then scattered abroad.
The original title for this entry was “Graduates with extinction”. I thought it was clever, because it rhymed with “distinction” and was fitting since our program is being laid to rest. But this is not meant to be a eulogy. Rather, we leave PROW behind, and move forward with the tools we learned to make a change in the world.
And so to all the PROWlers reading this, I say thank you.
Thank you for your words, for your friendship and for your support. Thank you for accepting me for who I am—a Canadian Muslim convert with a knack for LEGO and videogames, and a tendency to over-analyze everything. Through your acceptance and your friendship, I gained confidence in my writing and in myself.
To me you are all distinct. As writers your skills are broad and diverse. As colleagues you are diligent and creative. As friends you are supportive and always willing to lend a hand or a pen. Together, we were bottled lightning. We were PROWlers.
Some of us may never meet in person again—and I hope I am wrong in this. But even still, know that each and every one of you have touched my life and my heart. We are all part of each others’ lives now. Whatever path your life takes, keep a pen in your hand, humor in your heart and imagination in your mind.
Write on, friends, write on.
“Words, whether written on a page or spoken out loud, are not mere symbols. They have a spirit and a life to them. They are not just a series of letters, but a means by which one person can touch the heart and mind of another.” –Dr. Salman Al-Oadah
You know what the most terrifying thing about writing is? The moment when you look at what you’ve written and see a mirror reflecting those parts of you that you try so hard to bury. Continue reading “The Mirror of Words”→
Yesterday I handed in my final assignment over lunch with my instructor (High Level Diner in Edmonton; buy their ketchup, it’s fantastic). And it took a while to register, but now it’s dawning on me that my journey through school is over. It’s like I’ve been walking down a hallway for the past four years, and now suddenly I’m outside in a vast expansive field. It’s a little frightening—oh, who am I kidding? It’s terrifying. But at the same time, exciting.
Ever since I finished High School I wanted to go to university. I always had my eye on MacEwan University (though it was a college back when I graduated). But it wasn’t written for me then; there was much I had to go through first. I became a Muslim, got married, worked two—sometimes three—jobs, moved three times, got divorced, before I finally found myself sitting in a classroom at MacEwan.
But I feel that everything that came before was just a preamble to my real life—the life that’s ahead of me now. In her memoir, Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy asks “Who do we go about turning into the people we were meant to be?” I believe we do this through change and through challenge.
Change and Challenge
I entered university during a time of great change, both in my personal life and academically, and great challenges. For starters, MacEwan had just upgraded from a college to full-on university. Because of that, the program I enrolled in, Professional Writing (PROW for short), was being phased out and replaced with a new Communications degree. And so I was part of the last group of PROW students—PROWlers we called ourselves—to enroll in that program. In addition to that, the Muslim population on campus was growing—or, at least, becoming more involved. Case in point was the number of attendees for our Friday prayers (Jum’ah): when I first got there, we had maybe 10 guys, and 15 girls; when I left, we needed to get a bigger room. I was honored to be a part of
these two worlds, of writers and Muslims, and to challenge myself within both of them.
I originally went to school with the “I’m here to study, not make friends” attitude. That almost lasted me throughout the first week. By the end of the week, I was Vice President of the Muslim Student’s Organization (MSO)—mostly because no one wanted to take the position, so in what became an ongoing theme during my time at school, I was pushed into the challenge out of necessity. It was the first step in a long journey of personal and spiritual growth. Having been part of a small, relatively homogenous Muslim community in Wetaskiwin, I was now a Muslim in Edmonton, with the many mosques, imams, sheikhs, and opinions; it was like a goldfish being tossed out of its bowl and into the ocean. By my second year of University, I was the President, and I was doing things I never thought I would be able to do—speeches, event coordination, even just simply standing at club’s booth as a representative, and I thank God for all of that. And I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I wasn’t in PROW.
Everything in PROW was constantly pushing me into accepting myself as a writer. Before I came to university, I had actually abandoned writing for nearly two years, and I had only just started writing again. I had no clue what I wanted to be and who I was going to be at the end of it all. But I pushed through it, and I can say with all honesty that in the four years I was in PROW, I never had a single class that I felt was superfluous. Whatever I learned in PROW, I was able to apply to my work in the MSO and in my own life: HTML, creative writing, short fiction, speech writing, business writing, all of these classes became tools that helped me become a stronger writer and communicator. And not only that, but I felt a sense of camaraderie with the other PROWlers. We were the last of our kind, the swan song of an entire program. So it was only fitting that we self-published our own small anthology, titled The PROWlers, as a last hoorah to the program that helped us find our words. We were there at the end, and we ensured it ended with bright smiles and beaming laughter.
End of the Hallway
There’s so much more I want to tell you.
I want to tell you about the challenges of being a Canadian-Muslim convert. I want to tell you about the difficulties we had with our book. I want to tell you about all the friends who helped me get to where I am as a person, as a Muslim, as a writer.
And I will. Someday, God willing. But for now, I’m ready to let school go. I’m ready to close this part of my life, and open the next one.
School is over. I’ve reached the end of the hallway, and have stepped outside.
Quick, how many Muslim writers can you name? Now remove Khalid Hossein (The Kite Runner) and tell me who you have left. Seriously, tell me in the comments. Because, really, there aren’t many of us around. And that’s a problem. Continue reading “The Muslim Writer’s Manifesto”→