Month: March 2013

Thoughts (four)

I used to think I’d found a way to bypass ostensibly detrimental emotion; that, for example, if at the exact time I was upset I realized the ephemerality of that feeling, and that it eventually ends, it would render the feeling impotent and I would stop being upset. But that never really worked except on the few occasions when the sadness, say, was too insubstantial and it went away by itself, so it was never my ingenious method but, all along, the intrinsic weakness of the factors involved. But now I realise how wrong I was, and how foolish my attempts at inhibiting my own emotion were: if not this, why—and more importantly, how—shall I feel anything else? Why not scratch off happiness too, banish passion as mindless obsession, and vilify longing as weak, despicable dependence?

I think this attempt at control by rationalization has failed, or maybe I’m too much of an impetuous, capricious teenager to implement it. But that doesn’t matter, not so much as this new acceptance: for now I will feel, and I will be petulant, I will be erratic and I will be reckless and I will love myself and hate him, and feel like bludgeoning him with a spiked Florentine war hammer when he’s wrong, and exult in his triumph when he’s not so wrong, and I will think he’s stupid, too, and I will make the best of it all, because I’m supposed to.

It’s not the so much the incident as the aftereffect, what I do after the reaction’s happened, and I think that’s where my focus should’ve been in the first place. And I think I was wrong about the point of emotion, too, because I’m not stoic and I can’t narcotize myself into self-satisfied analgesia by thinking hard, because that is attempting to oppose the very thing about emotion: its immediacy, its impossible avoidance, its necessity. That’s what truly defines emotion. Maybe it was arrogance, thinking I could achieve that, thinking I could tame the beast that few ever have.

Also, I want to go back to when I first listened to Coldplay and discover it all over again.

Thoughts (three)

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by a feeling. I know it’s not fear though, because fear is fierce and bludgeons the wind out of my lungs, and this feels like an assailment to the vital organs: ubiquitous and potent. But fear is small, too, and localized: it’s a concentrated needle charge. But this apprehension is large. It encompasses the threats of growing up and the unknowns of everything I’m yet to divine, if ever. Is this existential angst or am I attributing a much simpler, naturally occurring dread of the future to grandiose language (and concepts)? On the few occasions that it strikes, I feel as if the world is too threatening a territory to be navigated, as though its monstrously innumerable workings are too inscrutable to be rationalized, or at all reasoned with, or maneuvered through sufficiently well as to forge a modest path. I feel as though I am someone too incapacitated and the world—everything in it of people, places, adversities and possibilities—is too impossible to surmount. Life seems impossible.

But then the feeling passes – sometimes as soon as a few minutes have passed – replaced by a slightly ecstatic lightness, and life seems manageable yet. And I’m flooded with hope and resolute ambition, the way only an eighteen year old can: wildly, elaborately, with expertly utilitarian delusion. Despite your better judgment (or any judgment at all for that matter) you build universes of fortunate possibility to be wrecked in the same second, and build others just for the rapt fun of it, often realizing how absurd the constructions are mid-production, but never caring enough to sound the alarm and force the assembly line to a stop: you like it too much, how it grants you ultimate mastery too sweet to abstain from because you need it most now. You plough your deepest desires and in your own mind, attain perfect, complete realization of it all, and only later on will these creations be revealed for what they truly are: defensive palliations, just as mechanically triggered as their cause. But you can’t realise that yet; no, you must bask in its grandeur first. Life seems fine again.

And then you think maybe this is what they mean by teenagers being “erratic”.

Thoughts (two)

I miss a lot of things. I miss paying attention to small things, the way only a child can. I miss sleeping in one of my two pyjamas with pictures of airplanes printed on the chest (a green helicopter and black fighter jet), and pretending to pilot them before I sleep, lying in bed; this had the added benefit of allowing me to imagine the tight cocoon of my cover around me as the cockpit, albeit one that is horizontal, but that’s only because it was so sophisticated. I miss noticing the patterns in tiles, and skipping from white one to white one, and feeling genuine disappointment when the pattern had to be deserted, because the pattern has changed (and nothing can be done about that), or my legs aren’t long enough to reach the next acceptable tile. I miss monitoring my teachers’ toilet-going habits, and, as ridiculous as it was, thinking to myself, “Wow, they’re humans too.”

I miss the absurdity of my childhood. I miss the impossible silliness of, in seventh grade, thinking, “Wait, there are other girls besides my sisters? These exist?”—an unlikely revelation, you’ll find, until you learn that I attended an all-boys school, and until tenth grade maintained a sternly minimal social radius. I miss my outrage at the realization, and how I hated the irreparably vile powers (whoever they are, the school administration maybe?) behind the segregation, chiefly for making me seem stupid to myself, but also because I lamented many a successful potential friendship with people who were forcibly retained far away in an all-girls campus.

I miss the things I remembered, and the things I didn’t deign to. I miss remembering that Voltron was on at 1 pm on Friday, and how missing that was as unforgivable, and things of equal unimportance. I miss, in fifth grade, watching the spiders in the school yard, and carrying them around in emptied water bottles, and picking them up in my hands, and feeling the accomplishment counterbalanced by fear because “they’re poisonous” or “they’ll crawl inside your body if they find an opening”—and I miss how credulous I was, and how that last especially was believable.

I miss understanding things. The day I found out about the nature of sex, it was physical education class, and we were separated into lines of mildly interested ten-year-olds doing jumping exercises. A precocious “friend”, designated so because he wasn’t much of one yet and would never graduate to my roughly defined definition of friendship, explained to me how male and female organs fit together. You see, the stick-looking thing is supposed to fit inside the hole-looking thing. I remember feeling incredulous, and for about a year I remained extremely skeptical. It seemed too barbaric, certainly something unbefitting of the joyous, consummate fulfillment anyone speaking of sex proclaimed. I went on to propagate this theory, testing it against the other prominent one, the Anal Sex. Time has, naturally, erased every shred of the incredulity: I learned that both are true.

I think I miss, mostly, the invincibility of childhood, its inherent, self-erected perpetuity: when you’re a child, you never know you’ll stop being one. I miss the time when I didn’t know that childhood would end and I’d want to write it a nostalgic love letter.

My First Day

This was written on February 17th

Two days after I learned I was accepted at university, the vice president died in a car accident. The two times I visited his office, he’d been outside. The third time I visited, he’d been dead for ten days. The coincidence didn’t fail to attract attention with my friends, who pounced at the opportunity to jape to the “You set foot in the place and the man died” effect. Pictures of him are a frequent sight, and always the same picture: the young, mid-thirties jawline clandestinely prominent (the famous “special by not trying to be” variety), the closely trimmed beard, the gaze looking sideways and away from the lens, not quite a hopeful stare and neither a vacant expression. An entirely measured countenance. On the door outside, the large sign embossed in black with his name and title (Vice President and CEO) was still affixed to the wall, beside the two large, heavy-looking but surprisingly easy to move doors.

“When did it happen?” I asked his secretary, whose desk was outside his opulently furnished office (but that comes later). “When he died, I mean,” I clarified.

“Over a week ago,” she said. “Last Friday.” She was dressed all in black, a matte lusterless abaya, and her face was a reserved, rigid version of the jubilant one I’d seen on my last two visits, when she seemed to me the kind with impeccably resilient glee, the kind who find the simple act of being a triumphant success worthy of every joyous celebration, and seeing that defiance wither today upset me slightly; still, I couldn’t help smiling when I saw her again, a gesture that was understandably not returned—she regarded me blankly instead. She looked somnolently elegant, her slowed movements and speech mindful of the circumstances. As I sat waiting, I saw a man from the cleaning staff walk in and out of the office and, through the two-second long, I saw the inside of the VP’s office. I left.

About an hour later, I returned. She wasn’t at her desk, but the other secretary was, a handsome twenty-something with a cute lisp. “Would it be okay,” I croaked out for not speaking in a while, “if I took a look inside?” By the end of the sentence I’d cleared my throat and released my speaking voice. For a second he looked puzzled, then he asked why. “It’s more curiosity than anything.” He smiled.

“I’m not authorized,” he said, shrugging. “But ask Thakiyya when she’s back, she might allow you.” (That’s her name, the secretary in black: Zakiyya.)

“Insha’allah,” I said, feigning an exaggeratedly hopeful tone and smiling back. A few minutes later, Zakiyya herself exited the vice president’s office. I stood up, answered her few concerned questions about how I’m doing and how well my registration’s moving along, and then I proffered my question. If she was surprised by my request, she certainly didn’t show it. She motioned me forward, opened the door, and let me in. The entire office was brown, many gradations of it—plush golden-brown in the leather seats and dark-chocolate in the meeting table, a befittingly large desk still crowded with a chaos of documents and post-it notes, soft brown carpeting. “Allah yirhamu,” I said, and left.

I couldn’t help thinking that, as far as I’m concerned, he’ll only ever be the face in the photograph and the emptiness in the office seat. To me, this person will remain a non-presence teased into genuine presence by a few details that prove he was there, some jokes, and a glance inside what was once his office. A person who was just as alive as I am isn’t anymore, and I don’t think this irreducible disparity will ever lose its effect. Alive—dead. There—not there. Here—gone.

It’s just that simple, and just that impossible.

Dreary pontification on life and death aside though, today was my first day of university! It’s 11 am as I write this (but I’ll probably post it a lot later), and so far I’ve fulfilled the mandatory quota of running around campus familiarizing myself with it, and attended no lectures because my course schedule hasn’t been finalized. I woke up at 5 am, partly, I think, because I was naturally excited for the day ahead, but mostly, I’m reasonably sure, because sleeping in an empty hostel room is a lonesome, austere, fucking terrible experience. After showering and getting dressed, I walked into a beautiful morning, with a red dawn sky and the cool, insouciant morning air that makes mornings the best time of day (if not the best, certainly the most romantically quiet and peaceful). As far as I could see, there was no one around other than the cleaning staff and a guy sleeping on a sofa, books left open by his side and a litany of notes scrawled on paper. He was the first student I met, and in a way it was perfectly indicative of the time to come. The halls were otherwise ominously empty and silent but for the sounds of vacuum cleaners operating too far away to be seen or located by hearing. I sat on the sofa across the room and waited.

People are strangely excited to be spoken to here, and always follow introductions with a “Pleased to meet you” or a “Tasharrafna” or some other equally thankful and incredulously spoken pleasantry—they’re happy to simply be acknowledged. It reminded me of something a dear friend of mine once noted on her first day of university, something my more solipsist persuasions made me forget and overlook on my first day: everyone else is just as nervous as you. You’re not the only one whose stomach is turning on itself and you’re not the only one too apprehensive to tread over your fear and attempt making friends; in fact, everyone else is, too. It’s kindergarten again, and you’re just as afraid as that snot-nosed kid you were, and the others are just as inscrutably threatening monsters, you’re just as masochistically drawn to them, drunk with hope and the promise of taming the odds enough to forge a friendship, you’re just as ostensibly alone, and it’s just as much of a breathtakingly life-changing event.

I’m nostalgic, too. I was listening to music earlier (Speed of Sound by Coldplay) when I realized how much I’m barraged with archaic emotion. I feel like I did when I was a ten, when in the fifth grade I had to change schools when my dad’s job had us move from city to city. I feel that uncertainty again; it’s the very same feeling, the hesitance, the clenching in my stomach and—at the risk of purulent cliche—the gloomy darkening in my mind. I feel like a worried child again, but not in a bad way. I’ve grown up, and perhaps because of that, the worry that once translated to simple fear now translates to optimism, something I might consider a more complex response. The ten-year-old has acquired some new sensibilities, and they’re helping him in two-months-from-being-eighteen form.  I’m hopeful. I’m optimistic.

Let’s see how this goes.