2019 was the year where nothing worked out the way I planned, but somehow, the year has ended without ending me.
I guess that’s all any of us can ask for these days. That and not being bankrupt.
Ahh.. the perks of living in the darkest timeline.
There is doomsday clock that got erected in the neighborhood where I work.
It’s not really a doomsday clock, but it might as well be. It counts down the years, days, minutes and seconds until it is too late to stop climate change. It’s for anxie…I mean awareness. It’s for awareness and stuff.
I fucking hate it.
The first time I saw it was after a particularly long day that capped off a horrible couple of weeks, and yet somehow it felt worse than all of those horrible weeks combined. I found myself yelling at it and giving it the finger in front a captivated audience of white passers-by. Not my shiniest “good immigrant” moment tbh.
I am sorry. I am just not cool with having anxiety and awareness becoming synonyms. I know that anxiety-inducement has become the measure of success of all social campaigns, the same way the crowning achievements of some social movement is how many words you can ban from popular usage, but can we like not? Seriously, can we please stop with this let’s fill you with anxiety about how threatening the future is crap? All it does is make me feel more helpless about my future, and I am not sure that’s helpful or is the desired effect.
Also, I am not really sure which apocalypse will get me first. I mean will it be global warming and rising sea levels? Will automation get me, and will AI replace me? Or will it be a Malthusian crisis? Or the drinking water apocalypse? Or will it be a global pandemic caused by super bacteria or prehistoric viruses unleashed by defrosting icebergs? And let’s not forget the good old-fashioned world war apocalypse caused by the insanity of the leaders of nuclear powers… cause, you know, that train is never late.
It feels as if we are all playing a game of “Genocide Bingo”. Which calamity will it be? WHAT WILL FINALLY GET US AND HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU BE CONCERNED? What will kill YOU? You wanna know? You sure? Ok.
Cancer. Cancer will kill you. Cancer will kill us all. Or at least half of everyone we know and care about, way before any of those other things. I know… It’s not as glam or cinematic as any of the other apocalyptic options.
After my father died, Egypt went insane for a month, followed by two month of destroying the neighborhood I grew up in Cairo, Heliopolis. Classical architecture being demolished, green spaces destroyed, trees removed and 6 bridges in an area of 2 kilometers were being built.
It was Cairo’s prettiest neighborhood in my opinion, the only neighbourhood I loved, and the one neighbourhood with actual sidewalks and like..urban planning. Growing up there in the halcyon days of the 80’s, when it was still clean and empty and iconic, was good for the soul. During winter days it exuded apricity, especially compared to the travesty that is Cairo’s other neighborhoods, or, you know, its newly developed suburbs. If Egypt was an ashtray (97% sand, yo), then Heliopolis was the Oasis.
And now it’s sand again. And ugly. A penumbra of its former self.
There is nothing left for me there.
I thought my life would get better once I figured out that anxiety was essentially a hallucination. Just a bunch of thoughts and irrational fears that somehow manifest to make you feel physical sensations that are not real.
Like the weighted anxiety, you know, the one that feels as if some gelatinous jelly-fish like creature with tentacles weighing on your chest and moving under your skin? You know that one? The moment I realized that it wasn’t real, the weight vanished. I was ecstatic. For like two weeks.
And then the crippling anxiety replaced it.
I don’t mean to brag, but like I’ve been through all forms of anxiety this year. Like all of them.
In case you didn’t know, that’s a laudable achievement in my generation. My generation is all about bonding over our anxieties. Having multiple ones makes you a higher rank of human or something.
It’s a thing. Trust me.
Unlike weighted anxiety, crippling anxiety was as weightless as it was effective, and it is all about lethargy, demotivation and time-wasting. Whatever I had to do that was good for me either financially, physically or career-wise, it made sure I wouldn’t do it or get it done. The fire that was in me, that got me through all those years? It was out.
It was also the first time I realized that my brain doesn’t listen to me, but it wasn’t the last time. I went from not being able to move, to doing whatever is the opposite of what could make you get better.
You decide to quit smoking, and you end up watching your body moving towards the stairs to buy cigarettes. You decide to diet, and you watch your hand ordering pizza online. You join a gym? You will never leave your bed in the morning to go. You will do these things in astonishment because you also have no idea how or when or why you lost control of your body and its actions.
Imagine a rebellion against your own betterment launched by your body; A punishment for wanting the life you could have. This is your brain on crippling anxiety.
I got myself finally out of it after spending months asking it: “What do you want? What will it take you to get out of it? When will this punishment end?”
I asked and I asked, and my brain answered with silence for so long.
And then one day my brain answered me.
Annihilation, it said. It will end with your annihilation. It will continue to destroy everything until you eventually kill yourself, since there is no future or point. This is not punishment, it said. The world is punishment. Life is punishment. Why even try?
Because Life is short, I said. Life is short and I am one of the people who is blessed with knowing that you can literally do anything in this world you want to do.
Here is a list of all the things I want to do and learn, and you keep me from doing them or sticking to them; always making me wait, until I waste all my time and my life. Shit, my insomnia is primarily fueled by all the possible lives that I’m not living, but could be, if I just stuck to my plans.
Fuck you, Brain. You can be such an idiot sometimes.
“His character is drawn so as to make him peculiarly fitted to suffer acutely in the adventure to which he is destined”
“Be aware of your own bullshit. Don’t allow your mind to bully you.”
Most of our insecurities do not fade with age, so it helps to face them quickly and decisively. And since I’ve become insecure about my writing, well, here we are.
When you stop writing, you lose your sense of language and your sense of rhythm, and those two things are far more important than talent. Talent on its own isn’t what makes you a great writer; It’s your love and passion for writing that makes you a great writer. It’s what makes you work on it. It’s what keeps you going.
Getting back on that horse, after taking a long hiatus, is one of the hardest things any writer goes through. But it must be done. So, here we are.
Ps: The writer who doesn’t write is a modern-day cliché. Also a Jerk. Don’t be that person.
In her ethereal voice she told me: “I think that the storm is over.”
I pointed to the sound of sputtering rain outside. Sure, it isn’t the cloudburst that it was half an hour ago, but you can still clearly hear the sound of drizzle. She laughed and clarified that she meant the storm that was this past year.
“Everyone seems to have had a YEAR, but everyone seems somewhat better for it. Happier even.”
I wanted to tell her that any time happiness reared its shiny head in my life this past year, it was both evanescent and vestigial. But I didn’t. It sounded both whiney and pretentious, so I nodded.
With her optimistic youthful enthusiasm, she explained how everything that happened has put her in the right mindset and motivation to solve the problems of her life.
A hesitant pause followed.
Then I made the requisite “I am not trying to rain on your positivity” and “You should totally do this” disclaimers, before I said:
“But here is the truth: There is no final solution to most of your life problems. There is no manual or way to stabilize your gains. You solve them this year they return three years later. There is no solving Life.”
I feared I sounded dramatic; she thought it was profound and helpful, and then started to send it to some of her friends. It will make them feel better, she said.
You can’t worry about what you can’t control, she said.
And with that same sweet voice and a big smile:
“FUCK IT!”, she said.
In 2019, I missed feeling awed and inspired. I also missed feeling settled.
2019 was a dumpster fire. That entire decade was if one was honest. One giant dumpster fire that burned through everyone and every-thing.
Strangely and unexpectedly I kept being alive when I should have been burning. Bite me, Joan of Arc, you fuckin loser.
But throughout it I did everything to avoid conflicts: I walked away from fights; withdrew myself from toxic situations and dynamics; Talked shit out with frenemies; Tried to make peace with those who really wanted to make me their enemy. I did everything I could think of to have peace and stability, and 2019’s response was the middle finger, and the realization that, sometimes, everything you do is not enough to keep the peace.
I wanted peace in a time of conflict, which is a rookie mistake. I should’ve known better. Won’t happen again, just like this hiatus I have been on.
Oh yes. The writing hiatus is over. This is not a random long rambling post. No No. This is not a one-off. This is a harbinger of things to come. Something to fill the lacuna of the past few years.
It took me a year, but I managed to finally restart that fire in me. About damn time too.
Now, let me begin again.