Turning 22: What I Imagined My Life Would Be vs What It Actually Is

In a week I’ll be 22, which feels significant somehow. Back in highschool, I thought my life would have made a complete 180 by now. I thought that was what I wanted — and needed. Fantasizing about the future was what kept me going, that happy dream of someday being able to construct the perfect life. However, how I thought my life would be at 22 and how it actually is now are two very different things. Let’s compare, shall we?

How I thought it would be:

I would have been in England right now — London, actually. I’d have had this little studio flat in the city, somewhere that still felt like London but was quiet enough that I could focus on my writing in peace. I would have probably made my family a little upset with the decision to live abroad, but it was a sacrifice I was fairly certain I was willing to make.  I’d skype my father everyday and my  mother every night. As for friends, I would have had a very tight-knit group. We’d come from all different walks of life, but would have most likely met through university. I’d have this husband, British but Muslim, brown-haired, kind, and funny. I’d be almost through with university at this point, and also preparing to publish my first novel (I would have already had an agent and everything). Writing and university would have taken up most of my time, but on the weekends I’d go to the theater, markets, and sometimes take long drives up north to idyllic British villages and fill up on scenery. Before long, I’d start saying things like ‘queue’ and ‘y’alright?’. I’d do most of my dreaming on the tube, staring out the window. 

How it actually is:

I live in Amman, Jordan. I have my own room, which is still part of the family house but is quiet enough that I can focus on my writing in peace. I’m unmarried but I do have a group of tight-knit friends. Although we’re all Arabs, we come from fairly different walks of life. Naturally, we met through university. As for writing, I’ve put my novel aside to be able to focus on my graduation project, a work of fiction that is very personal and close to me. I don’t have an agent, but I do have a very supportive professor. She’s lovely. Meanwhile, I’ve improved in Arabic, and can even carry out full conversations with hardly any difficulty. Bus rides to uni are where I do most of my dreaming, staring out the window at idyllic, Madaba farmland, filling up on scenery. I signed up for my last semester the other day. My father told me how proud he was of me. He said my achievements are like his own. I’m glad I was able to get to this point without upsetting him, or my mother.

So, no, it’s not completely off from my original fantasy — it’s just wearing different clothes, I guess. I think what these years have taught me most is that it’s important to have goals, but that it’s also okay to reach them in ways that you may not have expected. So, now I try to trust the uncertainty and keep faith that God and hard work will get me to where I want to be. Or even better, to where I need to be.

See you soon.

The Mud and the Clay

There’s a kind of barrier that exists between me and nature. I feel it even though I live in a generally quiet area. From beyond my balcony there are hills and mountains, and on clear days you can even see the gleam of the Dead Sea. I myself am deeply connected to nature, and find that it follows me everywhere: it comes up in my writing, my photography, even my dreams. In times of distress, I close my eyes and imagine certain landscapes to calm me down. Sometimes I’m on a green cliff and the wind is blowing hard; other times I’m lying on my back on a white shore and the water is baby blue and the sun is silver. Still, though, in spite of all this, I feel that barrier.

I think maybe being around man-made things for so long can make us cold to the natural world. We can feel like we’re above it. We can even begin to fear it. Today I came across an expanse of farmland, golden fields that rolled and unraveled into the city. The white stones of the metropolis were hazy in the distance, and at the farthest point of the horizon stood those two, familiar towers. It was special, to say the least, so I grabbed my camera and went.

But not too far.

What I wanted to do, deep down, was keep wading through the grasses until they brushed against my hips; I wanted to crouch down like a preying lioness and grab shots of the city through the stalks of wheat. Instead, I stayed relatively near the edge of the field. I thought of insects, of allergic reactions, of the time my brother-in-law was bitten by a snake because he hadn’t worn his protective boots on his farm. I remembered my father, warning me about all the things that lurk.

And so I stayed put. I used the zoom on my camera lens and kept a safe distance from the thing that makes me feel most alive.

There are layers and layers of anxiety that stop me from really throwing myself into nature, but I think for the sake of my art and for the well-being of my heart, I need to start breaking those barriers down. I need to feel bugs tickle my feet and splash in the wind and feel the sun and get sand in my shoe. I need to leave the politics of being a member of society behind and go back to the start, to the mud and clay, and to the God who created it all.

Space (a short story)

My whole life I felt odd among my people. I didn’t fit. I didn’t agree with them. There came a time, even, when I was sure I hated them. This feeling got so intense that eventually I took my things and moved up north, where the rain was heavy and there was no one to argue with. All my life I thought turning my back on my people would be easy. And then he came: the man dressed in the cloud.

It was raining that day. I sat at the foot of a cave with my dress over my knees and listened to the raindrops – the stones – ringing off the mountains like music. As the song played, I saw something shifting nearby. Lines drawn in the shape of a body. It was a man, dressed entirely in a white and puffed up suit, like a cloud. He looked towards me and the face behind his glass orb washed with shock. Carefully, he raised a hand and moved it. Side to side.

I paused. I waved back.


He told me he was from Earth, and asked me if I had ever heard of it. I said no. He asked if it always rained like this. I said yes. He laughed and shook his head, as if he couldn’t believe it. He said that the rain on Earth wasn’t solid like this. It came down in droplets of water, not stones. With a gloved hand, he picked up a stray raindrop.

“Do you know what we call these stones back on Earth? Diamonds. They’re very valuable. People have killed each other over them.”

“Killed?” I asked, a little shocked. It seemed a bit excessive to kill each other over stones, whether they fell from the sky or not. But the man only nodded.

“Mm, they kill over just about anything on Earth. Sometimes I think I took this job just to get away from it all.”

These words would echo in my head in the days to come. The man stayed for three, throughout which he told me all about Earth and its people. He told me about green grass and blue sky. It sounded beautiful, and I thought about asking to go with him. But I didn’t. For some reason, I didn’t.

On the day that he was leaving, I watched as he readied his ship. He was putting his things away, and among them was a small, clear bag of raindrops. Of diamonds.

I hesitated.

They kill over just about anything on Earth.

Uneasy, I told him that I didn’t think it was a good idea to take the diamonds back with him. His people would no doubt come back for more, wouldn’t they? They may even bring violence, or war. He told me that they wouldn’t. I told him to promise me that they wouldn’t.

He couldn’t do it.

Still, he was refusing to leave without them. I reached over and tried to take them from him, but he shoved me to the ground. He told me he was sorry and, strangely enough, he looked it too. As he moved towards his ship to leave, I imagined otherworldly men fighting over the rain. I pictured my family – my mother and siblings in the south – getting caught in the crossfire. I pictured clouds forming over the villages. All laced with red.

These images were so frightening, that all at once I found myself with a leg at either side of the man’s body, gripping a rock in my strong hand. With all my force, I came down on him. I broke his glass head and I broke his real head, too.

As he bled, I sat beside his body and shivered. It began to rain again, and as the stones filled the valley with song once more, I thought: maybe it’s time to go home.  

Phantom: A Short Story

When I was sitting with my legs under me in the grass, covered in a shiver with the wind at my neck, I was at first confused. How did it find me? And how could it have overcome me so quickly, and quietly? I put the heel of my palm to my head and rubbed it furiously. There was a voiceless, unbelieving sob (my own) as I asked—

How?

And then as it all gathered, I began to remember. He had been planning this for days. He had been there. I remember. I should have known.

Perhaps I did.

I remember the green glow at the edge of the window, and as I lay in the dark I felt lulled by it. It was like a lighthouse, fading, and I was meant to close my eyes before it had a chance to swing back again. I was meant to. I would have outsmarted it. I would have evaded it.

And then in the evening, when I was with the others, I tore and aligned twigs in straight rows as they spoke of their nights, nights they kept in lockets at their breasts. I pulled up my collar. I could not speak.

In the morning when I woke and went to fetch the water, I found myself led far from the path of the house. I was down a divergence on ground that has since been grown with green, and the blades of grass gave shocked, silent gasps as I broke their spines. The sky was gray like ash and I could see its glow from behind a tree. It throbbed, and I placed the water down and walked towards it—all on my own, too. It took me by the waist.

It was not pleasant and yet not unpleasant. I did not push it off, and when it lined my jaw with its green fingers I let it. It did not last, but it happened more than once so it must have taken a while. 

And then it lifted off of me, swirled high into the tree and watched me lying on the floor, with my arm over my eyes and my heels in the dirt and a scream in my throat. I took the water pail and lunged it at the tree, but it splattered back and made mud at my feet and on my hem.

I breathed heavy and hot. The sky rumbled. There would be rain.

I walked away, determined and pulling my hair back and up and tying it with a steadfast flick of my ribbon. I made my way back down the path, walking around the grasses and trying to ignore the corpses of the blades I had crushed. The clouds rolled. I went home and, in my fever of determination, fell fast asleep with my hand against my cheek.

I woke normally at first, stirring in the dark of the clouds. Still no rain. But I could smell it. I meant to sit up — really I did. I meant to sit up and retie my hair and go fetch fresh water for my face, but there was a whispering at my back, and from the corner of my eye I could see the glow behind me. It was pulling at my ribbon, my hair was falling out. I turned to face it.

Its glow was frightening and endlessly moving, like sick steam. It wrapped around my waist and I breathed it in, until it reached the end of my lungs. It was still swirling when I turned around again and bit the edge of my pillow. My chest was burning.

“Be gone, be gone—”

But it would not go unless I made it. So I swung myself out of bed and faced it.

“Come with me.”

It listened. It always listens when you want something from it. It will give you anything you want. I led it through the house, and had to keep down my cries as it moved around the furniture and shadowed the flower vase by the window. When we reached the front door, I turned to it.

“I’ve had enough.”

It was sometimes soft, and it placed a hand on my cheek. I held my breath and turned away from it. Then I waited until full darkness had returned to the house and I could hear only the pounding of my heart.

Soft twinkles started on the window pane. The flowers shivered.

I closed my eyes, slowly, and waited for the thunder. When it came the twinkling became excited, and my chest softened. I walked towards the window and pulled it open. Chilled wind and water came in. I slipped my body out, just until the waist, and lay with my face upwards. It was uncomfortable, but the water ran down my cheeks and broke on my lashes and slipped down my hair and chest. It tickled on its way down my collar and onto my stomach. I let it wash me.

Tell Me the Good Stuff First

I read something the other day that said “people who mock positivity don’t realize how hard it is”. I really felt that, because I know first-hand how impossible it can feel to try and rewire your brain. Negative thinking is a spiral. I’ve been there. I’ve reached rock bottom plenty of times, and the trudge back up always begins with the realization that my thinking patterns are largely to blame.

It’s not always our fault. Sometimes things really do suck. I don’t like having an anxiety disorder. I don’t like having piles of work to do for uni. I don’t like that there’s a war happening across the sea from where I live. I don’t like any of that. But I have to live with it. I have to cope. And I do that – or try to do that – by changing what’s within my reach, staring with my thoughts.

My little brother is prone to negative thinking, too. He comes home from school most days dragging his backpack behind him. Everyday is a bad day. The kids in his class are loud. They throw pencils. They’re aggressive. I feel with him. Kids can be awful, and I would never want my brother to bottle things up and not tell me if he was truly going through something. But the other day I decided to try something new.  When he came home from school, I asked him, “How was your day? Tell me the good stuff first.” He struggled a bit, but in the end he did actually manage to come up with something. It’s not much, but one good moment is better than no good moment (and sometimes one moment is really all you get). Anyways, the point of me asking him the question the way that I did, was to try and get him to acknowledge that good moments do actually happen sometimes – which is a start, if anything.

I’ll admit, though, I’m lazy with it. That was the first and last time I ever asked him to “tell me the good stuff first”, and that’s because positivty is hard. For me to even ask him something like that, I myself need to be in a positive state of mind. But I want to try harder. And I think you should, too. Honestly, I think we’ll all be better off that way.

So, here’s a good moment that happened today: my sister and I sat in the kitchen eating really sweet cereal and laughing at Buzzfeed Unsolved.

There. Your turn.

 

Angel-light

I watch the blood swirl between my legs
it wasn’t my time, he did it to me
her gaze tugs at my sleeve
please, officer, don’t leave
it wasn’t her time, he tried to do it to her
I cuff him, he’s half-dead
he thought he could smuggle her into hell with him
he thought the red bouncer wouldn’t see
her angel-light burning through his overcoat
they sent her back up to me
I held her hand and took her home
“come, love, wash your face”
three full pumps of soap —
she washed her eyes first.

The Goblin

In Social Ethics class we were asked to make a creative project about a social issue that mattered to us. I decided to write a short children’s book about domestic violence in Jordan, told from the point of view of a child. My hope for this book is that it will raise awareness on the issue, as well as offer solace and strength to the children living in these abusive households, despite the fact they may not yet fully understand their circumstances.

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback!

 


 

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‘Good’ Writing

Today in Writing 3 we were asked to turn in a reflection of what we believed was ‘good’ writing. Our professor gave us complete freedom and told us to choose any format we liked. I went for the creative-fiction-prose approach and wrote up a scene of a mother who discovers the body of her son. Pretty dark, I know, but I wanted to test the emotional impact of the writing.

To do this, I drew up two samples. One was the scene written in a way that I felt was ‘weaker’, and one was written in a way that I felt was ‘stronger’, i.e. the way I would ideally write it. Here are the two samples:

Sample One: 

I entered the house and took note of the silence. But then again it was always this way. My son, who was always home when I arrived from work, was not one to make noise. Usually, I would walk by his room to check on him. He would greet me with a weak smile, and I would look at him and think about how much brighter his smile used to be before he was diagnosed with depression.

“Hi mama,” he’d say.

“Hi habibi,” I’d reply.

Today was no exception. I walked up to his room to check on him, but things were different. My son was not in his bed. I took in the sight of him hanging. He had taken his own life.

Sample Two

Let me tell you about the moment my son became a statistic. I walked into the house, and all was quiet. But that wasn’t odd, really. Rami made as much noise as someone who spent all day swaddled in bed scrolling through Instagram could make. Every day when I’d come back from work, I’d pop my head into his room to check up on him. He’d look up, pull out an ear bud, and try to smile in a way that was meant to fool me into thinking he was doing better. Just once I wish I could’ve fallen for it.

“Hi mama.”

“Hi habibi.”

Today, I went to check on him as always. I walked across the hall, pushed open his door, and there he was. But he wasn’t on his phone. In fact, his phone was on the side table, and his ear buds – much like Rami at that moment – dangled off the edge, hanging silently in midair.

Okay, which one hit you harder? My intention was that the second one would have the stronger impact, and I thought without a doubt that my classmates and professor would agree. But they didn’t.

I explained my reasoning for why I originally believed the second one was stronger; I gave the characters more of a personality, tried to show readers what kind of relationship the mother and son had… The grief, I believed, was in the details. But, according the class, the details served more as a distraction.

My professor said that because the first sample was so stark and mechanical, it reflected the chilling nature of the truth this woman was about to uncover in her son’s room. It reflected the general ‘wrongness’ of the atmosphere, and ultimately the simple, blunt language pierced the heart more acutely than sample two.

It’s never easy to take criticism, but having heard their thoughts, I do sort of agree with them. There are strengths in the first one that the second one could have benefited from. Perhaps it would be better to write more in the style of sample one. Or, maybe I should try to merge the two styles and apply the strengths from both?

I’m not sure yet. I’ll definitely need to think about it more.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t be afraid to place your work under other people’s microscopes. Feedback does help you grow, as a writer and as a person.  Learning to let go of your ego and listen to what others have to say is actually really humbling once you surrender to it. So bring your work to class, show it to people, and take what they have to say into serious consideration. It’s worth the risk, and you’ll probably end up discovering weaknesses in your writing that you never noticed before. (Also, nothing equates to seeing people get emotional over something you wrote, so if it does goes well, it’ll be really nice and you can feed off the validation for a while…just saying).

If you like, let me know which sample impacted you more and why. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

See you soon.

Resolutions

There’s about five or six of us enrolled in Modern English Literature. It’s such an intimate class, we don’t even take it in a lecture hall. Instead, it’s held in our professor’s office, where we scatter ourselves among her couches and prop notebooks up on our laps. Modernist literature is known for focusing on the internal mind, on the consciousness of its characters, and so maybe that’s why it feels so much like a group therapy session whenever we come together. It’s as much a study of ourselves as it is of literature, and we’ve learned a lot about each other.

So, it was no surprise when, the other day, our professor interrupted class to ask us each what our resolutions were for the upcoming year. We sat in silence for a moment, thinking, not sure what was too personal to share. And then a friend of mine spoke up.

Her resolution, she said, was to give up overthinking.

Oh, I thought, that’s a good one. And I could see a similar realization wash over the other students, as well. Perhaps it’s just uni culture, but we really are just a group of anxiety-ridden young adults. Our collective fear is something we bond over – joke about even – but we all know it isn’t always so easy to laugh about.

Our professor, who has the perceptiveness of a loving mother, took note of the faces in the room. She could see that we related to my friend, and she began to tell us about how she, too, had been an anxious student. However, with time, she had trained herself to  take things more easily. She took a moment to remind us that nothing is worth a sleepless night, that we should learn to say ‘so what?’ more often, and that, most importantly, we should never allow other professors – who have forgotten what it’s like to be young and inexperienced – to bully us into feeling inadequate.

It’s funny how we think we already know these things, that we don’t need anyone to remind us, but when you hear them after being in your head for so long, it can be like having a fog you weren’t even aware of lift suddenly. All at once, you’re aware of all the nails you’ve bitten off, lying in a heap in your lap, aware of how vigorously you’re fidgeting in your seat, of how fractured your mind is, thinking days, weeks, even years ahead. It’s good to work, to excel, but it’s also okay to not constantly be doing something.

I’m writing about this because it’s Christmas break, and for the last two days I’ve done nothing but lie around in various positions and think about all the things I should be doing. Coursework, projects, writing – even leisure reading has become a chore. I attach urgency to everything in my life, and it’s exhausting. I do think being ‘productive’ is healthy, but only when one is able.

So, yes, I do want to work and create – of course I do – but not in a way that constantly makes me feel like I’m being chased. There are no teeth yapping at my heels. I have time. I’ll get things done. And even if I don’t do as well as I want to, well then – so what?

See you soon.