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.

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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.

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.

 

Car Crash

I accept that everything happens for a reason. I only wish I knew what those reasons were. It’s the speculation that wears at me more than anything. When you’re as anxious as I am, it doesn’t take much to send you down a rabbit hole of your own thoughts. The slightest push and your foot slips, dirt crumbling beneath your heel. You fall and fall and your fears whisk by. You watch them go up and away as you go down and further down, until all at once you hit the bottom, the impact like a car crash.

But at the bottom there are no answers either. It’s silent. And dark. The only voice that comes to you is the echo of your own voice, bouncing off the walls. “God, let this be within your blessing,” your voice says. “God, let me have this thing, and let it be good.”

You look up at the hole from which you’ve fallen. You can see the sky, blue, and the grass at the edges of the hole, a green and marvelous crown, swaying in the sun. You wish you hadn’t been so foolish. You wish you had made better choices. But you know, in all honesty, that your decisions had felt good in the moment. They must have…

Still, there is nothing for it. You’re still down here, and the world up there. You make yourself small at the bottom of the hole, ashamed, and wait for the more clever version of yourself to wake up and pull you out.