I don’t know. I just don’t.
Who would’ve thought this may just be the most profound and contenting statement as I approach ‘The Fourth Decade According to myself’. Not me. I really, truly and foolishly thought that by the time I would get to the age that my father was when I was 10, I would have it all figured out – the way “he had” (will be circling back to unpack that naively loaded assumption at the end).
I went through my teens with the affectation and valor of knowing it all. I spent my twenties realizing that the definition of knowledge needed “rewriting” (retrospectively in a slightly clueless, obnoxious but well-meaning way) therefore I sought to “really, like truly know”.
But it’s really throughout my thirties that I began to compute just how f***ed up the trajectory was promising to be. I had to spend them literally unlearning and relearning things again…and again…and again.
It would be even more accurate to say that the sense of impending doom began as that decade actually first approached. The clue was in the fact that I woke up my 2.3 days after turning 30 and finding that almost overnight my stretch marks multiplied. I found some on my arm and my face. I mean, really. I could no longer sleep anywhere but my bed, having brushed and flossed my teeth vigorously first, no matter how shattered I felt. My under-eye bags lost the will to fight and just budged out permanently.
Perhaps the most subversive thing, though, was that I started to find myself relating to some things my mother used to say that I unequivocally dismissed or disagreed with up until then. But I thought all’s well so long as I go on refuting my father’s perspectives on most things (you could say he was the authority figure I rebelled against and sound boarded all my resistance on).
By the time I was in in the mid 30’s, in every area of life there was a gaping hole between what I thought I knew and how things were playing out to be. I realize this may not be the case for many or even most, and that certainly, it is at least in part, due to how difficult and contrary I am. But I think there is something to be said about the steep learning curve backward and forward that may ring true to some as it has rung for me.
Join me on the stomach churn of a rollercoaster called unknowing –
Work: This should be the safe one. The easy question they start the exam with. Having worked for over 10 years, I thought my entry to my thirties would be when I’d really come “into my own” career; rhetorically and literally. Boy was I wrong about that. Having been in more or less the same institution and rising in the ranks on sheer hard work for a decade, what I thought would be a permanent contract wound up with me deciding to quit and going rogue (I opened my own tiny empire of one media and development consultancy). I have since found myself almost nearly at the steeple of a dream, only to almost intentionally fork horizontally to a parallel career path. There must be a lesson to learn in that. But I am yet to hone in on it though I do admit that parts of that journey have superseded my expectations.
Love: After years of serial monogamy and codependence; a murky break from all that ensued, and eventually a clean break came in good time for respite and recalibration. A couple of years happily married and managing to avoid my archetypal relationship patterns, I was enjoying, cohabitating and being blissfully interdependent with my husband. Things did get interesting soon after my 32rd birthday; making and having babies sucker punched us and everything we thought we knew quite a few times since!
Before kids, marriage felt like taking a small, intimate motor-boat ride for two across the beautiful Aegean Sea – slightly bumpy – but mostly a breeze. After kids, it felt like being on speedboat handled by a drunken sailor who’s own boat I watched capsize and I volunteered to help him out but now he’s hijacked our waterside and is going fast and furious against the wind. Don’t get me wrong, it’s invigorating and hella fun figuring out how much you can laugh and cry while your tears and sweat savor the moment, partner and baby(ies) in tow; but it sure does put a hole in the ‘I know know what I’m doing’ department.
Family: Refer to the drunken sailor above. Oh and no-one tells you this, but, in your thirties (if it hasn’t already started way before), you inevitably lose several people you love the most in the whole wide world from the older generations (some even from your own and younger). It does feel like someone put their fingers in your eye sockets and your eyes haven’t quite felt the same fit since.
Mothering: Ha. I mean really. Ha! I know nothing. It should actually be called ‘Reparenting’ (ourselves) I always say (somewhat in horror at times). The desire to both bow at my own parents’ feet as I simultaneously shake them reproachfully from the shoulders couldn’t be more enticing and endearing.
Self: Perhaps the most beguiling aspect of aging is the ‘self’. A word I thought will be interchangeable with growing, maturing, and even aging. But in fact, more often than not, is replacable with stagnation, [im]maturity and even being more child-like at times (this last one is actually a good thing). To know the self, it turns out, we have to consider exchanging what we are taught is the ultimate goal of living – ‘worldliness’; and trading it in with its Spartan, introspective twin – ‘consciousness’. Both are effortful, meaningful, hard work I’m told (and could potentially seem like they require a lot of money when in fact they don’t have to). One places you subjectively facing all that surrounds you, the other objectively facing yourself.
And so the conundrum – oh sweet mirror – what we will each find when we look at our reflections will rely entirely on how we are really doing from the inside out. And I can tell you, my personal self-portrait hasn’t been lookin’ so pretty.
Herein perhaps lies why, as it turns out, I know so very little. When the whole time I thought the journey was about building, I’m now reconsidering that it’s been about deconstructing; instead of layering, it requires shedding.
It is like the first I painted on a canvas and my art teacher led me back and away from the painting so that instead of look at it at nose length, I was making room to see it whole before walking back into the places I wanted/needed to retouch or repaint. I guess things are always different on second look, so consider how different they may appear on the third glance.
Now that I’m about to take in the view for the fourth time, I am in a position to also comment on the fact that it only occurred to me last week that when I was 10, my father, the utmost adult and authority figure in my microcosm, was 40. Then seemingly old “enough” to know it all, now seems so youthful and unknowing . Then appearing to be fully in control, now reappears as uncertain but brave, as I have been feeling lately.
So, the proposition I am making is that when we went to bed as children, overhearing the grownups in our homes laughing or chattering with their guests over food or drink while we were meant to tucked away asleep in our beds, feeling that feeling that only that sound and that atmosphere can evoke. What we thought were the sounds of self assured all-knowing adults, were instead, the beautiful, reassuring clamor of chaos that comes with not quite knowing and all the feels that come with realizing that…
Now that I venture out into the 40 somethings, and bask in my “I don’t know this much is true”, I will admit that lately, I have been hearing my thoughts echo things that I had heard once before. Ideas and opinions that once infuriated me, now counsel and console me… Things my father used to claim to be true, now I’m willing to at least consider to be in the least partially, if not totally, true.
So as I bask in all this new found non-wisdom, I’ve decided that as a parting gift (or a birthday present if you too were born in 1980) I will leave you with a few shows I have watched and liked/loved in this bewitching 2020. It may have given me some of life’s harder lessons, but it has also made for some great TV viewing. For that I am thankful.
I Know This Much Is True (Drama. Based on a book. So depressing. Mark Rufallo. HBO available OSN). 2020.
Ramy (Comedy-Drama on the dark side of funny. Brilliant. Ramy yousef. Hulu available on OSN).2020.
The Great (Comedy-Drama that’s self declared to be ‘occasionally based in history’. So wonderful. Elle Fanning. Hulu available on OSN). 2020.
سمعتوها مني – Sme3touha Menni (Avant-garde, witty, informative short IGTV show series. This is not your usual TV show. Courtesy of Khateera خطيرة).
East of La Brea (Comedy-Drama. IGTV shorts series by newcomers with Muslim American lead). 2020.
Normal People (Drama. Stunningly emotional coming of age story by more newcomers based in Ireland. BBC3 & Huly available on iTunes). 2020.
بميت وش – Bi Mit Wish (Comedy. Well written, great casting. Nelly Karim, Asser Yasin and others. Shahid VIP). 2020.
Never Have I Ever (Comedy-Drama. A unique coming of age show of an Asian-American by the unique Mindy Kalling but not starring her. Netflix.) 2020.
ليه لأ – Laih La’ (Comedy. Plays out very well and charmingly opting out of the superstar actors. Shahid VIP). 2020.
Insecure (Comedy Drama. In it’s third season, funny and potent. Issa Rae all over it. HBO available on OSN). 2020.
Superstore (Comedy. In it’s fifth season, a great left of centre sitcom with America Ferera. NBC available on OSN) 2020.
Better Things (Dark Comedy a few seasons in with the alluringly hilarious Pamela Adlon. Hulu FX available on OSN). 2020.
The Morning Show (Drama. Based loosely on real events that are hard to handle, at times gentle but mostly jarring. Starring Jennifer Aniston in a way you forget Rachel Green forever. Apple+). 2019
End of the Fucking World (YA Dark-Comedy. unexpected, unassuming comic like filled with new comers. Netflix). 2019.
Little America (Short-form Anthology with a bitter, sweet taste. Apple+). 2019.
Dear White People (Another Comedy-Drama that is hard to come by despite imperfections. In it’s third season. Netflix). 2019.
Enlightened. (Comedy-Drama. Saving the best for last, this really original, subversive and oddly timely show stars Laura Dern and was a multi-season almost a decade ago that feels it was written for today’s world. HBO available on OSN). 2011.
And there you have it. Here’s to me, you and everyone taking an aha moment (or a few). Here’s to my eyes in the sky – my father. It was good to know you in your forties, Baba.
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