When I was a teenager deep in the throes of dramatics, I attempted to kill myself for a third time. My therapist suggested the most kitsch, hackneyed cliché as a coping mechanism for what I was going through: he told me to immediately list 15 things that would make me happy. I started with a villa in Santorini and he immediately amended the requirement to 15 things I could do right there and then that would make me happy. My first was a cold glass of coke; second, strawberry ice-cream; third, an animated Disney feature; fourth, buying key chains; fifth, waiting for rain; sixth, Dylan’s To Ramona … my last was simply the colour blue. Even now, all my dark days are held at bay by the same list. I maintain – just as strongly as my grandmother does – that Arnica-250 is the cure for all of life’s diseases, and that a glass of coke is the cure to all of life’s problems. It is the pithy, pesky absurdity of the exercise that also serves as the formula for its success. Naturally, such silly measures are no adhesive for soul-crippling complexes, and yet the fact that we try, every time, to not give into the black holes that seem so determined to suck us in is what saves us. It is the effort and choice to not want to be depressed that outweighs living in the dark.
Though this has worked well for me so far, now I feel it fading. I suppose it is my unwarranted ambition that is at fault. I have never really wanted much from life beyond the attempt to do what makes me happy. I worked towards that right, I fought for it and I recognize its value far beyond the new-age idiocy of self-help books. I learned long ago that small achievable goals were the only key to a steady happiness quotient. This recent break in my emotions seems to have messed with that fundamentally. I feel myself moving in and out of my comfort zones, trying to wrestle myself into a person who can do anything she sets her mind to. I am not that person.
Recently, I have taken up teaching. It’s something I always wanted to do but never thought I’d be able to, so I never tried. Mine is not a personality I generally consider worth inflicting on the general populous, and yet, I am enjoying it. It has made me feel oddly powerful and in control. This scares me infinitely, as I do not relish the idea of informing other people’s opinions as much as some people do. If anything, I have always resented the notion that it is anyone else’s job to do so in the first place. One cannot really measure or critique irony and I’m counting on this clause. I have patented my faux penitent’s rabbinical voice: unleavened tones spread out with wry smoke, pasted with self deprecation and infused with enough subversive wit that my class laughs a lot. This keeps me from hyperventilating and them from slipping out of consciousness – or so I hope. I have been privy to a picture of myself spending my mornings meditating over what I shall say to a group of strangers each afternoon, my afternoons combating their questions, my evenings wrestling with my muse, and my nights seated in cafés where I eat and drink and speak to actual, corporeal people, rather than just the phantoms in my coffee cup.
Sometimes I picture my future at the helm of a classroom in qarrtsiluni. Iñupiaq dialects of the Eskimo employ the word to classify “the act of sitting together and waiting for something to burst.” I feel this is always an apt analogy for Pakistan. It has only been a week, but I am beginning to see myself here. Finally engaging with people in groups. Being the epitome of a social animal with a corner to cave into whenever the need arises. I am looking for housing on campus and hoping that this is finally my calling. To teach and spread what I have spent my life learning: doubt.
I have my pedagogues. I have my pulpit. All I need now is my own self-fulfilling prophecy.
Maria Amir is Features Editor for the magazine.