By Maria Amir
“He suddenly recalled from Plato’s Symposium: People were hermaphrodites until God split them in two, and now all the halves wander the world over seeking one another. Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost.” – Milan Kundera, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’
Lately, I am discovering that it is perfectly possible to congeal and compound simultaneously. I appear to be driven presently by this odd, portentous and rather stubborn sense of self that I have acquired ad hoc during the past year. In some respects, I feel that I am being rather pig-headed about “picking up the pieces” of my life following my divorce, and that I may have overreached far beyond my capacity. I find myself somewhere in the middle of constructing an entirely new existence. I’m terrified of anything remaining the same as before, lest it lead me down the same inevitabilities I chose last year. I have always been at odds with my own person, but it is different this time. In the past, my personality and my surroundings have generally remained inversely proportional, but now I scour the edges of an odd prefix trying to fight them both simultaneously. I suppose this is how one whittles a new self into being. Kind of like instant coffee, divorce can give you enough of a delayed caffeine kick to motivate instant personality.
You may or may not have gathered by now that I have always been one of those people who know what they don’t want from life much more clearly than what they do. This approach, constructed out of confetti that was narcissistic, nihilistic and needy in equal measure, has served me well so far. Most people aren’t like that, are they? After all, one can deduce that self-love and self-loathing are parallel emotions, but there are few who acknowledge both simultaneously. I now see myself rather desperately and actively trying to look for things that I do want from my life. I find myself rudderless, which pushes me into pretending I am ready to weather any storm simply because I cannot abide acknowledging how terrified I am of just floating through.
The way I figure it, people who are naturally optimistic have much more cause for disappointment and are frequently crippled by the fact that life does, in fact, often suck. On the other hand, those of us who work from within the reality of that premise have a much better shot at enjoying the rare small pleasures life affords when and where we get them. We are not perpetually tiptoeing around the pitfalls of expectation. And who’s to say that real optimism isn’t born out of that peculiar brand of perennial pessimism that allows one to occasionally laugh at life when offered the chance, rather than the hackneyed one-liners about God’s reasoning or silver linings that are much more likely to lead to emotional collapse? I always come back to the pre-Socratics during these proceedings. Heraclitus teaches us that everything in nature changes. Parmenides, on the other hand warned us that the only things that are real in this world never change. When you pit both ideologues against their ideas, you are soaked in one reality: nothing is real.
And that is why I make lists.
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.