A morbid year

2016. Mentioning it is already a horror story, but the way it is ending for me is truly worth making a film out of.

This year started with Bowie’s death, then Alan Rickman’s, followed by Harper Lee, Umberto Ecco, young Anton Yelchin, Mohammad Ali, Prince, Pete Burns, Paul Kantner, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Gloria de Haven, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Carrie Fisher then her talented mother Debbie Reynolds a day later! These deaths and so many more make for the saddest obituary, but hey, 2016 wasn’t satisfied with taking people away, it also added to the madness by making Donald Trump president, and in parallel giving Lebanon its own orange head of state. Wait, we’re not done yet! Exploding phones, Brexit… this year is watching us, amused by the mayhem, eating popcorn while we look right, left, up and within for answers nobody can give.

Well, if only that was it for me. I had one of the most stressful years leading to meds being prescribed so I can digest all the chaos, my father was hit by a water cistern as he was crossing the road, I snapped my back and had to walk like the hunchback of Notre Dame for over a week swallowing pill after pill searching to relieve more than my swollen muscles. However, nothing compares to the joke of an ending this year had in reserve for us. Hearing the news of my mother’s cousin passing a few days ago, then my former school principal’s whom I loved – her being a long time family friend – I verbally challenged this last week to test my nerves and surprise me further, and to be honest I wasn’t disappointed. Yesterday morning, we were informed that my dad’s cousin on his mother’s side had died. Preparing ourselves psychologically for yet another funeral, the phone rings. On the other end is my brother explaining he had just been informed that my father’s cousin from the paternal side has been dead for 4 days in his house, and since he had no immediate family, the authorities were waiting to find relatives to take care of the usual procedures. Naturally, us being the closest in Lebanon, we were asked to go into the house where – insert nervous laugh here – the corpse still lies, sign papers, make an official inventory of his belongings with the probably overpowering stench of our cousin’s decaying body, then arrange for his funeral.

So 2016, for your last day of existence I withdraw my challenge, you’ve won, now will you please go on vacation and never return? I’m no longer a fan of surprises.

Too little too long

We travel through life with our shortcomings in our pockets. It may not show, it may not be flagrant, but the little things that once made us feel so small, so unimportant or tragically deficient, remain tucked in warmly just under the skin, hibernating with one eye open, waiting for the stage light to hit.

“Not enough”. Two simple words that hit the spot, restart the itch we thought was gone and forgotten. Two simple words that once made everything not so simple, then tainted each moment since, just as they did the first time they scratched the delicate surface of our fragile build. Whether you were bullied, forgotten or let’s face it, just invisible, the scars of youth never totally heal; every victory is lightly bittersweet, every accomplishment incomplete, every smile overshadowed with years’ worth of tears. We carry our miserable pasts with us everywhere we go, spread them on every bite we take out of life, psychology proved it, and deep down we know it to be true: nothing we’ll ever do will truly conquer the fears or feelings of ineptitude our 5 or 10 year old self learnt to share meals with, no revenge on the past will ever fill our present incomplete states. We were innocent and they took something precious away from us, unhinged us and never safely bolted us back.

In the end, no matter how old or how strong life renders us years after our egos and self-esteem were cruelly scorched, there will always be a familiar little voice repeating: why now and not then? And what if it’s all fake, unreal, a mistake? Wounds of yesterday, scars of today, we may have won the battle…but many were buried along the way, and their ghosts still pace, restless, forever unanswered.

Stereotypical differences

Or how to be uniquely the same

I’ve always fit in that little crevice between the mold and the forest, just close enough to take a peak in one and a stroll in the other. The first I dreamt of forgetting, an arid land too scary for the untamed wilderness that seems to have cosied up in my heart, the latter of exploring all esoteric corners intrinsic to it.
Wherever I look, I find quotes posted by dozens of people around me, quotes about being unique, different, standing out… everyone thinks they’re the only ones, everyone is doing that thing that no one is doing, convinced and perfectly deluded that they have found the perfect combination of characteristics that make them totally special, just like the rest, and they want to scream it from the rooftops, in case someone missed the obvious “out-of-the-box”-ness they’ve managed to fit themselves into. It’s like an ice cube tray, no ice cube is the exact same size as the other, or the same clearness or leveled identically, but they’re all ice cubes, molded, flavourless.
I don’t think myself so different, a special something in a land of uncharacteristic nothings; I just don’t care enough to put myself in this or that group of people, to just be one thing for the rest of my life, defined and finished. I like the idea of visiting, observing, tasting, never sticking; I am no whole, just bits and pieces, floating with no repose in mind.
Trying too hard to stand out is the reason people are all the same, the reason why nobody is truly unique. To be an original, one must not try, one must not think about being different but about being themselves, for that is what each person has to offer, their true selves. Everyone wants perfectly drawn eyebrows and cat tshirts and butterfly tattoos on their shoulder and chocolate bar abs and and and… everybody looks like barbie and ken nowadays, everybody wants to be Kylie Jenner, everybody wants to be a bag of bones or an extravagantly curvy tanned clich√© with huge lips and D cups. Whatever happened to effortless classic beauties and little love handles, bodies that don’t look like Lego constructions and dresses that don’t remind people where exactly your bum ends? Everybody wants to show what makes them so special, but who exactly are you and what can you do other than draw the perfect winged eyeline and pick the best form fitting outfit for your hashtag? What can your hands, mind and voice do that will leave a mark? That’s what makes you different in the end, the things only you can produce.

Nursed by the silver screen

I grew up in a household where movies were a central interest alongside music. When I say movies, I dread being misunderstood, people thinking I mean Hollywood blockbusters and award-winning horrors, you know, those scripts without substance animated by pretty faces with no character or depth. Unfortunately, that’s what a big chunk of today’s cinema is, an act of an act, a parody. No, I grew up with the likes of Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift, Fred Astaire and Deborah Kerr, Grace Kelly and so many class acts that turned every ordinary day into a sparkling daze. However, my father – who initiated this love for cinema in my brother and myself – doesn’t always meet eye to eye with me on certain film topics, genres, or directors. Whenever I mentioned Louis de Funes or Robert De Niro for example, I’d get an instant eye roll; which didn’t make my likings die out or lose any of their luster; I always found differences healthy, but hearing the words “I just don’t like it/him/…” without getting so much as a reason always annoyed me. For the longest time, I took my father’s word for what was considered a good picture as the ultimate judgement, an unquestionable truth, but as I grew older and made it a duty to create my very own library, I noticed there were gaps I could no longer ignore. For instance, Woody Allen. I had never watched any of his works, mostly because every time someone brought up his name, my father reacted just as I mentioned earlier, badly. I mean the guy did run off with his adoptive daughter, that’s a hard thing to swallow. Nevertheless, he wasn’t some ignorant filmmaker emptily praised or focused on ridiculous money-making productions like Michael Bay, and he had something – a lot of things – to say. So I started: Annie Hall, Husbands and wives, and the list went on, only to discover…I liked him, his vision, the way he told each story, the way it all fit. I didn’t love him or put him on a cinematographic pedestal, but I felt an intriguing nudge each time I pressed play and heard the off-voice so characteristic of his creations. Then the other night it hit me – I finally understood why I liked his productions and how come they felt so familiar. Each one of his stories was told the way I lived life, a narrator in the background, a somewhat brownish filter in the words, the clothes, the topics and a certain overanalysis I never could shake off myself… I felt close to his vision, as if my mind could write things I wasn’t aware of, but he somehow was, and they turned into celluloid realities…for me to watch with a big bowl of popcorn.

Starved ears

There are sounds you can’t forget. The putter patter of rain drops on the roof, the high-pitched whistle of the tea kettle, the sleepy voice of your mother when she says “good morning” to you… we memorize sounds, define our lives around them, and when one stops being part of our routine, it’s like a breach in our cocoon, a part of this intricate safety net we spent our existence building.

Around a month ago, my father was hit by a truck as he was crossing a street on foot. Thankfully, it was mostly his leg that was injured. I say thankfully bitterly, for if there’s one thing he likes, it’s walking. Since then, he’s been much less mobile, having to minimize activity so his wounds heal without complications. Although this little anecdote has nothing to do with sound, it also has everything to do with the matter in my case. Ever since I was a little girl, I’d know my dad had arrived home from the confident and somewhat loud tapping of his shoes in the building’s corridor; my room being situated conveniently, I was sure to hear the main entrance door’s loud bang and the decided stride of my father as he hastily approached our apartment. Since his unfortunate accident, no such sound has graced my ears, no comfort has come from the familiar sound I had built my evening routine around; instead, the light tap of a crutch sometimes resonates in that same corridor, a sound I have come to abhor.

We don’t realize the importance of a sound till it is gone, the comfort of an assured familiarity in noises we’ve grown up with, learnt to accept or even love. I long to hear my father’s fast-paced footsteps on gravel, on wooden floors, on coloured fallen leaves again, and I wholeheartedly wish to forget the ugly slowness of that horrid crutch’s tap.

Half sunken friendships

Over the years, we shed friends like a snake sheds its old skin, leaving behind what no longer suits our current state of being. We walk away and take with us memories, remnants of those other humans forever stitched onto us.

As friends, we learn intimate details about one another, whether personal or random, things like favourite colours, birthdays or allergies; we learn them out of necessity, out of duty and out of love,¬† however varying the degree of it is. We accumulate knowledge of these other entities, keep our expertise of them safe within, willfully forgetting how possible all of it might one day become useless or obsolete. Friendships end, it is a fact human nature forces us to forget each time we embark on a new shared adventure, and so does our knowledge of all things pertaining to our once close chosen relation; we pick people, and we also choose to let them go, whether willingly or reluctantly. We’re no longer updated with joyful news, little tidbits of their daily lives, changes big or small…we are the strangers we first started as…but with baggage too deeply engraved to be forgotten. “No, don’t put strawberries on the cake she can’t…actually, go ahead, never mind…”. “Ahhh it’ s today, I forgot to wish…upon a star”. Sometimes it slips our mind, their sudden absence, how their importance weighs less on our life and heart..or does it really? Is every relationship we’ve built and forsaken truly erased from our hearts as from our minds, or does it all remain deeply etched under newer, kinder, better constructed ones?

Things change, but we remain marked, stained with little specks of all the somebodies we once knew, forced to deny how present they once were, unable to forget they were…so very there.