99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

 

Bottle Of Beer In The Sand Looking Out To Sea

Courtesy of Stokpic

Impending nuptials have a way of seeping into the psyche of the parental layer of your inner circle. I get asked if I’ve found someone, if I’m talking to anyone new, if I’m “on the apps.” This, coming from your friend’s relatives, is less awkward than you’d imagine. It is rooted in good intentions but, time after time, it does weigh on you.

 

The accidental, additional pressure is intensified because I think about it too. I contemplate if my gut shouldn’t be trusted when I feel this match isn’t mine, if I wasted too many nights not making it my active mission to find my boo, if I’ve been doing it all wrong from the start. But you’re not allowed to voice concern on this search yourself because you’re a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man. And yet, those around you interfere and worry for you because you’re a strong, independent woman who, god forbid, don’t need no man.

The life I am proud of is like a case of beer with one bottle missing. How do you find that person that fits in with all the other bottles of your life? I have been assembling my crate for three decades. If I’m to make room for another bottle to complete my set, it needs to be a Limited Edition 200th Anniversary Guinness. I don’t actually care much for beer but the metaphor sticks: in order to accommodate their existence in the case that is your life, it needs to bring added value to your entire collection. I have been told that seeking this obscure Guinness is expecting too much. Are you destined to do it alone and fill that void with bubblewrap instead? Isn’t it still a void if filling it with an empty Corona doesn’t really make your box fuller in effect? Can you tell I’m working on a shipment of alcohol?

“You’re too picky. You’re too smart. Your standards are too high. You need to readjust your expectations. You’re picking crappy suitors. You’re not trying. You’re trying too hard. You need to put yourself out there. You need to stop and focus on yourself. You’ve got time. Stop thinking about it and it’ll happen. Aslan ma fi shabeb bil balad.”

I wonder about this gap because I’d like to buy the dual-pack of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for two. If I excise this wondering and assume that I’m destined for one box of Cheerios for as long as I walk this earth, have I carved out a vital organ from my torso? Does it mean I have one less badge from the girl scout sash of what I’ve accomplished? Does it affect the measurement of how much I’ve lived?

I want someone who knows buying throw pillows “to put on the guest bed” actually means they’re for building a sturdy fort on the balcony. I want to find the stabilizing Karen to my off-balance Hank Moody. I want to find my complementary dork and I’m not denying that. I want to share my porch swing but I’m not willing to strike a Faustian bargain in order to find a mate.

 

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Still from Californication

 

It has led me to this thought: it may not be in the cards for me. It could be that I’m supposed to be alone. I don’t say it as a cry for pity or from a feeling of running out of time as a result of turning 30, that societal deadline of expected self-establishment. I don’t say it out of fear of being the only name on all the wedding invitations to come. Accepting this as my possible status quo from now on is healthier than wondering if something is missing whenever a friend’s mother asks if I’m still single. Right now, I am alone.

Except I’m not.
My case is pretty full, lhamdilla, and I’ve always liked bubblewrap.

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California Made Me An Artist

For me, getting a Costco membership card was more exciting than getting a driver’s license. This could be because of #thatWesleyslife but it also feels very adult to buy family-sized goods. However, I’m not a family which is only an issue when it comes to perishables. I’ve had the same tub of Tide all summer and I don’t need anyone to encourage me to finish off a gallon of salsa but my cat & I can only eat so much rotisserie chicken salad.



I’ve grown to like long freeway drives. It’s where I do a lot of introspection on my own stream of consciousness – the same kind I used to do while literally running around Beirut. What they say about LA is true: you spend a lot of your time in the car. Beirut traffic is intense because you have to dodge so many incoming threats but cruising on law-heavy Interstates can be therapeutic in their repetitive continuity. Sure, I space out and I miss my exits but then I get more time to wonder if I’ll age like Gabrielle Union or if I’ll ever find my Mark Ruffalo so we can Thriller our way into the carpool lane of life.

At events here, some parking lots only offer stacked parking for a little less than $20. Stacked means every car parks bumper to bumper and you leave when you can, no one makes way for you to get out early. In Beirut, every lot is stacked except the attendant will let you out la 3ayounik* because you pay him $5. In these moments, I miss our twisted valet/parking attendant mafia but those moments are brief because I’ve come to appreciate order and automation.

Even Home Depot has self-checkout machines, the runner-up to the perk of home delivery which some say is convenience but is actually avoiding human interaction. I thoroughly enjoy going to HD even if it’s just for industrial rolls of bubble wrap. The warehouse is a giant toolbox of possibility. The pungent smell of lumber. The closets I’ll never build. It makes me feel so physically small and insignificant yet capable of anything because I own a hammer. In truth, I have the spirit of a maker but the grace of Scuttle.


Still, the instrument you need is readily available should you want to explore your innate talent of garden shed construction. It’s so tempting to be constantly crafty and, as a result, I’m always wielding a box cutter with a pen stuffed somewhere in my bun.

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Laguna Beach Festival of Arts, 1994

As a child in Laguna Beach, I spent my prepubescent years at art shows or holed up in the office of my parents’ Western art gallery on the town’s main drag. When I wasn’t researching El Chupacabra or walking to Subway with dadboss, I was learning about oil paintings, female nudes, and sculptures that were tree trunks carved with a chainsaw. The smell of wood shavings thanks to the winter Sawdust festival still triggers thoughts of candycanes and the color red. Laguna makes art look like a viable career choice, not just a hobby. You’d think that I should’ve known being a creative was clearly my destiny as of age 7 but alas, I took a few scientific detours before returning to the righteous path.

Only now do I see that those years in SoCal cultivated the first creative seeds in me. Last year, a friend called me an artist and I laughed because the word seems associated with bougie philosophical frauds or drop-out scrubs who need to justify their unemployment. “Farrah, you took time off from your job so you could go to Rome to study typography. You’re an artist.” Oh, that kind, the real kind. Me?

“I can’t hate where I’m from because where I’m from made me.”
Roots, Flo Rida

I shamelessly quote Flo Rida on the regular to myself whenever I’m upset with each of my homelands’ faults because, like it or not, they gave me my layers. And while California may have made me an artist, Beirut, dare I say it, made me a writer.

*An Arabic phrase that means “for you, of course” but in literal terms means “for your eyes”

Lebanon, I’m Leaving You for LA

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Well, for about 4 months at least.

When I moved here in December of 2000, I was a distraught preteen pissed off that I was being dragged away from Laguna Beach. A visit to Jbeil opened my eyes to a part of my identity I hadn’t yet explored. There was something very soothing about the ruins there; I was just a kid then but I remember being overcome with a sense of belonging. Ever since that gloomy day over sixteen years ago, Jbeil has been a special city for me because it felt like the beginning. There was so much I still didn’t know about who I was, about who I am.

In my quest to figure out where and how to secure a balance between my personal and professional life, I’m prepping for a move back to the golden coast of California. The last few trips there have exacerbated the curiosity to pitch a tent in my other homeland. For the last two years, I couldn’t get myself to leave Beirut (read: Wesley’s) to do it. But now, Dadboss & I have devised a plan where I can volley between the two worlds to grow the business, and live alone as a side effect. This arrangement was what I was trying to formulate unknowingly: a logical justification for leaving that allowed me to stay involved yet detached enough to blossom solo versus hopping on a plane to literally and figuratively find my-unemployed-self somewhere on the coast of the Pacific. This is a solution to the plague of confliction that I have tried to wade through every time I’m about to leave or return to the Mediterranean.

Being a dual citizen creates an itch to explore the options of both lands and I’ve yet to see what it’s like to be an adult in the US. That itch has been a roadblock for me; it’s been there sparkling in the back of my mind, tickling my optic nerve whenever Beirut’s giving me an aneurysm. Whenever the car horns get too loud, whenever the parliament decides to be indecisively ineffective, whenever I can’t find my damn socks in the sea of laundry that is my family home.

Oh, your life is SO hard.

I am not oblivious to the fortune bestowed upon me. To have options and the ability to even entertain flight and relocation is not granted equally across the board. Over a decade & a half in Lebanon and people make it sound like you’ve paid your dues by sticking around when you could’ve left sooner. It’s upsetting that living here is equated to a light prison sentencing of some sort. I will firmly state that choosing to stay in Lebanon is not a choice that should be pitied nor should it be labeled as playing it safe by remaining in a comfort zone. As a young careerist, there is this “cap moment” though. It’s when you feel like you’ve soaked up all you could from this place, when you feel like you’re a big fish in a small pond, and you either need to move elsewhere or embrace that status as a blessing. It could be an inherently Lebanese attitude, born thinking that we’re intended for bigger things. The restlessness has pushed so many of us out. We all know the reasons people leave, I don’t need to reiterate them. The reasons for staying though have become harder to hang on to.

Making the jump across the Atlantic has felt like a selfish wish, a direction that seemed tantalizing only because of the honeymoon-length gasps of fresh air I would get whenever stateside. I’d rationalize that living in CA would not be like those quick visits, that it would get lonely, that I would miss my Beirut’s chaotically beautiful bullshit. But the older I get, the more I want to be sure. The more I want to know that I’m not wasting my time on reruns when I could be writing whole chapters to a brand new book.

Deep down, Beirut is mine. She is all I think of when away and all I want to talk about. But lately, when I’m with her, I feel like she’s not there with me, like she doesn’t care to lift me up, like she’s charging through the station into a wall and I’m left on the platform in the dust wondering where the emergency stop is.

 

As of end of May, I’ll be gone for the summer for the first stage of my bicoastal, bicontinental living situation. This short move, similar to my time in Barcelona but not as temporary or short-lived, will be the beta-testing ground for my desire to transplant to LA full-time. This will tell me if that’s where I want to be and it will give Beirut a chance to win me back. Either way, one thing is certain: Beirut will remain my muse, fueling all that I do and flavoring my days with the olive in my skin.

Back in California: Where is My Life Going?

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I feel like I have more headspace while in sunny SoCal. The 10-hour time difference gives me enough quiet minutes to get my to-do list in order while dadboss is snoring in another hemisphere. I don’t have many friends left here so there are less temptations and I’m not a tourist so there’s no major itinerary to follow besides work-related supplier visits. Books and sunshine are my main distractions. However, having so many tete-a-tetes with your own tete makes the content all the more daunting. This self-reflection, this attempt to answer the everlasting question of should I stay or should I go, this search for the cure of stunted adulthood – it can be overwhelming when you’re one year away from that 4-year reevaluation that just so happens to fall on my 30th year of life.

I love being here and it’s not just for the donuts. I love that my thoughts have room to expand like a soap bubble and pop when they’re done. There is no annoying toddler in the form of Lebanese inconveniences coming in to poke the bubble forcing its premature death. To be fair, that may have more to do with the distance from daily life than it does with the California weather and temperament.

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Am I the only one that thinks, okay, I’ll figure this all out when I’m away for a few weeks? As if being detached from your own reality will give you clarity to work out the kinks in your life plan. You look back at home and think, is this where you want to be/are you maximizing your potential/are you meeting the right person/is this it for me/are you okay with it if it is? It would be wonderful if the answers to those questions came in black & white but it feels like gray comes in more than 50 shades. I’m sorry I used that. Won’t happen again.

When I’m away, Beirut is on my mind and when I’m home, I’m looking abroad. Not in the grass-is-greener way but in the am-I-settling way. Being young and untethered, restless and ambitious, hungry and responsible. All these adjectives lead to one: conflicted.

“Small goals.” After a talk with a friend in London who recently had a break from life to figure out life, he said it. Small goals will take some of the pressure off. Baby steps toward moving forward on a personal level so you feel that even if you’re not on the express train, you’re still not stagnant.

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And it’s about the little things. Reading in the backyard. Getting just the right amount of milk in your coffee. Finding that Yeezus shirt on Amazon. Tacos & dancing nights with your homies. Maybe the future needs to stay in the future since we all don’t know what’s ahead, how to get there, or even where we need to go. Or maybe I’m still jet lagged and a reflection session will hit me in the afternoon. At this point, all I can hope for is another good coffee and a good book to go with it.

The Barcelona Blues

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The burrata, the olives with cava, the walks after every cheese-loaded meal. When I look at photos of the time spent in Barcelona, it already feels like centuries ago. I don’t necessarily miss the city itself but I miss the wonder that came with being in an environment that was always feeding my curiosity, my drive, and my passion to learn. It feels like it was a memory of another lifetime because I feel the person I was there is not the person I am here in Beirut. But that’s the point of travel, no?

My motivation to keep pushing back at this “repatriation frustration”, to keep digging for the gold in a mine full of pyrite, to stick to the reason why I have this blog at all – that motivation is dissipating. They tell me this too shall pass. That’s what I am told by all those who’ve returned, but also by the ones that are still far, far away. They say that it’s temporary and you get over it once you find your rhythm again.

How depressing is that? That this fire will die down and you become complacent with the status quo, jaded with the gnawing annoyance in your gut, and eventually go back to going with the excuse of “This is Lebanon” while you kick back another G&T. Instead, the thought pisses me off more. I try to push through. I am trying to push through.

The main lesson I learned there (outside of my internship) was to channel my energy. Removing myself from Beirut showed me how much of my own fuel was being depleted because I was being too ambitious, driving myself into the ground because it was easier to do it all than to deal with figuring out one path to stick to. My generation has a hard time turning down opportunities. We don’t know how to say no because we feel like we have to be able to do everything at all times and our smartphone addiction makes the illusion that we can all the more convincing.

But it’s no fun being a scatterbrained basket-case who’s incessantly spread way too thin on a low fat quinoa cracker. Can I sit here and have a slice of cake for 5 minutes without thinking about how I’m going to buy a house before I’m 40/how much time will this need on the treadmill/did I confirm that Amazon order/did I get that quotation approved/what ever happened to Billy Idol/I should tweet that/how many days left before I have to submit that presentation?

So. Much. Wasted. Energy.

It’s time to let 2016 be the year of realizing stuff* and realize that I need to focus on investing my time only in what matters and makes me happy.

What’s taking up most of my sanity now: trying to fall in love with Beirut all over again.

*Just in case it wasn’t obvious, I am sarcastically using Kylie as an inspiration for this. I’m 89% sure she will be naming her first child Kale.

A Catalonian Frame of Reference: What People Worry About

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While being in Barcelona, I have done a lot of comparing with Beirut. It’s natural I guess, to compare your new relationship, flaws and all,  with the previous one that gripped your heart. Here I am, 8 weeks in, and the point that sticks out the most is how the typical Barcelona resident spends their energy and how it contrasts with a person living in Lebanon.

At first, I thought that residents here (and I say “residents” because not everyone who lives in Barcelona is Spanish) were blind to how good they had it. Oh, you poor thing, you’re not sure which bike rental service to sign up for. How hard life must be for you. It was resentment that was uncalled for. Their worries seemed so trivial and I thought that I was somehow better equipped for life’s curveballs because I came from a country that can’t get its act together. Sure, we are aces when it comes to back-up plans and sly maneuvering. The Lebanese know how to “bounce back and overcome adversity.” But then I realized something: you’re not supposed to spend so much of your own brainpower thinking about half the shit we think about back home and yet, we have to.

…or do we?

When I’m asked what I think about Barcelona so far, my automated response is, “It’s a lot like home except everything works.” I thought I was different from the Catalonian population because of what my daily life consists of in Beirut but, when having deeper conversations with people, I came to see that all of us have the same concerns, the same aspirations, and even the same confusion when it comes to romance and significant others. We may speak different languages but we’re not from different planets. It’s just that I come from a country that added a few rolls of parchment to my what to think about tonight while staring at my ceiling list. That does not mean that those who live here don’t have their own fair share of burdens, they just have the kind that is more of a DEFCON BEIGE than our constant VERMILLION.

This is why I left. I wanted to see how the other half lives, to see what’s missing at home as well as abroad, to see what would push me to emigrate elsewhere or make me stay. All I can say now is that being able to only think about things that are quintessentially important to my life, even something as basic as scheduling a tennis lesson before it rains, is refreshing. I wonder what it will be like to return to my scrolls of only-in-Lebanon problems.

Barcelona may not be my Beirut but, upon being away long enough to see it from a distance, I’m not sure what my Beirut has become either.

Barcelona, You’re Not My Beirut

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Still from Vicky Cristina Barcelona

I was told that, upon visiting Barcelona, I won’t want to come back to Beirut. I was told that I would fall in love with the city and Lebanon, with its garbage and unending toddler tantrum of a system, would not even compare to Catalonia and evening walks by Santa Maria. I will say it’s been an adventure every weekend; I’ve been investigating alleyways and losing myself in museums full of posters and sculptures I studied a few years ago. To be able to use my legs for more than just walking to my car has shown me how much I despise being at a desk for too long. It’s been enriching to be in an environment where you learn something new everyday. That, for a nerd like me, is always good. But the difference between here and Beirut? This is not home.

All people want is to find the place where they feel embedded. Maybe this feeling develops with time once you’ve created roots, once you’ve let your feet sink into the sand. Or maybe it’s already there because it’s where your parents grew up, met, and formed the life that led to you.

While binge-watching Netflix’s latest hit, Narcos, I found that not only was I improving my Spanish but I was also relating to a coke king’s link to his Colombia.  While hiding out in Panama, even though he’s got so much money he could bathe in liquid gold, the prospect of returning home is more important than all of his wealth and possible incarceration. I am aware that that is a romanticized depiction of a drug-lord but I can appreciate the sentiment.

It may be too soon to make such a declaration but I don’t feel a connection in Barcelona. Besides the professional lessons, I am grateful that it has given me the distance needed to get some focused perspective without my thoughts being punctuated with worry or distress that comes from a typical day in Lebanon. But it’s also shown me what it’s like to live in a city that is not my own, that I have no national ties to. I look for my own culture within the one that already exists here so that I can feel a sense of belonging but, even when found, I am just a visitor here.

I’ve said this before but it seems, no matter where I go, I am always looking for you, Beirut.