What does it (not) mean to be a centrist in today’s America.

Growing up in the Middle East – where, aside from the God you worship, your identity is often largely defined by the political leader you revere – being a centrist was a bad word. It signified your inability to make a decision, to take a side, to be loyal. That stuck with me, and, over the years, having watched family, neighbors, acquaintances, and close friends fight – in some cases to death – over their party affiliations, I maintained that ‘I’m with no one,’ because that sounded a whole lot better than the alternative, telling them that I’m a centrist. No one respects a centrist.

I was fortunate enough to leave the Middle East, at 14 years old, on a US State Department scholarship to study in the land of the free, a turn that would change my life forever. The America that welcomed me 14 years ago and the Middle East I grew up in were poles apart. You mean I can say whatever I want? Now, this may sound absurd to those of you who did not grow up on my side of the world, but, to 14-year-old me? She was ecstatic about the possibilities.

Partly, the excitement was about the ability to hold those in charge accountable when necessary, something we still cannot do in the Middle East. In fact, the latest exhibit was displayed on October 2, 2018. But the other, more practical reason behind my euphoria was realizing that I was suddenly surrounded by people who represented so much more than where they stood politically. Yes, they held their values near and dear, or I wouldn’t have surrounded myself by them to begin with, but they were capable of separating between “church and state,” or, in this case, friendship and politics. Never, in my first six years in America, did anyone ever make me feel any less worthy on the basis of my political affiliations. And, for the skeptics amongst you, the reason they treated me the way they did had nothing to do with my “foreignness” or my age at the time, and the fact that neither one of which allowed me to vote; I know this because even those who could and did vote were treated with the same respect and decency. Of course, you had the fanatics. Everyone has them. But they were the exception to the rule.

So, let’s just say that, when I returned to the Middle East, Abu Dhabi, more specifically, the State Department got their scholarship money worth. I’d, quite literally, preach about America and the freedoms in America. In fact, I would often reminisce with some of my American Habibis, then-expats in the UAE, about good ol’ ‘murica, and, quite simply, being allowed to be.

Imagine my not-so-pleasant surprise, after years of shaming the Middle East, when I returned to an unrecognizable, unforgiving, polarized* America.

Now, before we proceed, let me just preface by saying that if you’ve landed here hoping for a Trump roast, I’m afraid that’s not on the menu. Do I like him? No. Do I hate him? No. He’s not the point of this post, but if you insist, I’ll just say this: I don’t think Trump caused the polarization in America. I would argue that his election was the very result of it. A polarization that had been brewing for a while, and that is nobody’s fault but our own. We did this. Now, get off your left-right high horses, and join me in the center for a second.

My objective in this post is not to pinpoint the start of the polarization. I don’t think you can take a look at the last two decades in America and say there guys! This, this is the incident that started the polarization. Try it, and I promise you, there will be another person or two in the room, heck, there may even be 10, who think the exact opposite; they may think that exact incident actually brought America together, but you’ll never know because they won’t say a word. They may have tried once before, but you shut them down. So, not anymore. They’ll keep it to themselves. So, you go on thinking that your interpretation is the only possible right interpretation (after all, you only saw nods in the room and assumed the silence among the rest was affirmation), and “the others,” whose opinions may have been a little harder to digest and not the easiest to argue for, go on getting deeper and deeper in their corners, growing more and more convicted of their own interpretations, until you wish a-tad-difficult-to-digest was your biggest problem; they become extremist. Are you scared? You should be. We are doing this. It’s nobody’s fault but our own, so let’s take some damn responsibility.

So, here’s why I’m a centrist in America.

(no, it’s not my lack of opinions. God knows there’s no shortage of those).

Let’s do a little experiment together, shall we? The next time you’re in a random group, be it at school or work, in or out, tell them you’re a republican/conservative. Here are the immediate side effects you must watch out for, because what you just did is a very, very dangerous thing, my friend:

  • You’ve already alienated almost everyone who considers themselves on the left; they’re no longer listening. You don’t exist laaaa lalalalala because:
    • You are for guns in every home, possibly even in schools, who the hell knows anymore.
    • You just hit send on a fax to hell, requesting that the powers that be extract the woman who just walked out of planned parenthood minus a fetus.
    • You have personally just gotten back from the border. You were ripping kids off their mothers’ chests and jailing them, single-handedly.
    • What are these Palestinians you speak of. They do not exist.
    • You kicked a gay guy out of mass last Sunday, and the one before that.
    • Let’s nuke everyone who is not an American (those who became “American” in questionable ways are fair game, guys).
    • And, last but not least, TRUMP YAAAAAS.

Having fun yet? I am. Told ya, it’s better in the center.

Now, sit with another group, and tell them you’re a democrat/liberal. Here are the immediate side effects you must watch out for, because what you just did is a very, very dangerous thing, my friend:

  • You’ve already alienated almost everyone who considers themselves on the right; they’re no longer listening. You don’t exist laaaa lalalalala because:
    • You, sir, think that no one, anywhere, ever, have I said ever, should have guns. None. We will all just love one another and reason with the unstable man with a gun he got fromidontknowwhere, rather than defend ourselves. Defending ourselves is violent.
    • You go on rallies endorsing every pregnant woman’s right to get rid of the damn kid, at any time, for any reason. Her and that douche should not have procreated to begin with, am I right.
    • Let everyone in, there’s plenty of room for everyone! Oh, and you get a car, and you get a car. Sir, in the back. You’re here to steal our jobs and, like, rape people? You get a car, too!
    • You stopped drinking iced Vanilla lattes because, hello, all Jews everywhere are hurting all the Palestinians.
    • All people who identify as LGBTQ+ should be allowed to do unspeakable acts in every church, every Sunday.
    • Yay world peace. Who needs nukes. And, more importantly, who the hell is Deterrence?

Chances are I’ve already lost many of you to the letsgetoffendedabouteverything syndrome. I truly hope you’re still here because we’re not evil in the center, and we certainly are not indifferent. In fact, our day-to-day life is likely a bit more challenging than the extremes because, believe or not, when we spot each other, we smile, yes, but then, we argue about the world’s most pressing concerns. Civilly. Each one of us leaving the conversation having learned something they may not have considered before.

Do I personally want to get an abortion? No; and I hope I won’t ever be in a situation where I feel like I have to. Do I think Dianne is going to hell because she got one? I don’t know. Let me tweet God real quick. Dianne is not going to hell, everyone. Look, I do not mean to make light of the situation. I am a devout Catholic, who believes in God, and I don’t think Dianne is going to hell. But, let’s be real, the God job was already taken and is now above my pay grade, so I have no idea who’s going where.

Do I think it’s bad that people boycott Starbucks? I admire their passion. Will I boycott Starbucks, probably not. Do I think that the belief that all Jews and all Palestinians everywhere hate each other is stupid? Yes. Yes, I do. My mentor is Jewish, my dearest friend is Palestinian, I dated a Floridian Jew, and I’m an Arab Catholic. Sue me. Or get offended on my behalf, whatever.

My point is this: (fanatics aside) most people on each side don’t actually think or do the aboveoutlined extemes, but many of those on their opposite side believe, at their core, that they do. The noise in the echo chambers on both extremes will get louder and louder, and America, the America that welcomed me in 2005, will no longer be salvageable. Not unless we start listening, actually listening, talking, analyzing, and comprehending the concept of nuances.

Here’s the crazy thing about democracy, guys. The democracy that America pioneered and exported to the world, that democracy, it wasn’t meant to be upheld only when it’s convenient.

So, do America a favor and snap out of your (what feels like) authoritarian states of mind.

In the meantime, and until a single label of where one politically stands stops meaning an entire laundry list of extremes, I’ll be here, making the center great again (pun absolutely intended). The left and the right have left me no other choice. And, until they give up their extremist ways, I’ll be chillin’ here, in the center.

*Many journalists and academics maintain that this is not the first time that the United States has been divided, and it may very well be the case (Vietnam comes to mind). But, anecdotally, in my experience, and in that of others who are much smarter than I am, this level of polarization in America is unprecedented; a polarization where it isn’t enough that I think my leader is the best. I must also think that yours is the anti-Christ.

 

 

I hate Trump less today than I did a week ago.

A few days ago, one of my professors asked us to watch a speech on a topic that is irrelevant to this conversation. I went to YouTube, watched the 20-minute speech, and, as soon as it ended, YouTube of course decided on my behalf how I should be spending the next 43 minutes of my life and started playing this video. (warning: clicking on this link will make you hate Trump less a week from today. You’ve been warned.)

Young Trump

The video is about Trump’s journey to the White House from 1980 to-date. It takes you through Trump’s career and his denial, time and time again, that he’s interested in politics or that he cared about the oval, then walks you through how that changed as he saw the need to save America. The video was decent; it showed Trump in a way that I had never seen him before. Turns out (judging by this video) he was, at some point, young and actually handsome (can you believe it), and he wasn’t always the radical that I’ve come to believe he is every other day. I realized after I’d been watching for about 30 minutes that this was the longest I was able to watch anything about him in one sitting, and then noticed the lullaby-like music that was edited into the video and playing throughout. Then it hit me. I had never seen a video put together by Trump supporters. Hm, I thought. I sent the video to a couple trusted friends, who aren’t gonna think I’ve radicalized overnight just because I’ve watched a pro-Trump video, and went to bed, hating him a little bit less.

The next few days, I went about my business. Reading for classes, researching and writing midterm papers, a bit of social media here, a bit there, catching up on news, tweeting, watching daily and nightly shows, checking out articles that popped up in my feed, following stories about the ISIS runaway brides (another topic for another day), others about AOC, the presidential elections. Everything, really. And every online interaction or piece of info that I was exposed to made me hate Trump a little bit less. Pondering for a few more seconds than I did the day before whether he really is as bad as I’ve been led to believe.

Now I’m not confused by what happened. I know exactly what happened. I spent almost a decade in the communications world, which meant I had to understand not only framing narratives and changing perceptions, no. I also had to understand how communications work in a digital age. How, through algorithms (which I know just enough about to be able to understand what they do), your feeds everywhere (and I mean, everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google. Everywhere) can change dramatically, overnight, just because you watched one video that was produced by ‘the other side,’ whatever the other side may be. Or, if you’re a centrist like me (I know, we’re nearly extinct), produced by a side on the far [insert whatever here], and you’re not into far [anything].

The point of this post is not Trump, believe it or not. I don’t care what you think of him. I don’t care if you vote for him in the next election or not. In fact, I don’t care who you vote for. Here is what I do care about, or, rather, terrifies me.

I know exactly what goes on behind closed social media doors. I know exactly what goes on behind narrative-and-story-crafting-and-perception-shifting doors. I know the power of constructivism. Hell, I did it for a living for a whole decade and will likely continue to in some capacity after my Master’s. Because I know. I know what it can do. And, yet, all this knowledge barely changed the outcome of the ‘war for my mind[1],’ a term I read today for the first time, and I thought it hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly what it is. I don’t know that there’s a better way to describe it. A war for my mind. The same author said ‘if you are online, your attention is like a piece of contested territory. States, companies, and people you may never have heard of are fighting for it in conflicts that you may or may not realize are unfolding around you.’ And we come back to my original point. What terrifies me.

I know all of this, and I still fell for it. Perhaps not as hard as someone who doesn’t know (since I still do my research and check my facts), but I fell for it. And that’s what terrifies me. Are the forces that got me to dislike Trump in the first place, dislike him less later, the same forces that got me to like Obama in the first place and doubt my admiration towards him as soon as I started working in the field and understanding what goes on behind closed social media doors. Behind narrative-and-story-crafting-and-perception-shifting doors?

It won’t be news to anyone when I say that Facebook’s Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Dorsey, and YouTube’s Hurley, Chen, and Karim didn’t know what they were getting themselves into when they first founded the platforms that would change the world as we know it[2]. They had no idea the legal, political, and moral repercussions that they would have to deal with in the years to come. And they’re still not ready to take on this role, nor should they have to. The platforms grew far beyond anything any of them could have imagined. They have armed us with great opportunities. With great power. But with all of this greatness come great responsibilities.

This post is not about Trump. It is not about Obama. Hell, it’s about no one.

This post is a wake-up call to those who don’t know and a reminder to those who do know that we are responsible for everything we say, every post we like, every statement we share. Our actions and reactions could change the course of history. This is the kind of power I’m talking about. The kind of power that rallied the masses behind Obama all the way to the White House in 2008. The kind of power that put Trump in an Oval he never thought he’d step foot into in 2016. The same power that will put him in it again, or worse yet, someone who’s far more detrimental to this great nation. To the world. The same power that ISIS employed to recruit their army of terrorists. People among us were turned. That kind of power.

So, before you open your online mouth to say what you think you want to say, check your facts. Recheck your facts. Don’t believe everything you read. Every video you watch.

This isn’t anybody’s responsibility but ours. We have unprecedented power. Let us use it to better, not destroy, our world.

[1] [2]What Clausewitz Can Teach Us About War on Social Media; Singer, Emerson; October 2018.

I’m the [immigrant, woman, Arab, or insert any other label], why are you offended on my behalf?

Those of you who have followed Thoughts & Abouts over the years, know that it doesn’t revolve around one topic. That was the idea behind the name, anyway. So, this time, I saw it fitting to write about an issue that has been frustrating me, to say the least.

I got accepted into the best foreign affairs program in the world, and I celebrated this accomplishment not only for its prestige, but also for the platform I thought it would give me to discuss the most pressing issues of our times. So, you can imagine my shock when I got to campus and realized the scale of identity politics and the role it plays, not only in our classes, but also in our everyday interactions. That would have been okay had people been open to talking about it, but even those who claim to be open to everyone and everything, really mean that they’re open to everyone and everything who/that agrees with them.

Initially, I would tell myself that the reason I was so frustrated with this and the ‘woke’ culture was the fact that I come from a part of the world that has so much bigger issues to deal with. You know, like wars, refugees, acts of terror executed by leaders on their own people, to mention a few. And, while that certainly plays a role in my frustration, it is hardly the whole picture.

I realized only recently that I was mostly angry because I’m deprived of deciding, for myself, whether or not I’m offended by everything that apparently should offend me. I happen to tick many of the boxes when it comes to labels. I’m a short-almost-midget, Arab woman, who immigrated to America, currently making my way into a field that doesn’t have many women, first generation graduate student, brought up in a middle class family, and my income is currently below poverty line. I’m sure I can think of a few others if you give me a sec. Every. Single. Day. without exception, I find myself in a conversation/debate/chat/discussion/talk/whatever, where people are offended on my behalf. About everything. People who often don’t tick the same boxes I tick. Getting offended. On MY behalf.

Not only does this make me feel less of an immigrant, a feminist, heck, a woman, it also takes away my sense of agency. My right to decide what offends me. Where I draw the line. What actually matters to my fellow boxtickers. I have a brain that’s big enough to think, a mind that’s good enough to decide, and a voice that’s loud enough to speak. And, when I see the need to, I do.

And, this isn’t just me, this is everybody who ticks any box and feels like someone else who doesn’t tick that same box is offended on their behalf. I am not asking that we have less camaraderie or fraternity, that we lose our sense of solidarity, that we not fight for one another. I’m asking that if you do want to fight for me, or, better yet, with me, you actually give me the courtesy of sitting down with me and asking me what my challenges are. Really ask. Really care. Because, otherwise, I’m just going to continue believing what I’m currently led to believe, that those among us who are so woke are only offended for the **ck of it. Just to **tch and complain. Just because they want something, anything, to be angry about. Not because they want to find a solution to what they think is problematic. Not because they care.

(To all my non-constantly-offended brothers and sisters, please stop being afraid of speaking up and expressing your nonoffendedness. And to all those who ask themselves the question that’s on everybody’s mind, ‘how did we get here,’ this is how. Because those who speak are ‘woke.’ And those who aren’t often don’t speak.

Enough is enough.)

A table for one, please (until further notice)

To say that the last couple months have been rough on the love front would be a foul understatement. I’ve cried more over this boy than I have over any other boy I’ve dated.

And that’s a hard one to swallow, mostly because I can’t justify the depth of my grief. He wasn’t the longest relationship (or whatevership, since, you know, he wanted no titles) I’ve had by any means, nor one that was destined for success. One, we met under odd circumstances. He was in town for a couple weeks, we were only having dinner. And then he kept extending his stay, in a town he articulated his hate towards rather clearly on that first (and supposedly last) dinner of ours. As a woman who’s loyal to my fellow overthinkers, I couldn’t help but think that I played, at least a small part, in these many extensions, which ended up being the better part of a year. Two, it certainly wasn’t love at first sight, at least not for me. I was actually in love with someone else when I met him. It was just a dinner, after all; one that didn’t come with exclusivity, so I didn’t need to unlove anyone I loved, especially when my love towards said anyone was one I wasn’t acting upon. See anyone was taken, and I’m not one to do anything about it. I’d like to think that I’m a good girl in that respect. Third, we come from very different backgrounds. Very different religions. Very different upbringings.

For all of these reasons and my previous experiences, I told myself that I wouldn’t pursue this, not actively. When I’d occasionally think about it, I consciously stopped myself. Slowed down. Reminded myself why this wouldn’t work. So, he did the pursuing. He set the tone. He managed the speed. He called himself a lucky guy to have met me. He referred to me as son coeur. He called everyday. He wanted to know everything. My whereabouts, at all times. He texted incessantly, sometimes more than normal, particularly for someone who has a tough, smart people job. What at first was a tad annoying, eventually became endearing. And, ultimately, I was happy to oblige. I had developed undeniable feelings for him. For this guy who’s objectively handsome, but who was very different from anyone I’d ever dated. Someone I would have excluded in my yesterdatingyears for, if nothing else, his different religious beliefs, or the lack thereof. I still tried not to get excited. ‘You always f*** it up when you start caring too much,’ I thought to myself.

But it was too late. I was already falling in love with him, hard, and there was no reversing that. I didn’t need to. Not then. Everything was great. More than great. For a while, it may have even been perfect. In the middle of one of the toughest, most challenging years of my life, there was my Prince Charming who gave me a break from it all. I may have even told him at some point that our dates felt like mini-vacations, even when we just went to the movies. It was my window to breathe, to laugh, to love.

I don’t know when I crossed the line. The caring line that is. But I did. At some point, in the middle of our undeniable chemistry, in the midst of our beautiful whateverthing, I started caring more than I should, presumably. It’s funny, I’ve thought about this imaginary line before, but putting it down in words now sounds ridiculous. Still, there’s no other way of explaining it. I went from being a ‘cool girl’ who was taking it one day at a time, to a girl who met a boy and dared to dream. Is that so wrong? Was I supposed to let him pursue me forever? Did I miss some memo that says pretend not to love him for as long as you can manage because the second he senses it, he’ll run? He and I took pride in being exactly who we are around each other. For saying exactly what we want. For behaving exactly how we feel. So, where was the line? How was I supposed to do all that justenough to be myself, but not enough to scare him away. I’d like to think of myself as the most understanding partner I’ve ever met. My girlfriends and their girlfriends start pressuring their significant others a few months (some a few weeks) after they start seeing them to define the relationship, I didn’t. I didn’t need to. I was so happy. But, after whatevering him for nearly a year, and while I didn’t need a ring, a status change on Facebook, a commitment for life, I did need to know where we were. I don’t think that’s an unfair ask.

In response, he didn’t run. No. But he did want to be friends. Which, depending on whom you ask, might be even harder to stomach. How can I be his friend when I’m so in love with him. How can I bear see him with anyone else when I want him to be mine. Why would he even want to be my friend when he admits we’re 100% compatible, in every way. When he’s attracted to me. When he wants to speak to me for hours on end. When he can be exactly who he is with me. When we argue and debate and laugh. When we never run out of things to tell each other. When I’m the one he turns to when he’s at his saddest, his happiest, his lowest, his most excited. What more could he possibly want. What more could anyone want.

For months, I was miserable.

I’ve cried more over this boy than I have over any other boy I’ve dated.

I cried so much, in fact, that I forgot what I was crying about, what it is that I wanted. And, one day, as I was in the bathroom, where I have my deepest thoughts, it hit me. I was crying over something I no longer wanted. Something I should not want. I was crying because I wanted to be with someone I gave my best self to and who still didn’t want me back. In the middle of this epiphany, I allowed myself to be transported back to Seminyak, a beautiful beach resort at the southern end of Bali. Allow me to transport you with me.

On the last evening of a solo trip, I was walking on the immaculate Seminyak beach and witnessing one of the (if not the) most stunning sunsets I have ever seen. The beach was getting crowded, I wanted to watch the whole thing, undisturbed, so I went inside different restaurants and cafes trying to find the perfect spot. And Lord did I find it. Ku De Ta (pronounced coup d’état), possibly the best restaurant I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting.

‘A table for one, please,’ I said, not realizing at first how unusual it was for Ku De Ta to welcome a solo traveler, in a colorful summer dress, an oversized beach hat, and flip-flops. The only accessory I had on that was remotely worthy of that fancy place was my new black pair of Yves Saint-Laurent sunglasses, a Christmas gift de moi à moi.

I don’t know if they felt bad for me, you know, because I’m alone, or if they were charmed by my unusual attire for their upscale establishment, but it seemed as though every waiter in the restaurant dropped what they were doing to be at my service. And, trust me, there was no shortage of ‘projects’ they could have attended to. The exclusive restaurant, with justenough tables to meet the demand, but not too many as to disturb the ambiance, was popular among well-off western travelers. Older travelers. The ones who have retired and can afford to be there. I’m none of these things, might I add. I’m just a girl who moved to the Gulf after college, got a good job, that paid good money, had no kids, and spent every spare dime on traveling. Overlooking the fact that I’m not their typical clientele, and for reasons that, as mentioned, I can’t explain, Ku De Ta’s staff ignored their actual target audience to scramble and find me the best table in the house. I was assigned my very own waiter, but that didn’t stop every other waiter from visiting me throughout the evening and ensure that my wildest wishes came true. After the sun set, my phone died, which was a blessing. Dinner was supposed to be a three-course meal, but, for even more mysterious reasons, that became a 10-course meal, as I got more on-the-house delicacies and signature drinks that I’ve had in my whole life put together. I felt on top of the world not only because I was treated like a queen, although that certainly helped. It was way more meaningful than that. I sat there, surrounded by people who have earned their financial right to be there, only one young couple who was merely there because the guy was proposing, and me. A me who ended up there, alone, serendipitously, and had an inner-peace that I had only attained twice before, also during solo trips. A moment where everything made sense, where all was right with the world, and where all the stars aligned. I was so happy for reasons I can’t explain. It was as though everything good I had, every accomplishment I had attained, every thing I was were flashing before my eyes.

I looked around me again. Was I lonely being alone? I mean, this guy is definitely about to propose. Yep, he just did. These other couples grew old together. Was I lonely being alone? Was there anybody in my life that I would have wanted to share that surreal moment with? The only person I would want across from me at that table, the only one who deserved to share that moment with me, was someone who saw me the way I see myself on my best days, on my worst days; someone who knew my values, my struggles, my limitations, my deepest fears, my happiest moments, the respect I have for my mother, the reason I love old people so much, the littlest instances that give me my most intense goosebumps. Someone who understood why that night at Ku De Ta meant what it meant to me. Little 5’1”, nobody me. A girl who had a humble upbringing. Who worked hard for every single thing she has. A nobody girl whose God has blessed her so much that she was being treated like a queen in a room full of actual kings. In my life, right then and there, there was no one who understood all of this. Really understood it.

So, no, I was not lonely being alone. There was nobody in my life that I wanted to share that surreal moment with. The reason it was so intense was the fact that the only person at that table, me, knew everything there’s to know about me – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and loved me anyway. And I vowed to myself that night that I would never compromise that for a less-than-perfect table companion. I’d rather be alone than lonely, sitting across the table from someone who doesn’t understand the deepest part of me and loves me anyway.

For the sake of that night at Ku De Ta, for the euphoria that I long to experience again, I don’t want that relationship. Not with him. Not with anyone else. Not until he or someone else is as excited to be with me as I am with him.

Not until he or someone else proves worthy of sitting across from me at that table.

(Short post alert) Days 3 & 4 #28daysoflovingmyself

Yesterday, I looked in the mirror

Every time I’ve ever started a new regimen, it would normally take me a couple days to begin to like myself again enough to look in the mirror. That is not necessarily because ofmy dislike for the reflection (although it’s that, too, sometimes); it’s more because of my 23131810_10155842066414889_6429981963926997179_n (1)disappointment for letting myself go this long and only realizing it after I’m already at the stage of feeling the way I feel in that moment. I know you know what i’m talking about.

Anyway, so, long story (as) short (as I know how), yesterday, I looked in the mirror.

This is crucial not for the vanity or pettiness of it, but for the fact that once you’ve finally managed to bring yourself to look at the reflection in the mirror, I promise you, you’ll want to recommit that you’ll do whatever it takes to take care of it, which brings me to my next point.

disclaimer: committing is the hard part. But that’s a topic for another day.

A day of (—) is an extra day of (—)

As I applied my absolute favorite moisturizer, I thought how amazing is it that you spend a minute, two tops applying a moisturizer, and you gain a whole day of wrinkle-free, healthy skin on the other end.

Okay, so this isn’t scientific. By any means.

But, the point stands. In the big scheme of things, the few minutes it would take me to stick to a routine (a nice smelling one at that), or you to stick to anything, really, that’s good for you, will be your gain, and your gain alone, 10, 20 years from now.

Your soul. It matters, too.

We’ve all heard – and perhaps even experienced – how looking good (or better) makes you feel good (or better). Well, newsflash: the opposite is true, too. And, your soul matters, too. And so, just like it’s key to take care of your physical health by taking care of your body, it’s just as crucial to take care of your mental and emotional health by taking care of your mind and soul.
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I’m trying to be as conscious as possible about carving out a slice of my schedule for the things I love, just like I’m doing it more and more for the people I love.

I love all things water. The sound of waves crashing, the sound of rain on the roof, the breath-taking views of the sea. To honor my love for the freshest item in the periodic table, I went on a date (with my mama) out in the middle of the Mediterranean. I get my love for the sea (and every other trait, basically) from her. It was so cleansing.

Then I came home, had jasmine green tea, and fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing and rain on the roof, together.

#28daysoflovingmyself: Days 1 & 2

I tried to write a post last night, but in the spirit of loving myself, I thought I’d rather get an extra hour of sleep, instead. So I did.

Without further ado, and in the spirit of trying to keep these short and to the point (ha), here is the days-one-and-two package, ladies and gentlemen.

(if you missed the prologue of #28daysoflovingmyself, you can read it here).

Our body, that beast.


Have you ever had dull or dry skin? I have, many times.

(No, this post didn’t just turn into some dermatological issues support group. I have a point. I swear).

I was thinking earlier how resilient our body is.

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Image courtesy of Good Housekeeping, 2015

I remember one time my skin was so dry, the Arabian desert on a hot summer day had nothing on me. All it took was a little consistent scrubbing, a little consistent moisturizing, and my skin has since been softer than it was 20 years ago.

I’ve had phases where I’d go days barely drinking any water, and then a couple days of drinking an adequate amount would put my body back on track.

I’ve gone weeks without getting enough hours of sleep. A couple days on a consistent schedule would give me back my normal self.

I could think of a 100 other examples, but, the point is, my body (and yours) asks for so little. When I do right by it, it responds right back at me and returns the favor.

How, though?


With our lives being as busy as they are, how can we possibly manage to put our bodies (and, thereby, selves) first, and still balance the requirements and needs of work, school, family, and friends.

I don’t know. This is why I’m doing this, ‘member? But, I did find a couple ways of being good to my body and self on just the first two days of the series:

Making no great again

I haven’t lived at home (or with my family), since I was 14 (I didn’t run away; I left to ‘murica for school). Leaving the UAE for a ‘layover’ in the motherland (Lebanon), on my way back to the land of the free, has been an adjustment, to say the least. Putting under the same roof people that have lived thousands of miles apart the last decade and a half is no easy feat. We love each other to death (always have and distance has most definitely made all of our hearts grow fonder), but we’ve all come up with different ways of doing things and, quite literally, living, that it took us a good while to get back into it.

Long story (as) short (as I know how), now that we’re back to loving-and-doving, it’s been particularly frustrating that I don’t get to hang out with them as much as I want to with my unbelievable schedule of prepping for a school, a move, and getting work done. Being at home was, in part, so I could have quality time with them, before I move away again. I’ve had no time for them nor anyone/thing else in the last few weeks.

I decided that something’s gotta give, so I’ve had to let go of my biggest client, a really expensive move, but one that will win me, me.

Some of my people

Ever since I started consulting independently (in the lead-up to grad school this fall), I’ve been barely moving. I’ve been so sedentary, in fact, that on Day 0 of this series, I barely broke 3,000 steps (in comparison to the 10,000+ steps daily back when I had a standard, full-time, in-office job).

Yesterday (Day 1), I was up to 7,100-ish, beating my bestfriend (which is unheard of), who must have had a rough day at the office, but, still. I’ll take the victory while it lasts. That’s still way less than how much I used to walk, but more than double how much I walked the day before; that’s not nothing. I did it by getting creative and one-upping standing desks, by physically carrying the laptop and typing while I do a couple laps at home.

What changed in 24 hours?

A couple things: one, I’m very competitive, so turning anything into a competition is bound to succeed. When I decided that I’d be starting this new chapter, I re-engaged my

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My health and fitness sponsors

best friend and her boyfriend who have long been my health and fitness ‘sponsors,’ if I may. The second they were back on board, I invited them to a Fitbit challenge, like the good old days. Hectic schedules for all three of us has meant that we’ve not been able to keep in touch as much as we’ve liked to, so our conversations and regular catchups would happen ad-hocly, whenever we’re able to squeeze them in.

We’ve talked, pep-talked, and teased each other in the last three days more than we have in months. What an amazing freakin’ cause to bond over.

Exercising (and other things) in unconventional ways

Our Muffin is the apple of our eyes. I didn’t use to be a pet person until Muffin joined our

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family. And now I don’t know how I went this long without loving something so cute. Summer has hit hard in Muffinworld, though, and she’s been extra cranky. She barks at everyone and everything. If we hug, she barks, if we fight, she barks, if the phone rings she barks. Bref, it’s gotten extremely annoying. I can’t get work done sometimes because of how loud and consistent the barking is. When I took time to step away from the laptop, I realized that she just wants attention. Every time she’s barked and I got annoyed over the last few days, she’d go grab as many of her rubber balls as she can manage, so we can play fetch (which, to this day, she still doesn’t understand, fully, but a girl can try). Playing with her for a few minutes every couple hours has not only helped me move around a lot more than I have been, it also meant that she’s been quieter than ever. The girl just wanted some lovin’. Don’t we all.

‘A bundle of joy’ (read a bit of sarcasm)

My parents told me (using different terms, but essentially meaning) that I’ve become a pleasure to be around, overnight. I’m not sure how to feel about that.

The most interesting bit about all of this has been that, by putting myself first, I’ve somehow had more time to spend and keep in touch with the people I love than I had been in weeks, get more sleep, feel and look happier, and I’ve not, in the process, dropped any major responsibilities.

We’re onto something here, folks.

à demain!

(#28daysoflovingmyself) Day 0, a prologue.

I didn’t know I’d wake up today and decide that it’s time.

It has been a crazy year. In every sense of the word. Weird, painful, epiphanic. But, most of all, absolutely awe-inspiring.

I’ve met people that have turned my world upside down, and, others, who countered, by putting the right side back up. All of them have changed me in immeasurable ways.

I’ve lived situations I never thought I’d be in or experience, not so close to one another, at least. I’ve learned life lessons in masses, intensive courses couldn’t have possibly kept up. Sometimes, I felt like my brain would actually explode, or my heart burst.

I’m a changed woman. Thanks to and in spite of everything and everyone this year.

And I love this woman.

Despite all the greatness, though, I can’t deny that it’s been exhausting. All of it. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve not had two weeks that have looked the same since last July. Where I’ve slept in the same bed. Had the same food, the same routine. I won’t go through the whys and hows, because they hardly matter. They’re not the point of this post, nor am I fishing for sympathy.

What matters is this: the good, the bad, and the extraordinary have taken a toll on me. And I feel it, everywhere. From my brain to my toes.

I’ve put off dealing with it for months. Since last July, to be exact. I’ve just kept piling change over change. I’ll deal with it one day, some day, I thought.

I got a massage a few weeks ago, and I wept. Actually wept. On the massage table. My superb masseuse, whom I love, didn’t flinch. As if it’s Tuesday. Why can’t I stop, I asked, as my uncontrollable tears filled my eyes and face. Oh honey. It’s the knots. I’m untying them.

The knots. She untied them.

As amazing as the feeling was then, I can’t help but think today, and regardless of how grateful I am for my older, wise masseuse, she and I band-aided the heck out of my body that day. The knots should have never been there to begin with.

It’s not one thing, it’s too many to list.. but I knew, that day, that something has got to change. Some things, rather. Too many things.

But I’m only one. The day is only 24 hours. And I refuse, in the process of becoming a healthier, better me, to kill myself in order to implement all the changes overnight. It’s counterproductive. It’s oxymoronic. And I won’t do it.

I’ve tried to make a change or two here and there, but then I’d give it up faster than an intern loses her dignity at a cigar club meeting. The thought that’s been swimming its way to the surface and was so intense when I woke up this morning, is whether I was ever doing these changes for me. I say and think that I was, but how could I when off they go at the slightest stressor, the smallest argument, a heartbreak, a tight deadline, a missed scholarship opportunity, and and and. The list goes on. So, I either wasn’t doing any of them for me, or, I was, but me has just been way down the list of my priorities, for way too long. And this is the likelier option.

Not anymore. I’m my own priority. Before school, before work, before my family, before a boy, before my friends. Before you raise your eyebrows, allow me to finish the thought. I can’t possibly satisfy any of the aforementioned if I’m not well, healthy. Heck, happy. So, yes. I come first.

A friend, who’s a mother, a wife, a gymnast. A (gorgeous) woman posted the other day a question to her followers about whether taking gymnastics out of her life would make her a better wife. Whether not missing a school play would make her a better mother. I loved her post. She knew the answer, I’m sure. But she wanted the rest of us to think about it, and share our thoughts while we’re at it. She can’t be the best wife or mother, if she herself isn’t feeling whole. Gymnastics does that to her. It’s what makes her happy. How could she possibly give, anything, if she herself is not fulfilled.

She can’t. Neither can I.

cute-pictures-of-hearts-cute-heart-free-images-at-clker-vector-clip-art-online-downloadIt starts today. I’m hoping (but I guess we’ll know when we get there) that the posts for the next 28 days won’t be as long or as deep. They’ll be my attempt to share with you my road to a healthier, better me, in every way.

 

Today:

  • I’ve started hydrating since I opened my eyes.
  • I’ve recharged my Fitbit.
  • I’ve gotten my health and fitness sponsors (aka my bestfriend and her boyfriend) back in business.
  • I walked for 32.5 minutes.
  • I’ve listened to music I love.
  • I’ve written this post.
  • I’ve just finished my first cup of jasmine tea.
  • I’m about to get some work done.

I’d say not too bad for day 0.

Democracy held hostage, and the Lebanese are (and have been) paying the ransom

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Lebanon gets an overdue vote in a few hours (Photo courtesy of The Daily Star, 2018)

Nine years the Lebanese have waited for their parliamentary elections, and, in just a few hours, their wait will come to an end. Lebanon will finally get its long overdue vote, and everyone will live happily ever after.

Everyone except We the People, that is.

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly democracy was kidnapped and held hostage in the capital – formerly known as the Paris of the Middle East, positioning our freedom and right to choose as fictional characters in a utopian tale.

Admittedly, the easiest scapegoats here are the politicians; and they make it so easy. You can call them crooks, shady, corrupt, liars, thieves, and you would be right. At least referring to the vast majority.

But, we are a democracy (on paper anyway, in a constitution that desperately needs dusting), and politicians didn’t just waltz into parliament. They knocked and came in, at the will of the people; they were elected. Rightfully or not is a whole other story, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

What plenty of us would agree on is that, We the People, are both the victims and the culprits in this situation.

We did this. We made our bed, this particular bed, repeatedly, and now we get to lay in it. Again. With dirty, unchanged sheets.

We could give the people the benefit of the doubt for a split second and blame their bad memory on the nine years (instead of the standard four, given that our parliament extended its own term) that have elapsed since we last casted ‘our’ vote. But the split second will quickly run out, and we’ll realize that the elections we’ll have on Sunday are but a déjà vu of Lebanon’s feudal days, which weren’t our history’s proudest.

The reason? Because Lebanese people have a chronic condition, that spreads both vertically and horizontally; in other words, children inherit it from their parents, but it’s also highly contagious, spreads like the plague, and targets everyone who had escaped genetics. It’s called Canonizing Politicians. Symptoms include: loving thy political leader with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And thou shall have no other leaders before their leader.

The leaders know this, but they also know the antidote: people need to put food on the table, to have jobs to raise their kids with dignity, to fill their tanks to get to work, and decent streets to preserve whatever cars survived this country’s terrible, terrible roads, just to mention a few. Our so-called representatives spend their time and resources, not on coming up with a strategic plan to move the country forward, God forbid. Instead, they identify opponents and swingers, gather intelligence on their weaknesses and needs, so that they can offer the voters something they can’t refuse. The rest of their time is spent on what they think is campaigning; they spend millions and millions first to get listed on a ballot, and then for marketing and PR efforts. While Lebanon’s debt grows deeper and deeper, the political ‘elite’ (elite as in those who can afford to run, not those who necessarily have the skills or experience to be public servants) are paying $6,000 for one minute of airtime and up to $240,000 to be hosted on a talk show. Perhaps this sounds like peanuts for those of us used to working or doing PR in western markets, but it’s ludicrous for Lebanon, especially when this ‘investment’ will all be stolen back from the government, from We the People, as soon as they get comfortable in the seat.

Will money and corruption skew the results tomorrow? Will this election be, in the words of none other than Donald J. Trump, ‘rigged?’ Hard to say. The moment you’re in that shady room, casting the only tangible proof you have that you live in a democracy, not even your left hand knows what your right hand dropped in that box, let alone the generous folks of the election-compromising cartels.

There will be different types of voters tomorrow: the unethical ‘loyals,’ who were offered bribes by competing candidates, accepted all bribes, and will end up voting for whomever they were going to vote for in the first place (loyal, I tell you); appreciators of relativity who decided that they’re going to take the ‘ethical’ route and only accepted the bribe of the highest bidder, for whom they will also vote, irrespective of whether or not he/she are the right man/woman for the job; and, of course, plenty of ethical loyals who hold their principles near and dear, who have not accepted any bribes, and who will vote for their all-time favorite candidate, ‘for free;’ that’s how fans and foes of the ethical loyals describe the generous act. No where in the world would this be appropriate election lingo. Not democratic ones, anyway.

So, essentially, we don’t know whether outcomes will be skewed as a result of these blasphemous acts, and if so, by how much. Mathematically speaking, if the candidate who ends up paying the highest price happens to also be the candidate of choice of a voter (which doesn’t make this any more ethical, legal, or democratic), in every case (which is highly unlikely), then the outcome of the elections will be the same with or without these ‘incentives.’ But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that these conditions can only be achieved in a controlled lab experiment, which is not the case, and, therefore, the elections we waited nearly a decade to hold will most definitely be, well, rigged.

One could argue that the people can’t be blamed in this scenario, that the bribers are at fault because they tempted voters like Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. Possibly. After all, in a battle of values, where does feeding one’s children fall?

In a country where politicians keep getting richer, the middle class getting poorer, and the poor starve to death, it may seem like the only thing the poor can offer the rich politician is their vote. Right?

Wrong.

We the People are selling ourselves too short.

We the People have lost the long-awaited elections the moment the ballots were announced and we realized that the whole thing is a scam. That we were set up. That we’re electing the same families we elected every chance we got since 1992. That we’re feeding a feudal system that supposedly ceased to exist nearly two centuries ago. Yet, we happily and brainwashed-ly went with it.

So what is the point? What is the point of rising and revolting and burning tires to demand an election (that is already our right, by the way), and be ‘granted’ a used, beat-up toy that we tried and tested and have been bored with and sick of for decades. What is the point when we have to listen to the same crooks, who have literally ‘moved in’ parliament in the early 90s, and haven’t left their seats since but during campaigns so that they can make the same promises over and over and whisper sweet nothings in your ear, bribe you or not to believe them, win your votes, go back to their seats, starve you, exile your children to find a respectable and dignified life anywhere but here. Repeat.

My favorite part, you ask? Oh, it’s good.

A handful of people woke up and thought, wait a minute. We’ve been presented with no real agendas or plans from anyone. They’ve been fighting and arguing, but not actually debating (not on issues that matter to the people in any case). So they asked, and boy did they receive. Our politicians, top notch experts at nothing the way they are at cheating, figured why not cheat the elections, from an optics perspective at least, from the west. Yeah, the west knows how to campaign. Let’s recycle a slogan or two. We shall promise them Women’s rights this year. The ladies seem to rah rah to that, and it’s not like we actually need to do anything. With all due respect to women and our rights, gentlemen, I think we’ll pass. I speak on behalf of all of us when I say, for the love of God, stop flying before you’ve crawled. How about we start with the basics and you don’t hijack our basic human rights; once you master this I-thought-was-a-simple-task, we can then advance to the next level, one that we undoubtedly and desperately ache for.

Allow me to congratulate you, my fellow citizens, on getting your beloved election, a race among the rich. A vote you sell for a few liras today, but one you’ve been paying millions for for decades, and will continue to for decades to come.

I pray I’m wrong.

God bless Lebanon, enlighten its citizens to do the right thing, and give those sad excuses of public servants another game to fiddle with, so they let us live in peace.

Is this too much to ask?

I shouldn’t have to explain my self-worth to anyone.

I rarely discuss the romantic aspect of my life publicly. Let alone blog about it. The last blog that specifically covered my romantic life was written several years ago.

In any case, I’m gonna stop prefacing and get to it.

I’ve recently had some of the most memorable weeks of my life. Romantically that is. And I’m not just talking about myself. I’m talking about all the exceptional women around me. What can I say. 2017 made quite the entrance, and led us all to believe that this year, this year is the year where all of us kick-ass ladies would find our one and only.

Except we didn’t.

Let me start by sharing a few ‘fun’ short stories.

  • Translated for the UN, specifically requested to interpret major international conferences, wise advisor, loving sister, great friend. Meets boy. Falls in love. Boy proposes. Boy freaks out. Boy backs out.
  • Model-like body. Best heart. Wittiest soul. Exemplary daughter. Loyal-est friend. Loves boy. Boy loves her. Boy plays her. Boy ignores her. Boy asks her to travel with him. Boy disappears. Boy apologizes. Boy is too late.
  • Successful businesswoman. Absolutely stunning on the outside. Simply beautiful on the inside. Meets boy. Boy gets serious. Boy talks marriage. Boy flirts with other women. Boy disappears.

I don’t know about you. But I have the biggest girl crush on all three women. They’re outstanding. They’re the cream of the cream. They were discarded. Like the littlest of people. Like the pettiest of losers.

Except all of us rational-s know that they’re neither this nor that.

And the biggest question remains – how do we get ourselves in so deep, that we lose sight of who we are, who ‘boy’ is, and the incompatibility that we make ourselves believe is a ‘match made in Heaven.’

I’m not writing this because I found an answer. I’m merely paying homage to these incredible beings (and myself, really) who doubt themselves and their abilities everyday because of men who are simply, and for a lack of better term, not quite worth it.

I love men. This post is in no way, shape or form intended to dis an entire layer of society. I love them. And that will never (physically nor emotionally) change.

But I can’t help but resent the state that a good chunk of them put these women and me in.

But I did find a solution. A solution that will set me, these women, and our likes free.

A man who requires an explanation for why he should be with me (or them), really just shouldn’t. I (they) know who I am (they are). I (they) know what I (they) bring to the table. I (they) know what I (they) have to offer. And, at the risk of sounding arrogant, conceited, and full of myself (themselves), I’m (they’re) f**king amazing. And a man that I (they) have to explain that to is simply not worth my time, nor theirs.

I have spent way too much time investing in myself and my ‘life resume,’ which should really speak for itself.

I shall develop a one-pager that I hand out on dates from now on. You know, to get that bit out of the way early on.

‘Can I help you with those bags?’ No, thanks. I’m fine.

devochka_s_chemodanomLadies, have you used this response more often than you’d like to admit? Congratulations. You’re in the doomed category.

Gentlemen, we probably lost you at bags. Let me give you a hand. If you’ve offered a lady (one you’re interested in or not) to help carry her bags, and she kindly declined, despite the fact that she looked like a Christmas tree with ornaments hanging from every limb (me earlier today), run (I can’t believe I’m scaring away he who could be my one and only). At least for now.

The thing is, it’s not just the bags you offered to help carry. Or the door you offered to hold open while she carried the boxes. Or the nail you offered to put in the wall. Or or. It’s much more complex that that. A lady who doesn’t admit to needing help with these medial things, is sure as hell not gonna admit to needing help in much bigger matters, be it at work or at home. In love or at war.

I’m guilty as charged. Whether or not I want to admit to it. I suck at asking for help. I used to think it’s my strength. But I couldn’t be more wrong. This just might be my biggest shortcoming.

And this hasn’t just appeared. Oh no. God knows it’s been there. It’s been there since that first class in kindergarten, and there it remained. I never asked for help putting together puzzles in elementary school, or studying for quizzes in fourth grade, or preparing for my big exam in 12th grade, or my final paper in university. I didn’t understand the point of group projects – to be fair, I did have pretty bad groups starting out, where I did everything, so I thought it’d always be the case, and stopped even trying to involve anyone. And that’s just how it was, is, and hope it ceases to be.

The truth is, what I could get away with, albeit barely, in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college, won’t do in the real world.

Where the winner is she

Who knows her weaknesses.

Who raises her hand when she needs help.

Who isn’t afraid of admitting when it’s just too much.

Who doesn’t let pride get in the way of her learning new things because she knows that she can’t possibly, nor is anyone expecting her to, do everything on her own.

Who understands that those who get to call themselves kick-ass, are not those who were born with it, but those who become it.

I won’t pretend that she is me just yet. But I also can’t deny that she is just around the corner.