On growing old with a four year old world-making project

I like the first 45 seconds of the track.. it tells a story of cafe that is over there at the crossroads, where there is a hearth, where she would go and meet her loved one, and “furnish” it with their secrets. She comes in and find two younger lovers, who took their seats, and “stole from them their route/journey”. I love this verse since it taps into what a sense of growing old means.

It explains to me my panic- stricken attacks when I feel that my time has been stolen. Or that my time around here is running to its final quarter, and I will soon gather the place making of furnishing, my office, my department, my room which I changed only once during my three phD years, and more importantly my trails, my walks, which I have littered with all my emotional mess. Fair’ song tells me something about my erratic discomforts. My obsessive territoriality of the space I make (subject to a lot of laughs in my office) come from an anxiety about the temporality of the phd project.  As I start to realise that I am leaving, I want to throw in more roots, and then all the anxiousness of potential uprootedness take hold.


“I don’t want to be a rhizome” I wrote in a comment on one of reviewers’ report.  “‘We move- we are not trees’ Aya, the tree” wrote my office mate on the white board where sometimes capture our ridiculous quotes. I walk all the time now to fend off the anxiety of blowing away, I walk to root, so that my body etches time in the space where I know am mere superfluity. I walk to trick myself into making claims before the young(er) come, and claim my trails their own. I walk to fend off the feeling of void when academic thought-space is taken up by those who have more claims to it than I do. Who’s rhythms of place-making are quicker than my own, who will furnish it with their better selves.

“I need to gather my self” is an arabic phrase, we say when we need to take a day off when we are sick, when we need to sleep in and make amends to our bodies and souls. The English proper equivalent will be “to pull one’s self together” which I don’t really like. The act of pulling, renders the act to mechanical, detrimental, active, purposeful, planned and complete. To gather one’s self, I feel acknowledges, that as well live we scatter ourselves. Furnish our space with soul, and sparks :“small worms of light” Bachelard -I think calls -them. To gather myself, is to give my self a still breathing space so that its runaway pieces can come again to gather in meaningful yet incomplete way. My wanderer selves will keep scattering, will run away, will shed on the trail from my home, to the shop, to the office, to the swing, to the rabbit hole, and there will be nothing to do about that. Pieces of my self will be left behind, and new souls will appropriate it as their own without knowing how much the other parts of souls long for the wonders. I need to gather my self- that is retract some roots. Pull an Aya, and recoil inside.

Is it obvious that I am writing about getting old, while researching? I bet not. The truth is that I repeatedly wonder if I should have taken this project when I was younger. When my body wasn’t aware of its scattering and shedding in places. When I was the young sitting on someone’s chairs, and stealing up others trails. May be the hesitance of and the anxiety of the fragility and precariousness of “world-making in four years” wouldn’t have taken so much hold. May be I would have a body with less holes and gaps, that is still able to catch the bus, to stay up late, and to meet a deadline, that doesn’t need to collapse when its bedtime comes, and that can handle a little bit more noise without resorting to earplugs. A body that is strong,  a soul that is slightly more resilient, slightly less aware of  the futility, a mouth that doesn’t say, “but everything will end anyway” so often.

I now cannot pull an all nighter. I have grown sloppy with my spelling mistakes. I am excited still by the possibility of knowing new things, and I keep growing more aware of ignorances, but I know I know I won’t be able to do everything I want to know, read everything I want to read, or write everything I want to write. I miss deadlines, and my imagination of time and what I can do in it is growing more surreal, because my frame of reference has always been what I was able to do in the past, which I refuse to acknowledge that I am not able to do any more.

By the end of this year, I will not be able to call my self an early-thirties any more. I am eternally grateful to the fact that doing a PhD research now, has created a bubble in which I am saved momentarily from the imposed structure of “the right way to panic about getting old”: that is worries about procreation and loss of beauty: the  politics female bodies. It has however given me the space to think through other forms in which these anxieties do not disappear but find different world expressions. I am still anxious about futility and finitude, though it has never yet translated into a desire for biological procreation. I have also never been “young and beautiful”, but always felt very bizarre about my appearance. So growing up/old has always translated into a long process of me growing comfortable in my old, awkward, haphazard, misshapen, asymmetric skin. But I worry about me not keeping up with body’s changing lack-of-abilities, of not keeping my body company, as I frantically try to retain possession of my trail, and my coffee tables, and my world-furnishing practices.

I worry that now it is too late to explain here, why is it that no one here can pronounce my name properly, because I am leaving any way, because also it doesn’t matter. But, it is because my name is asymmetric, but the English rendition of it, hides its disorder. In English it looks as if it is a palindrome: A Y A so one is bound to balance it, by either opening the two As, or breaking the two As. In Arabic it looks like a wave  آية it opens, floats, breaks, then saves itself again before coming to a silent halt. Rather than a balanced symmetrical architecture; it sounds like it looks, like I am..scattered, with splinters that ran away to inhabit places. It has one wave, several breaks, gaps, holes and four points, it’s Alef  أ  is not the regular Alef, but one topped with a wave آ..the wave create enforced distance, a breathing space to gather myself, before I am broken a little when the y ي comes. ُ


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