I DON'T REMEMBER GROWING UP. I remember being a little baby, I actually do. I remember liking milk, sleeping in a cradle, and looking at people from far below. I remember holding experiments to find out things like 'does the refrigerator light stay on when its door is closed' and 'do noises and sounds actually dim or stop existing when I shut my ears -in other words are my ears the volume knobs to the world or are they just mine?' And I remember being a dorky little kid who read till he dropped. I just couldn't stop reading. I remember listening to my elderlies' and school teachers' saucy tales and asking them questions they didn't answer. I remember them telling stories about why they wouldn't, and I remember me thinking, and eventually saying, that they probably couldn't. I remember stubbornly arguing with family, friends, and even with friends' parents about almost everything they did. I remember arguing with all those people and, at least in my eyes, beating their arguments. I was rarely satisfied.
Now I'm told I've 'grown up' and, suddenly, now I see my self getting smiles, sympathetic, hypocritical, and empty headed. I hear myself being branded as crazy, extreme, and artist, both with good and bad intentions. I'm frequently reassured that I'm only reacting, that I'm passing through a phase, that I'll change with time. I say I hope not!
Now that, I guess, I've grown up, I realize that I maybe right or wrong on many issues. And although I really don't know what I believe in, I do know some things. I know that I belong to a veiled, censored, and violent society. It's veiled, both physically and morally. Some women wear head veils, others wear bikini ones. The men? Maybe they're just as veiled as the women. Maybe they're the origin of that issue. Maybe the 'solution' lies with them. Maybe not! The only result relevant here is that individualism is dead in this society. But then again, maybe it never existed. Almost everyone is doing and wearing whatever is forced on them by a despotic society. Whatever their neck of the woods thinks is best, is best. If that issue related only to attire, I wouldn't even bring it up. It doesn't. It relates to the very foundation of our intellect and psyche. Is the term Lebanese creativity a paradox, like pretty ugly and military intelligence? Maybe. The veil extends to many areas of society: music, movies, books, the media, expression, Thought! Is it a coincidence that there is no such thing as a Lebanese pop culture? Lebanese cult art? Is it a coincidence that Lebanese artists and writers have traditionally been unable to make it in our society? The list is long: Gibran, Maalouf, Baghdadi, and many less lucky others scattered today around the western world, lamenting their country of origin! All our society does is take unfounded foolish pride in them and attack them for not coming back to live here! Those who dare come back would be threatening their intellectual freedom and span. Our collective intellect is bound by LBC to the north, the name of the sports complex to the south, Alecco's night club to the east, and the large unending sea of mediocrity to the west. We have killed each other so many times, and we may do it again. Bleak picture? The bad news is that instead of anyone constructively criticizing, trying to know the real story and telling it as it is (after all, that would be the first step in bringing about positive change, wouldn't it?), everyone is so caught up in what I like to call the Rahbani syndrome: you know, singing praise of the beauty and perfection of our country. We all actually grew up with a Reich-like national pride. We knew we were it! The country. The history. The heritage. Don't get me wrong, it's fine to say that Lebanon's beauty is the envy of the rest of the world. My problem is, where is it? Where is this beauty? OK, so you drive a while and you find some of it untouched, kind of. But how long do you think it would be till someone else finds what you have found and does the perfectly Lebanese thing to do -cut it up and sell it? It's great to take pride in the commercial success of our Phoenician ancestors, but what about their literature and intellectual heritage? Where is it? All right, it's also fabulous to boast about our monotheistic heritage and of our being the model of inter-religious coexistence, whatever that means! But, say we accept that 'coexistence' is a good thing, my question remains, where is it? Where is this coexistence? Any way we look at it, boys and girls, we've been bad boys and girls. And we will remain bad until we treat the origin of the problem. Where is that? It's in all of us. We just have to look a bit harder.
As my generation 'grew up,' many of us started comparing notes: Oh, oh! We're not the best society in the world. We're not better than everyone else. Actually, in many ways, we are a bit worse! Oh my God, Lebanon is not God's paradise on earth. Hey, we're only human! The result was a canyon in our minds. Some of us couldn't, or wouldn't, see the forest for the trees. They denied what they plainly saw and played on with the charades. The rest treated this new found vision in one of two ways. Some trusted their vision and stuck to their ideas. They revolted against the status quo and waged little wars, facing little losses, little gains, or general marginalization. Others started looking for another paradise on earth: Canada? The US? France? The Gulf? What? They're all the same? They all have faults? They're all human societies? Oh! Boy, oh! Boy. Many in this group found that they had to go back to their country and try to make their society better.
OK, so now I know all the above, but where did my growing up take place? When did I start realizing all the above? Why don't I remember growing up?
I have thought about this black hole in my memory for quite some time now. There could be many potential explanations for this weird phenomenon:
The first potential explanation is that I was never a child. Maybe no one ever is. Maybe we're all born as grown ups, but we're limited by our physical appearance and by our elderlies' need to prove that they're better. I mean, juvenile voting is a legitimate idea. Articles have appeared in respectable reviews about it. Could be.
The second is that this is actually the way it is with everyone. In other words, the process of growing up is so slow and routine that no one usually remembers growing up. So, aside from growth enhancing incidents such as losing one's virginity and reading long meaning-infested books, no one remembers growing up. Therefore, there is a possibility that the issue is not just mine. So generally, unless a dramatic growth enhancing incident takes place, growing up remains to be a slow hidden procedure that's usually not remembered. That's a possibility.
The third possibility is that growing up is such a hard process that people just push it away from the accessible parts of their brains. Maybe growing up in my society was so hard that I too -unwillingly- pushed the erase button in my brain. That's understandable when we consider the violent mess that my generation grew up in. It's even more understandable when we consider that my generation is being charged with the economic cost of resolving that mess and rebuilding it.
The fourth possibility is that I haven't grown up. Maybe no one ever does. Maybe that's human nature. Maybe we're all just children. That would explain the way we look down on juvenile intellect. We could be just jealous that we can no longer exercise it any more. On the other hand, maybe people do grow up, but it's just me and my society who haven't. Maybe we need to finally decide that we want to grow up. Only then can growth take place. Could be.
Hence Edentown, a very positive book.