I spend at least 3 hours a day reading the news.
This is only possible because, for the past few months, I’ve been living in Lebanon. I’ve been working on a project—a nonfiction collection of stories about my family. My family is from Lebanon, and as a result, most of the stories so far take place here. But until now, the only time I had spent here was a couple weeks in 2006, when Israel bombed the airport and much of Lebanon’s infrastructure after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. It’s what the news called, “excessive retaliation,” but in reality it was the death of over a thousand Lebanese civilians, the destruction of tens of thousands of homes, and millions of dollars worth of damage to the Lebanese economy—which it is still struggling with, now that over a million refugees have been added to the small country that before only contained 3.5 million total.
It was a short visit—however informative in its own way. But not long enough to learn any Arabic, or come close to understanding what it meant to be Lebanese. So that’s why, after graduating from college, I came here. To be honest, 3 months hasn’t been nearly enough. I’ve traveled to many parts of the North (the South, closer to Israel, is unfortunately not safe enough for me, as an American, to travel around). I’ve been to Beirut a handful of times—though with the current tension, it looks like my next trip there will be to the airport.
I’ve seen more of the country, I’m told, than my parents did growing up during the civil war. Despite everything happening now, it’s still safer than it was for them. It’s odd, thinking about it like that, when all my life I’ve grown up thinking of Lebanon as their country. But as my family here likes to say, “They’re American now.” Ironic, isn’t it, that America does not like to look at it’s immigrants that way. But I guess that’s not a unique plight for a transnational—they always seem to be getting rejected, by their original homeland and their adopted one.
To get back to the point, somewhere between all the traveling and sight-seeing, the new foods and the halting Arabic words, I’ve had an enormous amount of time to myself—at least in comparison to the last four years of my life. During college, I was full-time student, part-time cafe barista. I paid my rent and costs of living myself, often at the expense of a good night’s sleep. More than one night a week I’d forgo rest to write a paper, go straight to an eight-hour shift, then the class where the paper was due. Weekends were sacred for sleep—all though too many times I’d be picking up shifts to cover whatever unforeseen cost came my way. Such is life.
When I graduated college, I threw myself more fully into work and volunteering—unable to imagine better things to do with my time. I was working right up until a week before my flight.
That’s when things took a 180. Not only did I no longer have a job to show up to, but now my grandmother was cooking every meal for me, and even insisted on doing my laundry. It was awkward at first, but my cousins assured me that she wanted to do these things. They were glad, in fact, because now that I was around, she was bothering them less.
With all this free time—plus terrible television programing and poor internet streaming quality—I began reading the news. Over the past few months, its built up into such an intense habit, that if I’m not caught up on the day’s articles, I feel a teeth-gritting anxiety. So much so that I feel a dull pain in my stomach, and a stiffness in my neck.
I bring this up now, because the usually poor internet is even worse tonight because of some light rain, and I cannot load the articles I want to read. I’ll have to wait until tomorrow, and catch up on two days of reading. It will probably take six hours—an enormous chunk of the waking day.
But if I have the time, I will do it, or else succumb to a late night staring at that bright screen. I only wonder what will happen when I have to go back to the States—back to a full-time job and self-sufficiency. Will I slowly ease myself off the habit? Will I not even notice the withdrawal, as the high-speed video media and other distractions become readily available once again?
The problem is I actually kind of like this habit of mine. I think—if I ever achieve the success as a writer that I’m looking for—that this kind of habit is exactly the kind I should have. My real worry should be how to keep it going once I enter back into the fold of the working class.
And perhaps also dealing with the anxiety. I can do without that.