Operating within normal parameters

Experimental Newsletter #1.

Well, what can I say? I thought I’d do this on a monthly basis but to be honest with you that didn’t work out. How can I turn the emotions, the reflections, the anxieties that are coming out from what’s been happening into neatly packaged blocks that fit some 30 days? When you think about it, it doesn’t make any more sense than how we often think of wildfires as being national issues when the wildfires couldn’t care less about your fictitious national lines. So here’s what I’ll do from now on, and we’ll just see if this works: Every now and then, I’ll write reflections and send them your way. You’ll read them (inshallah) and give me back some feedback, along the lines of ‘oh wow so cool bro’, or something less ‘I went to a LycĂ©e/Jamhour in Lebanon’ maybe.

I haven’t been doing all that well, but I’ve been doing more fine-y than I expected, and that’s something. The best way I can describe it is with the Arabic ‘meshel 7al’. I don’t know how to translate that, something like ‘the situation is functioning’, or ‘I am functioning’? I sort of think of Data from Star Trek saying ‘operating within normal parameters’. There you go. I am operating within normal parameters. Within these normal parameters, I am doing okay. My PhD progress is slow but steady, a thousand words here, a thousand words there. The podcast (follow ‘The Fire These Times’ on Twitter and Instagram etc etc etc) is doing well. I haven’t been writing as much, but it’s okay for now.

Yesterday, I went to the library and re-read a section of the PhD. It took me about 2 hours, because I spent some 40 minutes listening to music to slow down my brain. The way I can describe that is: think of the buzz you might get from a glass of whiskey. Not really tipsy, just a bit before. It slows things down in my mind. Music does that too, but it needs a bit more time than whiskey. I guess it’s a ‘rewards your patience’ situation, just like how neurotypical people get rewarded for being patient and understanding with my autistic self. It takes some time, but it’s the same effect in the end. Music is a bit like that for me. I treat it as a sort of interface with autism. I try and resist the urge to listen to the same thing over and over again, and I may or may not get rewarded for the effort of stepping out of my comfort zone. It’s not that the repetition is inherently bad – on the contrary, I can only work with 2-3 playlists that are on repeat – but from time to time it is good to get out of it. It’s how I discovered Ghammad Einak by Cairokee, not the normal version but the studio version. It’s calmer than the normal version, just like my brain after a glass of whiskey or 40 minutes of music. Then I started listening to it on repeat. Dammit.


This is what I listen to when I am writing. I’ve been listening to these while writing almost exclusively since 2015/2016, when I was doing my Master’s at SOAS.

As I mostly do one hour sessions, it’s usually DJ Okawari’s Kaleidoscope that I listen to. It’s a masterpiece.

I then switch to Nujabes if I was feeling optimistic about this writing session. Nujabes is pretty much the godfather of this genre of lo-fi hip hop. He unfortunately died in a car accident way too young.

And I put this Ghibli Jazz one from time to time too because I love Ghibli movies and I love Jazz so it was a no-brainer.

End of interlude

The reason why it can take so long to ‘get into’ the PhD is because the PhD is on Lebanon, specifically on ‘postwar’ Lebanon and, well, ‘postwar’ Lebanon isn’t doing too well right now. Every single day brings an avalanche of bad news that only progressively get worse as the day goes by, and then when you go to bed you do so hoping that the night isn’t even worse, which it sometimes is. I’ve gotten quite good at imagining a dozen scenarios at a time of what might happen next, ranked by likelihood. They’re sometimes accurate, but not always. They still help me operate within normal parameters. Until I replace my system with something better, it’s what I’ve got.

The problem with operating within normal parameters, however, is that the parameters aren’t all that normal. At least, they shouldn’t be. The parameters are getting worse every day. I’m typing this while haunted by the wildfires that have scorched large parts of our world, from Siberia to Lebanon to the US. I have a very visual memory you see, and ain’t nothin’ more visual than wildfires. This cinematic orchestra that is my brain juxtaposes images and scenes from movies and series with scenes from my phone or my laptop, and scenes from my own ‘real’ memory. The wildfires remind me of this old woman in Beirut who told a news outlet that for every tree burned, we are going to burn a member of parliament (I filmed her saying it.) It actually rhymes in Lebanese Arabic: Kel Shajra Wel3it Bi Lebnen, Badna Nwalli3 Fiha Na’ib Bel Barliamen. There’s a melody in there somewhere between the repetitions. I think they’re undervalued in a world where repetitions must have some edge to them in order to maintain some illusion of New-ness within platform capitalism. The best repetitions don’t need anything more to them. They just need to be repeated. For every tree burned, we are going to burn a member of parliament. It can’t get any clearer.

And it gets better. It’s not just that for every tree burned there will be a burned member of parliament. It’s with every burning tree, a member of parliament will burn. The tree will burn the member of parliament. It’s usually the other way around. Trees are burning because our political and economic systems are unable to imagine anything beyond their own existence. We have created a world where the engines of destruction operate beyond most of our comprehension, and yet benefit from an army of political and media elites that that are absolutely dedicated to maintaining the respectability of mass destruction.

I don’t know where this woman is now. I wish I had gotten to know her. I wish I could tell her how, in my mind’s eyes, she is like the Ents that release the river to destroy Saruman’s army. In my head, her voice echoes with the voice of Treebeard, said by Gandalf to be “the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun upon this Middle-earth”. He is the one who orders the Ents to “Break the dam! Release the River!” as they set upon Saruman’s tower to destroy his army.

We need more Ents is what I’m saying here.

So I’ll be doing this from now on. I’m no longer going to recommend stuff on a monthly basis because, to be honest with you, it was really tiring work that I was doing for free.

I will continue to do that but will be posting them on Patreon. Anyone who supports with 5$ a month (or 50$ per year) – the ‘a whole lot of chickpeas’ tier -or more will get these recommendations in addition to getting early access to every The Fire These Times episode recorded. I hope that seems reasonable. I promise to go back to normal once we move into a post-capitalist world 🙂

Take care everyone.

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