Call me irresponsible

Posted on November 16, 2008


This month, I quit my respectable job as a corporate lawyer, bidding good bye to swivel chairs, bonuses in dollars, and hateful high heels, to work at a magazine where all the chairs are tall and fuzzy and only have one arm, and the toilet is on its own throne-like platform. Instead of hearing “sabah el kheir ya ostaza!” which I prodigiously enjoyed, I now hear “ciao, bella!” more times a day than anyone ever needs to outside of Italy’s more touristy areas. Stressful though the transition between two such different fields (one of which I know nothing about) has been, I’m having a great if unusually invigorating time so far, even though I’ve always loved formal hierarchies and established systems, and hated flying by the seat of my pants (although I love the idea of a girl’s trousered butt whizzing through the air, mysteriously airborne). It pleases me to find that I can work without a net (so far), much as the thought makes my palms sweat.

Tired and mixed metaphors aside, I’ve learned some things about myself, and the field of media, over the past month: the first of these is that a person can spend several days thinking about the punctuation of pull quotes, and feverishly debating the continued applicability of the m-dash. Well, possibly not any person. Other tender moments of self-awareness include the astonishing revelation that I can – pending the review of you, my peers interview celebrities at 1 am on a weekend; that I have stress dreams, one of which inexplicably featured a large pink dildo being tossed through the air like an American football; that I am even more tactless than previously believed; and that chairs are more important than I would have thought possible. Also, I learned that I don’t know shit.

Other more general revelations include that shiny people are nicer than you might expect, and more interesting too; that fellating creative individuals is necessary, a professional technique which has already been inculcated in me; that people in media are supremely interested in analyzing their personalities as well as those of other people; and that a good giggle is an indispensable networking tool, as is leaning forward attentively.

Nevertheless it can’t be denied that “lawyer” sounds way cooler than “editor” or “journalist”. It sounds like you know specialized things, and are a member of a Profession. It’s a shame practicing corporate law the only form of practice available in Egypt to someone with my Arabic skills turned out to be such an epic snoozefest, something my classmates are uniformly realizing all over the globe.

Leaving a stable, well paid job, however, could not be entirely expected to meet with parental favour. Neither of them has ever contemplated the possibility of enjoying their employment. However, my mother being very, very strange, she met my news with, “that’s great!” and when I had stated my reasons for hating my job, with “those are very good reasons.” This was followed immediately by “Any news about marriage?”

My father, meanwhile, pretended that he trusted my decision since I had, he said, grown up. Nevertheless, in every subsequent phone call I would be treated to, “Are you still leaving that good job?” in a tone that made clear that he hoped that was a tasteless joke on my part. I have noted that in the past all unpalatable confessions have been treated like a temporary lapse of sanity and an implied announcement of my repentance of the activity in question. A few years ago, I imprudently decided to break the Sacred Vow of the Double Life, maintained for centuries between Egyptian children and their parents, and mentioned to them that I smoked shisha. This was met with predictable distress by my mother, who earnestly warned me against addiction, even though at the time I lived in Canada, where obtaining shisha involved two frozen bus rides and miles of tramping through snow. I pointed this out and it was disregarded as mere practicality, interfering with the moral issue at hand. My father, meanwhile, spoke wisely to my mother about my adulthood. Fast forward to four years later: “Someone told me they saw a picture of you on Facebook smoking shisha,” my dad said with what I suppose he thought was slyness.

“Yes,” I said.

“I thought you said you were going to stop!” he said, abandoning his cool.

“No,” I said. “I expressly said that I planned to continue.”

“I thought that since you admitted it, it meant it was over!”

“No,” I maintained. “I am going to smoke shisha.”

I did quit smoking shisha, a year or so later, because the pollution had cooked my lungs. I always claim that I haven’t, though, when they ask. I feel like I’m keeping them on their toes.

So I patiently informed my dad, several times, that I had quit, but comforted him with the knowledge that the law firm had promised to take me back if I wanted even though I would never go back there. I still feel a bit irresponsible, but everyone (even former colleagues) assures me that I’m going to be a lot happier, and I believe them.

Originally published in Alter Ego Magazine, October 2008.

Posted in: my family, work, writing