I was overjoyed when I heard that the second half of the spring semester of my junior year as an undergrad at Loyola University Chicago would be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
My undergrad at Loyola was filled with ups and downs. I am grateful for the generous and stimulating human beings that filled many of my university days with good humor and debate.
The best moments of my undergrad have been in complete solitude. The most blissful moments of my life took place at the Gene Siskel Film Center, where I witnessed the Abbas Kiarostami retrospect, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Wild Pear Tree and Jean Luc Godard’s The Image Book.
It is in these moments that time slowed down and I reflected on my love for film, history, politics and culture. My love for these films inspire my visual and written work everyday. I will never forget attending a Gorillaz concert and seeing Slavoj Zizek debate Jordan Peterson as a student.
My time in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic has really put time into perspective – reminding me of the many subtle yet alluring moments of my life. It has also reminded me of the importance of spending time with parents, as they are most likely on limited time.
The city of Chicago, which is home to unnecessary rudeness and rampant selfishness, has reminded me of the need to cherish loved ones.
Some of my best memories were from my sophomore year, when I was living in downtown Chicago with great friends that I had discourses with at Bongiorno's, a gorgeous Italian eatery near the Trump Tower.
In those days, I was full of energy, creative ideas and ambitions. At every dinner, I would play devil's advocate while discussing pop culture and the latest current events.
My provocateur persona at that time was animated by a mix of vulgarities, crude humor and a pretentiousness that made almost everyone despise me. But I loved it that way (and still do). Although I am still a provocateur, I have toned down my rebel image, trading anger for melancholy and accepting the harsh realities of everyday mundane consumer capitalism.
My junior year of undergrad started off brilliantly. Although I had to relocate to Rodgers Park and couldn't enjoy the luxuries of downtown Chicago, I utilized the local book stores and enriched my interests in Russian novels, ancient Egypt and feminism.
I took these books to the beach and reconnected with friends. I listened to the Egyptian Diva Umm Kulthum and started writing poetry. The happiest moments of my life came when the late Algerian Singer Rachid Taha’s posthumous album Je Suis African came out — which was a record that inspired me to embrace my African roots as well as the humane, cosmopolitan, poetic and erotic aspects of my personality.
At this time, I started working on a documentary about the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. For once, I felt satisfied with the two most important aspects of one's life, the creative aspect and the romantic aspect. It felt like I came a long way from my freshman year of undergrad, which was a time when I was universally hated.
At that time, my creative ideas for articles and films were many, but the final products were amateurish and underdeveloped (they still are). The lack of cohesion in my brain at that time made me the subject to numerous mental breakdowns. I felt that the whole world was conspiring against me. During my sophomore year and half of my junior year, I felt exhilaration — while during my freshman year, I felt extreme pain with the occasional glimpse of optimism.
When the second half of my junior came along I felt nothing but the occasional melancholy. I no longer felt attracted to anyone and I lost the passion and creativity that once inspired me to endlessly innovate. I kept encountering Bureaucrats, such as a Arabic teacher who wanted to keep me an extra year at Loyola by making me take a full year and a half of a language I speak at home (I ended up testing out by taking an Arabic exam via the university and proved to her that rules exist in academia and that we are not in a Syrian bureaucracy).
The stupidity of other bureaucrats also haunted the second half of my junior year. Old school teachers made class a chore by implementing unnecessary professional divides between teachers and students. By constantly implementing unnecessary bureaucratic constraints to a free classroom environment, some of these professors made class an unbearable experience. Even the school newspaper, the Loyola Phoenix, is filled with bureaucrats who love to maintain the status quo and keep things as simple as possible.
So, when I heard that we were being sent home in mid March due to the Coronavirus pandemic, I thought it would be a much needed break from the constant running around that modern life brings as well as the never ending bureaucratic schizophrenia that I was a victim of.
Now, I could finally work on my new film about our post truth era. I could finally write a focused statement of purpose for graduate school. However, it quickly became evident that things are not that simple. As I sat down to write my statement of purpose for graduate school, I asked myself: What is my purpose?
After days in almost complete solitude, I failed to answer this vital question. I realized that all the time I spent riffing and writing about my favorite political theorists and philosophers would not help me in finding my spiritual and philosophical purpose. It turned out that I simply could not write a coherent sentence about anything. It turned out that I know nothing. I am nothing.
My film about our post truth era turned out to be an absolute disaster. On the surface, the film seems like a mixture between Adam Curtis's documentary Hypernormalisation and Godard’s The Image Book, but upon a closer look, one begins to realize the film's creator is a pretentious fart that has completely lost his grip on objective reality and what makes a good film.
Baher Hussein’s work consists of a number of unrelated surface level ideas that don't relate to one another. This confusion brings rare glimpses of brilliance, which can be seen in The New Pharaoh and a Happy Death.
I can't describe myself and what I do in a short bio or in a statement of purpose. A couple of months ago I felt like I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to graduate school in Canada for Political Science and do journalism and film on the side. Now, I am not so sure.
Journalism, a sometimes noble profession, has become a game of biased left wing commentators apropos CNN or right wing trolls vis-à-vis Blaze. In between, the sensationalism of “news” agencies such as buzzfeed exists.
Quality Journalism only rarely exists from the BBC, The New York Times and The Economist. The biggest problems with journalism today is the myth of objectivity. As I saw with my experiences with the bureaucrats at the Loyola Phoenix, journalists nowadays assume that only they have the status and facts to attain universal truths.
Perhaps journalists nowadays should read Michel Foucault and other postmodernists to understand that universal notions of truth are often problematic. Journalists who think they know everything end up in situations like the Covington Catholic School scandal.
It would be hard for me to be a journalist, since I generally despise people and do not care about them or their stories.
After talking with bitter filmmakers, film teachers and film students, I realized that they are a delusional and unbearable bunch. Many of these creators are not using film as a humane and selfless medium to tell a story like Kiarostami did. These films are often void of meaningful social commentary. They do not ignite ethical reflections from the audience.
Instead, it's all about them and their “story”, and these stories are often clique and uninteresting as most filmmakers and artists are. The contributions of mediocre filmmakers like myself and the others I have met are laughably useless. We have nothing to say. It's all been done before. We are not bold or courageous. We will never be Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman or Éric Rohmer, so why are we even trying? Let's just have fun, make whatever we feel like and not take ourselves so seriously.
I hate words like focus and professionalism. They are Eurocentric, condescending and they discourage creativity. The best creatives bring back their innocence and act as if they are three years old again. I am tired of narratives such as love, good and evil that the media feeds me. I am tired of consuming media and material things.
This quarantine has stripped me down to the bare essentials. I now spend time with only my favorite philosophers and films. I am riding my bike and kicking my soccer ball. I will never let the free market determine my value. I do not want to talk to people at this time, maybe I will later.
I came to University to find myself, and I did. I know what I love and what I am interested in. Now I need to find out what I want to do with what I love, which is the hard part. I used to be filled with energy and optimism. But now, melancholy and hopelessness linger over me like a cloud on a rainy day. I used to plan out my career and I would see myself as a professor or at Cannes. But now, I am only planning for and wondering where I want to be buried when I die (Africa is the answer).