January 31, 2013 § 121 Comments
I am in the final stages before releasing my memoir, and for a few weeks there, I dealt with a paralyzing fear. All I could think about are the attacks people will make on my character (though I’ve been attacked by readers before, on numerous occasions). Or the ways in which certain people in the book will feel misrepresented or insulted (though I did my best to tell my story as it actually happened).
I listened to my dad telling stories about my sister and I over family dinner, and realized how unique each of our stories and perceptions really are. He had no recollection of what we were really going through at different stages of our lives. A bitter drink turned sweet with distance. In fact, everyone from my youth has little idea of the double life I lived, now captured in my book.
“The risk is fearsome: in making your real work you hand the audience the power to deny the understanding you seek; you hand them the power to say, “you’re not like us; you’re weird; you’re crazy (Bayles, Orland, 39).”
In all truth, I prefer people that I don’t know at all to read my work, rather than people who know me. It’s okay for a stranger to not like it, or not get it, but when it’s your friend, it means that they don’t really get you at all.
In the midst of my publishing fear phase, a friend leant me the book “Art & Fear – Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking”. As soon as I began reading it, my fear subsided. I was able to fully focus again on the process of making art, rather than fearing the result of my art. And I remembered how amazing it is to be where I am at, and see that the creation of this book all happened through mad stubborn persistence, diligence, pain, tears, upheaval, countless rewrites, and that fleeting feeling of triumph.
“Basically, those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue – or more precisely, have learned how to not quit (Bayles, Orland, 9).”
In the beginning, I imagined I would write a novel. My boyfriend at the time so fascinated me that I had to capture him with words. I thought it would just be a story of him, but it grew and grew into a whole community. How I got there, what I was searching for, and how it all ended up. In the end, it was not really about him or them at all. It was about me.
I thought it would be finished in 1-2 years. It would be published by a major with a huge book advance, become a best seller, and I would receive a movie deal within the year (how wonderful it is to be naïve and clueless). As I slugged away at horrible jobs that paid practically nothing, this image of the victorious author got me through the worst.
Then there was the issue, that in my twenties I partied so hard and lived so much to the fullest (which makes for much of my subject matter), that it was hard to find time and a morning without a hangover to write. But no matter. I still lugged my computer to the coffee shop when I could, on my one day off from work a week. Eventually, even in the early morning hours.
“To the artist, art is a verb (Bayles, Orland, 90).”
Bit by bit the pieces grew organically, and came to fit together. The book started as a third person novel, then a novel in the 1st person, then with voices of two other characters thrown in. Finally, three years ago, I was able to find the courage to admit that it is a memoir. But I would not have had the guts to say what I did, if it hadn’t started out as fiction. I also wouldn’t have come to know the other characters so well without that extra exploration. Did I mention that I began writing this book in 2002?
“The artists life is frustrating not because the passage is slow, but because he imagines it to be fast (Bayle, Orland, 17).”
It still amazes me that I have not given up. But on the other hand, it doesn’t amaze me at all, because I had no other choice. I couldn’t release it from my brain until it was all written down. And when it was finally done, it lifted like magic, and I was free of it.
I am at an age now, where the idealism begins to fade away. I’ve watched plenty of friends give up their craft for stability. Life is hard. Most artists don’t survive as artists once they leave the supportive community of school. After that, it’s just you and your art, and good luck getting people to care about what you do. Your friends are not necessarily your fans.
Facing the fact that my book will be available to the public, I wonder how my life will change. I will do everything I can to see that it’s successful, but there is the fear that it won’t sell. I won’t know until I take that risk. And whatever happens, it will still be a foundation that I can build from.
Years ago, a friend of mine read several chapters. Paul was a young techie nerd, who was bored with life, and struggling to find social skills. He kept talking to me about one of the main characters: a binging, partying, player who puts on a debonair act. He became obsessed with this guy. It didn’t take long before he was turning into him.
Suddenly, Paul was out every single night, getting wasted, and hounding women wherever he went. In a bizarre turn of events, he married an older woman within three months of meeting her. But he continued to go out every night, and slurred to me that he wasn’t sure how he’d gotten sucked into the institution.
At one point, he had been my best friend. But soon, it was too embarrassing to go anywhere with him. He was rude to bartenders who were my friends. He was loud and obnoxious, trying to see how many curse words he could fit into one sentence. He went from being madly intelligent and witty, to talking in circles without making any sense. It was like watching Truman Capote’s downfall.
Was it the book? Or was it because he also had feelings for me? Or maybe, I was not responsible at all, and he was just on that course looking for an avenue to go down. I don’t know. But it was a disturbing realization that the book might be a little dangerous for the slightly unstable.
“Artmaking grants access to worlds that may be dangerous, sacred, forbidden, seductive, or all of the above. It grants access to worlds you may otherwise never fully engage (Bayle, Orland, 108).”
I hope that my memoir shows that the world is never exactly as we are told it is, and it is up to each of us to find out for ourselves. Every person has the right to be an adventurer, an explorer of life. To Think for themselves.
Of course, it is dangerous to really live. To take chances, and be open to people who are different from ourselves. But it’s the only way to find out who we really are. If we live in fear, we’ll remain in a bubble where nothing really happens, and nothing can really grow.
“Insist that the world must always remain x, and x is indeed exactly what you’ll get (Bayles, Orland, 111-112).”
I am excited, that soon, with the book release, my life will open up to new possibilities. It will be out there, speaking for me, doing the work that I put into it for a decade of my life. I will keep you all updated when it is released.
Do any of you have book release experiences to share? Was it uplifting? Did it feel like a let down? Did it open your life up to new things? Please share.
January 13, 2013 § 5 Comments
Many years ago, I had a ten-month relationship with a Palestinian man who was getting his PhD in political science. We were more like companions than lovers, but the sexual tension between us drove us crazy. There was only one time, early on, that we acted on that tension, and it was a disaster. Amidst our attempt at satisfaction, he fell asleep, and I left him there, alone with his own snores. He woke up after I left, confused and lonely, wondering where I went. I was furious, and it was a tremendous blow to my ego. I was very young, but I’d been through so much at that point, I was also very old. Much older than I am now.
That winter it snowed so much, that I was stuck at his apartment in the University district for three days. I hadn’t dressed warmly enough, so he lended me his black and white checked Keffiyeh. It was thick cotton. Piled around my neck, it protected me from the elements. I thought of how the Keffiyeh is most commonly used for protection against the hot desert sun.
It wasn’t really a fad yet, to wear a Keffiyeh around a college campus as a fashion statement. So a lot of people gave me funny looks. It felt as though the scarf could speak much louder than I ever could. There were people whose eyes lit up with happiness, and others who frowned.
Magid was much older than I was, and looked like a cross between Omar Shariff, and Louis Jourdan. Outside, his cigarettes added smoke to the steam escaping from his full lips. We walked through the city, beneath trees with intricate twig webs of white. We drank espresso at the Solstice coffee shop. He read the world politics section of the newspaper with his legs crossed. I wrote poems.
Mostly, we just fought all the time. But that weekend, with all of that snow, we created a cozy world for ourselves. Unobstructed by stress, power struggles, and Magid’s pain over always feeling like an outsider.
Though he had many friends, he was locked inside of solitude. And within him, always the constant conflict between East and West. To be in the West was both to avoid his homeland, and also to fight for it with the safety of distance. To be in the East was to be beaten down and humiliated. Even community, tradition, and family, could not protect him from this. He was a foreigner no matter where he went.
The same feels true of Ka, Orhan Pamuk’s main character in his richly poetic novel, Snow. Through Snow we are given a view into the struggles of the small town of Kars in Turkey, and the conflict between Islam and the State. Since a ban on headscarves for girls in school, there have been several suicides among the headscarf girls, but it is uncertain as to whether their reasons were religious or having more to do with their miserable lives.
Ka is a poet who comes to Kars on the pretense of covering the suicide girls and the political elections for a Frankfurt newspaper (where he lives as a political exile). But his real reason is to seek out a beautiful woman he remembers from college.
While in Kars, Ka writes several poems. He is snowed in, and the roads have been closed. Political tensions come to a peak. And though involved beyond what he would care to be, the events pale in comparison to the love he has found, and the overwhelming feeling that he will lose her. What is more, his Atheism is challenged by the perfect symmetry of snowflakes, and so he begins to see through all points of view. He becomes susceptible to the mystical, the charismatic, the theatrical dramas that cross the line from stage to reality.
My companion, Magid, did not seem to have a sense of faith. I admired that about him. His family was Christian, and he always said that Americans had no idea how many Christians lived in Palestine. He taught me that the news we receive here is very dishonest and biased. He took it upon himself to educate me on world issues.
There was a part of him that wanted to be liberated from his culture. But the part that was still entrenched in tradition, railed against my strong willed nature. He was both attracted and humiliated by my need for independence. Insanely jealous, with no reason to be, since is wasn’t beyond him to take another woman home, if I wouldn’t go with him.
He said he would take me to Israel, but he never did. Instead, he went alone when his father was dying. And on his way back, he was strip searched and made to stand naked in front of group of guards. They rifled through his credit cards. They confiscated his luggage, and then gave it back to him after they had stolen the gifts he was bringing back. They assigned him a guard, to escort him at all times in the airport, until he boarded the plane. He was made to feel like a dangerous criminal.
When his plane had a layover in Jersey, he called his family and found out that his father had just died. There was a sense of relief at having missed it. If he had been there, it would have been weeks of sitting in the house and mourning while all the neighbors came by to offer food and condolences. He considered whether or not he should grow out his beard as a sign of mourning. Then he decided that no, he was in America now. He didn’t have to do that.
He flew home, and when he told me all about what had happened, he cried. It was summer now, and we were eating burgers at a bar in Fremont. The sun was hot on our heads, streaming through a large window behind us.
The last time I saw him, we fought so badly that I drove him back to his street and dropped him off on the sidewalk before we could even make it to dinner. I drove away without even saying goodbye. The next day, I moved to New York.
Our story was a small pocket of my life. And in that pocket is the silence of snow, a Keffiyeh, Magid’s cigarettes and a newspaper stuck under his arm. We are not fighting the fight between East and West. We are peacefully gazing at each other from across the table with love in our eyes, while the students around us are wondering what a young girl like me is doing with a stubborn old man.
I see that Magid is living a successful life as an intellectual and writer. He is hard at work, stripping the layers off of the Westernized condescending and racist approach to Arab culture. His research has led him to express his thoughts through a historically Arabic point of view. It appears that he has returned to the East.
I will always remember that in Arabic there are over twenty words for “love” but in English, we only have one. I will remember the way that the men all danced together, and swung their hips in a subtle way. I will remember the koobideh with basmati rice and saffron. The poets and musicians; the pain and love that they expressed. The ancient culture that we could never feign to understand in the West.