For a creative nonfiction writer, intense honesty is difficult. We’re supposed to be creative without lying to the audience, colorful without confusing the audience, and, well, truthful to ourselves before we are to the audience. It’s like being a dictator minus the tyranny and power trips who actually wants to champion his people earnestly.
It’s a love/hate relationship between me, the honest writer, and the honest writing. I like to think of it as a process similar to eagerly waking up in the morning, excited for that sweet morning-dump, but you end up super dehydrated as your constipated feces carves its way out.
Honesty, like a treasonous digestive system, should come in the most painful way.
But what happens when you’re expected to pour out your heart on a piece of paper to an audience that might not give half a shit about who you are or what you have to say. I’ve never really transcribed my thoughts on writing or why I write. I mean, sure I’ve talked to myself about it and talked to others about it but, why am I so subconsciously liberated when I do? Write, that is.
Writing and reading are the oldest forms of communication after speaking and as they say, old is gold. Script and oration have always had a sanctified value to me where the creation of words transcends into a consecration of prose. It’s marvelous, mathematical even for those like me who are mostly inept in the art of math yet manage to transform a bank of words into an algorithm of pure communication.
As a writer, that idea is euphoric. You can take elusive information from your head, unspoken sentiments, arguments, theses, how you feel about your neighbor’s dog, what you’re planning to do to your neighbor’s dog, a confessional about what you did to your neighbor’s dog, whatever you’re crime may be, whatever it is you need to express, and then with a pen or a keyboard construct a most eloquent verbal portrait.
It’s euphoric to me that something like a long sentence that doesn’t lose its value because it’s long, can also stretch out both the reader’s patience and the author’s ability all for the sake of one minimal idea.
It’s chaotic and I fucking love it!
As a writer, that’s not why I write. I write because being an ink slinging wordsmith is noble. You’re reporting on the human condition and that takes more than ink and a word bank; it takes balls and a never ending desire to communicate. I can’t tell you if that attests to our innate loneliness, or our need to bond, or both. But to write in a furious frenzy of self-discovery, that, my friends, is the journey of all journeys. You can have your Shakespeare and Cicero, your Dickens and Juvenal, your Gibran and Darwish, but for at least a moment when writing, I can have me.
There are the greats and legendary, and then there is Yousef, the prospect. I suppose I write to one day be extraordinary and change the world somehow but it’s not as important to me as self-expression is.
My roots as a writer, my love for rhythm, logic and word-crafting, are well weaved beneath my cosmic tree of artistry. Yggdrasil is the tree of life connecting the nine worlds of Norse mythology. I like to think that my Yggdrasil has connected the worlds in my cosmic system of creativity using all that has influenced me. Odin has nine worlds, I have nine worlds, coincidence? Abso-fucking-lutely, but here they are:
- World One, My Mother: My mother is the greatest story teller I’ve ever met. She would put my brother and me to sleep with completely improvised stories filled with detail, complex characters and unpredictable plots. Every night it was a one-woman verbal Cirque Du Soleil. She was a magnificent orator and her stories were forceful in their thought provoking nature. They were ultimately lessons, as stories naturally are, but she did it so organically to the point of being oblivious about instilling a strong precursor to critical thinking. The stories made me inquisitive enough as to develop my first dream of becoming a detective. I firmly believe that I am a detective at heart, not because I could find the lesson but because I enjoyed digging through the detail to find the lesson. My first love was my mother and my second love was here story telling. When I write, I try to be conscious of that as much as I can.
- World Two, Hip Hop: Growing up as a Tupac fanatic, for a writer, was as if he himself poured water on this rose that grew out of concrete. In due time, I had eaten up Hip Hop entirely; I collected books, anthologies, documentaries and records. I would listen to Afrika Bambaataa and Grand Master Flash in the morning, Big Daddy Kane and Public Enemy in the afternoon, and the three little Bigs at night. I call Big Punisher, Biggie Smalls and Big L, the three little Bigs. I had notebooks filled with rhymes and original rap songs. At thirteen, I was adopted by an underground rap group called Dark Method. It was a duo at first with Hot-C and Raven, but then with me, Ice-coldd, yes with two D’s, we became a trio. We frequented this rap records store where all the underground rappers in Kuwait would show up, exchange rhymes and battle rap. My first task in this pseudo-internship was to write a hook for Dark Method’s first self-defining track. Hot-C and Raven performed it live and at least 20 people ended up singing the hook. It was catchy and it’s probably the only writing I have memorized. At the back of the record store was a sprayed mural of a microphone with the names of all the greatest underground rappers of Kuwait signed around it in little revolving columns. There was one last spot to be filled and it took me only 3 or 4 months to have my name on there. Writing gave me recognition.
- World Three, Heavy Metal: Iron Maiden, Pantera, Metallica and Black Sabbath, these four horsemen of the apocalypse were a beginning to a very peculiar phase in life. As much as I despise the whole idea of being a ‘teenager’ and the term ‘teenage years’, that period was heavily infiltrated by good ole masochistic angst and inexplicable rage. Being the geeky meathead that I still am, Thrash and Heavy Metal were essential to my creative juices. Song’s like Iron Maiden’s Alexander the Great and Black Sabbath’s The Wizard were and are both verbal and written masterpieces. There was a refreshing aftertaste when moving from one song to the other, the lyrics were almost mystical and I wanted to write how they sang.
- World Four, Fiction: Comic books. Batman. The Punisher. Wolverine. The Flash. Green Lantern. God, do I miss reading comic books! I enjoyed two types of characters: the uncompromising and incorruptible hero like Batman, and the no holds barred I’m-gonna-fuck-you-up hero like the Punisher. Writers like Jack Kirby, Grant Morrison and Frank Miller would create cataclysms in my mind whenever I picked up the latest issue of Batman R.I.P. or Garth Ennis’ Punisher with his dark and brutal depictions of Frank Castle. I was maddened by these story arcs of anti-hero characters who weren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty or stooping lower than the villain to get the job done. It was a love for writing that could only be matched by Shakespeare. The nefarious Iago and his soliloquies in Othello till this day influence my writing habits. Of course Shakespeare requires no introduction nor praise but I can proudly credit him as a mentor of sorts. There are countless novels and authors to whom I can credit and salute but nothing inspired me more in the world of fiction than comic books and Shakespearean tragedies.
- World Five, Nonfiction: As a journalism student and an avid advocate of creative nonfiction, writing for the sake of seeking truth, examining human nature and holding those in power accountable to their actions, is a must. I have only recently come to grips with myself being a writer let alone gaining enough comfort and confidence to call myself one. In doing and being so, I must attest that writing in respect to truth is a power-tool vital to any given social contract that wishes to progress and evolve. Stresses on nonpartisanship and verification in journalistic writing has allowed me to open doors to new writing settings. Stresses on the writer, me, are also at the highest when it comes to any form of nonfiction; writing truthfully to get the point across may not be as ‘magical’ as fiction but it’s sometimes more impactful. That is a source of inspiration I wish to keep.
- World Six, Movies & Plays: Writing directors like Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese and Guy Ritchie have all shaped me as a writer. Gorgeously constructed dialogues and plots allowed me a special sense of inspiration. Ritchie’s British insanity boggles my mind in every utterance of every character. Tarantino creates a discourse between characters as if he had outsourced the script to the lovechild of the Mad Hatter and Al Capone. Nolan writes as if the spirits of Marx, Frida Kahlo and Ray Bradbury had collectively chosen to nestle themselves in his mind. The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Interstellar…the writing mind on him makes an aspiring writer feel conflicted between envy and admiration. As for the playwrights, I can’t adequately describe the awe inspiring works of Tennessee Williams, Anton Chekov, Henrik Ibsen, August Wilson, Georges Bernard Shaw, Moliere, Sophocles…I think my brain just ejaculated…one day, maybe after I’m dead, some kid writing about why he or she writes will feel the same.
- World Seven, Geopolitics: As you probably know now, dearest reader, I am not a Westerner. I come from the perilous lands of Middle-Earth, I mean the Middle East, where the literacy rate is lower than a circus midget. Or little person. Which one’s the one I can’t say? Censorship and the lack of free speech is an impairing ailment on a writer who was born and raised in a region once more drastically liberal in its arts than it is now. In Islamic belief, one of Archangel Gabriel’s first words to the Prophet was ‘read’. Reading, writing and pursuing knowledge was once a divine commandment and now the love for wisdom is both a privilege to the educated elite and a monopolized power against the plebs. Fortunately, I do have a higher education. Unfortunately, most of my kin don’t. I used to strictly believe that fists and actions get the job done but now, I know that only with an ideological brute force can I ever attempt to liberate my people. Writing has evolved in my mind and heart from a passion to the sole weapon of choice in reforming what’s wrong. I’m not the only one who needs me to write.
- World Eight, W.M.D.: Writing is a weapon of mass decompression. Have you ever blown into an empty bottle, closed the cap, bent the bottle, and opened the cap again? Have you ever done that aimed on someone’s face? The answer’s probably yes because you’re a sadistic little shit but in any case, that bottle is me. I need to write as much as I need to deadlift or play videogames or smoke a cigarette. In Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Will Graham is the character in charge of apprehending Hannibal Lecter. Graham also suffers from unusual levels of empathy hence his ability to tap into the monstrous mind of Lecter. I have long self-diagnosed myself to be a sufferer of Graham’s Disease. It’s not that if I stopped writing I’d go hunting psychotic and cannibalistic geniuses but I’m sure I’d go somewhere just as weird. I have a peculiar ability of putting myself in someone else’s shoes. And underwear. And house. And life. And mind. It’s not pleasant but it helps me get closer to what people are like and that helps when I need to know myself. The more I know myself, the better suited and the better capable I am to write.
- World Nine, The Madman’s Footprint: This is what I wish to leave the world with after I part. I want my writing to shape culture, identity, politics, economics…as long as I have input that is worthy of aggregation to the human psyche and worthy of accumulation to the collective intelligence of mankind, I will continue to write. I need to do something for this world before I leave, no matter how minimal. If I end up having one impactful piece, one meaningful essay or one groundbreaking novel, that is all I need. A little tap on the shoulders of the world. If I get lucky and fortunate enough for the world to turn and ask ‘who just tapped on my shoulder?’ then I’ll gladly sucker punch it into unconsciousness. Otherwise, I know my soul will find no peace if I die one day knowing I didn’t at least strongly influence one person. I’d like to show up to my Judgement with a pious pride and both showcase my doings as a writer to the angels as God’s gift to me, and as an offering in gratitude to this gift. The ability to say ‘Lord, I have honored your gifts as you have honored me by simply being my lord’ would make my existence complete. To do that, I need to write.
Odin sacrificed an eye for knowledge. I will never sacrifice anything for my integrity as a writer.
As Walter ‘Rorschach’ Kovacs once said: “I never compromise, not even in the face of Armageddon.’
Looking forward? Always. Looking back? Sometimes. But for now I’ve got to look two ways, inwards and outwards. Whether I ‘make it’ as a writer or not, whatever that’s supposed to mean, doesn’t really matter. ‘Being’ a writer is all I ever need to worry about. I may not always be consistent, creative or understood for that matter, but rest assured O’ writing self, at the end of the day, I’ll always be a writer.
Until next time.