Is Writing A Book Horrible?

In his book Why I Write, first published in 1946, George Orwell writes:

“Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:

1. Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc. etc. It is humbug to pretend that this is not a motive and a strong one. But there is also a minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class.

2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangements. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed.

3. Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts.

4. Political purpose- using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality.”

writing

Do you agree? Do any of these points, do any of his ideas make sense in today’s world?

ChK

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I Have Learned Less About Writing

“I have learned less about writing and received less encouragement from English instructors than I have from reading or listening to a working artist relate how a single creation- poem, play, short story, novel- was brought to life and to maturity and to its public place.” Irving Wallace

Growing up in a small Armenian village in Lebanon, I went to a private school. The village only came into existence in 1939 as a refugee camp at first, when the entire population of Musa Dagh was displaced by the Turks and brought to that place with the help of the French. It was only natural that the church lead and guide the people.

Hence in our village, in the east of the Bekaa valley, near the Syrian border, there were and still are to this day three high schools. All three are private. One for each religious community: Armenian Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics. My parents being Orthodox it was only natural that I attend ‘our school’.

In school we had a tough curriculum to follow. Up until grade six all subjects were taught in Armenian and Arabic, while English was taught as a third language. In grade six we switched to English for sciences and mathematics, and everything else we continued in both Armenian and Arabic.

Hence during language classes we had to write essays in all three different languages. Which was sort of fun because we had different teachers with different ideas and different styles of teaching. For example we never studied Shakespeare in high school because our English teacher didn’t like teaching it and found it a complete waste of time. But from that teacher I learned how to critically read a piece of fiction and analyze it.

For my Armenian essays I produced writings with perfect sentence structure and grammar. Though I wish we had focused more on analyzing the writings of the authors rather than learning their biographies.

As for the Arabic class we had the kindest and gentlest teacher ever- at least I did. Every week he used to get me a book from his own library to read. Most of them were hardcover. At night in the privacy of my room, when I opened those books to read it was like flying on the magic carpet. And in my mind I can still see and smell those books. That was the most magical thing in high school.

And in that ordinary small Armenian village where people lived ordinary lives, my life became extraordinary.

Thr Reader

ChK

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I Write Myself Out

From a very early age, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. I grew up with this dream. But somewhere along the way, I totally abandoned the idea. To be exact, between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five. I don’t know if it was the civil war itself that made me put my dream on hold or my outrage at having my life turn upside down as a result of the war. All I can remember now is how frustrated I felt all the time knowing I was living and acting against my true nature and that I had to find my way back and settle down with my dream. This was only made possible when I left my country, leaving the war behind.

I was the eldest of three children and the only girl in the family. So when I was left alone to play I developed a habit of making up stories and holding conversations with people in my head. And as I grew older I developed a love for words and perfect sentences and paragraphs that helped me through difficult situations. They sort of gave me the power to imagine myself out of situations. And I believe by doing this I created a sort of a private world in which I could make up for my failure in everyday friendships and life.

books

I didn’t produce a big volume of writing when I was younger. Apart from my schoolwork I wrote for the school yearbook in two different languages. I wrote a poem one time which got me second place in a school competition. Whenever asked to write I produced a piece quickly.

But throughout my entire life, even to this day, I have been engaged in an entirely different kind of literary activity. I am always writing a story about myself, but only in my mind. I am constantly the heroine of some kind of misfortune or injustice. In my stories I am able to come out triumphant. In my stories justice always prevails. This world, the made-up world that I create for myself makes me susceptible to all kinds of misery. I have become somewhat blind to the problems of the real world and choose to escape by isolating myself and submerging myself more and more into my world. And in my world nothing can touch me or hurt me.

To this day when I find myself facing a catastrophic situation, the first thing I do after panicking is to stop and for a tiny bit of a moment, close my eyes and in my mind, try to write myself out of the situation.

ChK

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Silent Screams

“Mom I put the book back in the library. Sorry I couldn’t read past the first few pages. It’s such a bad book.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” I said and thought about the book.

YoungReader

The book she referred to was written by a famous bestseller writer. And I thought of the many such books that I have in my library. Books that I have bought because the writer is well known but I haven’t been able to read. And every time I have blamed myself for not seeing in the book what others have seen.

Each time I am in doubt I take out my notebook where I have what I think are the most interesting quotes on writing and read them again. Here are some I would like to share with you.

“I don’t know what a book is. No one knows. But we know when there is one. And when there is nothing, one knows it the way one knows one is not yet dead.” Marguerite Duras

“Your loving and my loving, your anger and my anger, are sufficiently alike for us to be able to call them by the same names; but in our experience and in that of any two people in the world, they will never be quite completely identical.” Agnes Mure Mackenzie (The Process of Literature)

“Genius is as common as old shoes. Everybody has it, some more than others, perhaps; but that hardly matters, since no one can hope to use up more than a very small potion of his or her native gift.” Dorothea Brande

“As a matter of fact, there are only two essential rules: one, that the novelist should deal only with what is within his reach, literally or figuratively, and the other that the value of a subject depends almost wholly on what the author sees in it, and how deeply he is able to see into it.” Mrs. Edith Wharton

“If you can come to such friendly terms with yourself that you are able and willing to say precisely what you think of any given situation or character, if you can tell a story as it can appear only to you of all the people on earth, you will inevitably have a piece of work which is original.” Dorothea Brande

“When one takes everything from oneself, an entire book, one necessarily enters a particular state of solitude that cannot be shared with anyone. One cannot share anything. One must read the book one has written alone, cloistered in that book. There is obviously something religious about this, but one doesn’t immediately experience it that way. One can think about it later because of something that might be life, for instance, or a solution to the life of the book, of the word, of shots, silent screams, the silently terrible screams of everyone in the world.” Marguerite Duras

Have a great week of reading and writing!

ChK

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I Write

In the living room of my home in Montreal, in the dining room cabinet, on a shelf behind the glass is a picture of our family. It is an old photo taken in Dubai when my kids were still very young. It was taken on the same day we were photographed individually for our Canadian visa application. There’s an aura of happiness on all our faces.

It’s been a decade now since that picture was taken. So much has happened since then. My eldest has already joined the workforce and my younger is about to finish his studies and follow in his sister’s footsteps. And I am ten years older. During these last ten years, I have put the needs of my family before mine and my profession. I quit my job to be with my husband in his sickness and I have no regrets about it whatsoever.

Except after he passed away. Suddenly I felt so let down. Five years had passed since my last job as a teacher. And I realized that if I wanted to go back to teaching I didn’t have the heart for it anymore. Life has lost its glamour for me and the last thing I would like to do is face a classroom full of kids. But what else can I do?

The fact that I had missed my chance added to my sorrow and my fear of a future life without my significant other beside me. I drove myself crazy thinking about all the things that went wrong, of all the opportunities I missed because I chose to make my family a priority.

Here I was with all these feelings of pain and anger and sorrow bundled up inside me wanting to get out. I wanted to write about my love, my loss, my feelings of despair. Yet every time I tried to put words on paper this little voice inside would tell me to stop. It would tell me to stop whining. You are not the only one.

True. But my mind and soul are so full of memories and losses and fears that somehow writing about them is all I can do. Writing about them helps me understand and forget them. I write to explore all the things I am afraid of; death, loss, life, the future. I write to give myself courage and strength to face the world. I write to keep my sanity. I write, to use Roger Rosenblatt’s words:

“To make suffering endurable 
To make evil intelligible 
To make justice desirable 
and … to make love possible”

Night

ChK

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But If We Wait

“Are you ready?” Klaus asked finally.
“No,” Sunny answered.
“Me neither,” Violet said, “but if we wait until we’re ready we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives, let’s go.” 
Lemony Snicket

A few years after settling in Montreal, my husband was invited to give an exhibition for his paintings in New York. He declined saying that he had a certain plan and that he needed a little more time to make his plan come true. He asked if it could be postponed for a few months, a year to be exact. They agreed. Little did he know that destiny had other plans for him too.

Departure

The perfectionist that he was he was always waiting for the right moment to do things. It never occurred to him that the right moment might never come. Voltaire wrote:

“We never live; we are always in the expectation of living.”

It’s hard being left behind. It’s hard to be the one who stays. Who said things will get better and easier? Days have a certain rhythm for me now. It’s easier during the day. On most days it is just a matter of getting through the day no matter how. But the evenings, the long lonely evenings are for breaking down. Come evening all I can think of is unfulfilled dreams, of opportunities lost, of a life lost.

It’s a horrible world outside. And I can’t help but feel frightened sometimes. I can’t help but worry about things, even trivial things. Things that I know I have no control over. Things like the future, the unknown. And I want to believe that if I am patient and I wait things will get better. To quote Paulo Coelho:

“I’ve learned that waiting is the most difficult bit, and I want to get used to the feeling, knowing that you’re with me, even when you’re not by my side.” 

ChK

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Memories Can Never Rub Away

“A man is what he remembers. And he is free by virtue of what he remembers.” Leon Surmelian

The internet is buzzing with news of Christian villages and towns being destroyed by rebels in Syria, churches burnt, nuns taken hostage and youths beheaded. The latest news is the siege of the Armenian village of Kessab near the border of Turkey. Islamist militants, mostly Turks, have forced the inhabitants to flee and have taken the village, looting and destroying their homes.

This kind of news resonates strongly with me. My mind goes back to the days when I used to listen to my grandparents telling their story of how they were displaced and forced to flee their villages by the same Turks, to never go back again. And what was once their home became a memory they cherished and passed on to us together with the bad. Leon Surmelian wrote:

“Memory preserves continuity. And if it is destroyed, suppression of memories is the most awful tyranny of all, for it destroys the self and kills the soul of man.”

My heart bleeds as I continue to read. Because deep down I want to hope against hope that this time it is not the same. That everything is going to be okay for all those innocent civilians against whom atrocities are committed in the name of democracy or freedom. That people and authorities have learned from the mistakes of the past and that history will not be repeated a century later.

I have first hand experience of civil war, I grew up in it. I have seen and know what it can do to people caught in it. I was lucky to have been given a second chance, to leave and live a normal life outside. As Haruki Murakami writes:

“Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life-and-death struggle people went through is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about everyday, too many new things we have to learn. But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone.” 

lost i

ChK

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