Decades earlier when I was working and living in Dubai, with a small group of friends we formed what was then the first writers’ circle. We were all expatriate women, coming from different cultural backgrounds with one thing in common, a love of books and a passion for writing.
It started when we all took part in a creative writing workshop organized by the Dubai Arts Centre. The centre itself consisted of a villa with a room used as a lending library where the books were mostly donated by the members, a second room for arts and painting workshops and exhibitions, and a third for social gatherings and seminars. Dubai then in the early 1990s was not what it is today. It’s in that third room that we gathered three nights a week for two weeks to write under the instructions of British lecturer and author, Peter Gosling.
The workshop was the first of its kind. So when it was over, the very few that we were, we decided to continue to meet once a month over dinner (each time in a different house) with one condition: that we write something and read it during our meetings. At the end of the first year we even published an anthology of our work in a magazine we called Writers Unlimited. During one of those dinners, after I had finished reading my short story one of our group members said, “It’s good, yes, but what are you going to do with it? I mean, who is going to read stuff like that?”
Disappointed, sad and upset, I so wanted to tell her that I write for the same reasons she does, but being me I couldn’t. Instead I sat quietly throughout the rest of the evening until it was time to leave.
At home I sat at my desk, opened my notebook to a blank page and scribbled: WHY DO I WRITE?
During those years I mostly wrote war stories. Stories based on events and incidents that had happened to me, to my friends or to people I knew, who struggled to survive the civil war that engulfed my country Lebanon. Memories, losses and fears that were so fresh in my mind and soul that somehow writing about them became a sort of therapy for me. I wrote to forget, I wrote to understand. In the words of Roger Rosenblatt:
“Why do we write?
To make suffering endurable
To make evil intelligible
To make justice desirable
and … to make love possible”
I wrote to share with others my personal experiences. Because I thought and I still think that human beings are the same anywhere in the world; the fear they experience when held, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, at gunpoint is the same regardless of their nationality or religion. Unfortunately, war is a universal language arguably as powerful as love is claimed to be, and hence, I believe that my stories hold universal appeal. If only I could have told her all this back then. Ernest Hemingway writes:
“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”