Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 28

Lily loved the atmosphere at Em Nazih.
She’d come in the afternoons, when the hustle bustle of Beirut was kept to a minimum, shielded from the craziness by the small stone terrace tucked away in a tiny alley off Gemmayzeh.
She came to write in peace, the soft humming of the distant noise rocking her into concentration, her thoughts and agile fingers on her keyboard only interrupted by the sweet clinking of glasses and arguileh being cleaned. She felt at home, working away and taking her time to talk to Ali, one of the staff members, or with one of the daughters of the owners who taught Arabic to the plethora of alternative youth and possible secret services undercovers calling Beirut home for about three months. Rana, Nada and Nivine were all equally delightful and funny and Lily relished the moments she spent with them, all the while stuffing her face with the delicious batata harra made by their mother. The spices and coriander tickled her tongue while she laughed at Nivine’s latest tale of her pupils who often seemed puzzled to say the least by Lebanon in general and Beirut in particular. During these moments, she always felt incredibly lucky to live here, flaws and all. She had started to train herself in seeing beauty in the littlest things and it hit her hard just how much beauty there was going around.
Em Nazih’s tenants and patrons were a mix of Lebanese taking a breather from a city that could be overwhelming at the best of times and Western and Arab tourists and students learning Arabic and getting to know a country they only knew through the vilifying lens of their media back home. The bewildered looks on their face showed just how much they had trouble processing the clash between representation and reality. Em Nazih’s crowd was a melting pot of artists, secret agents, declared and underground revolutionaries, students, researchers, tourists, family and friends of the owners and staff. It was a place where good food met serious whispers, where laughter died in the fragrant smoke of the Arageel and where the cries of triumph of lucky backgammon players melted away in the frenetic honking that was Beirut’s regular soundtrack.

However, Lily had no time today to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Today, she was writing a piece on a new young woman author whom Gabrielle knew through her gazillion networks. The author had just launched her latest novel which dealt with two women in Aleppo trying to forget their damaged past and forge a future for themselves (these feminists, thought Lily, you can’t ask them the time of day without them writing a novel on women’s paths and oppression and stereotyping and whatnots). She had enjoyed the book nonetheless, and thought featuring the author in her column along with a photoshoot by Gabrielle could make a nice little piece.

And so there she was, taking notes for her article while Gaby’s voice in the back garden resonated against the stone walls. Grace was also there to assist Gabrielle, and perhaps, just perhaps, to soften the blow that could be Gabrielle’s personality. Poor little author.
Except the author seemed to be taking a great liking in Gaby, sharing the same vision as her friend and furthering her suggestions.

– Right, sit down in front of this door! Great, show me your hand with the rings! Grace, habibi, where is the cherry lip gloss? We could really work with some colors here!

Lily watched as the author put on more make up. Gabrielle really had a good eye: the author was wearing a deep mint green midi dress with matching green open toed ballet flats adorned with golden butterflies, topped with a lavender belt. The deep pink lipstick made her black eyes and hair stand out. Gaby had her pose in front of a pinkish door, her back to a weather beaten wall. The overall effect was urban, a tad melancholic and romantic with an edge, which suited the atmosphere of her book just fine.

– Tayb, now try and climb on this ledge.
The author’s eyebrows went up to her hairline.
– Listen Gaby, I do not climb ledges. As a matter of fact, I am not known for my climbing, or for my motor skills for that matters, so excuse me, but I think I will not go anywhere near that ledge.
Gabrielle looked a little discomfited while Lily and Grace stifled a laugh. Gaby didn’t seem to know what to do with this highly unusual opposition. A look to Grace who was busying herself with the make up bag to mask her hilarity had her frown, then laugh as well.

– Fine, no ledge. Jesus Fucking Christ, I hate divas. Yalla, sit down in front of this derelict door and turn your head this way!
– Much obliged, piped the author with a playful smile.

Lily was enjoying this column more than she had thought. The clicking of Gabrielle’s camera to her back, she started gathering the notes of her earlier interview with the author, making it into a coherent, witty and informative text. At some point, she had asked the author if she, like one of her characters, had a way too keep on fighting when life threw hardships at her. The author had this quirky response Lily had not paid attention to before.

Yes I do. It’s going to sound supremely stupid and cheesy, but it helps me nonetheless. When I feel like I can’t cope with life anymore, I shake myself and ask myself ‘what would Beyonce do?’. Seriously, can you imagine this woman being depressed or taking crap from anything or anyone? She’d sass them into oblivion. Now as a feminist, I see clearly how she participates to an industry that oppresses women in many ways but regardless of that. She exudes force and control and just sheer vibe of life. So I instantly picture myself like Beyonce in an impossible headdress, sky-scrapers heels clicking away as I pound the floor looking at life and shaking my head like ‘Oh no no no, this ain’t how it’s going to happen’. And yes I feel better’.

Writing this, Lily paused and took a sip of her Turkish coffee.

What would Beyonce do?
Huh.

On the Dangers of Being a Writer in the Age of Technology

Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.  ~Sholem Asch

10:00 am 

Sits in front of computer, with notes and thoughts on progression of new novel. 

10:05 am 

Checks e-mail inboy n°1. Ooooohhh Goody! My ASOS parcel has been despatched! Now what about my Boohoo one? What? I have 25% off the new collection? 

No. I shall be strong. Write.  

10:06 

5 notifications from Facebook. I have to check them, haven’t I? Not replying would be so rude. OOOOhhh Dina has tagged me! And Nadine has posted on Nasawiya!

10:26

Just lost 20 minutes writing utterly important comments on Facebook. This is just basic human decency.

10:27

Check e-mail inboy n°2. Maya has written to me! So what’s cooking Mayoush? Oh new illustration! I have to open it, save it, admire it, reply to Maya. After all, she’s gone through all the trouble of actually doing the illustration, and, as said before, I’m a decent person aren’t I?

10:30

Ping!

Dina on GTalk!

11:30

Problem solving session with Dina, Best Friend. Couldn’t have possibly left her with her dilemna of glittery phone case VS vintage one. That would be absolutely against our very rigid and strong Friendship Code, and what’s more important, a novel or a friend? My point exactly.

11:32

I’m hungry, I wonder what’s for lunch…Oh what could I make for dinner tonight?

11:33

Marmiton.org, 750g.com and PtitChef really have the best recipes. I shall pick one, draft the grocery list, and then REALLY get into that novel. That Noha character really is lacking something. And I still need to deepen a bit Shirine’s past.

12:15

Grocery list done! NOW to business.

12:20

“Shirine

12:21

Lunch!

14:30

That really was a lovely lunch. My colleagues are so funny.And that salad!

14:32

Need to recheck emails. People should have replied to my Facebook posts by now. Oh I’ve been mentioned on Twitter!

14:35

Two replies. Right, to Business.

14:36

Those dresses really are lovely. And I do have 25% off them. Couldn’t hurt to have a closer look.

15:00 (Minus 60 Euros)

“Shirine était particulièrement songeuse…

What’s the word I’m looking for in French? Let’s go on wordreference.com for 2 seconds

15:15

Deeply entrenched in “10 Ways You’re Screwing Your Relationship”. Damn, I had no idea I was doing all that. In any case, these things are only designed to make 1) women buy more crappy books on the same subjects and 2) make us feel bad about ourselves

16:00

Browsing on Amazon.com. That reference to book reminded me, I want that book from Simone de Beauvoir, ohh look at that, they’re suggestion books I might like.

Well this one, and this one and this one.

16:30

Right, to business

16:32

” Shirine était particulièrement songeuse ce jour-là”.

Oh my Phone!

17:00

By the lake, with friends, eating ice cream.

After all, all this computer can’t be good for me. And I’ve written like… one sentence.

Tomorrow, no excuses, I’ll be glued to my novel!

Writer’s block

Writer’s block is the dreaded thing that happens to writers when confronted with a white paper block or screen, staring accusingly at them as if to say “Fill me! Pah! Call yourself a writer! You should write, what are you doing stupidly looking at me?”

Thing is, I think writer’s block doesn’t do justice to the concept. It should be artist’s block, the thing you get when you’re supposed to be creating something, anything, you’re dying for inspiration and the only thing you seem to be able to do is updating your facebook status, for practice, like. I don’t get writer’s block often as 1) I ALWAYS have something to say or to think (take it from me, it IS tiring) and 2)I don’t write for a living, hence do not really put too much pressure on myself, but it happens anyway, and in these instances I’m left wondering what is it that’s itching me so much that I can’t express it. 

Sometimes it’s plain boredom, I feel like I WANT to write but nothing comes out of my brain and heart and hands, characters are left wandering at point zero in my novel, blogs look like deserted post-war places. Sometimes it’s actually WHERE I am, as I have to say, when I’m in the Middle East, I constently carry a pen and notepad about my person, because I always seem to be getting inspiration. Beirut’s exceptional this way, it’s never sleeping, something is always brewing up, good or bad mind you, but things happen and people feel, and scream, and get up to all kinds of shenanigans, so basically, if you’re a stuck writer, spend one afternoon on the Corniche, another in Hamra Street and another in Gemmayzé, and you’ve gotten yourself a book. Writer’s block is your brain refusing point blank to cooperate with your hands, clearly indicating that now’s not the time to bother it with mindless little chitchat with yourself. ALthough I’ve always absolutely loved the idea of me being a tortured artist, sighing to the moon on sleepless creative nights, chain smoking and cursing Fate, I often get writer’s block when I’m too stressed, or too sad, or too preoccupied. I almost never get it when I’m happy. As for being anxious, well, I’m constantly anxious, so it really doesn’t make any difference (See I still had to develop some kind of neurosis, otherwise I’d be like a character from a Danielle Steel novel, all normal and weird). Also, I never smoke while writing, as really, one needs their two hands (Carrie Bradshaw, you lied to us all!)

But let us dwell a bit more on the opposite of writer’s block. What should we call it? writer’s unblock? Sudden Flows of inspiration? When you have so many things to lay down on paper that you’re looking frantically in your bag in desperate search for a pen and a paper, and that you end up scribbling bullet points in unreadable hieroglyphs that you’ll agonise ove to decipher? And, frankly, I could never be one of those high tech writers that take their notes on their iPad, epitomising how backwards I am for still using pen and paper and regular computers. 

No my friends, being a writer is no easy task, there’s a lot of stress involved, but the good, ah, the good part, is that you have the words to bitch and complain about it. You just need a good pen, and a credit card slip. 

Words

I write. 

I write like some cry, sing or run. I write to make myself laugh or cry, I write to cleanse myself from within. I write to forgive and forget, to make sense of things that don’t, to reflect, to not let words that I’ll regret slip out of my mouth. 

I write to witness the beautiful blend of words spring to life and become an entity of its own. No one remembers the writer, but you’ll actually remember the words. I write to travel to distant lands, to explore the realms of the visible and the invisible, to awaken consciences and put fears to sleep. I write to create kingdoms of which I’m Queen, having absolute powers over the characters, make people live or die if I wish to. Writing’s really nothing else than a game for control obsessed dictators who don’t have the courage to overthrow governments. Writing enables the spoilt child in me to have it my way, no questions asked. The keyboard is my wand, letters form the words I order, if I don’t like something I’ll just press delete. 

Words are dangerous, writers are tiresome, always looking for the perfect adjective to express a feeling, always in their dreams. Writers, like all artists, are feared by the Establishment: beware, for if they don’t like something, and they’re bound to, they’ll just write about it, denounce it, advocate for a change, and people might listen to them more than to you politics, for you’re stained with corruption and they’re not (or should not). 

Words can be soft, or loving, they can carry love and care, or they can be like weapons, all sharp and edgy, accusing and menacing. They can convey ambivalence, you can agonise over them, trying to decipher them, you’ll cry for a context, for an explanation, more words. Choose your words carefully, because once they’re out on paper, or lost in cyberspace, or engraved in somebody’s brain there’s little you can do about it, you’ll just have to live with them. 

I write to create, for the moment I’ll stop creating, I know I’ll be dead.