If you are a creator of any kind, Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s Big Magic is a must-read.
I’m kicking myself that I had not read this book earlier, way earlier when it first came out in 2015. It could have saved me so much time, anguish, and tears, ah, so many tears, but anyway, water under the bridge. Moving on.
Here are some of the golden nuggets that I got from this gem of a book:
#1. Writing is a gamble
Writing is not an exact science, and every time you are shipping something, you are at a casino, playing a one-arm bandit, hoping, and praying to win big. Gilbert, of course, is better with words than me, so here is how she eloquently described the creators’ gamble:
“Artists, by nature, are gamblers. Gambling is a dangerous habit. But whenever you make art, you’re always gambling. You’re rolling the dice on the slim odds that your investment of time, energy, and resources now might pay off later in a big way—that somebody might buy your work, and that you might become successful.”.
#2. Dealing with negative feedback
I’m someone who struggles with negative feedback. Although my skin gets thicker as I get older (literally and figuratively), I still get heart palpitations when someone trashes my writing. Here is what Gilbert says about that:
“What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest—as politely as you possibly can—that they go make their own fucking art.”
#3. Dealing with frustration
Being a writer is not for the faint-hearted. Do you know how many times I wanted to shred my manuscripts into one million pieces and toss them in the Potomac river?
“I remember thinking that learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person. If you want to be an artist of any sort, it seemed to me, then handling your frustration is a fundamental aspect of the work—perhaps the single most fundamental aspect of the work. Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process.”
#4 Having a creative mind is like caring for a dog
Yes, if you ignore your dog and don’t take it for a walk, it will trash your house.
“Possessing a creative mind, after all, is something like having a border collie for a pet: It needs to work, or else it will cause you an outrageous amount of trouble. Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do, and you might not like the job it invents (eating the couch, digging a hole through the living room floor, biting the mailman, etc.).
It has taken me years to learn this, but it does seem to be the case that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).”
#5 Dealing with failure
I’m someone who keeps picking at the stab. Analyze, rethink, revisit. What if, what if, what it. I should not have. I should have. I could have. I would have. Vicious circle. Gilbert addresses this corundum:
“Whatever you do, try not to dwell too long on your failures. You don’t need to conduct autopsies on your disasters. You don’t need to know what anything means. Remember: The gods of creativity are not obliged to explain anything to us.”
Do yourself a favor and get Big Magic by Elizabeth’s Gilbert.
I’m so humbled and honored to receive an award at the prestigious F. Scott Literary Festival in Rockville for my short story Ustaz Ali. I was especially happy to be awarded alongside veteran author Richard Russo, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Empire Falls.
My friend Bassam disagrees with me. He tells me he avoids reading any Arabic publications on planes heading to the US.
“It’s out of respect for their fear,” he tells me. “What’s that supposed to mean? ” I ask.
“Well, you know. I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable while flying. You know how things are now.” “Come on, you’re not doing anything wrong,” I reply. “You should read the book that you like. It’s your right.”
Of course, we didn’t agree, because very few people agree with me on anything but that’s okay.
Unlike Bassam, I didn’t have any respect for anyone last month and decided to take the Egyptian bestselling novel Azazil (Ø¹Ø²Ø§Ø²ÙŠÙ„) with me on a flight from Amman to DC. The first leg of the flight was from Amman to London. Reading a book that clearly displays “the scary language” was not a worry for me leaving from Amman. ÙAfter all, the plane was filled with Arabic speakers who are used to seeing and reading “the language that should not be named.”
It was a great flight. I had three seats to myself. I kicked back and read for five hours while drinking wine and being served food and snacks. Nothing was expected from me and I felt elated.
The second leg of the flight was when I became nervous and started thinking about my friend Bassam and his no-Arabic-publication on-US flights policy. Do I really need to do this? I mean, I could just watch the in-flight entertainment and save myself all the trouble.
The cover of ‘Azazil’
Of course, as soon as the plane from London to DC took off, I pulled Azazil from my carry-on bag and put it on my lap. I had to get myself in trouble because that’s who I am. The middle-aged, all-American looking woman sitting next to me was reading a book that had the word Afghanistan in its title. A good sign, I told myself.
Somehow, I felt I needed to explain myself before I started reading my scary book. I felt I needed to talk to her to make her feel comfortable as she will be spending the next eight hours of her life in very close proximity to me (you know, United economy can get very cozy) .
To my surprise, she was the one who broke the ice and started the conversation. She started telling me about the book she was reading and how much she was enjoying it. Of course, that was my chance to show her my true colors. I showed her my novel and told her point blank that I was a bit nervous about reading it on the plane.
“Why”? she asked.
“Well you know. It’s in Arabic, and I have been reading lots of stories lately about people being stopped at airports and taken off planes just for carrying Arabic books. You know, some passengers get nervous if they see Arabic script on the plane.”
“Quite honestly, I’m very impressed that you actually can read it,” she said.
This is a very good sign.
A few minutes after our brief conversation, the flight attendant passed by us offering drinks.
“I can’t believe that on US flights they make you pay for alcohol,” I told the woman next to me (whose names I can’t remember now because I’m old). I felt I had to say something to keep the conversation going.
“I know,” she said. “You know what? let get me you a drink.”
” What? No you shouldn’t. Come on. You hardly know me”
“What do you like?”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay. I will have some red wine.”
Just like that, a total stranger bought me a drink for absolutely no reason. It was such a random act of kindness and a nice welcome home to my newly adopted country, where people are genuine, friendly, and generous. Somehow, I proved my friend Bassam wrong. Not only can you read Arabic on the plane, but some flyers find this impressive and might even buy you a drink or two.
I was hoping that by reading on the plane, I might shatter some people’s stereotypes of Arabic readers, but what happened was the other way around. My own stereotypes of Americans being scared of my native language on a transatlantic flight was deconstructed. There is no reason to fear or hide from who I am. The fact of the matter is I am who I am and it is a great thing. After all, people buy me drinks!
One of the best books I read in a long time is a travel book called “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner. It is really not your regular travel book, it is one with a twist. The author of this book travels the world looking for the happiest place on earth. This might sound cheesy to some, but trust me, it is far from it. The author is smart, genuine, funny, and extremely witty. He takes you to faraway lands while making you delve into the deepest corner of your soul. He makes you think and reflect. He shocks, and fascinates you. He makes you laugh ad cry. In a nutshell, he makes you happy.
I read this book a few weeks ago on the plane on my way to Kathmandu, and it was a perfect choice for entrainment on that long flight. My favorite chapters are his adventures in Qatar, Moldova and Bhutan.
The conclusion of the book might sound like a cliché to some: Money can buy happiness but not necessarily, happiness is relative, and happiness mostly comes from your family and friends. Some might argue that there is nothing new to this conclusion. I tend to disagree, it is not really the conclusion that matters, it is mostly the journey to get there.
Read this book!
During my teenage years in Amman in the late 80’s the name Salman Rushdie was the talk of the town. Shortly after the release of his book, Satanic Verses, Rushdie was portrayed in the local media as the devil incarnate and his book was banned in Jordan (and the rest of the Arab world if I’m not mistaken). Since then I have always been intrigued by Rushdie. What prompted him to write this very controversial book, I wondered. How can he lead a normal life after Khomeini issued a fatwa that legitimized his murder? Since then, I’ve followed his news with great interest. I read about the various awards he’s won, his knighthood by the Queen of England and his brief marriage to a supermodel.
So, when I read the news about his appearance in DC I quickly snapped up tickets to see him read from his latest book, The Enchantress of Florence, at an event organized by Politics and Prose. I expected to see a bitter, cantankerous man with nothing to offer but hate speech. I was mistaken. What I saw was a happy, highly likable man with a marvelous sense of humor. He was extremely down to earth and even made jokes that were self-deprecating. I made a quick comment when my turn came for him to sign my book. "You must be tired by now," I said pointing at the crowd of people waiting for his signature. He said no, he was not tired, then pointing to his pen he explained it was an "Olympic pen" that can sign in a very speedy manner.
I was also surprised by the lack of security guards around such a controversial figure. Somehow I thought he would be surrounded by an entourage of bodyguards. I was mistaken.I really did not notice any security personnel. Maybe they were undercover. Who knows!
I have to admit, though, I have never read any of his books. I started reading The Ground Beneath Her Feet and thought it was the best writing I had ever read. Unfortunately, I could not finish it because I had to return the book to my friend before I headed to London to pursue a post-graduate degree. Now, after attending his reading I feel I need to get this book soon.
Another reason I expected Rushdie to be aloof and stone-faced was a book reading (Unaccustomed Earth) by Jhumpa Lahiri that I attended last month. I was surprised by how distant and detached Lahiri seemed during her reading. It must be a writer thing, I thought to myself. Rushdie proved me wrong.
I have to admit that I’m a bit uncomfortable about writing about Rushdie on this blog because I know some readers will be very quick to attack me and accuse me of endorsing his controversial views. However, attending this reading left such an impression on me that I believe it deserves a whole post regardless of the consequences.