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J.D. Harlock

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Where are you from and what do you do?

I’m a Lebanese/Palestinian/Syrian writer based in Beirut. I graduated from the LAU Adnan Kassar School of Business in the spring of 2017 and just finished my masters in International Relations at the Queen Mary University of London. Professionally, I’m a jack-of-all-trades, but I mainly make my money from freelance writing. Recently, I worked on the most recent expansion of The Story Engine Deck of writing prompts which made over $600,000 on Kickstarter, and was chosen as the writing contest coordinator at Dream Foundry for this year and the next.

 

How'd you get into writing? Is there a specific moment -- or a series of moments -- that you can turn back to and say: "Aha, this is when I decided I want to become a writer"?

Like anything else in life, my desire to become a writer was a product of various factors that came together and set me on a path of never ending misery and wasted potential. When I was a kid, I dreaded the idea of having to work in an office like my dad did. He lived abroad, and whenever we’d visit him on holidays, he was just always tired. I remember watching him come back home every day looking dead, then lying on the couch like a zombie watching TV. He rarely did much else on workdays and it didn’t seem like he even had it in him to do so. I was terrified of ending up like that, especially because I didn’t think I could handle that kind of workload. A decade or so later, that would turn out to be true.


Being a Wikipedia fiend at that age also played a major part in my decision to enter the arts. I would spend most of my free time reading up on the lives of the rich and famous in literature and entertainment. That made me realize that I wanted to get into the arts. I just didn’t want to be an average everyday schmuck, especially one of the Lebanese variety. To me, being an ordinary Lebanese man means you're the biggest loser in the world. I really can’t think of a more miserable creature than the average Lebanese schmuck, and that makes it hard for me to sympathize with anyone but my friends and family during this crisis. 


Compounding my childhood woes and my reasons for entering the arts was my fear of death (long gone at this point) and of dying obscurely. I always saw fame in the arts as a way of overcoming death for some reason. Now that I’m older, I realize how meaningless it all is, even though I still want it to happen.


These three factors made my desire to become a writer a slow build-up that would result in a sudden epiphany when I was visiting my father in Jordan as a tween. Before that, I always felt like I was empty and suffocating and dreaded the future my mother had planned out for me. She wanted me to work at the same soul-sucking hellscape my dad did (which ended up blowing up in both our faces later on). Even though my passion for the arts has led me down as miserable a road as you could imagine, I’m still grateful for It because pain is still better than emptiness.

 

What does being "youthful" mean to you? Do you believe in something like a "writerly" responsibility to shape your community? How do you navigate the space between artistic expression and political correctness?

Absolutely nothing. I’ve had as miserable a childhood and young adulthood as any tell-all writer can hack up and can’t remember a single phase in my life where I didn’t feel like an old man on death’s door who squandered his entire life. That’s why I feel no responsibility to shape my community. I have very little interest in shaping anything I loathe and don’t see why I should take up the burden when the entire country’s given up. 


From this answer, you can probably guess that I don’t pay political correctness any mind, and I never have. I think it distracts us from the real problems at hand because addressing it doesn’t really solve anything. 

 

What are you obsessed with, and do you think obsession is an inhibiting or an essential part of the creative process? What is most conducive to your writing process? This could be anything: sitting underneath trees / listening to a song / overhearing a conversation. What in the world makes you want to become a river of words?

Growing up in Lebanon, I developed an inhibiting obsession with money to the extent that I loathe wealth and wealthy people. Now that we’re completely broke (as a result of the financial crisis brought about by wealthy people), I treat my writing the way a mercenary treats his killing, and that’s thrown quality out the window. After years of nervous breakdowns, I just don’t have the same concentration I used to, and years of writing worthless essays for the educational, industrial complex has killed my once magnificent nonfiction. Now I can only write nonfiction in an overly academic style that reads like a dictionary and loathe how the Arab market only seems to want that from us. To make things even more unbearable, the things that are most conducive to my writing process are mental peace and material comfort, which won’t be achievable anytime soon. Thanks, Lebanon. 

 

What would you want your body of art to do in the spaces it occupies/sits in? How does the way you write relate to the way you move through life?

First and foremost, I want my art to entertain. I don’t think art should be a pot of message whose only value is measured in its depth. I get the impression from Lebanese people that if art isn’t “deep,” then it’s not art at all. To me, art is a demonstration of skill, and that skill is shown by how well that work of art achieves its aims, even if that aim is just entertainment.


Like any artist, the way I view art has evolved over the years, and the latest turning point came a couple of months ago after the blast. I didn’t realize it at first, but I developed (more) acute PTSD (on top of the cornucopia of it I had before) and am now convinced that I will die in the coming years for some reason. I always thought I would die young (I always seemed like the type), but it was hyper-charged after the blast. I remember reading somewhere that Philip K. Dick would write like crazy because he thought someone out there was out to get him. I had a weirder version of that after the blast where I was convinced I was going to die soon, and by soon, I mean later that day, every day. So I was basically waking up every morning, writing like crazy for hours on end, convinced I was going to die later that day. I even wrote up a bibliography for myself and left detailed instructions on what to do with my work after I’ve died. Now that it’s been months, that urgency has died down, but I haven’t been able to shake off that feeling of impending death, and it basically colors my approach to both my writing and life in general.

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