Where are you from and what do you do?
I am from within and without Beirut. I grew up between Riyadh and South Lebanon, with one foot struggling to fit in each land, then I moved to Beirut right before attending university for my undergraduate degree. In many ways, it was Beirut that nourished my artistic expression, political identity, and sense of self.
I sometimes find it awkward and difficult to answer what it is that I do. I find that defining someone by their labor (and money-making, inadvertently) is too limiting, and yet, saying I am a writer or artist is sometimes too abstract. I think that form, medium, and genre are great tools that are conducive to storytelling, but I dislike the notion that one must become an expert in a single field. This is a long way to describe being a jack of (some) trades, juggling visual and written and spoken and performed. My journey so far has been abundant with writing, poetry, art, photography, theatre, film, and storytelling.
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"?
I don’t remember a specific moment that I decided to become a writer, I only remember the writing. I remember spending most of my childhood creating stories and obsessively watching cartoons. I recently found some short stories that I had written when I was 9 years old, but I don’t have evidence of what came before.
Writing always felt like a secret and sacred act to me, but it was only until I started sharing my work that I felt like I was becoming a writer. A moment that really stands out to me is when my late grandfather, a poet and artist himself, paid his last visit to our family home in Beirut during the early days of his dementia. I remember that he was confused and disoriented, pieces of him were already starting to drift away. I had just published a piece at the time, and my mother insisted that I read it aloud to him. He listened intently the entire time, and when I was done reading, he took me aside and told me that I must continue writing and honoring this gift. Even then, I knew that this moment would stay with me forever.
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?
Being youthful, to me, is a return to child. It is curiosity and passion and an unfettered courage for life. Being youthful is to resist, to revolt, and to imagine. Today, youth is painted as so fleeting it is almost extinct, as something immature that one must step over and get over. A lot of our youthfulness is robbed by existing under capitalism, where youth is not considered productive or "useful." I believe we must actively try to nourish youthfulness, heal the wounded child in us, and do the most to fight the alienation and disenchantment that pulls us away from celebrating life.
I don’t necessarily aim for my writing to shape my community, but I would love for my writing to capture a moment in time, to archive a certain feeling, or to express what my community is experiencing. So much of living in Beirut has made our writing and art revolve around a collective experience, and writing about it helps us make sense of our surroundings.
As for political correctness, I find the debate around it to be reductive and stale. At the end of the day, the art we create is political, but political art does not have to be "offensive" to be provocative or critical. I don’t think that creatives are being silenced or oppressed if they are rightfully criticized for their ideology or published work. However, I do find the insertion of identity politics into art, such as questioning who has the agency or permission to talk about a certain topic, to be more reductive than productive. Surely, writing from the personal is our strength, and the personal is inevitably political, so why must we run around in circles to examine personal agency and rightfulness?
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?
I would like for my body of art to linger.
We are so heavily bombarded with media, texts, images, videos, shows, films, music — an endless well to scroll in. As much as we try to resist it, so many works are competing for a moment or click of our fragmented attention. For a body of art to linger, for me, then it has achieved the desired intimacy with the reader or viewer, become something to ponder and feel, to reflect on, to enjoy the aftertaste of.
If I am writing the way I move through life, then it is with heavy stomping boots and a floating softness, with wild freeness and critical analysis, an incessant yearning and questioning, an incurable feeling of nostalgia, an existential urgency, and a youthful curiosity that I can only hope to translate.