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Yasmina Tabbal

Yasmina Headshot

Where are you from and what do you do?

I was 20-days-old when my Lebanese parents wrapped me in a basket and moved us back to Beirut having intelligently blessed me with a Canadian birth. I grew up around my dad’s war-collected records and my mom’s ethnic cooking.  My childhood was spent rollerblading, climbing trees, and playing Legos in a space that at the time hadn’t registered to me as my city. The older and older I got, the more I observed Beirut grow from memory blocks classified as  this-is-where-my-grandma-lives and this-is-where-my-school-is to the intrinsically complex, polluted and unbecoming purgatory it is. But who I am is far from where my cards were dealt, and I am mostly from my mom and dad and family in the south. I am from their good traits and their bad, mainly sculpted from their humor, insight and intelligence.

Passionate about storytelling, I work in various creative fields that allow me to express and expand my skills. With an academic background steering between physics, music and studio arts, I enjoy taking part in a broad range of projects. I currently work at a Lebanese music label called Mafi Budget with music and dance having always been at the forefront of my passions.

 

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"?

As a child my favorite stories were told through songs. In kindergarten, we learned all the adjectives. In fourth grade, I was introduced to choir and poetry, and I wrote my first poem "Where Am I From" and shared it with the class.  In 10th grade, I crushed on my English teacher and discovered Arabic literature. During my second year of university, I wrote my first song and worked at a radio station. Through this gradual alignment of circumstances, there was no moment that stood out that revealed me as a fated writer; it has instead been a steady deepening love for self-expression and opportunities that refine my craft. Alas, writing is now one of my favorite weapons.

 

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?

Youth is not an age but a feeling to me. A mesh of being playful, cynical, hopeful, fearful, hypocritical, and above all else, harmoniously so. Writing in itself encompasses youth, being generally a playing field to explore different truths before creating a favorite one. I have long freed writers of the notion that they are responsible for anything as the last thing this city needs is a savior complex. Writers write as they must, more for themselves than for their readers, and I’ve always been taught to write what I know. I happen to be from Beirut like millions of others, and I write about my experience here because Beirut is a cement block in my mind that has solidified its place into my every thought with its heavy presence, and so I write accordingly, not to showcase the city but to get it off my chest. Everyone is revealed through their writing, so within that artist’s expression their political inclination comes through without force, which is much more interesting to me than writing to be consciously politically correct.

 

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?

The urge in me to create in a city and time like this feels like I’m at full capacity to burst in a cocoon that’s refusing my will and keeps getting tighter and tighter. What I need to write well is peace of mind. It’s creating a space comfortable enough to cater to me creatively through few and simple things, dim lighting, a decent temperature, and time on my side. From peaceful downtime like that inspiration avalanches. But with the state Lebanon is in now it’s difficult to think about work. Dates and deadlines go unnoticed, and more than anything I want to put forward my best work, which saddens me. I have a deep unwavering faith that this storm will pass however, whatever that may mean for this doomed country, and have loosened my perfectionism enough to be okay with being unable to deliver.

What makes me want to become a river of words is simply built-in. Billy Bragg has a song I love where he writes that “the temptation to take the precious things we have apart to see how they work must be resisted or they’d never fit together again.” That lyric answered a lot of questions for me and granted me a lot of peace, because now I’d rather keep things feeling magical instead of dissecting what’s in my heart. I intend for my writing to be self-explanatory enough to stand on its own instead of ornamenting it with claims of my intentions. Most of the time it's unclear what they are until a piece is finished anyway: the art of unfolding.

 

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 want my work to make someone feel spoken to. I want to order words in ways that are memorable, surprising and satisfying to a reader. I want what I create, when shared, to flow where it needs to in every person, and that’s different in each as well as out of my hands. In whatever space that could be missing something, I want what I create to fill that space. So for each reader or viewer, I hope that my work offers them something different, personal and case-specific, and that they cling onto it for different reasons than I do, and that they misinterpret sentences so it speaks to them in their own way, and that my work can shape-shift for others to feel like it's theirs too, while always remaining mine, something to share. And that’s how anybody moves through the world, sharing something with someone but always on two different ends, as two parts of a whole, giving and receiving.

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