The Writing Life

It was time to take a pause from writing. To run away from the books for a while and hit the streets.

My publisher was nagging me over an unfinished manuscript he wanted to turn into my next book but I couldn’t find the strength to write. I was drained and though I could see the finish line the sun above me was too hot to handle.

I was dehydrated from the effort, the sleepless nights, the binge-drinking while trying to stay productive on a consistent level. But all that led to missed deadlines and subsequent new ones my publisher intended me to respect.

There comes a point when too much of something becomes nefarious. It creates a venomous atmosphere that hinders your lifestyle. I had reached that point with writing and felt like filling my pants with dead roaches every time I sat down in front of the white sheet.

So it was time to step back a bit and allow myself some distance and breathing space from the art I loved.

I turned off my phone to make sure my publisher couldn’t reach me and went out for a night in the city. I headed downtown where it was always busiest and full of sparkling life. It was raining lightly, but for the first time in a while I could feel the raindrops running into my eyes. There was a part of this life I had abandoned and left behind for the sake of writing and writing only – and tonight I was rediscovering it again.

I went inside a small café and bought a fresh hot cup of coffee – I had forgotten the taste of caffeine over the stale taste of bad booze. The people in the café looked very alive. Compared to them, I looked like a zombie staring aimlessly at the void.

After the café I went inside a cabaret where my girlfriend was giving a performance. It was her first time on stage. I snuck in the back and made sure I was well concealed behind the majority of the crowd so I could watch her without distracting her.

She looked gorgeous. The entire world was carved in her face and was chanting back at her. Her eyes were two luscious honey-colored orbs that floated around and shone on the set. She carried the voice of a thousand mermaids – a voice full of passion and emotion that was enough to make you forget any blue day.

She threw one hell of a performance – and the crowd wanted more. But I swiftly made my way through the sea of people and pulled her down and rushed her outside the place.

It started pouring and we were both soaking wet. I took off my jacket and covered her head while we rushed to a nearby bar.

Inside we ordered our drinks and she placed her head on my lap. It had been a while since I’d gotten in touch with that girl. It had been a while since we had connected so thoroughly. It had been a while since I’d given her my full attention.

We drank and listened to the raindrops trickling outside and splattering against the concrete floor.

‘For the first time in a while, I can feel the rain. I feel so alive,’ I told her.

‘Do you think they liked me?’

‘Who?’

‘The people in the cabaret. You know, the place where I just performed.’

‘Are you crazy? Of course they liked you. They even loved you! Didn’t you hear them all clapping and cheering in the end?’

‘I don’t know…’

She was hesitant. When it came to her music, she always was. She was the most talented and brightest singer I’d ever met and had the chance to listen to. She never gave anything less than a flawless performance on stage. But what followed those performances was a sinister self-doubt that always crept up on her and possessed her.

‘You were great,’ I told her, caressing her soft face.

The problem with her – the problem with talented people – is that they doubt the great things in them. They take their greatness for granted and measure it against unrealistic expectations. The greatest things like art and music come naturally to them and they fail to see the full extent of their power.

‘Trust me,’ I told her, placing my hand on her shoulder, ‘you were great.’

Her face closed in on mine, she observed me with her teary glowing eyes, and we kissed. As we embraced, I glanced at the corner facing us. Two men sat there staring at us, whispering, occasionally pointing while laughing and grimacing at the action. They were everything wrong with this society, everything wrong with the world. I was in my right mind to get up and beat them up. But I couldn’t blame them; after all, I was one of them. I too walked in the shadow of righteousness; I too soaked in the shade of everything good and pure.

Countless times I found myself in their place, lurking in the corner while watching young crazy carefree couples making out. I despised them and mocked them and made funny faces at them and the things they stood for and symbolized. I was never an advocate of this whole love affair whose lines are still vague and blurry. It was never meant to be bigger than it is: a growing-of-age between two people sharing similarities and displaying affection. For a voracious reader of books like me, I knew it would never match the heights and impressions and expectations set for it in the pages of the greatest stories.

But there was a hint of magic in it – it hid the distinct possibility of leading you down to a good road. A better road than the one you’re undertaking, right down to meeting new people. Good people. The best people. That girl in front of me was one of those people. She represented everything right in the world, a delicate balance between art and truth, carefully wrapped in a layer of wit and beauty and grace.

I held on to her in my arms, thinking about the music in her soul, the melody in her speech and words, the truth and innocence in her songs. Then I thought about the unfinished manuscript waiting for me back home, the daunting task waiting for me once I was back in my writing room. Then there was the phone and my publisher’s demanding voice, and for a moment reality hit hard; I let it all sink in and accepted this wasn’t my life. The night out with the girl I was madly in love with was not a foreseeable future for me – my life belonged back in the dark room, in the pages of the books. I couldn’t benefit from the great things and the great people simply because I was already tied down to a destiny.

It all seems preposterous but that was the truth of the matter. In the end, that was the hardship of the writing life. Not the lack of inspiration or the writer’s block, not the bad sentence structure or horrible grammar, not the failed attempts and torn sheets scattered around on the carpet. It was leaving everything else behind and sealing it away. The night I was going through was nothing more than a breather – and the actors involved in it were nothing more than the free space I’d cleared for my furniture. Because once the clock strikes and the world starts turning again, I’ll have to sit in that furniture and get comfortable again – and the only place for that was the writing room.

It’s a choice to live out in exile like this, or rather, it starts as one – after you step inside the cage there’s no way out and no point of return. Everything you touch must fall and everyone you love must be driven away to clear the space for the madness that awaits you in the other-world.

At that point I knew there were a lot of people waiting for me – except I was the only one able to see or hear them. They all belonged to the pages of the books I read and wrote. The rest were just pawns that added a layer of color and life to my extending lifelessness. And that was why I held on to the hostile looks of those two men in the corner. That was why I gripped my girlfriend and held her tightly and hugged her with all the strength I had while remembering her voice that night. That was why I recorded the whispers of the wind and the trickling of the raindrops crashing against the concrete street.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, available on Amazon Kindle for 2.99$ and now in hard copy.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

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