Quitting

I think there comes a time in every writer’s life where he contemplates the act of quitting. No matter how much he denies it, he will eventually reach that point in his life. Now here it is important for you the reader to understand that this is not some sob story about a writer-quickly-turned-into-a-wash-up looking for justification. This is about the act of quitting; the act of walking away from the craft. I’m not certain at what point in the writer’s life this happens. I’m not even exactly sure why it happens. But it happens. My good old friend Charles kicked the bucket once when he decided to call it quits sometime in his twenties. Ten years later he was writing again, climbing the hill again, up-and-going again. He made it. So quitting is not all that bad if you’ve made peace with it. Hell, it can even be fun and take your mind off the work for some time. Let you explore a bit. Let you live a bit. So now I find myself short, short of the ammo that once loaded my gun, short of the weapons that were once part of my arsenal. I find myself short, dispossessed of something vital, out of soul and out of life. And I think about walking away from it for a while, leaving the scene with a little bit of grace before they catch me floundering in my puddle. Except there’s no one around to advise me. My friend Charles is long gone now – I imagine he would’ve liked to play the part of my counselor and sit with me for a drink. So I’m left to my devices again. The situation is familiar but the stakes are different now. The stakes are higher now and I know if I roll down from that mountain top, it’s not easy going back up again. It takes guts. But every good thing does. And now writing this, what might be my final piece, I stare deep into the liquid in my hand. I never thought about quitting drinking. But maybe that’ll come too, at a later stage. For now, it was just the word. And on this – perhaps my final night with it – I intend to make peace with the craft before walking away from it entirely.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, now available on Amazon and in paperback.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

The Smoke

Sitting alone at home rotting in front of the television. The country is plagued with taxes, plagued with fools and fiends and madmen and criminals and murderers. They are all loose; they are all scattered in this hell-hole we call home.

I switch the channels but they all show the same thing: protests. People out on the streets fully-clothed or in their underwear, protesting against the big tycoons carrying the big bucks.

They have torches in their hands, they have rotten fruits and vegetables in their hands and they have babies in their hands. They protest and scream and shout for equality, for truth, for justice.

But do any of them even know what those words mean? I’m not sure I do anymore.

I remember the times I used to shy away from the smoke. The countless times I pushed away tempting hands holding a cigarette close to my mouth. The times pretty women walked up to me and tried to persuade me to light one with them.

Those were the naive days when justice and truth and honesty seemed to matter. Now, the sky is looking mighty grim and I realize those things really don’t so much. It is a waste – it has always been a waste – to fight for something here. Or anywhere. There has never truly been any kind of peace anywhere, has there? Man has invented that concept as a form of propaganda, to attract other flocks of men toward greater things. But do they really believe in it? I doubt it.

Look around you. I look around me, I flip the channels on my set and I don’t see peace anywhere around the globe. I see riots, slaughter, rape and murder invading my screen. I see underhanded deals designed to keep the rich booming and prospering and the poor declining even further.

The lowly will stay lowly and the powerful will not cease to ascend. And until they reach the sky there will be no end to their madness, their thirst for power and money and glory, their cruelty toward the hungry sheep they’ve never fed.

Well, it’s all useless now. I guess we’re all stuck in the same pit, in the same gutter. There are those who believe in the fight and those who believe it is over. Right now I stand with the latter.

I sit here in my reclining chair in front of my tv set with a smoke in my hand. I take a whiff of the tip of my cigarette and feel the burn in my mouth. My lips flare up and so do my insides.

Next to me is the glass of Jim Beam. I remember there was a time when I resisted that as well. I used to refuse it, to refuse it upon myself to take up such a dirty act as drinking. But now the drink’s my best friend and I regret all the times I declined it from the hands of a kind stranger. All the times I could’ve been drinking more. All the times I could’ve been smoking more.

That’s all there is to it: these things hinder you but eventually become a part of you like a nasty parasite. And those in power see it, they see you’ve become a host to some crazy vile bloodsucking bug and so they encourage you. They encourage you and invite you to go deeper into the madness, the foggy darkness, the smoke. They don’t lift that burden off you because it’s the only kind that will keep you from moving forward.

Well guess what?  Today I’m the biggest asshole on this planet. Today I am the biggest drinker and smoker and drug-addict in this country. And I’ve got the right amount of whiskey bottles and smoke clouds in my living room to prove it.

Tonight the sky will remain grey. Tonight there will be no distinguishing night from day. When my smokes are out and my ashtrays are full then I might just call it in and go to bed. Crawl under my sheets and ruminate some or write a sickening poem attacking the corporates, the politicians, the church heads.

And so here I go, disappearing behind the grey smoke, my face fading from life and all its bad habits and its people and its madness.

Goodnight, goodnight, signed: the biggest asshole on the planet.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, now available on Amazon and in paperback.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

Notes on an Ugly Society

Reader, take note on how you are supposed to approach a typical Friday night in the big city.

First, you bring any good book with you and keep it in the glove compartment of your car because you’re never sure what type of people you’re going to meet down in the streets.

Then, you pass by the guys and pick them up (a group of 2-3 friends is enough, too many and they become a crowd on their own). Then you head down to a bar. You push through the people who are eager to drink and party and listen to commercial music that sells for no reason.

You push through the drunkards and the pretty girls sitting on the sidewalk smoking with the bums and the hipsters and waving at you. You pick a bar – you try to pick the least crowded one out there so that you don’t get exposed to masses being evicted or shoving each other through the door just to get in. You find the place. You get in with your friends. They ask why you’ve chosen that particular place, what was so special about it. You have no answer for them. The place comes with a cute waitress. You think it’s a bonus for you, even though you know you won’t be talking to her through the night.

You sit at a small table. You order beer. You drink beer. You get your picture taken by the waitress. In the picture you’re blinking and it looks like you’re winking awkwardly. Your friends talk about medicine and politics and social issues and other countries. They talk about the west, they talk about America. You think they too will be leaving, leaving for good and leaving you behind. They all left this shit-hole; they all looked for ways to get out of the gutter. The waitress brings some snacks to go along with the beer: small salty snacks that resembled bird food.

You order more beer. You drink a lot of beer. There are three girls sitting at a table next to you. They are cute. One of them is even looking your way. But you and your friends don’t talk to them; you shy away and think you’re not good enough to be talking to them; you don’t deserve to engage with cute girls like them. So they slip away. And so does the rest of the night.

You do a couple of shots. You think about writing that book you started. You think about those lonely pages waiting for you back at home. You think how the process is different from anything else you’ve experience; different from any other career or occupation or job. The doctors, the engineers, even the merchants could work for 9, 10, 11 hours a day. But when it came to writing, to good writing, you were lucky if you could make it past the hour-mark. It drained you. But it had its own rewards. Unfortunately, you couldn’t share them or discuss them like any other open topic on the night.

So you pay your check, thank the waitress politely, although in your mind you want to invite her to spend the rest of the evening with you.

You leave and it starts to rain. You get to your car soaked and play some of that commercial radio music on your way back. Your friends say they had a good time. They had a great time. You get back home and hit the books. You try to learn from them, learn to really live, not make brief appearances in public and drink a few good bottles.

Well now it’s raining and there are still people out there having a good time in the city. But why should I talk about them? Why should I discuss them or write about them? Why should I mention the few good guys who found decent women and stayed at home tonight cuddling to a good movie? Why should I talk about the guys who were grilling outside on their terrace with their friends? Why should I talk about the guys who had bought a house or paid off their car debt and insurance and showed up to work in fancy suits?

Why should I talk about good guys and heroes?

I shouldn’t. These were the few good ones that had slipped through life’s demonic fingers, that had escaped from its fiendish grip. There were plenty of others who were neglected and left to rot in the pit. Others who hadn’t found love – men and women alike – who were forced out of society just because they thought or acted or behaved or spoke differently. Others who were outcasts, who didn’t believe in the system or the big corporates selling their big ideas. Others who didn’t have a home because they couldn’t afford one, not because they didn’t want one.

Others who found comfort solely in alcohol or a few words of solace. Others who were geniuses in their own realms, who painted or tagged city walls and made murals out of dumpsters. Their only problem was they weren’t driven or supported by money.

Those are the ones I think about tonight. Those are the unsung heroes I am addressing. And tonight I rest my head on the pillow and fall asleep knowing every day is another war for them.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, now available on Amazon and in paperback.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

Free Verse

And she was not light

She was not dark

She was a barren land

Where nothing grew

Not grass,

Not weed,

Not wild life

She was the high land

The mountain cap

Whose tip was covered

In snow

That bit of water

That splashes on your feet when you’re sitting on the shore

She was amnesia

Memory loss

A temporary sensory disabling

The frugal effect

That comes with drinking

Just the right amount of alcohol

The coloration of the rainbow

And then they say

Words can never be

Substitutes for life

That they can only go so far

And reach out

Without touching

Well tonight I

The writer

Can feel you

Can touch you

Can tuck you in

Next to me

Through the words

That I stay up

All night

To write

There is no better time

There is no ideal time

For me – for any writer

To write them down

To have a woman belong to him

We are

Like the geniuses

The eccentric scientists

The mad mathematicians

Who jump out of their beds

In the middle of the night

Just to jot down

A complex formula.

Well, today I draw my formula

On the big white board

In letters

And verses

And watch it grow and thicken

And expand

To the point of covering the universe

And connecting all the atoms

Together

And I sit and weep sometimes

When I am sleep-deprived

Or love-deprived

Or alcohol-deprived

And remember

I have traded these things;

No,

I have given up these things

Temporarily

Or permanently

I might’ve let go of these things

And left them behind

For good

Like a farmer

Walking away from the field

After working tirelessly in it

Leaving nothing but a scarecrow behind

To look after it and guard it.

I am

The scarecrow

In my story

I am the farmer

That cowardly leaves his most prized and cherished

Possessions behind

I am the man

Who lives in a little house

With an empty pantry

Empty closets

Empty beds

Empty drawers

Empty picture frames

What is being asked

Of me here?

And what is asked

Of all of you?

Nothing,

But a little revealing faith

To take the blinds

Off your eyes:

There is much wisdom

Between these lines

And if you manage to find it

Or make up a three-letter word

Out of it

Then you hold

The key to all life

And all that is living.

And to you

Dear woman,

Lovely creature

Warmly tucked

In my bed;

Here is the answer

To my riddle

Above

I give to you

Plainly

As a show of faith

And gratitude

For your eternal supply

Of love

And affection.

The answer

To the eternal question

Is ART

And it will keep coming back

No matter how fast the globe orbits

No matter how many more planets

They discover

No matter how many formulas

They validate

The recurring answer

To our madness

To our problems

To our troubles and trials and tribulations

To our sadness and separations

The answer

Is ART

Music

Lyrics

Words

Painted walls

Massive sculptures

ART produced by people

For people

And when you find that answer

Again

This time

On your own

Only then

Will you understand

Its true meaning.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, now available on Amazon and in paperback.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

Writing Seminar

I walk into the room and there is a small table with four women sitting. The head organizer introduces me to them. They are all younger than me.

One of them is 22 and plays basketball for a local team. She suffers from speech problems. Another one is Armenian. She is 17 and fresh out of school with high ambitions of making it into law school. She has great big emerald-green eyes.

The last two are friends. They are 16, still in school, and sit next to each other with matching writing journals. I look at these women and they all have one thing in common: they have high aspirations in life. Two of them are still in school pursuing their education. The pretty Armenian girl has high hopes for a successful college run. The other harbors the ambition of becoming a professional basketball player and getting drafted abroad to play for a big team.

I was the only one walking in carrying an American dream on my back: to make it exclusively as a writer. Here, in another Arab country or anywhere on the face of the planet. I had nothing else to gain or lose from the world.

That seemed to trouble them all as they gave me piercing looks – I felt I was being attacked by a flock of bats in a dark cave. Even the writing instructor seemed to have other (better?) things to do after giving the session.

So I went to the adjacent room, got a black coffee and joined the rest of them. I sat at the table’s edge while they sat at the other end aligned next to each other.

The instructor gave us an exercise: to write a story starting with the following words, ‘The door opens.’

We were timed for 5 minutes and the only rule to stay in the game was this: never stop writing. Never take your pen off the page. Well, I’ve been writing non-stop since I first got the call from the craft. I’ve been struck by the wand of the word and caught writing fever and now I need to strip the page from under my hands every time I need to attend another task or chore.

So I wrote: The door opens and I suddenly find myself inside a small room surrounded by four women. They were all younger than me. Two of them were Muslim and best friends coming from the same school. One was a chubby basketball player who had speech problems. The last one was an Armenian girl with beautiful green eyes and cherry-red lipstick.

I greeted them all, took the Armenian girl by the hand and led her to a corner. I shoved her body against the wall and started kissing her.

She begged me to stop.

I kept kissing her.

She pushed me away.

I kept kissing her.

I kept kissing her until

The timer sounded.

We stopped writing. We were asked to read what we wrote. I took my piece, got up, and headed for the open door while they all looked at me with curious eyes.

The door opens and I exit the building with a small paper half-crushed in my hand. The piece of paper contains a little bit of writing. I throw it away somewhere on the street and go looking for a bar to drink and forget the madness I just wrote.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, now available on Amazon and in paperback.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

Papa

Papa, not much has changed since you were gone. This old chap’s still sitting on the porch every afternoon with a whisky in his hand, drinking each glass in two gulps until his stomach starts hurting and he collapses on the tiled floor.

Papa, the city’s still warm and the buildings are still yellow. I still walk or drive around at night hoping to find something. But what exactly? I don’t really know. I tried looking for truths, I tried looking for distorted truths, but the city’s all mysterious and quiet and it reveals little about its streets.

We hold out for much but receive so little in return. I got into music because of a girl. I may have gotten into writing because of another. I guess it’s shameful for a man to get hooked to things, to be addicted to certain substances. But being led into life by a trail of lovely women who want you to fall for them is acceptable.

Papa, the words are still flowing out of me. Day in and day out they roar out of me unfiltered.

They’ve attracted hate, they’ve attracted mutiny and they’ve attracted unrest. I’m still learning not to get too attached to them in fear of losing them one day. And that day, I won’t really know who I am anymore. It’s true the words haven’t been with me for long but they’ve quickly grown on me.

And then there’s the merchants, there’s the college enthusiasts, there’s the criminals and bums and poor men. There’s the single moms still shopping for fruits and vegetables at local supermarkets. There’s the army men scattered at the borders fighting terrorism and what the government refers to as ‘The Big Evil’.

There’s cars and planes and the same airport and dock. There are still no trains but there are a lot of tourists. A lot of people who come here from all the hype believing they want to learn our methods and history and get invested in it. They want to get involved when all we want is run away to their countries and live like them.

The walls are still up but not for long. You can sense them slowly collapsing from the weight of the roaches and the rats living inside them, from the lies and the memories of wars and humiliation and debt and corruption that infiltrated them.

Heartbreak is still very much real. Death is very real but it got much easier and much less costly. Everything human has gotten cheap and that only makes us want to hold on to the rope a little longer before letting go for good.

Papa, your picture’s still up on my wall and I wonder if there’s a plan for all this. I wonder if there’s a plan for everything rotten to just pile up in a single place on this planet. I wonder if there’s a plan to our madness of standing on the sides and watching it all happen and go to waste.

How do we know we’ve done right? How do we know we’ve given enough life and love? How do we know we’ve invested enough of ourselves before we go?

Well, I still can’t tell. And it might be a while before I can. I wonder if you knew in those dark final moments you had lying on the white bed.

The only thing that’s clear for me now is this drink. It goes straight through me without asking questions. Even the sun at times appears mocking or deceiving. But the drink is always present for solace and forgetfulness. And truly, in these difficult times, what better thing is there than to simply forget?

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, now available on Amazon and in paperback.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

 

Using Real Lebanese Society to Fuel Fiction [Q&A]

Hamline Lit Link

This is an interview with Hanna Abi Akl. 

Born on September 16,1993, and hailing from the small village of Bejjeh (North of Lebanon), Hanna Abi Akl is an aspiring young English author who devotes his time to writing poetry, fictional short stories and novels. His writing is inspired by real places and stems from a real environment; war-torn Lebanon and the mannerisms of Lebanese society often take center stage in his works. Hanna’s works have already appeared in many literary magazines like the RainPartyDisaster Society, TalkingSoup and CentumPress Publishing. He recently published his first novel, A Road Away From Home.

How did you get into writing? 

I got into writing by reading books. Words have always appealed to me, they always seemed to have a magical effect and were able to inflict all kinds of sensations and emotions I’d come across in my life: joy, sadness, grief, heartbreak. There…

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