I wonder whether there is such a thing as a sense of individuality. Is it all a facade, covering a deep need to belong? Are we simply pack animals desperately trying to pretend we are not?
I believe one has to escape oneself to discover oneself.
…What happens is of little significance compared with the stories we tell ourselves about what happens. Events matter little, only stories of events affect us.
I wonder if being sane means disregarding the chaos that is life, pretending only an infinitesimal segment of it is reality.
The eye always fills in the imperfections.
Me? I was lost for long time. I didn’t make any friends for few years. You can say I made friends with two trees, two big trees in the middle of the school […]. I spent all my free time up in those trees. Everyone called me Tree Boy for the longest time. […]. I preferred trees to people. After that I preferred pigeons, but it was trees first.
I long ago abandoned myself to a blind lust for the written word. Literature is my sandbox. In it I play, build my forts and castles, spend glorious time.
By nature, a storyteller is a plagiarist. Everything one comes across – each incident, book, novel, life episode, story, person, news clip – is a coffee bean that will be crushed, ground up, mixed with a touch of cardamom, sometimes a tiny pinch of salt, boiled thrice with sugar, and served as a piping-hot tale.
The whole world is going insane right now. We, too, have our own problems. The president of Lebanon is an arch-menace. But I think, as horrid as he is – and he is absolutely insane – he’s still more sane than Trump, so that tells me a lot.
I opened myself to you only to be skinned alive. The more vulnerable I became, the faster and more deft your knife. Knowing what was happening, still I stayed and let you carve more. That’s how much I loved you. That’s how much.
By remaining constrained in one’s environment or country or family, one has little chance of being other than the original prescription. By leaving, one gains a perspective, a distance of both space and time, which is essential for writing about family or home, in any case.
How can I expect readers to know who I am if I do not tell them about my family, my friends, the relationships in my life? Who am I if not where I fit in the world, where I fit in the lives of the people dear to me?
I need to have one foot inside and one foot outside a culture to be able to write about it. For example, I couldn’t write about the gay culture if I were wholly inside or outside of it. Finding that distance is always interesting. I jokingly say that when I’m in America, I write about Beirut, and when I’m in Beirut, I write about America. A lot of my friends in Beirut think I’m more American than Lebanese. Here, my friends think of me more as Lebanese.
I think in Arabic at times, but when I’m writing it’s all in English. And I don’t try to make my English sound more Arabic, because it would be phony – I’m imagining Melanie Griffith trying to do a German accent in Shining Through. It just wouldn’t work. But the language in my head is a specific kind of English. It’s not exactly American, not exactly British. Because everything is filtered through me, through my experience. I’m Lebanese, but not that much. American, but not that much. Gay, but not that much. The only thing I’m sure of, really, is that I’m under 5’7″.
You look at the Koran or the Bible, they all tell the same stories. You see them as the stories of the Middle East. The stories reflect who these people were in the Middle East, and this is where Western culture came from. All our literature is basically influenced by these great myths. So I’m fascinated by it. You could almost say I’m obsessed with it. But if you’re asking about the effect of religion on my life – almost everything I do is opposed to the practice of religion.
Sex, like art, can unsettle a soul, can grind a heart in a mortar. Sex, like literature, can sneak the other within one’s wall, even if only for a moment, a moment before one immures oneself again.
When I’m writing I don’t feel any pressure. It’s after I’m done that I start freaking out. But really, when I’m in Lebanon, I don’t write much because I’m surrounded by family. I feel immersed, or enmeshed, in too many currents. I love that, but it’s not conducive to writing. In San Francisco, nothing interferes with me but my cats.
When I published my first work, I thought I would never be able to go back to Lebanon. I thought they’d arrest me at the airport. I thought I would change literature as we know it. I thought I’d have men lining up at my door wanting to be my boyfriend. But later I discovered that no one read the book. Or no one cared. Right now, I have only one book translated into Arabic. Someday, maybe if the Syrian regime falls, there will be others, but probably another regime will come into power and it will employ just as much censorship.
I love a lot of American writers, but I think that for the most part the scope of what’s accepted as great American writing is very limited. What we have is good, but it’s limited. There’s not enough engagement with the world. Our literature’s not adventurous enough. The influence of MFA writing tends to make things repetitive. The idea that writing can be taught has changed the whole conversation in the U.S.
I’m surprised how often I’m asked about being a man with a woman narrator. I’m not the first, nor will I be the last. It’s been done forever, but we seem to forget that. The whole notion of “write what you know” is not just boring, but wrong. Lately it seems like every novel has to be a memoir. I’m a boring person, but I’m a writer with a relatively vivid imagination. And when people ask me about how I find the voice of a woman, I tell them that my life is run by women.
For someone like me and my generation, you had to speak French to be sophisticated, you had to be lighter-skinned.
I’m an atheist, a devout atheist, but I find religion fascinating. Primarily because of cultural references, as in: This is what we grew up with. Both on a personal level and a collective level.
Is life less thrilling if your neighbors are rational, if they don’t bomb your power stations whenever they feel you need to be admonished? Is it less rousing if they don’t rattle your windows and nerves with indiscriminate sonic booms just because they can?
There are two kinds of people in this world: people who want to be desired, and people who want to be desired so much that they pretend they don’t.
What is the purpose of a city if not to grant the greatest of gifts, anonymity?