How I write – Walid Nabhan
Back in time, I see myself as an autistic child trying to express himself but no one wanted to listen to anything I had to say. The whole region of the Middle East was engulfed in the trauma of the 1967 War and its devastating outcome, which is still felt until today. It seems that it will be there for years to come.
Once I grew up I found out that talking was not enough anyway, talk lacks the capacity to heal or innovate, after all, it was the rhetorical talks which drove the Arab populace to the abyss of the 1967 defeat. To be honest I must say that emotional trauma has led me to write and perhaps served as an engine for most of my writings. This is in no way to assert that writing comes from an injury or disability suffered by the author, every writer has his own chronicles to relate. Some writers are driven by love, excitement, others are in search of a cure from something: maybe from fear, lack of communication, I can’t tell. Some writers dream of immortality which is legitimate, but I hope they do it in a heroic performance, not in Dolly-the sheep way. I can only confirm that writing is a voice, and in my case, when I started writing it was like capturing my lost voice back.
So how do I write? Writers are sometimes asked: ‘Do you put your clothes on first then choose a hat, or do you put a hat on first, then choose clothes to match the hat?’ This dilemma, rarely confessed, is one of the predicaments often encountered in the corridors of writing; it is possibly more acute for columnists and editorial writers. I personally admit that certain writings torture me more than others. In this sense yes, I do sometimes write under the influence of a face, a face I may have seen in the street perhaps. Does this resemble writing in the confinement of a title? I sincerely don’t know. I know that this is a trip between remembering and forgetfulness, observation and dream, between the lived and the imagined; the writer is just a middleman. This happens in some cases, as a result of a long fermentation process in which the sub-conscience dictates the raw material with the hope that someday, the conscience does the editing.
Other writings however, require me to stitch myself together every time I come back empty handed and ruptured, from the mêlée of words. Whenever I fail to write something convincing, I don’t get absorbed by despair, I just feel a big friendly hand on my shoulder: “Go back and read”. Although observation is a pre-requisite in writing, but it is never sufficient if not coupled with a thirst for reading. The same can be said for poetry except that in poetry, ‘chilling’ is a must, otherwise how to distinguish it from non-poetry? The best poems perhaps are those written without the poet’s authority and sometimes, even without his consent.
I am also afraid of anything I write; not only because my name and surname might invite some curiosity and thus, finer scrutiny, but rather because creativity is very fragile, and sometimes inflammable. A writer, a good writer, should never underestimate the intelligence of the audience, people distinguish very well between liquid and foam, some of the readers even, know better than the writer himself. I am mostly afraid however, of failing to communicate with Maltese people – since I write in Maltese – after all those years we have been together. That would be ruinous to my personal wish of laying a stone along the bridge between two cultures still refusing to approach each other before mounting their stereotypic fences first. Since writing is a refined way of dialogue, I hope by doing so, to get some of the distorted images on both sides dispersed, even if this dispersal is only that of a millimetric.
I don’t write in order to reach a conclusion or inflict some judgment. Perceiving is a free act, just like writing itself. Wood is said to respond well to certain fingers and turn itself into a guitar, but the same piece of wood can be turned into a gun-butt, or a corner of a coffin, so if I am guilty of anything in this regard, then I am guilty of invoking questions; why, when … and how? It’s not always the duty of the writer to find answers; sometimes the question is more important than the answer itself.