I love reading and learning about those moments that inspired artists to commit to themselves and their art.
It reminds me to keep on, keeping on, that writing has been and will always be my path in the world
The following is an article that appears in The Atlantic titled “The Poem That Made Sherman Alexie Want to Drop Everything and Be a Poet” –
His words reminded me of those days in college when I was taking any non-western or post-colonial literature class I could. This was a time I was grasping at straws, hoping desperately to see myself and my experiences reflected in works of literature. More than that, I needed an affirmation that pursuing a career in writing was not a fantasy for an Arab American woman-That ( thankfully) seems so silly to me now- as evidenced by the ever growing literary presence of amazing Arab American writers, poets, film makers and artists of all stripes- but this was a time when it felt that the entire world, family included- thought I was better off waking up and smelling the teaching degree, aka: a ‘real’ job.
Most, if not all, writers can undoubtedly relate to some sort of economic strain, social acceptance, and lack of self confidence- and this is doubly true of women of color from refugee/immigrant families…
There were many authors/artists that helped spark that inspiration for me; Randa Jarrar, Suhair Hammad, and Joseph Geha to name a few. But the poem below by Naomi Shihab Nye was undoubtedly that drop-everything-and-write- moment for me:
Making A Fist
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.
‘How do you know if you are going to die?’
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
‘When you can no longer make a fist.’
Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.
Naomi Shihab Nye
Of course I related to this first and foremost for the ‘journey out’. Having fled Kuwait during the Gulf War with my mom as a 6 year old that feeling of ‘traveling for days’ and ‘watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass’ resonated with me. As did the ill feeling due to a scarce supply of water and endless hours in the back of a car. I still joke that must be why I love tiny Rhode Island because I get car sick after less than an hour in a moving vehicle!
I write about our great escape here:
But most importantly, it was that very specific stubborn tenacity that pushes us to ‘make a fist’ that hit closest to home. This was how I had experienced being Palestinian in the world, spot on.
So readers, drop me a line. What inspires you? What reminds you of your purpose? Was it a single piece of art/writing/movie/conversation? Or a series of events?