Don’t Tell Me What To Write!

Today, [author’s note: I wrote this on Sunday] someone told me what to write. My response to that is writing about people who try to tell me what to write.

I think many people (writers) can relate to this whole problem of being told what to write, whether in the form of “suggestions” (deliberately in quotes), friendly commissions, unfriendly commissions and just…ungrateful abuse. In my opinion, many of these people (the ones who intentionally or unintentionally tell others what to write) do not understand the whole concept of being a lyrical artist. Generally, artists tend to be misunderstood by people who aren’t artists. Because you see, there are people who are good at the things that they do, and they do it for people. They’re talented people who work with commissions, like billboard designers, logo designers, advertisement creators and whatever. Then, on the other side of the artistic scale, there are the artists who are good at what they do, but create authentic pieces for themselves, from their own emotions. I shouldn’t have to explain it.

You know how I blog, right? Nobody (should) comes to tell me, “Today, I want you to write about how the world is a machine,” or “This time, could you write a satirical piece about other people’s poetry?” It’s something personal, that comes from within me. So is basically the rest of what I write.

I have many, many problems with being told what to write, whether it is well-meaning or not. Incidentally, it is the people who are genuinely ignorant about what they are doing that makes my blood boil. You know who I’m talking about? The ones who think they’re always right and that any advice they give is golden. The ones who say everything in a matter-of-fact tone and are pissed off and shocked when anyone dares oppose them. Those kinds of people. Sigh. Even thinking about it is making me angry.

In this world, there are many things people can, and perhaps should write about. (Better yet, there are many things people should be doing.) There are many problems that need solving, and there are many causes that need people to fight for them. My problem is not the membership; the number of people who actually make themselves a part of these things. My problem is the pureness of the heart.

Let me use myself as an example. I know, for instance, that breast cancer is a thing. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone. It’s not something I’ve had, or anyone around me has had before. The thought of breast cancer does not inflame my heart with sadness and indignation, moving me to near tears. I recognize it as a problem that needs to be solved, and if the opportunity arose for me, perhaps I would help within my capable means. What I (should) could not do is to get up and write a passionate, heartfelt blog post about how nobody is paying attention to breast cancer and what a tragedy it is that women who aren’t given proper early treatment are walking round, suffering silently and whatnot. I risk being misinterpreted so let me say this again: it is a brilliant cause to fight for! Just not for me to pioneer, because truly, I do not have any personal attachment to it. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, doesn’t mean I won’t help. It just means that when I have the option of NOT sounding like a charlatan or a sycophant, I will always choose that option.

On the other hand, if you brought to me a problem like literacy, it’s a different story altogether. When you hear me talk about the right, ability and importance of reading and writing, you will hear the personal attachment in my voice. When you read me writing about it, you will feel the commitment and energy I put into an issue I so believe in. There will be a marked difference in what I, or anyone writes, when it comes straight from the heart. Emphasis on straight from the heart.

My heart is the source of my writing. I am not so much an intellectual being as much as I am an emotional being. And this whole idea of writing what other people (who probably don’t even read you) tell you what to write seems to me to be one of the root causes of any type of fake-ness. Why then, do people

  1. Keep telling other people what to write, and
  2. Keep tolerating people who tell them what to write?

In all this, again, I risk being misinterpreted, so here’s another clarification. I am not talking about suggestions. I am talking about commands. Imposing ones. For instance, if I was engaged in passionate conversation with a close friend, and I was speaking vehemently about a topic and he suggested, “Maybe you should write about it,” that would probably be fine. Constructive advice. I can take it or leave it. But if, in conversation, someone else was speaking in the afore-described matter-of-fact manner about a topic, and ended by saying, “These are the things that you should be writing about. Stuff that will actually make a change!” …Commence blood boiling.

Yes, these are the actual words said to me. Not the first time they are coming from this person. If we were a story and I were the protagonist, he would be the primary antagonist. But I’m getting too personal. The point is that such statements are inferred insults to a craft I already practice. They insinuate that all I currently write is irrelevant, and not the kind of stuff I “should” be writing. What absolute BS!

If people so very much want stuff they faux-care about written down, they should grab a pen, and bloody write it themselves!



Hello, Robots. Welcome to The Machine

I understand why some choose to refer to the modern world as The Machine. Sometimes, it looks like a simple to complex device, which has predictable processes, inputs, outputs and storage. Things grow. Things perform the functions of living creatures. Things die. More things grow. The processes repeat.

But humans, obviously, are not the same as all the other living creatures. We do not exist merely to consume food, reproduce and die. From the stone-age till now, we have managed to mentally and behaviourally evolve such that we have created structures for ourselves. I’m not just talking about infrastructure, like schools, hospitals, offices and whatnot. We have also created structures for the way human being should live their lives. Now there are all these “proper ways” to do things. There are “proper ways” to make money, get jobs, “proper ages” to go to college, get married, have children, places to be at certain times, schedules and instructions absolutely everywhere.

Much of the time, the world makes me feel dehumanised. I think it’s like a Machine that treats all of us as robots – but then I realised that it’s the human factor that really makes it a machine. Life’s natural processes are there, alright. But the rest are just human created schedules that any ‘normal’ person has to follow. We already know that I am a person who does not like the strictness of timetables – especially ones doled out to me, ones which I am not permitted to question. And those are everywhere! (Especially school.)

In my opinion, what makes us, as human beings different from many other creatures is our emotions. As far as I know, even if other creatures are capable of experiencing the emotions that we can, they don’t appear to react to them as much as we do. Our emotions make us do unpredictable, incomprehensible things that make us question the very essence of who we previously thought we were. They ruin us, they change us, they break us, they shock us…And true to their nature, we don’t know how to predict them either. We don’t always know how we’ll react to things, and we don’t know what sort of mood we’ll be in tomorrow, or even an hour from now.

So my problem with structure, schedules and timetables is this: why don’t they take our emotions into account? They treat us like we are robots – like we will always feel like going to class, or going to work, or a woman should always feel ready to get married or have a child, or we should always feel like eating what we ate at this exact time last week, when the timetable says we should…or better yet, not feel at all – so that these structures that are all the same, will appear “all the same” to us.

It’s so tiring and restrictive. If, on a day, I am feeling low, and I don’t feel like speaking much in class, (instead of you being grateful that I showed up at all), why should you antagonise me as if by my silence, I am committing the world’s greatest sin? If I don’t do something on time, of course the first conclusion to jump to is that I’m lazy – never considering perhaps that life is overwhelming me, or depression is spreading through my mind and heart like a plague.

(This past academic year, I concluded that no school authority really, really cares about me as a person.)

Yes, I understand that jobs make the world work, and that people being sensitized to things the world believes we should know is altogether alright, but I would rather human structures cut down on their expectations and stop ignoring the human factor in us: that we have emotions, which can be felt, which can affect us and our performance, whether or not we will them to. We are human beings. Allow us to feel – especially when we’re not harming anybody or anything in the process.

There are angry people who get up and start shooting school children. What exactly would have happened if people had paid attention to their anger beforehand, and not just expected them to “get over it” because life goes on? How many suicides could we have avoided by people who were simply bored of the monotony of life, and terrified that they couldn’t escape the cycle they were living in?

And it’s not like the world is treating us like robots; it’s the humans in the world treating themselves, and other humans, like robots. I’m so freaking tired of feeling like a robot. What is true flexibility in life? What does it feel like? How many people believe in it?

Perhaps we’re getting closer and closer to an era of cyborgs and androids (in which case, perhaps, Marissa Meyer is probably a prophetess). Actually, you know what? Maybe I should be a dystopian fiction writer. Maybe I’ll write a book called “Hello, Robots. Welcome to The Machine.” Perhaps it will be like the beginning of William Nicholson’s “The Wind Singer.”


The Visible Dynamics

You know why it’s so easy to tell what kind of relationship exists between two people (unless they’re really good actors)? It’s because of the visible dynamics between them. Nearly everyone realises it. Sometimes, they just don’t know that they know.

The explanation for these dynamics begins with the concept of personal space. There’s an area around a person that is responsible for making them feel uncomfortable when another person enters it. When someone else stands outside of this area, then all is relatively fine. This area is called personal space. Some people may, perhaps, act like it doesn’t exist because they lack scientific proof. These doubters are of no relevance to me.

Imagine personal space as a coloured translucent bubble around a person; each person has their distinctive colour. When unfamiliar people are forced to interact in proximity, their personal space bubbles may touch. They may even get so close that the bubbles press against each other forcefully, neither willing to create allowance for another. This is when the two unfamiliar people have consented to interact.

When one is willing but the other isn’t, what occurs is called invasion. When someone’s personal space is invaded, another person enters their bubble without permission, making the bubble owner highly uncomfortable.

But something special and different happens between people who are strongly familiar with each other. When their together, their personal space bubbles do not act in the same ay. Instead, they fuse. For instance, a person with a red bubble, who is fully comfortable with a person with a blue bubble will stand next to them, and around them, a translucent purple bubble will form. There is no invasion. There is no discomfort. There is only ease and familiarity.

My bubble flows into yours, and even when we’re not touching, it is very evident. I suppose that is what makes people so uncomfortable when they look at us doing nothing out of the ordinary. Our perfect ease and flow is unfamiliar to them, and they can see the strength of the dynamics between us, even if they don’t understand it. In fact, it is precisely because they don’t understand it that they are so afraid of it; it’s human nature.

Even in the more visible aspect, it’s there. Our bubbles not only encompass each other’s in proximity, but when distance, they send out searching radars for each other. In look up whenever you enter the room I’m in. Your own body subtly adjusts to my every movement. Unconsciously, our walking occasionally becomes synchronised. Though we are not halves, we know that the two of us can be one. It is no wonder that people say we are versions of each other with slight differences.

I have learnt by now not to get offended by the suspicious glances of disapproval people throw at us. It is just a natural reaction to a connection – a phenomenon – they do not know how to comprehend, because they do not possess it with anyone else. It is not our fault that we have it, and it is not their fault that they don’t.


Why Shafak Is The New Bae: The 40 Rules of Love

Who is Shafak, you ask? Well, Elif Shafak is the Turkish (and apparently feminist) author of an amazing book that you should go and download right now, called The Forty Rules of Love. Alright, you radicals, don’t start running away because I said feminist. It’s not any throw-it-in-your-face empowerment campaign. Interestingly enough, there are only about three female characters in the whole story, and one of them is a prostitute. True to the nature of a story set in ancient and religious context, it is male dominated.

You want to be a brilliant writer AND freaking hot? ...K.
Elif Shafak. You want to be a brilliant writer AND freaking hot? …K.

The paradox of this novel is that while most novels aren’t just “about” something that you can describe in a word, this one is; it is simply about love. The paradox is augmented by the fact that I have no idea what label to give this genre. Please, for those who have started running away again, it is not a romance book, though some people who also don’t know where to place it might call it one. Is it a historical novel? Tragedy? Adventure? Perhaps it would be similar to whatever genre Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” is. (Yes, apparently, she has been linked to him several times, and some deign to say that she is the female Coelho. I beg to differ. Their themes may be similar, but I believe they are very distinct from each other.)


The reason why this would be said to be a historical novel is because the two central characters are prominent figures in at least the Islamic world. The first is Rumi, the renowned poet, and the second is Shams of Tabriz, a wandering dervish, who becomes Rumi’s best friend, and later, the subject or object of many of Rumi’s poems. Yes, these were real people, and they had pretty interesting lives. You should go and read about them or something. What fascinated me is Shams’ disappearance – his death or not-death. It reminds me of the legend of Okomfo Anokye, the (in my opinion) Ghanaian wizard. He was there, then he wasn’t there. No record has ever been found of his body, and I feel we are wrong to “assume” he is dead.

Though the book is not necessarily about relationships but about love itself, I won’t hesitate to say that the strongest human-to-human relationship in the book is between Rumi and Shams. Of course, as it was in real life, the people who love scandal will be quick to jump to homosexual conclusions. Yet this love was entirely non-sexual. Since I am Christian, I can easily relate it to the relationship between David and Jonathan. They loved each other like they loved themselves. It is the same with Shams and Rumi.

Shams and Rumi
Shams and Rumi

However, as I have observed and I like to say: there are some things that a person can share so widely, so that no matter how many people receive it, it does not get finished, and giving one person more is not exactly equivalent to giving another person less. Such an example of an infinite resource is love. On the other hand, there are things that, no matter how much we would like to share, are restricted by our own capabilities as humans. Giving one person more, unfortunately, invariably means another person does not get as much. Such an example of a finite resource is attention.

A prominent theme within the characters of Rumi’s household was jealously. Rumi, a teacher, a father and a husband, suddenly started paying so little attention to his wife, his sons, his student, all for the sake of spending time with his beloved Shams of Tabriz. I love how Shafak didn’t gloss the problems that arose from this relationship over. She told it like it happens: when Rumi loved someone deeply, he couldn’t pay the rest of them enough attention, and he realised the hurt he was causing them, yet, he was not the majestic hero who tried to placate everyone. His love was too strong, and he merely carried on – because sometimes, human as we are, we cannot help hurting the ones we love, even if it was not our intention. (Shout-out to all my friends who’ve been pairing up in high school and leaving me hanging, yo!) It doesn’t mean we don’t love them, though, and that’s the truth.

In accordance with this, another lesson that I have learnt is that it’s not sensible to forcibly pull people away from the ones that they love, no matter how hurt you may be by it. Because, if what you have ruined is that important to the person, you will have damaged the person whose love you have torn away, with no way to fix them. I learnt this from Shams’ separation from Rumi twice.

Perhaps this book is about religion. Perhaps this book is not about religion. It is true that everywhere, there are elements of it, particularly and prominently, Islam. The reason why I say it is not about religion is because, more than anything, it challenges religion in its most conventional sense. This is where the whole “individuals against society” theme comes in. As Shams is the main postulator of these vies, I shall speak with regards to Shams’ perspective. According to him, religion is null and void, the way it is carried out by the general public, and especially the religious elders. They occupy themselves with rules and regulations of what they can and cannot do, what is blessed and what is sin, judging each other’s actions, and mindlessly “studying” religious scripts – so much so that they have forgotten how to live, and they have forgotten that the true goal of whatever they are practicing is not to look good in front of society, but to love God with all their hearts, regardless of any so-called rules. Shams is a freaking rebel. Because of the things he says, they call him a heathen.

As Shams said to an aspiring dervish who wished to follow him,

“You are too timid for me. You care too much about what other people think. But you know what? Because you are so desperate to win the approval of others, you will never get rid of their criticisms, no matter how hard you try.” -Elif Shafak

Honestly, this Tabriz guy, he’s the very definition of controversial, and I love him. He lives not by the doctrines of religion, but by his own compilation of rules, about something he believes is the core of our existence: to love, and to love God. The rules are forty in total. If you were wondering why the book is called The Forty Rules of Love, there you go.

Well yeah, Shams is bae, but let’s talk about the mastery of Shafak herself. This brilliant woman eh…okay.

I’ll start with the narrative itself. This book is one of those books that make one feel like a god wrote it – because how on earth could you know the inside of every event, every character’s heart so thoroughly? The real narrative of the story follows the life of a modern-day Jewish, American woman living in Massachusetts, whose routine, conventional life begins to turn upside down when she is about to turn forty, which is triggered by two things: first, her oldest, collegiate daughter trying to get married, because she and the other boy supposedly “love” each other, and secondly, her job requiring her to produce an editorial review of a book by an obscure writer called Aziz Zahara, called Sweet Blasphemy. So, in the book “The Forty Rules of Love”, which is written in third person by Elif Shafak, and follows the life story of an American woman, we are able to read the book she is reading, called “Sweet Blasphemy,” by Aziz Zahara, which is about Rumi and Shams, and which is written in first person.

Does that sound confusing? Because it gets worse! The whole book keeps switching between narratives, and, although the mains tory of the American woman (called Ella) is in third person, “Sweet Blasphemy” is in several first persons. There are at lest seven characters in “Sweet Blasphemy” who get to tell their stories through their own eyes. (LOL. Through their own I’s – because first-person.) (I’m fooling. Ignore the last parentheses,) And it switches without warning, in every different chapter. Oftentimes, I forgot whose POV I was reading from. But it’s all pat of the work of a master, who can write from each perspective because she knows her characters inside out. And this, in my opinion, is true omniscient narrative.

Through each of these people, she provides us with the avenue to understand everyone’s contrasting perspectives. Some characters are round, some are flat. The story isn’t like, “Hey, this is what the protagonist thinks about life! Swallow it!” It’s more like, “This is what each character thinks in relation to the other. The protagonist himself has flaws and caused problems that he himself cannot rectify. So you, reader, who do you think is right?”

Through the few female characters, we do see underlying feminist themes; like the right of a female to an education. This is an excerpt from one of the females’ POV:

“When you are born a girl, you are taught how to cook and clean, wash dirty clothes, mend old socks, make butter and cheese, and feed babies Some women are also taught the art of love and making themselves attractive to men. But that’s about it. Nobody gives women books to open their eyes.” – Elif Shafak

And remember that in the 1200s, the male dominance issue was much worse than it is now. So, imagine.

There are a lot of other brilliantly controversial themes in there, such as the disparities that exist between rebel children and parents, the credibility of religious leaders, and the credibility of what our brains confirm as truths but our hearts have not really accepted. It is a brilliant. Freaking. Book.

Personally, I think that whether you’re Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, atheist, traditional, whatever, there is stuff to be learned from this book.

I could share my favourite quotes, but as they took up about eleven pages of my notebook when I was copying them out, I will spare a reader the trouble, and only share one:

“It is never too late to ask yourself, “Am I ready to change the life I am living? Am I ready to change within? Even if a single day in your life is the same as the day before, it surely is a pity. AT every moment, and with each new breath, one should be renewed and renewed again. There in only one way to be born into a new life: to die before death.” – Elif Shafak

You’ll understand the last sentence if you read the book.


The Author

You feel that buzz of energy that stems from your mind and spreads to your body – all parts of it; the organs and the extremities. You feel charged, like a device that’s been plugged in all night; too full, but none the worse for it. You take pleasure in the stimulating shock you experience when your pen-holding hand hovers over the pages on which you imprint with your handwriting – or as your ready fingers hover over your QWERTY keyboard. This is real, but it might as well be fiction. Fiction is where you thrive, fiction is where you can do anything; fiction is where you are invincible. Your hands hover, ready to create universes.

Oh yes, they call you a writer. They call you a lyricist. But these titles only serve to describe your ability to manipulate words. What they are missing is your ability to manipulate minds. And you already know that this is what fiction really is. It’s insidious.

It is not discourse, it is not self-help. It is never a direct discussion with the reader. It is mere stories, fables conjured by the mind of The Author – and that is the reason why it is so insidious in the first place. As a fiction author, it is never a matter of, “This is what I think; this is what you should think.” And yet, treacherously, it affects the reader. What are you doing to their brains?

No matter what reality it is based on, the fables of fiction are not real; neither are the characters. What they think, what they say, what they believe…they are all imaginary. And through fiction, their lives, their ideas – YOUR imaginations – are postulated to the readers as if they were Divine Truths. Why all this deception? You are a mastermind criminal that can never be held accountable. You can never be tried or imprisoned. What would they accuse you of?

The man with the long grey beard sits calmly in front of the judges and accusers, unperturbed and confident in his own safety. His prosecutors are his audience and critics, and the matter that they are all so worked up about is nothing but a few words he had thought amusing to pen down.

“In your work,” says an accuser, “You show numerous prejudices and biases that are archaic, offensive and inconsiderate. We have every right to persecute you. What do you have to say in your defence?”

The man responds placidly, “If you can pinpoint to me the exact words you claim I have caused offense with, and you can prove that they are indeed reflections of my own mind and person, then perhaps, I will be able to take you seriously.”

Triumphant, the accuser is ready for this, with the remote for the projector in his hand. Above all, he is pleased to have been invitingly requested by the enemy himself to provide his concrete evidence. This is his chance to show everyone in the audience why the man should be condemned and is in no way worthy of their praise. He presses a series of buttons, and an excerpt appears on the screen:

“His ways are foul, his manner uncultured,” said Gonzalo. “It is only typical, given his upbringing in that dark, poor, barbarian place. Over there, they are all the same, and no man’s mind is advanced.”

The words remain on the screen. The accuser relishes the shock this has brought the audience, but becomes uneasy when he shifts his gaze to the man, only to realise that he is not in the least way perturbed. Has he, by any chance, found a loophole?

“Well?” the accuser asks.

“These are not my words,” the man says.

“What do you mean? They are taken right out of your own book. It has your name boldly on its cover. In fact, this is a cropped photograph of the text itself, not a typed or copied version.” The accuser says this with conviction, but his ease has not returned.

“That may be so,” says the man. “It is true, in fact. This is my work. That is my book. But I assure you, those are not my words.”

The accuser remains baffled. “I don’t comprehend. If what you say is true, then whose words are they?” In his mind, he is already working on new accusations of plagiarism, if they so fit the situation, so that he may win the argument.

“Look at me,” says the man. “And look at that text. Is that not quoted text? Are those not quotations marks, which represent direct speech?”

“They are.”

“Last I checked, my name was not Gonzalo.”

Your imaginary characters are real to you, and to any other reader who chooses to accept them. But in accepting them, you must all come to accept the fact that they have lives of their own. The Author is the parent of each character that was borne from them, but children are not their parents. If each character was the same person, the story would taste like unseasoned food: bland, inedible. And yet, though they are not you, they are whatever you want them to be. By your pen, by your hand, they are puppets.

As you hold the instrument, as you hold the strings, the conductor’s wand, you compose their lives and you compose the fable’s events. There is no one else on this planet or the next one that can tell you what to do. With this realization comes also the recognition of your extreme power. As you hold that instrument, to which every single word is attached, you can literally do anything. You are omnipotent. You know the end before it is written. You know the lives of the characters before they are mentioned. You know the reason behind events and when you don’t, you know why you don’t know. You are omniscient.

As you unlace the intricate web of a universe that you created, that you manipulated in past, present and future; with which you unconsciously indoctrinated as many people as were bold enough to delve by reading into the world you have created, you, supreme weaver, you are a god.

Now, do you feel the rush? Now do you understand what power you hold within you? I concede, you are not your own boss. But you are the boss of everything that you create, for it lives inside your head. This is fiction. This is art. This is the beauty of authority. Now, you can understand where the rush within you comes from. It’s a pleasing secret that’s so difficult to hide – and yet, it is right there, in plain sight: you are a word manipulator.

People don’t just read you and move on. No. They read you and get affected by the story. It becomes their story, a thing on its own, separate from The Author. They see themselves in your fabrications, and they fall in love, not with you, but with fantasies that are common to both parties. The Author and The Reader are on two separate hemispheres, and the equator is your story. And, since you don’t exist to them, through your words, you plant seeds of thought inside them. They may be fruit, they may be poison. But as for you, you have the power to postulate whatever insidious ideas from the text to their heads. Doubt not your influence.

But beware of interpretations, for though you may be a god, your power is limited by how far from you your story travels. It is like keeping a caged tiger for a pet; once you let it go, there is no telling what it might do in its freedom, to anyone – or to you.

Dear fellow gods, exercise your power – but beware the tiger.

“When you write, you create images that will be illuminated by the eyes of others and take on forms that the creator could never have imagined.” – Jose Carlos Somoza


Comfort as Yourself

Sometimes, it takes years to learn how to be comfortable in your own skin – for you to realise that your skin’s texture is not based on the presence of other people; that it is in fact dependent on none other than your own mind. Solitude is an art, improperly cultivated in a world that is increasingly extroverted.

It is dangerous to be unable to realise that your character is not defined by the people around you; it is innate, and one does not require others to be oneself. Solitude teaches you that because you are always alone, you are never alone. You are the person you innately are, whether you are with friends or strangers, because your life forces are not attached. Solitude teaches you that you can be comfortable in the presence of anyone.

Sometimes, comfort in your own skin is when you are not filled with a mild sense of pain when you walk into a room and all your friends are sitting at a full table with the only vacancies being beside people that you don’t normally talk to. Sometimes, comfort in your own skin means being okay with walking alone. At other times, it means not freaking out just because you believe that people don’t like you; it is being okay with liking yourself.

And sometimes, being comfortable in your skin means realising you are “alone” because other people don’t know how to be.