Preparing to write and actually writing: a comparison

The single most useful piece of writing advice I have gathered from reading books, blog posts and articles on the subject is: use bum glue. To be specific, that means glue yourself to your seat and stay there. You can fiddle about with fancy word processing software, gimmicky grammar tools, and writing websites, but in the end, it’s just you and your willpower.

I don’t mean to say that you can force words out of your brain from sheer force of will. What I mean is that once you sit down and commit to sitting there for a specified period of time, you will eventually put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper) and get work done. Maybe you need a cup of your caffeinated beverage of choice to activate your mind. Maybe you need an arrangement of cushions and footstools to get comfortable enough for the words to flow. Once your writing environment is in place, all that is left is to stop messing with it and just write.

I spent a long time in this space where I would just read about writing and not actually write. Sure, I picked up on the finer points of putting together a manuscript, but the writing process itself was quite neglected. The fact of the matter is that you learn by doing. You can choose to spend all your life making one piece of art or spend your time making different things and improving along the way.

Most things worth knowing are simple. It is when our natural resistance to making effort comes into play that things get complicated. You can choose either to “keep it simple, stupid” or make life unnecessarily tangled for yourself. It’s your choice.

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Finding my way back home

“Home” for me is writing. I have never suffered as much as I do when, for whatever reason, I give it up for a period of time. Whenever I turn back to it, it welcomes me back with open arms. I lose myself in it. It is my personal process of healing. If I don’t write, my unspent creative energy builds up into a big block of worry, and that is unhealthy.

In my autograph diary in which I got autographs from my teachers and schoolmates back in high school, one of my teachers told me to keep a hold onto writing, as she herself regretted letting go of it. Whenever I experience the peaceful bubble I can cocoon myself into when I write after a break from it, I recall this piece of advice from her and doubly appreciate it. I would be a fool to give up writing permanently. It is just hard-wired into my brain.

My brother is my personal cheerleader as far as writing goes. He is responsible for getting me to set up a “writing tracker”, which is basically a notebook in which I chart my writing progress. As usual, I either have several works in progress at one time, or none at all. I suppose it’s “all or nothing” for me.

My latest return to writing has been a happy one. I finally started writing my book, for real this time. I started a serial story for one of the magazines I write for. Both projects are enough to keep me on my toes. I aim to see both projects through to completion. That would be a serious achievement for me as a writer.

So, here goes nothing. I’m all set to continue my writing journey. I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes!

 

Love, a four-letter word?

It’s that time of the year again, when the noblest of actions is reduced to a love-themed merchandising day. I am talking, of course, about love. Love is something that we as a nation must understand completely before we can accomplish anything worthwhile. If we keep misunderstanding love, we keep wasting our precious time and energy in chasing a lie.

Defining love

Love is a verb. This means that love is an act between two people. Love, the feeling, is a product of love, the verb, plain and simple. If you do actions of love for someone, it will result in creating a space for that person in your heart, and a space for you in that person’s heart.

What, then, is an action of love? Let’s stick to the basics. The most basic action of love is the way in which you look at a person, the way you use your eyes in his or her presence. If you look at the wording of our traditional poems and songs, you will find that they are filled with description of the language of the eyes. The poet talks about sitting in wait so that he may gaze upon the beloved, the singer sings about that one glance he is dying for, and we everyday people are stuck scratching our heads and wondering whether Cupid ran out of arrows when it was our turn. The reality, dear readers, is simple: whether or not you believe in your life partner being determined by fate, finding that life partner is hard work, arranging to be married to them is harder work, and keeping a marriage alive and working is the hardest job of all. Love is work, and work is effort. The concept of love being something that happens all by itself due to the beauty of a random person’s body and mind catching your attention, is a nice little story to tell by the fireside, but it is not a law of life to believe in.

The effects of “crush culture”

When young people decide to spend their free time admiring celebrities, the girl next door and the cousin from abroad, a “crush culture” is established that results in heartbreak. By “crush culture” I mean the time and energy spent in watching the crush, thinking about the crush and obsessively discussing the crush with friends. Schoolgirls are notorious for this–they do not even spare the teachers who they see all year round or the invigilators who they see during their annual exams. Any and every pretty person they see is a target for their whims.

What is frustrating about this is that this heartbreak is completely avoidable. It is simply a matter of how much you value your own heart and your own ability to love. Are you going to throw away your heart after every pretty face on the TV screen, or that cute boy or girl in the tuition centre? Yes, it is completely normal to be attracted to what appears beautiful to you. What I am asking you to consider is: is it worthwhile to fill your mind and heart with every person who attracts your attention? What do you get in the end, from all the hours you spend fascinated by that personality? The answer is that you get nothing at all. You, your mind, your heart and your time are worth more than that.

The myth of “the one”

This problem begins when we take our different forms of entertainment too seriously. The media sells the lie that there is only one perfect match available for you in the world, and that you have to be very high up in the social rat race in order to find that one match, and you will never have “chemistry” with anyone else. The reality is that there is a range of compatibility we have with many people, and out of them we can choose the one who appears to suit us the best. For a man, that would probably be the best-looking woman out of all the women of similar personality that he can approach for marriage. For a woman, that would probably be the most “well-settled” man out of all the men she finds to be compatible with her own self. The thing is, in real life, suitable matches do not line up for selection in this manner. Life is not a reality TV show. Really finding and choosing someone for marriage involves considerable patience, prayer, planning and preparation, and how can we grow all these qualities and techniques in ourselves when we are young, if we are impressed by fictional stories?

Love conquers all

In our experience of life, we come across many different people. There are people we like, people we dislike, and people who don’t matter to us. Out of all the people we like, we spend more time with a select few. The others are just there to pass the time with when our close friends aren’t around. The way we approach people in general has a big effect on our effectiveness as an individual member of society. The human heart has an incredible capacity to love, if only we understand this. If you consider love simply as a positive force that you use to brighten up your little corner of the world, starting with loving your own self, then the time passes more pleasantly. Don’t get me wrong: approaching every aspect of life with love is not easy, and discussing how to do it is beyond the scope of a single article, but it is possible. I will go beyond even the word “possible” and say that love is the purpose of existence–just don’t get stuck on the romantic version.

The importance of self-love

By self-love I mean regarding your own self in a positive way. A lot of us are caught up in self hate simply because of negative body image, peer pressure, family problems or some other reason. Call it self-esteem, call it self-care, whatever you call it, stop right where you are and take a deep breath. We are all human and certainly, desiring marriage to a suitable life partner is perfectly acceptable. It just doesn’t make any sense to waste our mental, emotional and spiritual energy on “time-pass” connections and end up neglecting our own poor hearts that need our urgent attention. Like they say, “bloom where you are planted”–easy to say but hard to do, certainly, which is why actually doing it takes a lifetime.


This article originally appeared in Us Magazine for the youth, The News International:

https://www.thenews.com.pk/magazine/us/185111-Love-a-four-letter-word

Life of a bookworm (Opening up my cabinet of curiosities # 3)

Austin Kleon‘s book “Show Your Work” has a list of questions that bring out the creative mind in you. I decided to answer all the questions, one by one, in order to express my creative side in a personal way. Today’s question is:

What do you read?

What I choose to read has certainly changed with every change in circumstance as I grow older. When I was younger, novels predominated. Now that I am looking to root myself in the real world and shut off the dreamland that preoccupied my waking hours since I was eight years old, I choose biographies, memoirs, humorous books and non fiction. I still sneak a novel or two in sometimes, for old time’s sake, but novel-reading is no longer the intense activity it was, the way it used to be when I was a child/teenager. Somehow, the novel addiction has weakened. I suppose that’s called growing out of something.

Non fiction is something I am definitely growing into. During a book fair last year, I picked up basic books by heavy-duty names like Ghazali, Rumi and Iqbal. One book was actually about how Rumi inspired Iqbal, so it was about both of them at once–I really enjoyed that.

Now that I am past the grueling college years of student life, and have some time unburdened by academics, I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into some good non fiction reading, with the topics of interest being the history and lives of Muslims in South Asia. I also want to place particular emphasis on an introductory study of Quran and Hadith. For Quran, I would be following my online “Quran Program” classes at Zaynab Academy Online, as well as reading up on the sections taught in class by looking them up in reference books, namely Maariful Quran and Tafseer Ahsanul Bayan. For Hadith, just to get started, I will be reading and reflecting upon Riyadh us Saliheen. May Allah accept my intention and increase me in all that is good.

I have always been an ambitious reader. Every book has somewhere to take you and something to teach you. I aspire to go somewhere and learn something every day of my life, and books make it possible for me. Here’s to another year of happy reading. See you at the bookstore!

 

 

 

My Interview In Us Magazine

Waqas Hassan's WebPress!

Tea with Us!

It is a law of nature. The sun will rise. The tides will flow. Fans want to know more about their stars. Where celebrities are concerned, the tabloids fulfill this demand, but what about the fans of Us? Something had to be done.

And done it was. It took some doing, but I managed to book Café Online. I sent out the invites and got my notebook and pen ready. I didn’t know any shorthand, but I was going to get those interviews!

Us is made of regular sections and contributions. I couldn’t invite everyone who’d ever contributed, but I invited those who had carved their own niche in Us and earned appreciation from the readers in doing so, both senior and relatively new writers.

And not only this; for today…

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Tell me what name to call you by

Tell me what name to call you by
I’ve exhausted my dictionaries, trying to find that one letter
I’ve burned my thesaurus
onto a CD
and I sent it to you, asking to know your name.
I scaled the mountains and plumbed the seas looking for you,
Yet you dismissed me with every step you took
Away
from
me.
I learned to stop chasing you,
For you have no time, to lead me on a wild goose chase
You did it for her, you did it for her. You led her on a chase through the plateau of your dreams. I didn’t even get a spark,
from the fire that you kindled.
It was all for her,
your soulmate
Yet, haven’t you heard of kindred spirits?
Did not anyone ever tell you the story,
All the stories, so many stories.
You are a born storyteller,
and so am I.
You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth,
Mine was platinum,
Hers was gold.
I never asked you for the answers, I didn’t question you after your dismissal of me,
I went on my own goose chase,
running after the white stag into the depths of the green wood. I came out on the other side, and saw a new horizon.
Was it the same one she saw, when she found you and you found her? Don’t tell me, that’s personal,
and for me,
personal information is sacred.
I return to my books,
I forgot
I can’t remember,
which ones I sent you. I feel the absence of carelessly donated volumes,
volumes upon volumes of books that were pieces of my soul.
I searched for your name in parables and riddles,
but you led me to believe that you are not a puzzle to solve. Well, neither am I.
I am not a nut to crack,
yet
you cut me open
with. every. word. you. spoke.
I tried dismissing you,
I learned,
I thought I knew how to do that
But then you returned with another face,
and I struggled all over again.
This time, I knew better than to mess with letters. I turned to numbers.
In you and I, there is a dance of numbers, and everyone wants to know the equation.
E=mc squared,
yet I found you at the end of the horizon
at the bottom of the well
at the edge of the rainbow
I jumped off a waterfall
and found a soft landing.
How many paths did you take to avoid me? I find your footprints everywhere I go.
I burned new paths into my own consciousness.
But I exhausted numbers, too.
Funny, they say numbers are infinite,
yet mix infinity with zero and you get an atomic reaction.
I stretched myself like a piece of elastic,
and found your footprint at the edge of the world.
I finally abandoned equations,
I reduced myself to a dot
a speck
I became the baby universe enclosed in a nutshell, waiting for its big bang. But this time,
instead of expanding
instead of collapsing
a wormhole opened and sucked me through to the other side.
There is light here
and open space
and birds chirping.
I never thought I would ask this question again,
but you stripped yourself of your titles,
and I discarded all frameworks that shaped my thoughts,
you are but a concept
my spirit guide running ahead of me into the woods.
I’ve been here before
but this time there are no steps
not even yours.

The Experiment

Athelney Jones was thirty-five when Death came knocking at his door. After the initial shock, a strange calm washed over him. He was able to stand erect to study the apparition on his doorstep.

It was the Reaper himself, no doubt. Who else could have taken pains to appear as ghastly as possible, Athelney reflected, taking in the gaunt figure swathed in black from top to toe, with a single grisly eye protruding from the forehead. He matched his eerie one-eyed stare with his own stony gaze. Both recoiled from each other: Death saw the man as one blackened by his sins, so the revulsion was mutual.

It was Death who spoke first.

“Good morning, Mr. Jones,” he drawled lazily. “I am here to inform you that this was your last day on Earth.” He paused as if to invite a response, then continued: “As you have a long list of wrongdoings to account for, you are not permitted any time to settle affairs, bid farewells and so on. However, you are entitled to one last request.” Plucking dirt off his sleeve, he waited.

Now, this Athelney Jones possessed a remarkably quick and deft mind. While Death was engaged in formalities, he was racking his brains for a solution to his predicament. He absolutely refused to accept that his time had come. He thought feverishly: “What to do…what—ah! Now for the greatest experiment of my life!”

There was an eccentric side to Athelney Jones. He loved to poke about with everything, just to see what would happen. He would do completely wild feats in the name of “experimentation”. Only this morning he had doused his beetle-infested roses with hair spray instead of insecticide, which killed the pests but left them stuck on the plants. This kind of lifestyle led him to think of everything in terms of an “experiment”. At that moment, for instance, his line of thought ran thus: “Experiment: to beat Death…apparatus: cunning…procedure……”

A high, irritated voice filtered through his thoughts: “Mr. Jones, I

have the right to withdraw your only claimable right if you take too much time.”

“Oh!” Athelney, masked with sickly civility, mustered all his wits and turned to face reality. “If it won’t take too much trouble, if you’d be so kind—”

“What do you want?” Death snapped, dropping his businesslike manner.

“Only a red rose from the backyard.”

Death eyed him piercingly; Athelney felt annoyed.

“What’s the matter?”

“Oh, nothing,” Death answered easily, rising into the air. “Having known you for over three decades, you surprise me. I came prepared for some struggle on your part. Pity you’ve wizened; I’d have had fun restraining you.” He glided idly out of sight; Athelney closed his eyes in anticipation. Any moment now…

One minute…two minutes…five minutes passed and no sign of the hooded threat. Finally Athelney summoned all his courage and tiptoed over to where the rose plants leaned over the brick wall. An insanely comic sight met his eyes.

Death was halfway up the wall, seemingly clinging to the roses with his rotting hands and feet, struggling and shrieking with rage. Athelney took one look at him and dissolved into a guffaw that went on and on.

“Just look at you!” he gasped. “The Grim Reaper stuck on the roses!”

“Let me down!” demanded Death. “Right now!”

“No!”

“LET—ME—DOWN!”

“No way!” Athelney chuckled. “What do you take me for?” He sauntered towards his house, adding as a parting shot: “That’s where you’ll stay!”

Stay there he did, through three miserable weeks. When Athelney approached him again, he was in a pitiful state.

“Do you care to negotiate a treaty?” he asked cheerily.

“Anything…just get me off this bush!” Death begged wretchedly.

“OK.” Athelney was seated on the grass, rubbing his hands together

with glee. He could have what he wanted most…

“If I let you down,” he intoned carefully, “you’ll never come to take me.”

“Impossible! Besides, you don’t know the value of life!”

“Oh, well, a thousand years, then,” Athelney said offhandedly, “and I won’t age.”

Death saw the rapt look on his face, and sighed resignedly. “You have your prolonged life, but after that…” His voice fell on dumb ears; Athelney was dancing all over his garden.

“A thousand—a THOUSAND! Oh, the things I’ll do, the places I’ll see…”

“Ahem. What about me?”

“Oh, you!” He bottled his bliss so he could speak calmly. “I’ve bribed some neighbourhood kids to scrape you off that bush.”

“WHAT?”

“That’s the best I can do. It’s that or an eternity on the roses,” Athelney said imperiously.

It took the combined efforts of twelve boys with their spades to prize Death off. As they ran away to play, Death towered above Athelney. “Remember, you never learned the value of life,” he said dejectedly, before melting away into the air.

“That’s a successful experiment!” Athelney bubbled with satisfaction. “In fact, now begins the real part of the experiment…how I spend all these years!”

The prospect that hundreds of years were laid out before him was electrifying. Athelney Jones decided to “utilise wealth and live life to the fullest” by which he meant that he would begin by revelling in the fulfillment of all his selfish worldly pleasures. Time went on as he globe-trotted for enjoyment. The life he had known became history. He took root by the sea and watched the world’s constant changing, like kaleidoscopic patterns spinning by. The years rolled on. Nobody remembered him. For the first time Athelney was bewildered by the constantly-changing world and the rapidity of the passing time. He travelled northward as the world was scarred by wars, and when he retreated into a little secluded valley dotted with villages, he was no longer the blissful joy-rider he had been when he embarked upon his

journey. He was three hundred and fifty years old, looking not a day over thirty-five.

It was in this valley that he made himself a bungalow to remember the old days by, and there he remained.

“What have I done? Why have I brought this curse on myself?” he moaned. “I am utterly alone…nobody who loves me…nothing I know…all gone…and I, I have to remain still, and endure more torture. I’ve seen so many lucky people come and go, people who spend their lives on good causes and leave peacefully, respectfully. I can’t rest like they can. How dare they taunt me with their graves? They can spend their lives suffering!”

His curse became true for everyone in the valley. Drought and fire ravaged the land. Save for Athelney, nobody was left, only the skeletons of villages. The very seasons withdrew, refusing to grace the land with their individual beauty. The harsh and featureless landscape mocked Athelney; he now knew what it was to be abandoned by nature. He decided to make his days worthwhile. He found seeds in the ghost villages to make a garden, a vast garden enclosing acres of space with a high wall. He toiled for years, and it flourished as he nurtured it. It became his world, a world of fruits, vegetables and all kinds of flowers, including roses on the walls.

Years passed. The world began to heal. One day Athelney spotted a moving speck on the barren land beyond his green-walled one. He peered closely. It was a family, a couple with four children and a baby, trudging through the waste. They apparently thought his bungalow was another charred skeletal building, having gone far past it. Athelney thought no more of them; his was an unfeeling heart.

The next morning he looked into his garden, and what did he find at the walls? The travelling family, gazing yearningly at the lush greenery within!

Athelney was consumed with fury. He could not bear them even looking at his garden. He was about to unleash his wrath upon them when the sound of the baby crying stabbed him. The memory of numberless hollow years shamed him at last; he opened the door.

“Come in, all of you…”

Gratefully, they entered. In the shade, Athelney gave them food and

water and asked them to stay. Their gratitude knew no bounds. Their stay grew to two days, then a week. Soon there was no mention of leaving, and Athelney preferred it that way.

One morning he woke to find his room flooded with a soft, glowing white light. It dimmed so he could discern a familiar face—but how changed!

“It’s you,” he said quietly. “But it’s not a thousand years yet…”

Laughter rang around the room. “You deserved a thousand years to suffer, but I came earlier as a reward.”

“Why?”

You learned and acted upon the purpose and value of life, which is the real achievement…now, come with me!”

Athelney went. He felt them rising together, breaking the bonds of the Earth, emancipated. They were on the final journey to where all paths meet…