I was married for three months.

Act I.

I got married in Jeddah, on March 2012. Three months later, around Ramadhan, I pulled the plug on the project and that was that.

Being married to a Saudi meant that that was all I was going to be. A legal minor. As long as I was married, all of my achievements would be accredited to my husband's generosity for allowing me to perform outside my duties as a wife.

For a while, I thought it's just a Saudi thing. But it's a marriage thing, and it's in the implicit details of a lot of marriages around the world. That a woman is expected to represent herself as member of her society. While a man is expected to represent his achievements (and failures) as his very own.

Act II.

I will gladly take vanity as part my issues with marriage. I hated the mere possibility that being married could have done to my writing voice. To my practices. To the decisions that have gone through plenty of consideration (childlessness, meditation, rolling paper).

That my ego just can't stand sharing credit for my work with anyone else. Just like how I don't mind bearing the consequences of the rest of my action as a citizen of the Universe, bound as much as anybody else to the laws of karma and physics.

I could have just rolled over and allowed the society to dictate its opinions on not having children. Or I could have just died because the integrity of identity is part of mental health, and mental health is part of survival. In my head, to indulge the social demands to act as a Saudi man's wife in Saudi, a woman, meant that I had to further forgo the important stuff that made me who and what I am. The stuff that made up my ego.

I couldn't commit to that kind of egocide.

***

Creative writing is a very soul-revealing work. It's very hard to write effectively, to stoke the creative fires, when you only allow parts of your mind onto the page. The contempt I had against one issue infiltrated the rest of my life because I could not arrest it on a page. It made me distrust myself and decisions and adequacy as a human being.

Since I couldn't wrap my words around my feelings about that aspect of my life, I could not trust using my voice about practically anything anywhere. It is as if all the arguments I had against my marriage, backfired against me: Married or not, I lost my voice anyway.

***

Ideally, I should have been able to continue writing even if I were married. Except that I have not seen that many Saudi women writers who managed to juggle creativity, children and marriage. So I presumed them all dead. I didn't want to die.

Part of writing down things is having the power to reframe the world in a structure of sentences. Not being able to write about an episode as important as that is a problem for me this blog. To get over it, I needed to write about it. To write about it, I needed to not get too angry.

Hence, three years of being berricaded in a gridlock of seething silence.

Act III.

Last year, I found that I could write unemotionally while flirting with the cliodynamics of literature. That's when I realized that enough time had passed. And that I've grown just enough ovaries to talk about it with close friends, even though I still couldn't write about it without getting too pissed.

Enter the wonderful world of Internet and the permeating powers of storytelling.

Ghazi Al-Buliwi is an Arab living in New York. From the sounds of it, he basically did the same thing as I did: Signed into a traditional marriage for the (generally) right reasons. Followed by series of discoveries that basically led to...well, you go ahead and have a listen for yourself.

In the meantime, I'm taking his lead by taking it easy on myself. Nobody gets in and out of marriage for a mere handful of reasons. And I just want to have my voice back. I just want to be able to tell my stories with the same ease as Ghazi does.

And if I never had to talk about marriage again (albeit unlikely), then so what?

Daring Mediocrity

Transforming the definition for "effort and difficulty" into "that time when neurons are making new connections, when their brains are getting smarter." ~ Paraphrase from Carol Dweck’s TED Talks presentation. 
Once, Sahrish said that reading my blog feels like listening to an old friend talking.

Once, after chatting with Qusai about our creative progress so far in the last few years, I realized two things:
  1. That I have been writing more and publicly since I read Rettig’s book on prolific writers, specifically that chapter on perfectionism.
  2. That it’s easier to be brave when you have company
Those two things made me want to be braver and own up the mediocrity in my writings.

Owning up to my flawed writings sounds like: Yea, I probably can never make money out my writings. But it isn’t because I lack the education or training. It isn’t that my writings aren’t good enough. It isn’t because I’m worthless.

It also sounds like, Okay, my writing is not going to lead me to any recognition, prestigious prizes or publishing. Nothing beyond the scope of an amateur’s indulgent hobby. But that doesn’t make my writings unimportant.

By all means, if I had to choose between the security of marriage and social esteem, I would have chosen writing over again.

Because writing, to me, is true and reliable. It’s as close as I can get to reaching God by intellectual means. The whole process of reading-thinking-writing-repeat is as consummate an investment as taking care of a child.

I haven’t even begun dabbling in publishing.

To the people who matter, the people whose readership and company and opinion truly matter to me at the end of the day, they’d rather find me happy than not. Even if that happiness comes in the form of amateur indulgence.

And there is true, irreplaceable joy in going for broke to figure out what really matters. There are true returns of investment when we take care of ourselves, when we make the effort to stay true to ourselves. There is serious value in finding self-validation by doing the things that make us happy. And the most valued returns cannot be appraised with countable units.

Happiness cannot be measured with conditional rewards.

In a world where conditional rewards are heavily based on results and products instead of process, the work of finding joy in labor takes the heaviest toll. We are expected to be achieve awesome things at the cost of our day-to-day happiness. We are expected to outperform each other in everything we do. We would rather have more likes and followers than to find that fleeting moments of flow in doing the things we love.

Now, one of the ways to feel that we are better than others is by finding those who are performing worse than ourselves. And I think that’s a game I can afford losing for your sake. I think I have to dare showing you my flaws, my shames and my process of getting out of the cycle of my misery.

Not because I need you. No, I’ve passed that. I wouldn’t be writing publicly if I have not secured that secondary writer’s need for security and belonging elsewhere. I would not dare to even think aloud if I’m not writing this from a comfortable place where I am sure that I will be loved and wanted even if my writings suck.

It’s just that I’m trying to meet you and the demons of your doubts halfway. Inno, see here, mate, I have been accumulating a some love and self-assurance, and thought I could share some of it with you. You’ve already made the effort to read this far, I think I can make it worth your time:
  • That, it would be easier for you to think that you can outdo me, that you can write and create and forwardbend better if I showed you my flaws. 
  • It would be easier for you to see the qualities in your work if you saw someone else (“me”) do worse.
  • I hope that by reading this, you’ll see how you can outperform my mediocrity, or find some sense of community, and that your work is not the worst in the world ever.
  • If I can do any of that, then I would have done my privileges some justice. And if you can do that, then you have a fair chance at being better than good enough. 
And that even good enough is a lot.

Cliodynamics of Literature: Mass Amnesia


What I love about studying cliodynamics under the patronage of Google is not finding, evaluating and applying meaning to data. The main struggle is actually to stop expanding on the chain of ideas.

That's how things have gone so far, at least. Until I started writing about this elephantine of a nation: Writing about Indonesia's state of literature brought me to a standstill. 


  1. Cliodynamics of Indonesian Literature
AD
Major Event
Psycho Stage
17th - mid 20th Century
Dutch rule.
Adult
Mid 20th - Early 21st
Everything! From war, coups d'etat, massacre, crises, reformation, natural disasters, etc, you name it, Indonesians have done it.
Zift
21st Century (so far)
Recalibrate everything!  
Infancy

My maternal ancestry lists veterans, politicians, royalties and witches among its ranks. The main reason why my family remembers this fact is in due thanks to the Dutch governance. If it weren't for Dutch education, Indonesians would not have moved on from the archaic lontar (palm leaf manuscripts). Okay so education came at the cost of a lot of nutmegs and the loss of a lot of our relatives to Christianity, but at least people read.


Then the second World War broke. Remember how war, as the dark patron of the arts, has the power to catalyze literature? It didn't happen in Indonesia mainly because Indonesia is too big.

For so many reasons, in less than 20 years since her independence, a tyrannical regime had to be established. That regime caused a general amnesia by butchering at least half a million of the the population, then brainwashed the rest of by censoring, detaining and silencing the Indonesian Vox Populi for the length of a whole generation.


The movement was justified as an effort to protect religion from Communism. Take a moment to associate freely.


  1. Size Matters
A few things. Indonesians aren't dumb. Unlike the entitled Saudis, Indonesians have every reason and mean to produce mean literature, win gold medals at science olympics, and run major corporations in their countries of origin. But they don't because, the social structure doesn't encourage it.

It's not that Indonesia is poor (far from it).  It's only a matter of logistics: The larger is a country, the harder it is to control the distribution of resources. The harder to implement quality education upon all. The harder to maintain a standard for evaluation and reverse the widening inequality of income. You get my drift?


Compare to its population size, the Indonesians are not writing well enough. And how could they, if they don't read well enough? And how could they read well enough, if the writers themselves are still struggling with their basic and security needs?


The 30 years of illiterate silence systematically erased whatever memories and stories that the people might have learned from the past wars or occupatioons. for independence and Dutch maturity in Indonesia's literature.


Fortunately, like the rest of ASEAN agricultural nations, Indonesians are pious and mild-mannered enough to take things as they go. And, thanks for the steady stream of natural disasters, rural Indonesians are rarely so bored to be motivated to fulfill beyond their basic physiological and security needs. For a while, at least.


  1. Why should they read?
I'm writing this from an idyllic village. The land is good and yielding and the people are obedient and yielding to their crops. Whatever is their religion, it has not made them fanatical or argumentative, because religions here are congruent with the laws of nature.


The people's disagreements are petty, their pleasures simple, their days and nights are monotonous and repetitive. The educated classes, the ones who have traveled far for their education, their main work is to maintain this idyllic peace. To keep the farmers farming, the mothers feeding, the husbands caring.


This has always been the state of things in this village, for many generations past, through the fall and raise of governments and kingdoms, since the formation of the Ring of Fire. 

Steadfastness too is a kind of Grace. 

Cliodynamics of Literature: Saudi Vox Populi


In the last three posts, the main theme was about process theories. A person needs to go through stages in order to self-actualize and understand literary novels. Civilizations need to go through stages in until it can write up lasting literature. Even members of the book industry, with every book, need to endure exhaustive processes; from writer to market to reader.

The understanding about book writing process will help us detach from our diagnostic biases. Detaching from diagnostic bias might allow us to respond more objectively to the state of literature anywhere. Instead of reacting defensively or boastful about the state of literature, levels of productivity, or nationwide stupidity, we might say, "Oh, considering how far they have gone, it's only normal for them to be where they are on the hierarchy of needs."

  1. Saudi Literature Since Gutenberg
Similar to the times when the printing machine was strictly regulate by the Kings and Popes of Europe, so is the printing machine in Saudi today. And it is a natural thing to happen when the majority the population doesn't know how to constructively control their voices. Not until it learns how to play fair. Not until it knows the shape and idiosyncrasies of its own identity and the modulations of its voices.
AD
Major Event
Psycho Stage
15th-18th Century
Ottoman Empire bans the printing machine on penalty of death
Nil
18th-19th Century
Tribal unification and division of Arabia
Nil
20th Century
Saudi Arabia founded. Girls allowed to go to school. Seige of Makkah. Fine, we'll let you educate them a little bit.
Infancy
Childhood
21st Century
INTERNET!
9-11. Okay, we'll let you educate them a lot. But not at home.
Adolescence

  1. Child Phase
The rulers of Saudi aren't idiots. They would not be rulers if they were. They understand that the majority of Vox Populi (Voice of the Population) in Saudi is still in its child phase.

One thing that makes children frightening to me is that they can see through facades, but lack the wisdom and discernment to control their responses, no matter how harmful. Like children, the majority would collect viciousness to thwart their heroes and foes with. Then throw fits of anger without trying to understand the reasons why things happen, or even offer regard to how hurtful their remarks might be, then sulk at the corner until Kingdom comes. Pun intended. Haha.

Until the end of the 20th century, vox populi of Saudi was still in its child phase, which is a period of self-discovery: A phase that precedes social awareness and identity formation. At least, this is how I explain why the syllabus of history in Saudi Schools, from grade 4 until grade 12, repeats on a three topics: My religion, my prophets, and my country.
Grade Lvl.
Study Topic
Grade Lvl.
Study Topic
Grade 4
History of the Prophet
Grade 9
History of Saudi Arabia
Grade 5
History of Islamic Nation
Grade 10
History of Prophets and Spread of Islam
Grade 6
History of Saudi Arabia
Grade 11
Aspects of Islamic Socio-Political History
Grade 7
History of the Prophet and Khilafa
Grade 12
History of Saudi Arabia
Grade 8
History of Islamic Nation



  1. Adolescent Phase: Control vs. Autonomy
Around the end of the twentieth century, when the internet arrived in Saudi, the ability to test one's voice in public became a common privilege. Whatever effort the lords and masters were spending on controlling the printing machine was then shifted to control the internet.

And faithful to the theories of psychosocial development, being able to test their voices in public (on social media), created a sense of self-awareness. A lot of self-awareness. And...Blasphemous Blogs! The world doesn't revolve around your self and awareness, oy!

Ahem.

Happily, a lot of Saudis in this adolescent phase are smart and motivated enough to move on to the adolescent phase. And the Saudi government is all the happier to facilitate the transition for their entitled children toward self-recognition and identity formation. This is one the good side-effects that 9/11 triggered in Saudi; it became necessary and justifiable to send millions of the young Saudi population abroad for their higher education.

We know ourselves better by interacting with others. We understand the value of our privileges when we lose them. We develop empathy when we bear the full consequences of our autonomous actions. Which, by the way, is one of Erikson's themes of adolescence: Control vs. Autonomy.

A lot of the Saudis who return from their foreign education have better awareness of themselves. They are more articulate in presenting their ideas. They marry and procreate with calculation. They value their personal freedom and opinions, which epitomizes adolescence. And you cannot underestimate just how good an education does a Saudi boy and girl by living without a maid at their constant behest.

And it's actually nice to be able to see this progress in my lifetime. 

Cliodynamics of Literature: Book Business


Books as Commodity

Artistic value is as hard to measure as intelligence. That said, books cost money. A lot of money. So as long that it costs money, it's measurable. Every book in the market, in paper or digital format, depends its entire existence on very concrete and measurable factors.

  1. The Writer

Say that a writer needs X amount of calories, Y amount of hours, Z amount of travel to produce a book. Multiply that number by the book's level of artistic value. The more beautiful a book, the more education, experience, emotional intelligence, spiritual strength it takes from the writer. When Norman Mailer said that, "Every book killed me a little," he wasn't kidding.

In addition to all that, consider that every writer will need to spend the whole of his lifetime practicing writing to produce his magna carta. It took Dostoyevsky everything from The Idiot, Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, until he eventually concluded with the Brothers Karamazov. This was a Russian artist, so that took a lot paper and a lot of rewriting and a lot of nights at the verge of insanity.

When the artist got it easy at practicing, and his debut novel shot through the sales early in his career, it would have still taken a lot of sacrifices from others. Steinbeck, Hemingway, Vonnegut and Mailer got dented in their heads from their experiences at war. Surviving war, unlike love, spreads a person's soul on the misery of others, destroying every flicker of vanity with trauma. (While love encapsulates the world in an impenetrable bubble of self-awareness.)

War, as a dark patron of the arts, is a powerful catalyst that not every nation, not every writer is able to stomach, or unbraid through his letters. Though, done carefully and successfully, the worst state of humanity can fuel the beacon for those who learn and take guidance from it, for as long as the book is being read, one heedful generation after another.

  1. The Publishing Industry

Say that a writer was strong and patient and patronized enough to write a book. Does it automatically get published and start soaring merely for its merit? Try again. 

For a book to show up in a bookstore (in digital or paperback format), it needs to be properly edited, formatted, covered, and prettified. For that book to stay on that bookshelf, it needs to sell. Selling a book is not very different from selling a house or a pack of cigarettes: It needs marketing, advertisement, seasons, signing, touring. The whole brouhaha.

For the book to get reprinted in second, third, or Centennial editions, it needs to arrest of the market's attention long enough to justify the work it takes to repackage, resell and reserve that precious spot on a bookstore shelf.

The book publishing industry, at the end is a business model, and a kind that has been fluid enough to evolve along the change of times. One of the book publishing's techniques of survival is providing supermarket books, genre fiction, non-fiction, tabloid magazines by the bulk, to bear the publishing industry's 80% of market appetite.

On the long run, some of that money (ideally) would go for good cause. And that good cause happens in two ways:

i) Maintain loyalty in a market segment.

People who love to read, will read, regardless to genre. At least a part of that market would continually evolve in their tastes for books. People grow up, situations change, needs need to get fulfilled and there should be a book to satisfy these changing needs along the hierarchy of needs and psychosocial stages. 

ii) Support the book industry's idealistic values.

When it comes to the literary novels, the kind that has made me vent thousands of words into these series, the system becomes dependent on awards. Literary novels aren't meant to sell fast and plenty. Not a lot of people outside of Turkey would have recognized Orhan Pamuk if he didn't win the Nobel Prize. I honestly wouldn't have made the effort to read through DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little without a Booker stamp on the cover.

And how do you finance a book award event or a literary competition? I'm making my wildest guess, but in some way, there has got to be enough number of readers out there who care about artistically valuable books, to create and maintain all the awards, the festivals, the writers, and the book publishing industry.

  1. The Reader

The paradox of literary novels is that they need to be written personally enough by the writer, while at the same time still sport universal values to make it relatable to the normal reader. 

Universal values? Lessons? Normal? Why would a regular layman want to spend his hard-earned leisure minutes reading about reality? Hence, only 6% of the book market has the balls to read literary fiction.

What makes the profile of a literary fiction reader? Who would be crazy enough to read artistic stories for their educational entertainment? Based on the statistics, she's most likely female. Based on Maslow and Erikson, she would have to be at a stage where her basic, security and intimacy needs have been fulfilled and secured. Upper-middle class. College level education. Aware of social injustice. Sensitive. Emphatic. Curious. Worth fighting for. Based on Alia Makki, she's worth every word. Worth writing literary novels for, to remind her that her opinions matter, her sensitivity is worth protecting; for that is also the voice of the world's conscience, so long that she keeps her heart and mind and actions straight.

This is why literature matters. We ain't so tough, and we need verbal, cliodynamic and concrete reminders to keep us straight.