Yes, somehow, the wheels of time have churned away an entire year since young and old, male and female flooded Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt. The confluence of the world’s Middle East media bureaus in the same city where the campaign to oust the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was being dramatically staged, transported viewers into the protests and then victory celebrations. The ripple effect of the Tunisia revolution reached as far away as Libya as into my heart. I saw the bravery of people standing up for what they believed in and did something I never thought I would need to do: I broke away from a promising career as a professional in order to focus on writing full time.
This break was risky because not only did I give up the considerable benefits of my job, and the attendant status of being associated with a high profile employer, but I also gave up the stability of being part of a group, any group. Last June when I struck out on my own, a friend gave voice to what many were perhaps thinking.
“Are you really going to write? Or is this fantasy of yours?”
She was confused because writing was always something I did on the side; while in graduate school I escaped from the rigors of first a Masters in 2001 and then PhD in literary theory in 2003 by taking creative writing courses. I have the elective requirements of the American university system to thank for my discovery of my creative voice. Like many other passions in my life, I didn’t give the creative urge center stage, letting it fill in the gaps created by the demands of being a wife, mother, and mentor.
I meandered through higher education administration, and then publishing, until I was spending so much time promoting the work of others, my own work grew jealous.
“What about me?” My novel projects whispered to me each time I organized a book signing.
“Ebooks are the way to enter the market,” experts advised at all the writing conferences I attended.
Even with these twin voices of reason, from the comfort of my senior level position in an organization, I didn’t listen. I toiled and stressed: I heard the increasing complaints of junior staff who felt that their training and education were not being put to use. Ironically it was this, the injustices suffered by others, that got my attention. I am a classic martyr type: I won’t sacrifice for myself, but I will if others will benefit. Every corner I turned in our office building, I was regaled with a tale of woe.
“You are the youngest in the company,” our leader said to one of the juniors, someone I had hired. “You should sit and listen. Maybe you’ll learn something.”
This twentysomething had been educated in the American system. Her faculty, and student affairs staff had encouraged her to think that she had transferable skills that would be an asset to her employer. She, like me, thought that age didn’t matter: the person standing in front of you did.
I know there are many people in Qatar fighting this juxtaposition of values and my heart goes out to them. What do you do when your education prepared you to expect a different environment than the one in which fact you live? I can’t say that I have a lot of advice to offer on this dilemma. Even now as my vow to write full time segued into teaching as an adjunct faculty member at American universities, I do believe that critical thinking, questioning assumptions, even sheer hard work will get you the respect you deserve, no matter how young you are.
But stereotypes in the workforce conspire against us in a unique way in Doha.
“Here’s a laptop. Sit there and try not to break anything,” someone said to a female student who was a computer science graduate.
“Rich girl, don’t you want to go home and spend Daddy’s money?” Someone else reported me to as the attitude towards Qatari women in the oil sector.
That’s the limitation of stereotypes: they are true for a reason but they often don’t adjust for the uniqueness of the person in front of you. I feel deep empathy for the women in these situations just as I wonder if some of the resistance I encounter in the classroom from male students isn’t because I’m a young, South Asian professor, as opposed to a six foot four, white male. I don’t know. But I do know that I feel more in control of how I treat people and in general, how they treat me. So the reduced salary, the occasional student irritation, the nights spent grading are worth it.
In the year since my liberation, I have published four e-books, posted regularly to this blog, and kept writing on more projects. I’m only sorry I can’t say that my work wasn’t the inspiration for my revolution. I let writing take a backseat because I didn’t know how important it was to me. I hope never to make that mistake again. The answer to the questions my friend posed to me a year or so ago are both yes. Yes, I have been writing and hope to continue to do so through the summer has I have three more releases planned. And yes, this is the fantasy version of my life: the life that I know many creatives want to live. I don’t take a second for granted (especially as stories of the dissatisfied employees trickle back to me through the grapevine).
Help me celebrate this watershed year in my writing life and vote for me as the blogger to win in the “Industry” category of the Goodreads Independent Book Blogger Awards. If the writing advice I’ve been tapping out as blog entries has helped, inspired, or even hurt you in some way, drop me a line in the comments box and let me know.
Where were you a year ago? And where would you like to be a year from now?