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Art, meaning and the things in between

Art is, for a matter of fact, universal and timeless. It can be a mirror of an era or a peek into one’s soul. It demands accuracy or transparency unless the piece is a product of one’s loose imagination.

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Writing, to me, has always been a powerful cycle of disconnecting and reconnecting. Living in Lebanon, a country of continuous political tension, I figured that I needed some certainty in my life. I needed something concrete that I could hold between my hands and wouldn’t escape. So, after I decided to read “L’Etranger” by Albert Camus, the character of Meursault has accompanied me wherever I go. I think of his displaced responses, absurd thoughts and psychological detachment from the world around him. Indeed, I see a Meursault in people and in my dreams and thoughts.

“L’Etranger” follows the life of Meursault, a total stranger to society who sees everything as meaningless. He would say, “that sort of question had no meaning” to a woman who asked if he loved her. He would claim, “it was hard to believe they really existed” regarding people he felt no connection with. This book sparked my desire to find meaning. So, I decided I wanted to tell stories, to look into the philosophy behind the words I write. I fell in love with writing when I learned to read and understand the words unsaid.

We still read Balzac and Camus because through them we learn about the history and lives that existed before ours. Even if these two seem like opposites, we search for similarities in art that allow us to learn about human nature. We learn to appreciate the artistry and take something with us.

I’ve experimented a lot with my writing style and ways of displaying my art. I tried writing poetry mourning the Lebanon we lost after the Beirut blast, odes to friends who never left my side and stories about characters I created from scratch. It was hard for me, at first, to view my journals as a form of art. I was being too honest, too vulnerable; what I wrote was ugly.

I’ve written stories about misery, deep cuts, broken hearts and open wounds and still considered them beautiful because I didn’t internalize the feelings being expressed. I’ve associated them with other tangible objects unrelated to me. Art isn’t supposed to be beautiful, though. Written pieces are supposed to be tough, rough and transparent. In my diary, I wrote stories as they were unveiled. I didn’t have a choice but to tell the truth as it was, no matter how ugly it was and how much I wanted to dismiss it as a lie. 

Sometimes, even I, the writer, don’t know what the truth is. I see writing as a process or discovery of the truth. But the closer I am to it, the more I realize how far I am. Somehow, it makes the journey even more worth it as I learn each time to embrace uncertainty — for life is unpredictable, unforeseeable and uncertain. We, humans, are also unpredictable, chaotic and at times, irrational. So, now, whenever I am in doubt, I clung to my pen and open the floor to the voices in my head. As I look back at what I wrote, I realize that I’ve raised more questions than I’ve answered and that I don’t understand half the things that I wrote. Nevertheless, I keep the paper intact because some things aren’t meant to be understood and if my words will ever reach other minds, then it must leave enough for interpretation. I own these written pieces as much as the people reading them, annotating them and reflecting upon them. They are mine as much as theirs.

All these realizations made me a better writer who is still figuring out what path to follow, if any. When I started writing for The Stanford Daily, I could’ve easily written about a lot of topics, but I chose to write about myself. I chose to write a personal narrative and share pieces of my heart with strangers. I wanted my true, unfiltered self to be connected with others. It was a process of self-reconciliation as well as creating a platform for myself to connect with others. To me, what matters most in this life is what you leave behind you, what people remember you for. I aspire to be remembered for the good things I do with people, emotions I allow them to feel and words I’ve written that stick with them.

Reading these pieces, years from now, may not make any sense for those in the future, but they did at a certain point. These emotions I’ve expressed were real while they lasted. Other people who experienced these same moments would be on the same page and would relate to what I’ve written. They would connect to them on the same level as I did while writing.

I don’t see words on a paper itself as artistic by any means. It is all about what goes on in the process of writing and what it leaves when it reaches people’s hearts. When I say that I pour my heart and soul into something, I mean it literally. It has to do with the degree of disconnection felt with the external world and the degree of connection with one’s internal being. Once everything feels right, my hands start effortlessly typing the words my heart and soul are speaking. It almost feels like I am an observer coming to terms with my ideas. As long as it comes from within, then it’s meaningful.

That is not to say that every art needs to have substance or meaning to it. Art can be a form of self-expression and it is well known that the self is complex. So, expressing how one feels may be more of a liberating activity than a goal-orientated one.

An important thing is not to feel pressured as to the how, the means of achieving art. That is because art is a broad concept that is defined and redefined across time, space and life experiences. Sometimes, I feel the urge to write without having an idea in mind. My first reaction is to panic. Then, I remember that I don’t need to have a carefully mapped out plan or a specific direction to follow. Indeed, stories beget stories. Whatever I ended up writing is considered a form of art.

Another important thing to remember is openness. That means a willingness to discover other people’s art, learn from them and grow from their experiences, but also a willingness to take the road less traveled, to dare to express feelings not processed yet and experiment with different types of art. After escaping my feelings and only writing about characters I once saw in my dreams, I mustered enough courage to take on personal narratives and share bits and pieces of my heart. Moreover, I enjoyed discovering new artists that also shared their broken pieces by forming a deeply thought-out work of art ranging from musical pieces to 800-pages novels.

Sometimes, I look around me and am struck by the beauty. I realize that there is so much more to this world that hasn’t been said. There is also so much more to me, to you, to who and what we love, to art and meaning and everything in between. We barely touched the surface, and I am ready for the dive.

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Contact Gheed at grind 'at' stanforddaily.com.