On Belonging

April 7, 2023

I'm in a creative rut.

I haven't written anything new in a while, and when I do sit down to revise my manuscripts, I doubt my own stories.

Whenever this happens, I try not to force the words onto the page. Instead, I take a step back from writing and try to figure out what I need to change to rebuild my creative mindset. So I ask: "What's wrong?"

And this time, I respond: "Nothing. I think I'm... content."

It's a rare feeling. And I think it's the problem.

I started writing as an escape, to immerse myself in my mind. I write best when other aspects of my life aren't going so well. Whether I'm bored of my work as an engineer, or if I'm feeling particularly alone in the world, I can best process my thoughts when I verbalize them on a page.

But that consistent need for a sanctuary between the pages has, at least for now, vanished. I'm content.

Why now?

Maybe it's Ramadan. The month always brings a sense of calm. Nothing worries me. Every little thing feels temporary, and every big thing is in the hands of the one most capable of managing my affairs.

Maybe it's the fact that I've been indulging myself in a video game which I've been waiting three years to play. Hogwarts Legacy takes me back to reading the entire Harry Potter series every summer break. I mean, just look at this game:

Maybe I'm energized by my new role at work as a data engineer, a role I have pursued for a while. (I even contributed some code I wrote to the open-source community, a rite of passage in the software world.)

Or maybe it's the comfort of having my wife and son around for spring break, spending relaxed time with them after a year of exhausting moves and busy schedules.

Alhamdulillah - All praise is due to the one God - for all these things, and more. None of these situations, or the feeling of peace they bring me, are from my own doing.

This all should be enough. When I see it written out like that, it is more than enough. But my insatiable urge to constantly produce something of value isn't quite sure how to handle this. It claws at my mind, almost mocking me: "You're not lonely enough. You don't need me right now. Get lonelier, get sadder, then come find me."

I'm fortunate that I don't rely on writing to pay my bills. I have a full-time job. Writing is a hobby masquerading as a side-gig. I don't need it. Not right now.

Other times, writing is the only place where I feel belonging.

I've always felt like I belong somewhere in-between, an ill-defined space that I struggle to define.

Between studious and carefree.

Between technical sciences and free-flowing creative expression.

Between cultural Palestinian heritage and a common American upbringing.

Between this world and the next.

Most of us belong in this in-between space. My problem is that I fluctuate between extremes, but rarely tread in the middle. It's always all or nothing, this or that.

That thread of in-between-ness runs through my stories. My next book, The Book That Almost Rhymed, celebrates the collision of technical rhyming structure and creative disruption. The following book blends my worlds of strict computer programming with far-fetched imagination.

Everyone searches for belonging, whether or not we realize it. We want to be understood and appreciated - loved, actually - for the way that we are. Some writers, like myself, decide that we can solve our own loneliness. We can create our own place to belong. Since we could never resonate with another person as well as we can internalize our own thoughts and emotions, we turn to a blank page and pour ourselves into it, creating a version of ourselves to serve as our most fitting companion.

We decide that we belong on a bookshelf.

Sometimes, my stories are the only place where I belong. But right now, I belong among my family, my passions, and these moments. The time for writing will come again, with the ups and downs, as it always does.

But it's important for me to acknowledge, as I sit here writing this for my future self, that I am content in this moment with what the world has to offer me. This feeling is so rare that I must convince my future self now, in my own words, that I was content - even happy - for this moment in time.

And I must reframe my mindset. Instead of worrying about what I produce in my lifetime - and being upset that I can't force my mind to produce some magnificent piece of work right now - I can be thankful for this moment, and give thanks and acknowledgement.

Alhamdulillah. All praise is due to the one God.

This blog post is part of the #30DaysArabVoices Blog Series, a month-long movement to feature Arab voices as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Aya Khalil (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog series).


Already, in the two days since I drafted the post above, I feel the contentment starting to unravel at times. It doesn't take much for me to fall back into this mindset where nothing is enough. Yet, unfortunately, this doesn't guarantee my desire to write. It goes back to what I said earlier about extremes. There is a fine line between contentment and apathy. Still, nothing external has really changed. I'm in the same situation as I was two days ago. I must teach myself to say Alhamdulillah at all times. If I wait for these blessings to be taken away before I appreciate them, I might find myself longing for what I have now.