Mariam al Qubaisi sat next to me at the Untitled Chapter's Reading. I was flipping my cue cards nervously and praying for courage. I had gone over the order of speakers a million times, but I still worried. Mariam had her story in her hands and kept reading words out loud. She spoke to me softly and, for a moment, she reminded me of a younger me. "I love writing. I'll never stop, but of course I need to get a proper job" She was exuberant, passionate, and I remembered being a bit like that at her age. It struck me that, at eighteen, I never thought farther than just being a novelist. I have never even thought of myself as a poet, although the writings I share the most are poetry. That burst of realism made my heart clench. I know eighteen is on the verge of adulthood, but I remember it being full of impossible dreams.
"We need you to inform the audience that we're going to start late because there's a lot of traffic"
"We need you to tell them we have a best tweet competition"
My world was spinning. I didn't know why I was so mute. I spoke but it felt like my voice never reached that volume. I cringed at my own shyness and it felt obvious. I thought everyone could hear my heart thundering. I was so out of my element and I was exhilarated. Afra pulled us aside for pep talks with all the efficiency of a foot ball coach before a big game. Because she was Afra, there were also hugs that would infuse us with confidence. Where was mine?
The video played. Fatima al Bannai got up and talked about the event. I wondered at her fearlessness, though I could see that she was as tense as a lot of us were. Our founder in so many ways reminds me of an arrow that's poised to be shot into a bull's eye. It's that Mashallah energy that keeps us all driven. Her willowy arms were expressive and her clipped words were melodic in her excitement.
I introduced the girls. I struggled to sound natural and at ease. There were moments where it felt forced and like I was trying too hard. That sense of duality struck me as I tried to imagine what I looked and sounded like. There were moments where the tone was just right. I paused where I was supposed to. There were other moments where I felt like a record that squeaked in all best parts of a song.
Afra Ateeq is such a talent. When she gets up to do Spoken Word, the audience holds their breath. The words tumble out of her faster and faster and though I've heard it likened to rap. It's not a way to describe it. She's like Beethoven when he dances his fingers across the keys and creates complicated crescendos. Her spoken word pieces are like rhapsodies of realism, motivation, and humor. When she introduced me to get up and read my poem, it felt like my legs had turned to jelly. I didn't know what carried me forward. I read my poem and though I wasn't as loud as I would have liked. I read my words and for a moment even the trembling stilled. I couldn't hear my heart anymore, only the words. I don't know if my fellow writers feel this surreal disconnect from words and the feeling of déjà vu. There's a moment where you forget you wrote the piece you hold, but it's so familiar the words are like a pulse, always beating.
Lately I'm convinced that adulthood is like being into two different cars headed towards separate directions passing each other by on the street. I believe that the change isn't merely growing up, but evolving and regressing at the exact same time. It's been two years since I graduated from University of Sharjah. I was ready to fly out of the nest. I was ready to conquer the world. There was so much I expected but I didn't know graduating would take me out of myself, out of that woman I used to be. I didn't know it would rend me in half. I didn't expect my 'realistic' expectations to be so far from the truth. Sometimes I hear that essence of who I used to be in my mind, but it's like the rest of me has forgotten how to bring her into being. It feels a little like being a puppet with strings cut. I'm the same and I'm not. There is this cautiousness where I hide my words, choosing only to share them with my friends, instead of shouting them out loud. I'm not even shy by nature, but it possesses me more often than not. I used to love being center stage and having teachers and students lean in closer when I read poetry out loud. This cautiousness came over me on stage and I almost wanted to take my words and hide them.
When Afra and Fatima turned to me and asked me to MC Untitled Chapter's Reading, inwardly I cowered and quaked. That more than anything convinced me that I needed to say yes. I needed to conquer that twinge of doubt, beat it on the head, and quench it forever. I need to conquer fears and find a way to that person I used to be. When I find her, then I can point her towards the future and go to sleep content that she's still here.
Standing on stage, my glance wandered to Shamma's mom and somehow I announced her as the cue cards betrayed me. "Just go with it" Ordered Afra and I babbled the rest incoherently and tried to sound at ease.
When Shamma reads her words, it feels like they are alive. We all lean in because her voice is like a whisper, but brimming with mystery, fantasy, and an insight beyond her years. She can be a narrator in a movie, quiet and reflective. Everyone stops breathing for fear that even a sigh would make you miss a word.
Maryam Al Mansouri came and she read a patriotic poem about the UAE in Arabic followed by an English one. It's a gift to have a range. I know so few people who are able to say I write in both English and Arabic Mashallah.
Hessa's poetry is vibrant, beautiful, and the kind of Arabic I see myself translating. She's the female version of Nizar Qabbani. Forget the man worshipping women in his poetry and think instead of the woman not even demanding to be worshipped, but coolly expecting it. Her vibrant voice thrums as she delivers the words and those enthusiasts of Arabic prose lean in closer.
Amna wrapped up the reading with her piece "Living your life limitlessly." Amna is the kind of person who makes you believe that dreams come true, even though her advice is usually practical and simple. I've never met anyone more down to earth and although I've read her piece over and over, it still manages to resonate within me.
The Reading wrapped up with questions from the audience. My favorite moment of the whole night was when Shamma's mom spoke and she said girlishly "I'm Shamma's mom!" Shamma standing up to recite her marshmallow poem was another of my favorite moments.
It's the kind of night that inspires you for days, weeks, and months to come. It was the kind of night that makes you want to be the person you want to be. You want to be brave. You want to be fearless. You want to believe, and with Untitled Chapter you do just a little. I know adulthood isn't all I thought it was going to be. I know I'm not all that I want to be. I haven't even reached my potential yet. For one night though, words shimmered in the air and all the speakers from 15 to 18 and above were my sisters, my family. They knew my fears, my weaknesses, and all that I adored and was passionate about because they were enslaved and empowered by the pen just as much as I was. Did I conquer all my fears? It may be a long time before I decide to MC again. I'll just build up the courage a little at a time. My small acts of bravery right now are putting my poetry back in the world and updating my blog.