Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On Writing #16 : Sonia Saikaley

On Writing: Writing Before Dawn to Answer a Curious Calling
Sonia Saikaley

I wake up early. Really early. Before the sun has even risen, I’m awake, working away at my writing. Even when I’d rather hit the snooze button, well, over the years that alarm clock has become an internal thing, I get out of bed and start the day with a fresh perspective. Eager and grateful, I rise because I have another day to do what I love the most: write. I don’t have an alarm clock anymore but a routine. Rise early and write in the utter silence before dawn, before darkness gives way to light. This has become a necessity for me. We all lead busy lives. When others are still asleep in my household, I reach for the power button on my computer and begin the day with words. Some words may have come to me in dreams, but mostly they arrive in the velvety silence of the morning. I feel that being in front of my computer and writing before dawn is the most beautiful place in the world for me. The words on the screen have transported me in the past to a frigid day in Montreal, where two lonely souls shared their personal stories and fell in love. Now in the present, the words take me to the old Jewish quarter in Beirut, where the powerful scent of jasmine bushes floats down a cobblestone street destroyed by bombs and shelling, a sniper on the rooftop, and an eccentric poet, who reminds me of a flapper, a 1920’s woman in Paris, wears a grey sherwal, baggy trousers, and stares out her living room window in full view of the sniper. But I am in the safety and warmth of my room, leaning forward, yearning to hear their whispers. The quiet of the morning allows me to hear them and, gaining the trust of these characters, I write these murmured words on my computer screen. Maybe they speak in hushed tones because they know it’s too early in the morning to speak in abrasive words. Or maybe they haven’t yet had their coffee or green tea! As dawn slowly colours the sky, I create these people and places in my fictional worlds. I wonder if the sky would be the same in Beirut or Montreal on this particular Ottawa morning as I craft these scenes.
Writing before dawn is so beautiful and breathtaking that I am eager for the start of every day. Of course, it helps that I have always been a morning person. From those elementary school days of dashing down the street to meet my friends in the school yard before our first class to the necessity of rising early to prepare for an eight a.m. university exam, I have always been drawn to the quietness right before dawn. I have always had a nine-to-five job so rising early and writing is something that I must do in order to answer this curious call to write. Writing is a curious calling. Writers find various ways to answer this vocation. Some rise early like I do, some write during their lunch hours, and others write on buses and in coffee shops. They use laptops, notebooks, napkins, and so forth. Regardless of the method or time of day, the words still get out there.
A few years back during a period of convalescence, I was frustrated and feeling down with the thought of not being able to write for a couple of months. But I managed somehow to find a way to write in my journal while lying flat on my back in my bed. Like Frida Kahlo and her painting. Because writing is so much a part of my being, there are very few things that can keep me from it. Writing has always been a refuge of sorts for me. To visit with the characters in my stories or poems is like visiting with close friends. I lean in or sit back and listen deeply. Real life can sometimes be complicated and messy and there are plenty of things that can come in the way of writing. Family commitments, health issues, the everyday tasks like laundry or taking out the garbage, but when I read the stories of writers who have found great success in their literary careers, while still tending to other obligations or day jobs, there appears to be a common thread: these authors just carved out the time in their busy lives. Somehow found that precious period to write even if they were exhausted or worn-out from being awake all night with an ill child or an ailing parent or grieving the loss of someone or something in their lives. They just somehow did it. Either in those early morning hours, or late-night evenings when the world allowed them slivers of silence and solitude, given to them like thoughtful and generous gifts, these writers just did what writers do: write. I’ve been asked on several occasions where do I find the energy to rise so early to write and I say, smiling playfully, “I’m just answering my calling and this call happens to come at four in the morning”.

Sonia Saikaley’s first book, The Lebanese Dishwasher (Quattro Books), was co-winner of the 2012 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest. Her collection of poetry, Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter, was published by TSAR Publications in 2012. She is currently working on a novel called Jasmine Season on Hamra Street. A graduate of the Humber School for Writers, she lives in her hometown of Ottawa. In the past, she has worked as an English teacher in Japan.

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