Communicating things I don’t know how to communicate
Thoughts from a troubled Lahore and a hopeful Lahore Lit Festival
At the Lahore Literary Festival today, Mohsin Hamid, one of Pakistan’s most celebrated writers/novelists, took the stage for an incredible conversation with the renowned NYT journalist and literary critic Dwight Garner.
The conversation was centered around Mohsin’s fourth and freshly finished novel, but also traveled across continents, generations, sentiments, and of course, ideas.
One idea that Mohsin shared was about what motivates him to write:
My writing is in response to all those things that freak me out that happen outside of me.
And later he went on to share a related sentiment, regarding why he initially started writing:
I felt an enormous desire to communicate things that I didn’t know how to communicate.
Over the past 3–4 months, this has been an all-too-relatable desire, both for me and millions throughout a world that seems increasingly unrecognizable. Like this past Thursday, for example, when some sort of blast happened at a neighborhood coffee shop I used to visit nearly every other day. Trying to figure out “how to communicate things I didn’t know how to communicate,” I listened to Krista Tippett’s latest podcast with the incredible poet Marilyn Nelson, and stumbled across some profound ideas in a part of a poem she wrote about Dust:
Thank you for these tiny
particles of ocean salt,
for the infinite,
Krista Tippett then shared a response a professor had posted to this poem, after the professor had returned from a 6-month sabbatical in Ireland:
Nelson’s poem and my dusty office reminds me that the unpolished and ordinary is cloaked in the extraordinary. Even as I settle back into my everyday life, in that dust, tiny tokens of the universe have settled into my office.
Should I be able to sort through the motes, I expect I would find fragments brushed from the cliffs in Ireland blown into the air by storms in the Pacific, and burnt off comets that blundered into Earth’s atmosphere. Crumbs of the infinite lie scattered across my desk.
As I came back to my home that morning — cycling past the burned down coffee shop — I thought about whether the dust from the blast had traveled to my apartment, about what fragments of the universe might be resting on my laid out Edhi sb biography, what tiny tokens of history might have settled on my day-old New York Times.
As I sorted through these “things that freak me out that were happening outside of me”, I thought a lot about hope: where to find it and if/how to fight for it. And eventually I came to the idea of the Lit Festival, which was rumored to be cancelled, eventually changed venues (and programs) three times, and which was ultimately held successfully today as a refusal to give way to fear and paranoia (and even fake news). Indeed, it was held as a shining example of Mohsin Hamid’s closing words:
It’s desperately important that we imagine the future in a hopeful way.
For the future is first created in our imaginations. And the infinite lives even in the ordinary. And if we fight for hope on a daily basis — through small things like just showing up — we can start to recreate a world we all desperately want to live in.