Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why poet Najwa Zebian shredded her first writing journal

The author of Mind Platter answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.
Najwa Zebian is a poet and teacher. (The Double Jay Collective)

April is National Poetry Month and CBC Books is highlighting Canadian poets throughout the month!

Najwa Zebian is an author, speaker and educator of Lebanese heritage. Zebian draws from her learned and lived experiences with Mind Platter, a collection of poems that reflect on what it means to be human in today's world. 

Below, Zebian takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.

1. Benjamin Hertwig asks, "Would you rather receive poorly written fan mail or well-written hate mail? How do you respond to people who don't like your work?"

I find value in both poorly written fan mail or well-written hate mail. What matters more than the quality of writing is the message that the person is trying to send. When I receive a message or comment from someone who doesn't like my work, I often need to take a step back and evaluate how much weight I need to give that feedback.

If it's clearly meant to hurt me as a person and lacks any true constructive feedback about my writing, I remind myself that someone's inability to respect me as a person is not my weight to carry. If it offers insight into how I may better my work, I take it with joy and gratitude.

2. Scaachi Koul asks, "What question do you hate being asked about your career or writing? Why?"

I don't like it when people ask me about absolutes. For example, "When was the most defining moment in your journey?" I am a person who has been evolving for 27 years of my life and what brought me here are all of the details throughout those years. Where I am headed is unknown to me. I don't like having a plan that's too strict or calculated. I am open to what the world brings my way.

3. Oana Avasilichioaei asks, "What are some of the ways by which you enrich/feed the language or languages with which you write?"

This would certainly be a question for those who read Mind Platter to answer. My writing is all about finding your own voice and making meaning of your experiences in your own way. Mind Platter came from a place of wanting to create my own language, my own way of seeing the world and expressing myself. Therefore, the language of the soul is what I aim to enrich. The language of understanding oneself. Seeing oneself. Hearing and loving oneself.

4. Hiro Kanagawa asks, "What is the most significant piece of work you have abandoned, warehoused, burned, completely destroyed? Was it painful or liberating to get rid of this work?"

My first journal. It was a handmade journal by my friend Mariam. She gave it to me on my 13th birthday in Lebanon. It contained all of my writings because I only started writing then. The reason I started writing in it was to have a consistent home, a consistent "someone" to talk to. Someone who would listen, understand, not judge, not tell me I'm too sensitive.  I didn't want to stay in Canada for good. It was meant to be a summer visit but the war broke out in Lebanon a few weeks after I arrived here, so I had to stay.

My journal was my home but writing in it now became painful. I ripped it up into tiny shreds because every time I would write in it, I would feel so much pain and that my search for a home (a place where my heart and soul feel at peace) was further away than ever before. At the time, it was both liberating and painful to rip up my journal; liberating because I didn't feel the pain of not belonging after that, and painful because I didn't feel anything for years after that.

5. Tomson Highway asks, "What keeps you going — first as a writer and second as a human being?"

What keeps me going as a writer is my internal need to make sense of my feelings, the world, and how the two come together. What keeps me going as a human being is the same thing. Najwa the writer and Najwa the human are one and you will see that in Mind Platter. I struggle to live authentically in a world that values the opposite of that.

6. Nazneen Sheikh asks, "Do you have set writing hours?"

I don't have set writing hours. I write when a thought, idea or verse comes to me. The only time that I set time for writing is when I feel that I've become very distant from it. That usually happens either when life gets too busy or when I feel that feeling becomes too difficult and uncomfortable. But I now know not to make the same mistake that I made when I was 16 when I stopped writing altogether for seven years of my life. Not feeling is not the answer to difficult times.

7. Donna Morrissey asks, "What are the biggest hurdles to overcome in your personal life while you're creating a book?"

Balance. Balance is difficult to achieve when you are so consumed into what you love. That happens to me when I am writing. I just disconnect from everyone and everything around me until I have my thought or feeling completely written and described in the most vivid detail. It's like when you're listening to a good story — you just want to keep listening until you get to the end. With writing, I feel that my heart and soul are trying to tell me something, and I want to listen until the end. I want no interruptions or delays in the message that I am meant to learn.

8. Charlotte Gill asks, "What is your kryptonite?"

At this point in my life, my kryptonite is listening to someone's story.  As painful as it is, and as weak as it makes me feel to listen to someone else's pain because that makes me relive mine, I feel happy because that person chose to start feeling instead of suppressing their pain. I remember that moment in my story. I feel happy that they chose to be courageous and share the story of who they are. I remember that moment in my story. And I feel happy and excited about the beautiful journey of healing that will come after that. I am living that journey now.