My character is walking around her house is Stamford Connecticut and thanking it. For having walls and water and unbroken windows. I accompany her and stroke the whole unshattered plaster, the clean counters. I try to imagine after living in bomb shelters and fragmented apartments, hiding from fighting and fire, what it must be like to have a new condo in a quiet neighborhood thousands of miles away from home.
In the construction of my novel, creating this character's experiences requires a dive into the terror of living through a civil war that is happening right outside the window. For me, whose relationship with violence is close to non-existent (on the relativity scale), folding myself into her experience means inundating my senses with images, histories, letters, posters, newspaper articles, interviews, pictures, videos, voices, cries, hunger, terror, fear. The accuracy must layer everything from the historical events to the times she sleeps (or doesn't) to the emotional and relationships with others.
Slowly the research leads to more research and ultimately i am learning things that I may not need in the book, but once I'm there, i'm there. For instance, 17,000 people went missing during the war, and no one knows what happened to them and no one is really trying to find out (Daily Star article by Dalila Mahdawi). Revenge activities during the war included, dragging a soldier's body behind a car, rushing into a house and throwing the children out the window, physical mutilation.
They create the background for my character who must, along with her sisters and mother, figure out how to escape the bombardment of their neighborhood.
And then, she's in Connecticut.
Figure that out. What kind of shift happens. And how.
I know a lot of writers have tackled these subjects, harder ones--Chris Abani's Song for Night about the voiceless boy (his vocal chords were cut) who is part of a group who walks the land identifying where the land mines are...how does one become that boy?
Here at the residency, just ten days from going to Lebanon on a final research visit, I find myself closer than ever. I'm being kept awake by the same things that keep her awake. When is the window going to shatters? When will the shuddering of the building begin? When must I run for cover? Where is my mother? my sister? But she's in Connecticut. And I'm in Egypt. So for her the questions are memory, for me, they are imagination.
Without this time, I couldn't impose her life on mine. I would have had to go to work, or make dinner, or hike with the dog. i would take phone calls, walk for coffee, match the socks. This time, this desert, this solid room overlooking the lagoon, this space to breathe was my passage into Beirut 1975-1985 where i am memorizing every picture and every story I can find.
And carry them with me as I move on
Causes Elmaz Abinader Supports