Fly Away

There were days in my writing life that I was not in the flow. Words just weren’t coming. I’d have the urge to clean something and I’d think about my life. If only I lived on the beach or in a cabin in the woods, if only the phone wouldn’t ring and my life wasn’t so busy, if only my health problems would just let me sit and think about my story. I’d sigh and wring my hands knowing that the life of a writer is tough and maybe I shouldn’t write that day. Tomorrow would surely be better.

I’ve been at this long enough to know those voices for what they are, excuses not to write, and yet, they are very real. And then I met Ahmet Altan and he turned my writing life upside down. I didn’t really meet him because he is in prison in Turkey for speaking his truth and he has been there for more than two years. He expects to die in his tiny shared cell because his government is tired of him making comments upon their policies. I met him through a CBC documentary stating his position and his plight and then bought his book, “I Will Never See the World Again.”

The book is by turns horrifying and inspirational as he writes about the circumstances that put him there and his life as a writer and how it keeps him sane. It was written on bits of paper and smuggled out by his lawyer. After finishing it he wrote a comedic novel called “Lady Life” that will be out soon.

His view of life is uplifting and the last chapter of the book shut up the whiny voice that whispers over my shoulder. I would like to share an annotated version of it with you here.

“The writers paradox. A moving object is neither where it is or where it is not, concludes Zeno in his famous paradox. Ever since my youth, I have believed this paradox better suited to literature or to writers rather than physics. I write these words from a prison cell. Add the sentence, I write these words from a prison cell to any narrative and you will add tension and vitality. A frightening voice that reaches out from a huge mysterious world. Wait, before you start playing the drums of mercy for me, Listen to what I tell you. Yes, I am being held in a high-security facility in the middle of the wilderness. But it is not the whole truth. When I wake up with the autumn rain hitting the window of the cell,  bearing the fury of the northern winds, I start the day on the shores of the Danube River, in a hotel with burning torches out front, which are lit every night. When I wake up with the whisper of snow piling up between the window bars, I start the day in that dacha with a front window where Doctor Zhivago took refuge. I have never woken up in prison, not once.

Others may have the power to imprison me but no one has the power to keep me in prison. I am a writer, I am neither where I am nor where I am not. Where ever you lock me up I will travel the world with the wings of my infinite mind, besides, I have friends all around the world that help me travel, most of whom I have never met. Each eye that reads what I have written, each voice that repeats my name holds my hand like a little cloud and flys me over the lowlands, the springs, the forests, and sees the towns and the streets. They host me quietly in their houses, in their halls, in their rooms. I travel the whole world in a prison cell. As you may well have guessed, I possess a Godly arrogance, one that is not often acknowledged but is unique to writers and has been handed down from one generation to the next for thousands of years. I possess a confidence that grows like a pearl in the hard shells of literature. I possess an immunity, I’m protected by the steel armor of my books. I am writing this in a prison cell but I’m not in prison, I am a writer. I am neither where I am nor where I am not. You can imprisonments me but you can not keep me here because like all writers, I have magic. I can pass through your walls with ease.”

No matter how many times I read that it gives me shivers and I challenge you, like these words challenge me, to leave the cell that holds you imprisoned and fly. Leave ‘it’ all behind and leave the imprints of your adventure on the page. Only you can write the story you need to tell and it’s time.

Ahmet Altan, “I Will Never See The World Again,” Other Press, New York, 2018. Pages 207-211

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