I come from a creative family. My mother and sister are visual artists, both of them are talented illustrators. My brother is teaching himself the art of photography. My other brother is a whiz with coloring pens or paints. And I write.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been meaning to write a book. I’ve churned out the odd short story here and there. But I can’t seem to hold on to an idea long enough to turn it into something longer.
A few years ago, I received a message from a friend that simply said, “Farigh bethi ho. Koi novel hi likh lo.” (Translation: You’re just sitting around. Write a novel already.)
Even that failed to galvanize me into action.
In 2020, I was grading exam papers and worrying about how I won’t get enough sleep to get to work the next day when the Saudi Ministry of Education announced the closure of all institutions due to Covid-19. As a teacher, that was worrisome because the school was midway through finals at that time and I was worried the students’ efforts would go to waste. But also as a teacher, who was sleep-deprived and had a bucket load of papers to grade with a looming deadline, this was the best news. No more morning alarm – at least until further notice.
The closure of institutions soon extended to other aspects of daily life and soon we were in total lockdown. With nowhere to go, everyone was looking for an outlet for all the pent-up energy. My mother took the energy to the kitchen. My father finally downloaded Facebook on his phone. My siblings and I decided to do a collaborative project called “Color Me Quarantined” that combined all of our skills – writing, illustration, and photography. It’s still on our Instagrams.
As we were wrapping that up, I received a message from a school friend who also wrote for fun.
“Let’s write something together,” the message read.
“Like what?” I replied.
“Anything. Let’s just do something together.”
Within half an hour I had a rough plan, I’d roped in my sister to do the graphics for us, I’d called a couple of other writer friends and gotten them on board. I’d drafted a document detailing the whole idea and created a WhatsApp group to get everyone together. And that’s how we started MicroTales – a group of friends writing flash fiction just for the fun of it.
Not everyone saw it through till the end. There were, as there always will be, creative differences. But it is a project I will always be proud of. All of us brought our unique voices and writing styles and created some amazing stories. We gave each other tons of feedback, helped each other be better writers. And as someone who’d restarted writing fiction after a long spell, I found my spirits uplifted and I looked forward to writing each new story and getting new feedback. We completed two seasons together, and were poised to begin a third but it’s still pending as most of the group went back to post-Covid normality.
Covid-19 took so much from so many of us. Two years ahead and we still haven’t put it completely behind us. But the amount of creative expression that came to the fore during those lockdown months, from all across the globe, is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and how we can find joy even in the smallest moments.
Here’s to all of us who find joy even in the midst of utter chaos!