Origin Story: Heba


The fall I contracted carpal tunnel I used to cry myself to sleep, thinking that at 21 I was kissing the cadence of my handwriting goodbye. Most people with whom I speak about my writing are familiar with this vanity: that I love the look of my handwriting as much as your enticement with oven-fresh cookies, and that to me, flipping to a random page of a notebook and finding my script in fine graphite is one of the warmest comforts.

How I began is this: in 2005, I christened my first writing notebook, a white-and-yellow spiral 1-subject in which I wrote—what else but—Harry Potter fanfiction. I've been in love with story for as long as I can remember, but this journal was the first to be officially named (an apt "#1," of which I am now nearing 40) for creative purpose. I was in sixth grade and class time stretched too long, so I spent every period with my writing companion in front of me and my actual subject notes open on the corner of my desk. During break or at lunch I would pass around the notebook to my friends, who would read it and support me with bright eyes, and then pull out paper to write something, too. Inspired. We wrote, we shared, we spread.

By the end of that year I found my tools of the trade: FiveStar Advance Spiral 5- or 1-subject, Zebra M-301 mechanical pencil, white Staedler eraser. Come the inception of our writing club a year later, my friends joked that my pencil had written more stories than anyone else present, including myself. Actually, I should include my friends in the list, too, because even as they changed they were just as integral to my writing as any instrument.

It would make for a good story to say that I write because I have something to say. That early on I was left wanting for lack of myself in the things that I read, that I wanted to push through the crowd in the library hall of mirrors and chance upon a reflection that fit.

Not so. To be honest, I wrote then because it was fun, and it was something I was good at it, and because I liked it when the gang yoinked my notebook before I was finished. I liked that validation, and I liked the speed of it, and I liked it when somewhere along the line the hobby became ingrained me, when I started to not just write but think and dream in prose, to find story in every little thing, to, eventually, need voice memos while driving. I confess that sometimes I exist somewhere meta, thinking about real problems more as things to explore in a narrative than something with which I, you know, actually gotta deal.

I write now because turns of phrase are my lifeblood, because this is as necessary to me for a fulfilling life as love. Without it I feel half-dead, incomplete. Both satiation and depravity remind me that it was not a waste of time and energy to invest here.

It is only incidental that I happen to be Muslim and American and South Asian and whatever else before my ancestors immigrated there. This is all a selfish pleasure: I love prose and poetry and their mingling and I love sharing and being shared with and I love the look of my handwriting and my own literary cadence and to admire and analyze that of others, and I love to be Muslim and American and South Asian no matter the strife it causes me. And I love to amplify that love with and in others.

There is so much to be played with here. To write, to share, to spread. And so here I am.