Well here I am, yet again coming in to pick up my writing stream after a time away from it. This always takes a bit of effort, since for me being a writing person is a different way of being than being someone who doesn’t do regular writing. Sometimes (frequently) I would love to be only a writing person; but then life gets in the way. This can be because of family commitments like, um, having a child (or 3); helping family elders (or 3); helping out at medical emergencies or with the arrival of grandchildren (both of those, many more than 3… ) Or, it can be because of other leadings (as we Quakers say), that can sometimes swallow up enormous chunks of time. Like, um, founding and running a book-publishing company— which I launched, fwiw, just over a decade ago and which swallowed up 8.5 years of my time and attention and large amounts of our family’s finances…
Most recently, I spearheaded Just World Educational’s launch of what I thought would be a small and pretty manageable little webinar series, “Commonsense on Syria” and it consumed all of my time and attention from mid-March until last week. In that time, I did lots of intellectual work and quite a bit of writing; but the writing was all “corporate”, which is noticeably different from doing my own personal writing.
The Commonsense on Syria project was definitely worth doing (and isn’t quite finished yet.) Because we recorded the nine hour-long webinars we held– which featured an amazing array of fine panelists, including four people from inside Syria and several Syrians from outside the country– we have ended up with a very rich, and completely distinctive, Syria Resource Center on our website. As of now, it contains the videos of all the sessions and some related materials. Over the next few days we’ll be putting a lot more supplementary materials up on the various thematic pages there, as well. It’s going to get better and better.
The responses we got to the project did, however, make the whole thing very worthwhile. It seems that there are plenty of people here in the generally progressive part of the U.S. political spectrum who are eager to learn more about, and discuss, the situation in Syria and the harshly punitive policies towards the Syrian government that our government has pursued for the past nine years… policies that have, tragically, often received full-throated support from many people in the “progressive” community.
Over the past nine years, supporters of the regime-change project for Syria have made huge inroads into both the pro-Palestinian-rights and the antiwar communities here in the United States. And they have been so vitriolic, bullying, and single-minded in shutting down any questioning of their goal of regime change that they managed to intimidate broad swathes of people in these movements into not engaging on the Syria issue at all. They have also hobbled these movements considerably. De-platforming Max Blumenthal and Rania Khaleq, for God’s sake!! What outrageous behavior.
As my colleagues and I on the JWE board said from the get-go about our planning for the “Commonsense on Syria” project,
[We] have been determined that the featured panelists would represent a range of views, including views that have been un- or under-represented in Western corporate media over the past decade. And as I [had] noted earlier, one of the key hopes I have for this project is that it will help us find a way to air, discuss, and examine the differences that many of us have over the Syria Question in a respectful way that can enrich everyone’s understanding and help bridge the deep chasms that this issue has opened up in the heart of Palestinian-rights and antiwar movements here in the West.
We achieved both these goals. Two of our webinars featured discussions among presenters with widely diverging views. Session 2 featured JWE Board Member Richard Falk (with us from southern Turkey, where he has a home) and journalist Vanessa Beeley (with us from Damascus.) They differed radically– but their discussion was very civil and respectful. Session 3 featured USIP’s Mona Yacoubian as panelist and me as host. Once again, our views differed radically. But once again, we kept it civil and respectful.
I should note that when preparing both these sessions, we experienced significant pushback from pro-regime-change people who apparently wanted to block any such demonstration that civil, respectful discussion of Syria among people of widely differing views on the topic is even possible! In the case of the Falk/Beeley session, someone from a west-coast university whom I vaguely know wrote to both me and Richard, urging us to call the session off because of Vanessa’s alleged excesses in support of the anti-interventionist cause in re Syria.
(This person also included my spouse as a “CC” on the email, leaving me reeling in wonder at what kind of a patriarchal household he thinks we run??)
He finished his email with this bit of clumsy concern-trolling: “Please don’t risk damaging your reputation and that of JWP by including Beeley in the webinar.” (Not sure what “JWP” is supposed to be.)
I told him my reputation is fine, thank you.
Richard Falk, who has definitely over the years stood firm in the face of attempts at intimidation by forces far greater than this person, did so on this occasion too; and an informative and enlightening session of the webinar ensued.
For the next session, I had invited a prominent “Syria expert” at one of the numerous UAE-funded thinktanks here in Washington to come on to discuss U.S. policy in Syria. In their response, this person railed against the presence of Vanessa Beeley and the former UK ambassador to Damascus Peter Ford in earlier sessions, and somewhat pompously wrote: “I would not want to lend any credibility to such a series…”
And then there were the haters who wrote me emails calling me an array of names including “fascist scumbag”, etc etc.
Boy did it feel like the late 19780s when I was still one of the few voices in the U.S. public discourse piping up to say that “perhaps Palestinians are people too and should be entitled to human rights?” and all kinds of Zionist discourse-suppressors would pile onto me like a ton of bricks, trying to silence and de-platform me!
I persisted then, and this year I persisted again. And the response was magnificent. We had well over 100 people attending each of our webinars. The level of their engagement and support was amazing. We are still going through the many comments that attendees put onto the evaluation forms we distributed at the end of each session– but nearly all of them were extremely appreciative. Asked to rate each webinar on a scale of 1 – 5 for how “educational/informative” it had been, the average answer for each webinar was 4.0 or higher– in three cases, it was 4.7! Plus, I had inserted a small fundraising pitch in at the end of each webinar, and the response to that was unprecedented. And at least 990 people have visited the “Syria Resource Center” on our website where we’ve been presenting the videos of the sessions…
So clearly there was a hunger for the kind of open-minded, fact- and evidence-based information our panelists were providing. And I am so glad that I led that effort.
It was, however, pretty tiring; and I had zero mental bandwidth left to continue doing my own writing. Until now. Which has made me reflect a bit on what it is about doing my own writing that is so different/distinctive from doing the “corporate” style of writing that I was doing while working on the Syria project.
So, my own writing comes in different genres. There is blogging. There is writing op-ed-type (persuasion) pieces. Or there is writing that is more reporting- or research-based– in which category I would include anything from writing up interviews to writing whole books. Yes, there is some crossover among these genres, though generally they are distinct. But what is distinctive when I write in any of these “own writing” genres as opposed to doing corporate writing is that when I do my own writing the writing itself is a major tool or crutch for developing my thinking.
Scribo ergo cogito, maybe– especially as an antecedent to cogito ergo sum?
Actually, I think the relationship between thinking and writing is an interactive, iterative process. Obviously, I can’t sit down and write anything if I have had no thoughts beforehand on what it is I want to write. But I do always find that as I write, not only am I often searching for the exact word or phrase that will most accurately (or evocatively) express what it is I want to say, but in doing the writing my thinking itself also develops, sharpens, and clarifies.
Quite frequently, I don’t even really know what a particular piece is “about” until I have nearly done with writing it! (That includes this blog-post, too.) Thus, in my own practice as an author and then when, as a publisher, I was discussing book projects with an author, I would say “Leave the final text of the first/introductory chapter of the book until you have finished the rest of it… because you most likely won’t even know what a book is about till you’re nearly done with writing it.” The writing itself tells you that.
So, what is the present piece of writing “about”? That, I leave you, the reader, to judge… But suffice it for now me to report that by writing this blog-post I think I have started to reconnect back, after a six- to seven-week absence, with my writing self. Let the good writing times roll!