The jackals are howling and it’s almost half past seven in the evening and I’m somewhere in the cool high mountains of South Lebanon. The jackals are howling and it is September and daylight is disappearing early. I never see them, these golden jackals of the Mediterranean. But I hear their howl, a reminder of how far I am from the city, a reminder that villages are less congested, less polluted, less noisy, less populated. More connected to nature. Son of howl, Ibn Awee, they are called in Arabic. Wei-wei, their common name. Their cry never becomes familiar, I never get used to it. It jolts me back to the present moment, every single time, into a kind of loneliness, an isolation triggered by the chorus of their echoing voices.
The jackals are howling and I am working on the tenth edition of Sukoon. I am working on my poems. I am checking and responding to my emails. I am connecting with past and present students. I am setting up writing workshops. I am considering my relationships, my responsibilities, my choices. I am drinking strained yansoon boiled with half a stick of cinnamon. I am feeling calm, productive, at ease. That is, until I begin scrolling through my twitter account, my Instagram homepage, my Facebook profile. The howling of the jackals outside my window comes to a halt and I am suddenly feeling overwhelmed. Bombarded. Drained by the uninterrupted announcements of writing successes; journal publications, debut novels, third chapbooks, fourth collections, conferences attended, awards won, nominated, produced.
Writing in the digital age has, for me, been both exceptionally liberating and absurdly demoralizing. I am in gratitude of the rising opportunities available for, and created by, writers, for writers, the openness and affordability that only an online and social media space can provide, and in awe of the accomplishments of fellow writers and poets.
Despite this well-deserved, and long overdue, reclaim of power, especially by writers of color and other marginalized voices, rejection in the literary world has become all the more difficult. But rejection is the most natural part of the writing process, right? This is what we are taught, this is what we teach. We tell our students, it’s all part of the practice. Don’t give in. Keep writing. Keep revising. Revisiting. Writing is hard work. Keep sending out your hard work. Sure.
But what we don’t teach, or acquire, enough is how to deal with rejection, or at least our natural, if somewhat slower, pace of production, in a world saturated with the howls of success, not occasionally, but on a daily basis, an hourly basis, and sometimes a minute-by-minute basis. How do we keep it together? How do we muffle the ego, strangle it, mute it forever, and get on with our work? We either leave the scene entirely, in other words deactivate all social media accounts, and ways of receiving regular updates, or we exist in a constant state of quiet seething.
Or, we develop a new level of consciousness for the experience.
We make an effort to understand and, in turn, appreciate all the howling. We begin to see it as it is, not as it appears to be. I read somewhere that animals howl into the wind to communicate to other fellow species that this is their territory, a warning to stay away. But they also do it to call on each other, to find each other when they are apart, to maintain relationships within members of a pack or group.
I’d like to think this is why we do it. Not to dishearten, but to connect, protect, remind and regroup.
I also read that during denning season, the howling drops to almost zero. The jackals want to avoid giving the den’s location away to other animals and putting the pups at risk. I’d like to think of this period as our time to nurture, give birth to, and in a way, protect our own: our hard work.
I have come to feel that there’s consolation in viewing ourselves as both howling and hushed jackals. Like them, our cries and quietude are instinctive, natural. Depending on the season. So when the chorus gets too high-pitched, feels relentless, and the ego throws a tantrum, check the season and your place in it. Write another draft. Send out more work. But more importantly, instead of shying away from it all, celebrate the howling, not as isolation, not as failure on your part, but as a victory for the entire pack.
Read Rewa’s poem “things our mothers have taught us and things they did not teach.”
Rewa Zeinati is the founder and editor of Sukoon, a literary journal publishing Arab-themed art and literature in English and author of Bullets & Orchids and Nietzsche's Camel Must Die. Her poems, essays, translations and interviews are published in literary magazines and anthologies in the UK, US and Arab region.