Let me explain something. Being a blogger is tough work, especially if you care about the craft. It’s this digital piece of real estate that requires immense upkeep – serious dedication, which is why I’ve had a growing appreciation and respect for the people that do it. But the more life throws at you, the more that property gets neglected. It gets relegated to third-class status in the face of family, kids, career, travel, work, work, and more work. The more that happens – the more these things overshadow any longing you have to write, blog, and share – the more it just gnaws away at you.
Like that messy room that gets so bad, you keep it locked when guests come by. It’s the room you know you eventually have to put on yellow rubber gloves for; possibly even a gas mask. And the more you think about it that way, the more it starts feeling like an obligation, rather than a passion.
But here I am – stepping inside.
Starting today, I’ll be here much more often. It’s a way to commit myself to something, but it’s also a way to make sure I’m producing. Because despite of everything I have going on, I don’t want to stop producing. The more I’m involved with digital media projects and production, the more I find myself straying away from the actual writing process, from the actual production – dealing with the micro issues that eat up a day, a week, a month, a year.
So starting today, I’ll be breathing new life into this place to try and make it home again. It will feature more of the things I’m passionate about today – a throwback to more optimistic years – and less of the things that turned me off blogging around the time the Arab Spring polluted the airwaves. Luckily, I’m at a place in life where some stars have aligned to make blogging essential to what I’m doing. But I’ll talk more about that in due time.
First – some essential house cleaning.
This post is the first of a three-part series that explain where I’ve been, what I’ve learned, and what’s to come. This post – the where I’ve been post – is a chronicling of the past, present and future. There are things I won’t be able to talk about candidly for a myriad of reasons, ranging from the legal to the mere irrelevant or downright boring. But if there’s one value that I’ll adhere to, it’s that I’ll try to be as transparent as I possibly can.
Chapter 1. Rewind/Pause Circa 2013.
The next few months consisted of shuttling to-and-from Amman, with Mariam and Talal staying long stretches of time. It was an intellectually challenging time, and a time of questioning values, beliefs, and attitudes. If someone were to ask me the biggest advantage of a western higher education – it’s being in an environment where you are completely free to question everything. And studying media especially – being able to study it from afar – it’s akin to staring at a portrait up close your whole life, and then taking a few steps back to reveal a whole other image. (If anyone’s really interested, drop me a line and I’ll tell you all about it over a cup of tea).
In the meantime, 7iber – the day job I had left behind during my academic excursion – moved in to a new space in Jabal Amman. On the inside, roles and responsibilities were being disarranged. How to move forward, and what direction the organization should travel in were assumptions challenged, and the cracks in the divergent visions began to appear. From what we were producing, how we were producing it, for whom we were producing it, the values that drove that production, and how we financially sustained that very production – well, suffice to say, the differences just began to pile on to an unbearable point, forcing an exit. Soon enough you’re at a place where you’re not quite sure how you got there, but looking back, you can’t help but feel grateful that some cosmic force has intervened to direct you to a happier place in life. By the time summer 2014 had rolled around, Mariam and I had officially departed.
7iber occupied a big chunk of my life – from inception till exit – and for seven years it was a passion project, and it’s members were family. So it only feels right to share what I learned during my time there, which I will. But that’s part two of this series.
Chapter 2: Pause/Play Respite & Rethinking Passion
It’s fall 2014 and it’s time to come home. Naturally, coming home came with its share of rough landings, including being officially jobless for the first time in a while, being called in for questioning by the Prosecutor General, and trying to catch up with Talal and lost time. And that’s just the first eight weeks. But I’m told that sometimes, you have to fall back, in order to spring forward.
During that brief respite of being home and recovering from academia, I started thinking about what I really enjoy about media in the Middle East. I went back to square one: what made me start blogging back in 2005? What was so exciting that it helped instigate the creation of something like 7iber back in 2007?
It’s October 2014, and the clocks are about to move back an hour. Because sometimes, you have to fall back in order to spring forward.
Rediscovering passion, for me, was about finding a specific moment in time where I cared deeply about what I was doing – a moment of quiet obsession. A moment where pressing the publish button, putting my thoughts out in to the world, and reading how people were engaging with it, came with an indescribable current, pulsing through the veins. That’s the feeling I wanted to get back to.
Blogging, for me, was a loop in which a blogger publishes a perspective, an idea, or a story, and a community of people interact with that single thought. They grapple with it, they shape it, they can even destroy and rebuild it if need be. But they’re tangled in it. It pulls them in. It might entertain them, it might inform them – but regardless, they feel they have a role to play in the larger conversation. But it’s on the blogger to instigate that conversation.
Being able to replicate that experience for anyone to tap into was at the core of what I believed about citizen media around the time 7iber was established. Before social networks took over, and smartphones came fastened to our hands, blogs were a way to share ideas and stories within a community, and citizen media was a way for anyone to come in and leverage those tools, to access that community
What made me start blogging back in 2005? Simply, a yearning for good conversation.
Chapter 3: Fast Forward A new space in Jabal Lweibdeh
Fast forward and it’s December 2014. In a cold office, somewhere in Swefieh, a team is gradually being built, and a small idea is ever so slowly being shaped. But for what happens next, Swefieh – with all its messy traffic and littered commercialism – isn’t the right place for it. The New Year arrives and my eyes turn to Jabal Lweibdeh – the place where my wife grew up, the place that made me want to move to Jordan when I was 12, and the place where years later, 7iber would find a temporary home as a mere residency project at an art house called Makan. The connections we have to a place are inexplicable, but the place means something to me. Probably now more than ever. There’s a past to be treasured here; and there’s a future that borders between worrisome and hopeful.
Fast forward, and it’s March 2015. Spring is kind of, almost, pretty much here. You have to fall back, to spring forward. So we set up camp in quaint building on Kuleyyeh Sharee’a St. We surround ourselves with the talent, creativity, and quiet innovation Jabal Lweibdeh is known for. Right next door is Immortal Entertainment – the folks that helped bring us Theeb and whose creative work has offered me plenty to be inspired by over the years.
Inside the space, we have a Akhbarek we’ve been working on, but the more I talk to people the more I discover those with whom I share a lot in common. Young and eager Jordanians, with a digital media project they’re passionate about working on, but don’t have a home. There’s plenty of space, so I invite them to join whatever journey we’re on. I’ll hope to tell their stories here as well.
(just a bit).
It’s still October 2014, and the clocks are about to move back an hour. I’m still trying to figure out what got me in to digital media in the first place, what got me writing online nearly a decade ago. So I make a pact with myself to find some inspiration. For the next week, I scan my networks for people and stories that inspire me in some shape or form. For the next week, I don’t read a single newspaper headline. I ignore the political buffoonery, I ignore the state of our economy, and I even ignore the onslaught of our new ideologically radical neighbors. I sequester myself from the macro.
Instead, for the next week, I’ll try and find the needle in this mess of a haystack we call a region. I draw up a list, and for the next week, I contact everyone on it and ask them to simply, tell me their story.
They all do, and I hope to share them here in due time.
Stay tuned for part two: Adventures in Media Entrepreneurship, or What I Learned From My Time at 7iber.