For Talal

canvas

You haven’t written for months, a friend tells you recently. And as you stare at another blank page begging to be filled with words like a canvas needs paint, like a skyline needs a Sun – you realize there’s nothing you can write that someone hasn’t already thought about, hasn’t already written about, hasn’t already articulated in a voice unlike yours. In that moment, you are mindful of the enveloping noise and quietly come to believe that there is nothing you can write, nothing you can say that wouldn’t be adding to the cling and clatter; that wouldn’t be amplifying the dissonance. And you don’t know what you want, but you know you don’t want this. You don’t want to be just part of this noise. So that blank page remains unscathed; remains as menacing as ever. This, you realize, is another incarnation of writer’s block. Self imposed. Voluntarily assumed for the sake of retaining one’s own sanity. Your mind is a Buddhist monk self-exiled to a temple on a mountain, far from the world; seeking out peace and quiet far from that room full of wild elephants beating a dead horse. Over and over.

And then he’s born.

Your father names him Talal. It is a name fit for a king. Despite everything you’ve heard, read, or learned up until that moment – about that moment – it is only mildly life-changing. Fatherhood does not come on suddenly like violent weather. There’s no switch. It comes on gradually like a spark that’s kindled in to a flame that grows in to an inexplicable fire. And eventually, that fire begins to rage. And you realize, up until now, your life has been one selfish escapade. It is ok to admit this. Sure, ‘selfish’ is perhaps too “ugly” a word; too weighed down in negative connotations; too entrapped by notions of egocentricity in a world where people fancy themselves altruistic. But strip it down, strip it bare, and being “selfish” can really just mean focusing on the self. Because really, most of us spend our early years figuring ourselves out, figuring out our place in the chaos, putting our feet out in the world – and other clichés. The world expects this of you. Like Socrates standing outside the Temple of Delphi reading the words Gnothi Sauton inscribed at the gate – ‘know thyself’, it warns all who enter. And like Socrates, you step inside as a blank canvas. You are filled with questions, and you start this subconscious journey of finding answers that might not even exist. It’s a pursuit that should be an adventure but is muddied by convention. You get an education, you get a job, you get another, you find a career, you move from one place to another. You travel. You meet interesting people. You fall in love. You meet the person you know you’ll happily spend the rest of your life with. You do grown up things like pay bills; turn a house in to a home. Along the way, you forget what it means to ‘know thyself’, and you end up staring at a blank page begging to be filled – like a canvas needs paint.

And then he’s born. And then your father names him Talal. And weeks later, he reveals a toothless grin, and you begin to converse in sporadic laughter. Exchanging noise for noise, chuckle for chuckle. You spend hours staring at this miniature version of you, and slowly, you become aware of the fire. You become aware of the fact that this child is the new center in your life, orbiting around them like the Earth does to the Sun; unquestioningly. Unflinchingly. No longer a star floating out in dead space. Granted purpose instead. Drawn by their gravity.

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