I’ve started post after post and left them unfinished recently. I’ve not published anything since December and this lack of output has only been exacerbated by recent events. It turns out a completely innocuous letter to my cousin who died of cancer can be scoured for perceived ‘dirt’ and used to spread malicious gossip. Here’s what happened: someone in my husband’s family read my last post, a letter to my cousin who recently died of cancer in Kashmir, took a partial sentence that alluded to my past and turned it into something it really wasn’t. Now upon reading about a death like this, most people would offer condolences, or contact me, or even not say anything at all. Instead, rather than come to me with her questions, this person took her “concerns” to my in laws. And the concerns had nothing to do with the premature demise of my cousin.
Initially I was angry and upset. It’s really easy to contact me; I have a strong online presence, and yes I’m not a great Twitter user, and I have no idea how Instagram works, but there are multiple platforms I can be contacted on if people want to contact me. I was ridiculously upset that this had happened, that I could write something so emotional about the death of my cousin and it could be turned into something that could be used against me. I was up in arms; I wanted to act. Armed with sayings of the Prophet Muhammed and righteous indignation, I wanted to do something about it. I rolled up my sleeves and was ready to get stuck in. But I didn’t. Just like I have done in the past, I let it go. I felt weak and impotent, knowing there was more harm to be done to me than I could ever do to them, knowing they were untouchable and I wasn’t. Resigned to mutter to myself and rant at the Bearded One about how unfair it all was, I retreated.
A few weeks have passed since then, and looking back, I can honestly say I had no reason to be angry. I wrote something and sent it out into the world and someone took it and used it to their own ends. I have nothing to be angry about.
Firstly, I should be flattered: people are reading my stuff, that means I must be doing something right. I’ve always just written for myself and no one else, but since my site is public, it’s flattering that people are reading.
Secondly, if you write something, it’s always going to be open to interpretation – even if you don’t leave room for such interpretation; when people don’t have the same grasp of the English language as the writer, or the same relationship with words, mis-readings will occur. And I say this with no arrogance about my own abilities – which are to say the least, limited – I say it because, as someone who has worked as an English, Literature and Media teacher, it’s true. Not everyone can read something and understand it, just like not everyone can paint a good likeness of a vase of flowers, or write good poetry, or carve intricate designs into a piece of wood. And as a Literature teacher, I’m no stranger to multiple readings of the same text. Was Hamlet caught in the middle of a Fruedian Oedipal complex since his behaviour suggests unnatural love for his mother, hence his desire to kill his step-father? Or was he just a misogynist as feminist readings of the play would suggest? Or as one of my students once put it, was Shakespeare just high on crack? Probably. You know what these writer types are like.
Finally, I have no reason to be angry because someone’s interpretation of something says more about the person and their agenda than it does about me. We bring ourselves to a text when we read it: just like psychoanalytical readings of a text concentrate on hidden desires and dark, sexual secrets and feminist readings focus on the depiction of women and womankind, we bring our own experiences to a text. We cannot divorce ourselves from who we are. Thus, I actually have no right to be angry at someone’s interpretation of my work. It’s taken me a while to realise this and even writing this now, I’ve suddenly had an epiphany: this incident means I’m a proper writer. I’m a writer; and just like all writers, everything I write and make public is open to criticism and interpretation. And that’s good. It means I’m doing something right. It means I’m a real writer.
And what people say about me? That shouldn’t concern me. It’s no business of mine how people choose to read my work. It’s no business of mine what people choose to do with information they “find” (interpret) about me. It’s no business of mine what tiny nugget people choose to focus on in my writing. It doesn’t concern me. (I am really tempted however, to disclose loads of information in blog posts, some of it fabricated, just to see what happens. Purely as a social experiment: who is going to read it, interpret it, spread it? It could actually be really fascinating to see what I could make up and how far it would go. Not to mention how much fun I could have).
Recently I read a quote from the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) that said, “Part of the perfection of a person’s Islam is leaving alone that which does not concern him.” So that’s what I’ll do. Leave it alone. Because it’s my job to write, it’s not my job to police someone’s reaction to my writing; I have no right to be angry that someone’s reading of my work is coloured by their personality and their own experiences- after all, it’s an integral and inevitable part of the reading process. I’ve written, I’ve sent it out into the world, my job is done.
So, if in being read, I’m destined to be mis-read, then so be it; at least I’m being read. It’s better to be Miss Read than not read at all. Isn’t it?