Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Etymology of I

By Maryam Piracha

I’m not sure how common this is, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve kept a mental running commentary of my life. In retrospect, that sounds a bit narcissistic, but as the youngest in a family of four sisters I considered this and my imagination my only forms of self-preservation. Writing was perhaps the next natural step in my “intellectual” progression. In quotes because I wonder if I’m deluding myself into believing I qualify as an intellectual at all. Are writers intellectuals because they read and write (let’s forget about the lives they’ve led)? But I digress.

I was asked to write a post on the theme ‘if I didn’t write’, which I find ironic in itself but let’s forget that for a moment. If I didn’t write – an interesting statement because it’s ‘didn’t’ rather than ‘couldn’t’, which implies there’s some choice in the matter. Writing isn’t a choice, of course – I think I can safely say that without threat or persecution. Can I list a set of things I’d do instead? God knows, I’ve tried them all in that brief moment when I thought I’d left my best work behind me only to realize I couldn’t stop. It was an unbreakable habit, a second skin.

I tried working in a startup company, as an online marketer who then segued into just a regular marketer and sometimes salesperson. I can’t sell anything to save my life, or at least, I couldn’t then. I relied too much on being behind the scenes, you see. The title of ‘Manager, Marketing & Sales’ only helped to reaffirm that I wasn’t cut from the same cloth of marketing management. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed most of it, to a point. I liked coming up with marketing ideas, assembling words together to encapsulate a product, its function in someone’s life and recruiting others like me. Perhaps if I wasn’t a writer I might’ve been a marketer in another life.

Or an editor, which I am now although most editing as any writer knows is a great deal of rewriting, and it’s a thankless, anonymous job especially in the newspaper business. Eventually, you cease thinking about yourself as an entity at all but rather as the opposing force to a writer, which gets complicated when you’re an aspiring author yourself. Things don’t get less complicated from here: I’ve served as the Editor-in-Chief of not one, but two literary journals. It seems I can’t get away from words. Perhaps this is what I’d do if I didn’t feel borderline orgasmic when I hit upon the right combination to express emotions, feelings and the right temperament of the characters that slip in and out of my consciousness on a daily basis.

If there’s anything I’ve been doing for roughly the same amount of time and dedication, it’s throwing actual stuff together and standing back to view the result. There’s something awesome about starting out with goo and ending up with a frosted cake. A little miracle. Yes, yes it’s all in the flour that serves as a raising agent but a girl can dream, right?

In all honesty, I don’t know who (or what) I’d be if I didn’t write. It’s been a part of my life for so long charting when it happened is about as painful as pulling one (or several) nails. But if I’m being very, very honest, if I didn’t I’d probably be lounging about somewhere, a couch potato enslaved to slovenliness and the whims of an indifferent remote control. Perhaps very deep down, I already am.

Or perhaps, that’s just the person.

Maryam Piracha graduated from Lancaster University with a Creative Writing MA in 2011. She writes short fiction, is hard at work at a novel hopefully to be completed later this year, and serves as the Editor-in-Chief of The Missing Slate, an international literary and art quarterly magazine. She previously served as the EiC of Papercuts, a South Asian magazine and is currently an editor at The Express Tribune, the South Asian partner to The New York Times.


Ashley R Lister said...


Thanks for joining us here on the blog this week.

As an alternative to writing you suggested being "...a couch potato enslaved to slovenliness and the whims of an indifferent remote control."

That sounds like such an attractive option - lotus eating for the 21st Century.

Best wishes,


vicky ellis said...

"Eventually, you cease thinking about yourself as an entity at all but rather as the opposing force to a writer."

The editing force is a mighty one for sure. The writer is like the water and the editor is the gravity that makes sure it moves in just the right way to create a spectacle. Perhaps that explains the invisibility of the editor. Everybody gathers to marvel at the fountain but nobody stops to congratulate gravity on leading those droplets towards the earth just so.

This post made me consider editors in a new and more flattering light ;) Thank you.

Maryam Piracha said...


Thanks for the comments, and thank you for having me on the blog.

Ash, I think if I'm being really honest I'd probably be a couch potato if I didn't have the purpose and determination writing brings to my life.

Vicky, working in editing has given me a newfound appreciation for editors too. I guess when you see the sort of impact they have on a writer's work on the more local level of a newspaper, you start wondering how many others affected your book reading experience. :)