Discover the few things I’ve learned about the elasticity of identity and imagination.
After years of readers asking me how I wrote a novel about a seventy-two-year-old woman with blue hair and “gotten it right,” I can say that I am no longer shocked by the question. I remain, however, still a bit bewildered by it. The assumption, of course, is that I’m a man and therefore, shouldn’t be able to understand how a woman thinks or feels.
Now, I am a man, probably, or at least most of the time. I identify as such, and it is my identity. Well-meaning readers who ask the question probably think that my identity limits my perspective. It probably does. I’m sure it does.
And that’s one of the main reasons I write: to expand my perspective, to enlarge my world.
Identifying as a man makes me see the world a certain way, however, being male isn’t my only identity. My work has been described as immigrant literature. Yes, I am one. I’m an Arab, I’m American, I’m Lebanese, I’m an atheist. I’m a soccer player. I am gay. So many identities, so little time. These days, grumpy is the identity that I feel defines me more fully. I am a gay writer, a queer writer, and Arab writer, an immigrant writer, a Lebanese writer, a Lebanese-American writer, an American writer, a grumpy writer, and more, much more.
Drawing on years of experience of being an outsider—and on sixty-some years of being an oddball—I will share a little about what I think works about claiming a certain identity or having one assigned to you by society, and what is limiting about it. I will talk primarily about writing, but identity cuts across everything in life. I suggest that for many of us, the reason we might not be able to understand how someone who is not like us feels or thinks is not necessarily a failure of empathy, but one of imagination. I will tell stories of the elasticity of both identity and imagination.
There are many reasons why I call myself a grumpy writer. I joke about it in hopes of pinpricking the inflated power the subject of identity has over us.
In Lebanon, I am considered an American. In America, I am considered Lebanese. I am grumpy in both countries.
Grumpies of the world, unite!
What I will not do is teach you how to be grumpy. You either have it or you don’t, so get off my lawn.