Creating Amidst Sorrow & Pain

Ten year ago, in 2012, I published “Clicks, Cabs, and Coffee Houses: Social Media and Oppositional Movements in Egypt, 2004–2011”, a writing that eventually became my most cited article (cited 880 times on 21/04/22). Honestly, I don’t think it was my best. The piece was personally historical, but not because it’s highly cited. It was the first of a series of articles I published around social media and the MENA uprisings, that attempted to challenge techno-centrism that dominated academic and media discourse at that moment. A move that wasn’t new for myself as I had started criticizing techno-determinism since I published for the first time ten year earlier, in 2002. The difference is, this time it was dramatically noticed by many. This moment of recognition, to a certain degree, shaped the latter trajectory of my career in academia.

Personally, this piece, along with other pieces in the series, were special because they were produced during a couple of extremely difficult years—like nearly all other personal events of my life, this too was and still is a story unknown to most people (I’ll not share the story here either, and there’s no need to guess or speculate). I still remember vividly how hurried the deadline was and how intense I wrote to get it done. Somehow, typing vigorously between moments of silent tears led me to its speedy completion. Getting it done made me a little less miserable and this tiny release was enough to keep me going, and then embarking with the next one.

Typically, in the midst of grief and deep sorrow, it wasn’t positive thinking that helped me. Neither was it forcing myself to believe that there are silver linings in everything. Instead, it was allowing myself to be sad, recognizing the pain, and nurturing my emotions. It was also about giving myself a license to express these feelings and emotions. By transforming my nightmarish thoughts into sketches and paintings, turning my tears and pieces of my broken heart into music, and weaving my anger and heartaches into words. By so doing, I could reach into the depth of my soul, to see the the wholesomeness of life, with its different shades and shadows, and a wide array of contrasting beauty they cast.

The combination of making art, creating music, and writing has always been tremendously helpful in any moment of my life. It allows me not only to deal with sadness and pain, but also to understand myself more, to really seek what I care deeply about and of the qualities that make myself human, and, ultimately, to grow my capacity to love others. Such a process has helped me not only in my personal life but also to stay sanely functional and even be passionate in my professional life.

As for the piece itself, with 880 citations, obviously I don’t know what people actually said about it. After all, I never intentionally checked how I was cited. But, there’s one citation from 2014 that stays memorable. I was made aware of this citation because one of the authors kindly emailed the piece to me as a form of appreciation as soon as it was published. In “Four Challenges in the field of alternative, radical and citizens’ media research” (Media, Culture & Society), Rodriguez, Ferron, and Shamas (2014) (thank you!!!) generously dedicated over one full page to discuss my piece as exemplary research in the entire field that reveals complexities of today’s social movements and their uses of ICT by situating the technologies within complex historical contexts (p. 154) and “disentangle the increasingly complex fabric of mediations that articulates the relations between communication, culture and politics” (p. 157). The first time I read their review, I was so touched. I didn’t expect such a high appreciation. Their words humbled me.

Back to “creating amidst sorrow and pain”. In the past, I found that the act of creating—whether it’s music, visual art, writing, or else—helped transforming grief, anger, sorrow, and pain into profoundly meaningful moments. I can’t say this’d work work for everybody. But it’s been proven helpful for myself. It has saved me umpteenth times before. And it still does today.

Most of what I produce during these challenging times are typically kept private and will never be shared to anybody. They are secretly stacked and stored in the corners of my hard-drives and study-o. However, a very small number of them that I thought were appropriate for public sharing, have been made available for others, in the forms of photo/artwork-stories, YouTube music videos, or personal-public short stories published here (including jokes and funny stories I actually wrote when I was miserably sad, ha!). I share them with the hope that they’d make someone’s day a little brighter. Of course, there’re many small and big ways I have been pursuing to make others happy. This is just one of many tiny efforts. Nevertheless, it’s an important personal pursuit. After all, creating simple moments of joy for others is one of the main purposes of my existence.

To read the article, click here.

Figure: Timeline of Egyptian Oppositional Movements 2003-2011 — it became “kinda” viral 10 years ago 🙂

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