In loving memory of Margo, the best damn cat to have ever lived. by Nasri Atallah

To have met Margo is to have loved Margo. When we adopted her in Beirut, the volunteers at the shelter tried jokingly to convince us to pick another cat. They were so in love with her they couldn’t bear to see her go. We promised them to send updates from her life in Beirut and later in London. She has a special place in the hearts of the dozens of our friends who have met her, and the hundreds who have followed her stories on social media. And it is impossible to express the role she has played in Nour’s life, and my life, and in our life as a couple. The world is an emptier place for having said goodbye to her this morning.

The pitter patter of her feet rushing to the door to greet as we unlocked every day, the way she shoved her face into my hand or my cheek when she was feeling loving, the way she kneaded on Nour every morning, the way she curled up between us in winter to sleep. I have no idea how we will cope without these beautiful moments in our life.

A month ago we found out Margo had congestive heart failure. Her breathing had become laboured and we had to rush her to the vet for two days of procedures and stablization. The outpouring of love we witnessed from friends and family made us realize just how special a creature she was. As if we needed reminding. As she emerged from the hospital, we were told we could have a week, a month, a year with her. It was heartbreaking. She was only 3. She was supposed to be with us for 15, 16, 17 more years. Over the past month we have rushed back and forth to the vet and increased her medication progressively. As of this week she was on 4 medications, 6.5 pills a day, 4 times a day. So much to bear for her tiny little heart and kidneys. Finally during the night last night her body stopped responding to medication. Her breathing was at an unbearable rate, and the liquid was returning to her lungs. Nour stayed on the phone all night with the vets, and this morning she took her in to do the only humane thing we could do. The vets said she is beyond being able to care for. They said it is a miracle she lasted a month given how acute her heart failure was. She's was a fighter, a resilient Lebanese cat. I am abroad and Nour had to go through with this final moment alone. I will never forgive myself for not having been there for them.

Margo was with Nour and I since the beginning of our marriage. She was a permanent fixture in our first home together in Beirut and, when we moved, our second home together in London. When the world seemed like it was falling apart, Margo coming to sit next to us on the sofa to watch something funny on TV made it feel like everything would be alright in the end.

She has given us more than we could ever give her. She helped me through periods of crippling anxiety. As my first ever pet, she made me empathize with the natural world in a way I never had before.

We loved her so much, our hearts shattered when we heard her diagnosis for the first time. They shattered when we came home and it was empty of her. They have shattered a million times since, and each piece continues to shatter. In the coming weeks we will come across her white hairs everywhere. It used to annoy us sometimes, but in the last month we came to treasure the marks she left on our lives. Her phantom presence will be unbearable.

We want to thank Sheldon, Varan, Annika and everyone who cared for her during this difficult month at Village Vet Highgate and the Village Vet Hospital in Hampstead. They are compassionate animal-lovers and walked us through this horrible time with care and empathy. They made sure Margo’s last days were as painless and humane as possible. And I want to thank our insurance company Petplan, who repaid — quickly and without questions — the thousands of pounds it cost to give Margo this extra month with us. And I want to thank Animals Lebanon for bringing her into our life, and for following up so many times about how she was getting along in London. We will be making a donation in Margo’s honour, and I hope to find a way to work much more with them from now on.

And most of all, we want to thank Margo for shining a bright light into our lives for every moment she was with us.

We love you Margo. We will miss you always.

 

Margo (2015 - 2018)

What do you do during the World Cup if you don't care about football? by Nasri Atallah

Having lived in the UK for about 70% of my life, and being male, I have had to have many conversations about football over the years. This isn’t a problem for most people. Problem is, I have exactly zero interest in football. Now, I did briefly support Manchester United in 1996-7, although I think that was more a case of supporting Eric Cantona and nonsensical ramblings about trawlers and fishermen. He was French, absurd and unhinged, and completely compelling. He was the face of what I believe remains one of Nike’s best ad campaigns: "1966 was a great year for English football, Eric was born". I also, for reasons that remain to become clear to me, loved the Sharp Viewcam away shirt that season. I still have it somewhere, complete with number 7 and popped collar. You could say my support was more cultural than sporting. I liked everything around the game that season, just not the game itself.

Later in my twenties, I’d go on to fake support for Arsenal, mainly to make myself more palatable to my colleagues at the time, who I suspected didn’t like me much. In hindsight, faking unenthusiastic fandom for the club they had season tickets to watch probably didn’t make me more likeable. I'd repeat second-hand football commentary on Monday morning at the office that I’d forced myself to listen to over the weekend. This made me sound more like an alien lifeform attempting to mimic its hosts rituals than someone at the pub you’d want to have a pint with and swap views on England’s formation 4-2-3-1 formation.

I do support England always though. Always have. I blame Baddiel and Skinner for convincing me that sporting victory was even a possibility, and for getting me addicted to the inevitable crushing disappointment that comes with getting behind the team. In recent years, I’ve had to contend with the fact that many of those draped in a Saint George’s flag wouldn’t want me as a fellow supporter. But England is mine as much as it is theirs, and I’m sticking to my support.

The truth is, I’m unlikely to have to pick between England and Lebanon, my other country, whose national team is valiant (currently ranked a respectable 78, up from a low of 178 in 2011) but the closest we’ve been to anything competitive at the international level is next year’s Asian Cup. An interesting by-product of this is that everyone in Lebanon has picked another nation to support so they can join in the fun every four years. And their support is rabid, verging on the psychopathic, and often slightly delusional. I’ve always found rooting for countries that wouldn’t give you a tourist visa slightly queasy. Regardless, the flags of  Brazil, France, Argentina, Germany, Italy (lol), will flutter across the country this month. While I used to find this devotion to other countries' flags off-putting, I find it heartwarming now. Hearing people in Beirut shout "I'm Brazilian" in a packed pub has subtle overtones of openness and a willingness to transcend nationalism. At least, that's how I'm deciding to view it given the depressing news cycle we contend with.

And today the world becomes all about football for month. It will be everywhere, on screens placed at awkward angles in pubs, forcing dozens of people clutching pint glasses to crane their necks at one focal point, like athe tourists trying to prop up the leaning tower of Pisa in Martin Parr's iconic photo. It'll be all over Twitter. I won't understand any of the football commentary, but I will relish the humour and pop culture commentary that will help those of us who are there for the extracurricular stuff.

So even though I don’t really care about the football, I find myself caring about the world cup. I’m happy that a record-breaking four Arab teams are present this year. I’m happy Nigeria have the coolest kit in the history of football. I’m happy I’ll have something to talk about with everyone I come across this month. And no doubt, I’ll have opinions on Panama’s defensive formation by next week!

The Bullet List #29: Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy Edition by Nasri Atallah

You can subscribe to The Bullet List newsletter on TinyLetter here

Hey everyone,

I hope you’ve had a great couple of months since the last list. There are 120 of you who have signed up for these newsletters, and I appreciate the lovely words of encouragement you send through. I’m pretty sure this little compendium of recommendations doesn’t need one of those excruciating GDPR emails, but in case you don’t subscribe to this intentionally, I’ll be sad to see you go but you should probably unsubscribe. You can do that at the bottom of this email. Now, onto the recommendations

Podcast

The New York Times’ Caliphate

The Times’ Rukmini Callimachi has done some pretty amazing reporting from ISIS-controlled territory in the past, and you might have seen her recent piece in April (Extreme Brutality and Detailed Record-Keeping) about the organization’s bureaucratic hold on the people under its heel. In this podcast, she unpacks how people end up joining the terrorist group, through extensive interviews with a returned fighter and on the ground reporting in Mosul. It’s the NYT’s first narrative podcast, and has a lot of the audio cues that make Serial or This American Life fan favourites. Perhaps too many of those cues, such as the ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ of the earnest public radio host. But overall it is a fascinating document of both what has happened in Syria and Iraq over the past few years, and of the painstaking work of contemporary journalism, that has been so undermined recently. This is as non-fake as it comes.

Article

How an Aspiring ‘It’ Girl Tricked New York’s Party People — and Its Bank

This brilliant piece of reporting by The Cut’s Jessica Pressler is absolutely wild. It follows the weird and wonderful life of Anna Delvey as she becomes a fixture on the New York/London/Dubai/etc trust fund-kid scene. She’s part of that set of people who follow the party around the world — from Art Basel to Burning Man — convinced that it’s actually the party that’s following them. She interns at the right magazines, makes the right friends, decides to start an art foundation, Instagrams herself on yachts. But no one can figure out exactly who she is. Or where her money comes from. As she starts to ask more and more people to help her out with bills and as her tangle of lies unfolds, this story takes some breathtaking turns and lands in some very The Impostor territory.

TV

The Good Fight

This one’s simple: I think The Good Fight is best show on TV right now. Well, technically it’s on CBS All Access, which is the network’s somewhat odd play in the streaming space. But find this show and watch it (you can do that on All 4 and Amazon Prime in the UK). It follows Diane Lockhart (the glorious, imperious Christine Baranski) from the show’s predecessor, The Good Wife, as her life is falling about on the cusp of retirement, due to the shenanigans of a Bernie Madoff-like ponzi schemer and friend. The show is stylish, intelligent, fun, funny, sharply written and observed, and feels so alive with all of its torn-from-the-headlines plotlines. Also, it is the most cathartic of Trump-era cultural products, confronting his presidency head-on, kicking asses and taking names. Read this piece by Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker if you’re still unconvinced.

YouTube Show

Cobra Kai

Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy. The motto of the evil dojo Cobra Kai in the Karate Kid movies. Why am I mentioning this in 2018? Well, it’s the reboot no one was clamouring for. The Karate Kid Saga continues. And somehow, by some weird alignment of the stars, it is actually quite excellent. Far more excellent than it has any right to be. We meet up with Danny Larusso & Johnny Lawrence 34 years after the fateful events of the All Valley Under 18 tournament. (Was it an illegal kick? Was shouting about body bags necessary?). Danny is now, predictably, a massive douchebag who runs a very successful car dealership. Johnny wakes up surrounded by cans of Coors and gets shouted at while he does odd jobs for suburban assholes, then he gets to in his Pontiac Firebird and hates his life. This series is as much about the disillusionment of middle age as it is about fun karate stuff. And William Zabka can act! It’s a YouTube Red original, which means you either need to subscribe or buy individual episodes (which is what I am, again, inexplicably doing). You can watch the first two for free, here.

Documentary

Explained

Vox brings its brand of enlightening explainer videos to Netflix with a new weekly show called, rather predictably, Explained. There are four 18 minute episodes up so far, and they do a great job of going quite deep on subjects in a short time. It’s a welcome addition to the mix of docs on Netflix, joining features and fascinating six-parters. So far Monogamy and K-Pop have been my favourites.

Some Stuff I’ve Been Up To Recently

I recently wrote an essay for the Monocle Travel Guide to Beirut and the lovely people at Monocle asked me to read it for their On Design podcast, which you can listen to here. I also recently wrapped up filming of a pilot for a documentary series I’m hosting and co-developing with Montreal’s Noble Television. Can’t say much more than that yet, but there’ll be some updates in the next couple of months. I’ve also submitted my novel synopsis and extract to the Faber Academy anthology and will be reading in front of 50 of London’s top literary agents in 3 weeks time. So that’s not terrifying at all. Oh, and I’m trying something new on my Instagram stories where I highlight a photographer I really enjoy once a week with a dozen of their photos. So follow me here, if that sounds interesting.

Music

Khruangbin's Friday Morning. Watch the video here.

That's all for now.

N

 

The Bullet List #28: East Texas Crime, Flint Police, ISIS Media Hacking, Pop Culture Excellence and The Wire Nostalgia Edition by Nasri Atallah

Hey everyone,

It’s a quick one this time. One crime show, one documentary, two articles and a podcast. Should keep you busy for a couple of weeks.
If you’ve got anything you think I should see or read, please send it my way on the Twitter https://twitter.com/NasriAtallah

Nasri

Hap & Leonard (Sundance TV)

Vox recently referred to this show on Sundance TV as “one of TV’s best-kept secrets” and I agree. It is woefully underrated, and I’m happy I came across it by chance while flicking through Amazon Prime’s video offering.  The show is based on a series of crime novels written by Joe Lansdale, set in late 1980s East Texas. Each season adapts a new novel in which best buds Hap (James Purefoy, who you might know from Rome or Altered Carbon) and Leonard (Michael K. Williams, who you definitely know from The Wire) unpack the darker side of America: seedy deals gone wrong, Vietnam War hangovers, and racial tension. It doesn’t always hit the mark, but the chemistry between the leads is enough to keep you going, and the swampy mysticism of East Texas is just perfect. The third season is a couple of episodes in.

Flint Town (Netflix)

Watching the state of American policing from abroad is a bit bewildering, and it can be hard to understand just how the system got so broken. That’s why this 8-part Netflix Original following the officers who police the city of Flint, Michigan (pop. 100,000) makes for fascinating viewing. It follows individuals in one of the most understaffed (just 98 cops for the whole city) and underpaid departments in the US, on their beats and in their homes. It provides intimate portraits of cops, and some insights into their political views as individuals, and digs into the structural problems around race, as well as funding and militarization.

How ISIS & Russia Manufactured Crowds on Social Media (Wired)

The antics of the Internet Research Agency are now common knowledge and feature in panicked accounts of the shifting theatre of global warfare all over the media. But the manipulation and weaponization of social media was spearheaded by a different group altogether, ISIS. This short piece in Wired gives a great insight into ‘media hacking’.

Unpopped (BBC Podcasts)

I’m a sucker for a pop culture podcast, and recently almost had a heart attack when someone on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour took a dig at someone from Slate’s Culture Gabfest. I realize that getting palpitations when your favourite podcasts collide is a particularly sad form of pop culture nerdom, but anyway what I’m saying is, I love these things. And Unpopped from the BBC (which seems to be a standalone podcast and part of a new strategy by the Beeb to move away from The Archers) is welcome addition to my podcast diet. It takes an in-depth panel-driven look into a pop culture phenomenon (so far: drag queen culture, David Lynch, the Spice Girls and Tomb Raider) which is essentially the opposite of every half-baked Twitter hot-take you’ve ever read. Host Hayley Campbell is excellent (she’s also an excellent writer and a hilarious Twiterrer)

Omar Comin’! The Wire’s Creators and Stars Remember the Birth of an Icon

It’s been 10 years since the last episode of The Wire aired, and since one dose of Michael K. Williams wasn’t enough for this Bullet List, here’s an excellent oral history of how one of the most iconic characters in TV history came about. Omar comin’!

The Bullet List #27: Put Kendrick Lamar in Charge of Everything Edition by Nasri Atallah

Told you these would be coming through more regularly, so here we are again. Trying to keep these lean and mean (not sure what that even means) so I can do more of them. Oh, and by the way, if you're enjoying these Bullet Lists, tell your friends to sign up (they can do that here). And thank you for all the emails saying you find the recommendations useful and pushing me to do the podcast. I'm planning on recording a pilot episode in the next two weeks. Stay tuned. Or subscribed. You know what I mean. Onto the recommendations.

Film

THE BIG SICK

This is hardly an under-the-radar recommendation given that the film has a 98% Rotten Tomatoes score and grossed USD 55 million on a budget of USD 5 million. It was one of the most successful indie films of the year, and its writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani are up for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Despite taking the massive risk of having one of its characters in a coma for the entire second act, it is such a funny and tender film. As always with this kind of highly personal story, the cast of both sets of parents is particularly brilliant. The film is now streaming on Amazon Prime (and was made by Amazon Studios, who seem to have figured out how to make breakout hits after years of tinkering with niche subjects).

Music

THE BLACK PANTHER SOUNDTRACK

Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, SZA, Anderson .Paak, James Blake, Travis Scott, Sjava, Mozzy, Reason. I mean I could go on, but do I really need to? One of the most powerful soundtracks in a while comes from one of the most powerful films of the superhero franchise era. Curated by Kendrick Lamar (who should be in charge of everything) and featuring his label mates from Top Dawg, the album delivers on its promise. Everything about Black Panther has been so powerful. I can’t use another word. Even the photos from the red carpet premiere.

Article

INSIDE THE TWO YEARS THE SHOOK FACEBOOK — AND THE WORLD

Chances are you’re one of the 2.3 billion people who have a Facebook profile, and chances are you’ve noticed things have been a bit rough for the tech (media?) giant for the past year or two. This sprawling and exquisitely reported piece (they spoke to 51 people involved with the company) about the technical, ethical and philosophical challenges facing Zuckerberg and his team is required reading. In many ways, Facebook is the internet for a lot of people, so understanding its limitations and vulnerability to abuse is an important part of our digital literacy. Also this kind of journalism is exactly the kind of thing we need to keep alive in the platform era, and the issue's cover is pure art.

Newsletter

THE HUSTLE

Business news can be pretty stale, but having worked in banking, energy, advertising and tech (I know, all the evil industries, they look almost comical next to each other on my cv) I like keeping up with what’s going on in that world even though I’m out of it and have cleansed my soul. Well, The Hustle is the answer. It is very sharply written, often hilarious, and always insightful. Kind of like Prof Galloway from the recommendation in The Bullet List #26, but in writing. Subscribe, you’ll be entertained and you’ll be able to drop some knowledge about IPOs and shit at the next dinner with your friends. I mean, they’ll probably turn away from you and roll their eyes, but still.


Book

STREETS OF DARKNESS by AA DHAND

I'm recommending this again. It isn’t every day that you get a Bradford-based crime story, but AA Dhand’s changed that in the past couple of years. This is the first of his DI Harry Virdee stories and sees the hardened (and suspended) detective tasked with maintaining the city’s fragile ethnic balance. Problem is, to do so he has to team up with the former leader of the BNP. As a riot brews, Harry’s got to act quickly, and at the edges of the law. It’s a great read. I hope to join the ranks of crime writers plonking exciting stories down into places no one’s really bothered with before.

The Bullet List #26: The New Chapter Edition by Nasri Atallah

Welcome to the first Bullet List of 2018. I’ll have more time to focus on these from now on. I’ve recently decided 13 years of corporate employment was enough, and January has been my first month as a full time writer and creative. It’s terrifying, it’s confusing, but it’s pretty damn exciting. Current projects include the crime novel I’m working on at Faber Academy, for which I’m aiming to finish the first draft by April (please hold me accountable for that). I’m also writing more opinion journalism, dabbling in screenwriting, working on a documentary pitch, and I’m taking a more active role in my wife’s clothes brand. So, on to this edition's list of pop culture recommendations.

Something I Wrote

Speaking of personal projects, here’s something I wrote for UK film magazine Little White Lies about the disastrous trailer for Beirut. Somewhat dishearteningly it seems to have been getting some positive reviews at Sundance, but I’m not holding out much hope that it will be a fair representation of the complexities of Beirut in 1982. And I still think that it’s a waste of a brilliant film title.

YouTube Channel

L2 Inc’s Winners and Losers with Professor Scott Galloway. Now, before you despair at the recommendation of a channel dedicated to analyzing trends in the tech industry, hear me out. First of all, Galloway is a hilarious host. His deadpan delivery and occasional wig-wearing are worth the sub on their own. But he also has very insightful takes on an industry that dominates all of our lives, more than any other industry really. And he advocates for breaking up the four horsemen of big tech, so there’s something compelling about his approach to the industry. It's an interesting 3 or 4 minute breakdown of trends, what they mean for the economy, and for our lives as consumers.

Book

Being on a writing course, I have honestly never read as much as I have in the past four months. But I don’t want to make this list ridiculous. I’ll just say you should definitely pick up Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, who came in and spoke to us about her process. Also, if you’re looking for a kick up the ass writing-wise, pick up Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. And for some great Bradford-based crime fiction pick up A.A. Dhand’s Streets of Darkness, which has been compared to Luther and The Wire.

TV Shows

OK, I know this isn’t prestige TV (and I’ve said before I’ve got a bit of prestige TV fatigue) but I've been enjoying going back through 4 seasons of Brooklyn Nine Nine. There is something so wonderful about a fun, lighthearted, hilarious ensemble comedy that’s delivered in short episodes that reminds you that TV doesn’t have to be grim and foreboding and delivered in hour-long chunks. It's also the kind of TV that can just fill up space while you're ironing or doing dishes.

Speaking of prestige TV, I have a semi-recommendation for a show that don’t stick the landing. Ozark, Netflix’s Breaking Bad, which I finally got around to watching a year after everyone else. I don’t think that’s a very fair comparison though, because Bateman’s character is already broken and bad when we meet him. It’s really quite fun and moves so quickly, packing a ton of action into every episode, until it all crumbles around the flashback episode (7, I think). Still, it’s a fun ride, and you should give it a shot.

Podcast

James Altucher spoke to my good friend Mike Van Cleave for his massively popular podcast. It’s a tough (but wonderful and enlightening) listen. See, Mike was diagnosed with cancer and given a few months to live a couple of years ago. Yeah, Mike’s not the kind of guy to leave this place while there’s still good parties and conversation to be had. So he's stuck around, and he's learned a lot. He is an inspiration, and I don’t use the word lightly. And this podcast will let you in on why he’s such a special friend. Turns out life advice from a dead guy is a best kind there is. If you click on one thing in this newsletter, make it this.

Another –– very, very different –– podcast I really enjoyed recently is Citations Needed. It explores the intersection of media, PR and power. The episode that got me into it was the one on Trumpwashing. The notion being peddled by the conservative and neoliberal establishment that somehow Trump is an abhorrent anomaly in the US political system, rather than it’s very id.

Newsletter

Quartz Obsession. I know it might seem weird to recommend a newsletter in a newsletter, but Quartz Obsession is absolutely great. Every day at 4pm you get a ridiculously detailed and interesting deep dive into one topic. The newsletter features content snippets like charts, statistics, videos cards, text, quizzes, quotes, timelines or polls. According to Jessanne Collins, editor of Quartz Obsession, “There’s a sense of news-cycle fatigue, which can offer an important gap for media products to fill. There’s a hunger for smart, relevant, interesting coverage that’s not regurgitated and not the same news day to day.” Sounds great, right? There are only so many articles you can read analyzing a Trump tweet. Treat yourself to something interesting in your inbox everyday. Oh, and one more thing, I’m finding carefully picked newsletters to be a great antidote to social media fatigue. I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything and I don’t have to be glued to Facebook and Twitter all day. Win-win.

An Idea I Want to Run By You

So I've been thinking about this for while, but I'd love to turn this list into a podcast. "Sounds amazing but how?" I hope you're asking. Well, I thought I could have bi-weekly chats with guests (writers, designers, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, etc) and ask them to bring in their top pop culture recommendations and use those as a way into discussing their life and career. I'm lucky enough to live in London, know some people in the industries I'm interested in, and get to travel often, so I'd have access to some interesting people I hope. You'd be getting pop culture recommendations and an insight into the mind of someone interesting. Let me know what you think.  

That’s it for now, as always you can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for regular updates.

You Are Not Alone — A few thoughts for International Mental Health Day by Nasri Atallah

I'm a fan of any initiative to reduce the stigma around talking about and seeking help for mental health issues. So I thought I’d share some stats, and some personal experience.

According to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 65% of people say that they have experienced a mental health problem. More than 40% say they have experienced depression and over 25% say they have experienced panic attacks.

These are all UK figures, I imagine they vary from country to country, but the basic thing to keep in mind is that if you’re feeling anxious or depressed — or dealing with other forms of mental health issues — you are most definitely not alone. You’re probably not the only one with these issues in the room you're sitting in right now.

I’ve been in little cycles of psychoanalytic therapy in the past (which didn’t really do it for me, and no two cases are the same, so it might work for you. Doing research on this helps a lot), but most recently I went through a cycle of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

What triggered the need to go into therapy earlier this year? Well I was having regular and sustained panic attacks on the Tube and in crowded places, something that has never happened to me before. Anxiety is a normal part of the human experience, and it can even be useful. But when anxiety starts to dictate behaviour, thinking and decisions then it’s time to look for help. So when I started retreating into my home and avoiding places I normally love, I knew it was time to do something.

Anxiety is a combination of thoughts, feelings, physical symptoms and behaviours. So it’s really something you want to deal with as soon as you can. And don’t think your case is silly. I thought mine was silly. Most of my anxiety, believe it or not, was pretty much directly related to Brexit and Trump. Looking back at my emails, I realize I reached out to my local mental health service in November, right after the election. I suddenly became overwhelmingly concerned with my own well-being, that of my family, that of the world at large. I became convinced everyone around me in the world was a raging racist who wanted me dead. My logical mind knew that was not the case, but it couldn’t do anything about the ball holding my chest hostage, the ringing in my ears or the tremor in my hands. I felt stupid walking into a doctor's office and telling them I was scared of Donald Trump and his supporters while I lived in a leafy bit of Camden.

But he walked me through it, and told me to never second-guess my anxiety. Every single mental health issue is important, because it is important to YOU. Never ever think what you’re feeling is silly or undeserving of attention.

I’m lucky enough to live in the UK, so I got great support on the NHS, and elected to go to a group therapy session once a week for six weeks rather than have one-on-ones with a doctor. Something about the group attracted me, the fact that there would be a heightened level of empathy and a shared vulnerability. And CBT is a great technique. Within no time I had tools to manage my anxiety. And that’s an important thing to keep in mind. It never goes away, it is something you manage.

At the beginning of the 6 weeks we were asked to write our biggest fear about the therapy on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope and hand it to our counsellors. They’d give it back to us six weeks later. When I got my piece of paper back, I opened the envelope having forgotten what I'd written down.

I looked down at the Post-It it said: “I hope getting better doesn’t change who I am”.

It felt like it had been written by someone else. “What a silly thing to be scared about” I thought to myself. But I smiled about it, happy about how far I’d come in such a short time.

I'm happy to chat with anyone going through feelings of anxiety and happy to share some of the documents I have from the CBT sessions if someone is curious (but please see a therapist, the documents are only helpful as an indication of what you could get out of seeking help).

If you live somewhere that has great healthcare, by all means make the most of it. If you live somewhere like Lebanon or the US where healthcare is considered a luxury, please seek out help nonetheless. I know it’s expensive, but the tools it gives you will change your life. Look into the different therapies beforehand so you choose the right path for you.

And remember, we are quite literally all in this together.

Cover Image by Brendan George Ko

I'll be writing a novel at the Faber Academy for the next six months by Nasri Atallah

Today I start a six-month intensive course called “Writing A Novel’ at the Faber Academy in Bloomsbury. This doesn't come out of nowhere. I’ve toyed with the idea of joining a proper writing course for about a decade. I’ve spent hours scrolling through MFA program sites at NYU, Iowa, the University of East Anglia. Every year at about the same time, I’ll spend hours fantasizing about it. And then I’ll talk myself out of it. “It’s not the right time to put life on hold for a Masters”, I’ll tell myself. Or “it’s too expensive”. Or “I can’t move to New York at my age”. I’ll find something, anything, to walk away from the idea.

The truth is, I’ve always been petrified. I have loved reading and writing since I was a child. Given how I grew up, it was inevitable. It’s been the only consistent through-line in my life. And the fear is that a course like this might tell me that writing doesn’t love me back. It could tell me that I'm being delusional in those little moments where I accept this might be something I’m good at. So yeah, petrified.

But, as I creep up on my 35th birthday, I think I know how to transform my own fear and anxiety into something useful. So I applied to this course, after a couple of years of hesitation, I got in and I head to my first workshop today. I will be studying under Richard Skinner, who heads up the program and is the author of The Red Dancer (Faber & Faber), amongst others.

Even though I write regularly (bits and pieces in The Guardian, GQ, Brownbook and my first book Our Man in Beirut), this is the first time I'm being serious about a novel. I've been toying with ideas for a while, but I realize I need structural help and, well, an all-round education. So I've decided to put in the time and money to do that with the most dedicated fiction educators in London. 

I will be taking the course alongside my day-job at Keeward & Bookwitty, and that is how it is designed be taken. Everyone I have spoken to who has been on the course has done it alongside a very demanding job. So I guess the title of this post is misleading: I won’t technically be writing the novel at the Faber Academy, but I'll be writing it on the tube, in planes, in every waking hour where I'm not working on something else. 

I don’t expect to come out of it with a bestseller — although that would be nice. What I do expect to come out with is a solid final draft of a story I care about, and hopefully someone who believes in that same story (an agent, publisher, fellow writer). More than anything, I hope to come away with a community of peers who share the same hopes and fears that I do about taking their writing seriously. And most of all, as SJ Watson put it in his comments on the course that made him a literary star, I want to walk away with what he calls the ‘permission to think of yourself as a writer.’

A bit about the Faber Academy’s track record from the Evening Standard

“The six-month Writing a Novel course run by the Faber Academy, is fast gaining a reputation as UK publishing’s Fame Academy. Since the creative writing school, an offshoot of the world-famous publishing house, opened its doors in 2009, 62 graduates have gone on to secure publishing deals. Its bestselling alumni include SJ Watson (Before I Go to Sleep), Rachel Joyce (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry), Renée Knight (Disclaimer), Laline Paull (The Bees) and Joanna Cannon (The Trouble with Goats and Sheep).

[...] Not even the University of East Anglia’s MA, the UK’s best-established creative writing course since the 1970s (Booker winners Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and Anne Enright, as well as 2017 Baileys winner Naomi Alderman, studied there), or the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the world-celebrated literary launch pad featured in the fourth series of Girls, can claim an equivalent hit rate over the same period. ”