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Uprising: Zein Sa'dedin’s Affection for the Oxford Comma

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Serviceplan Middle East copywriter on using subtlety within campaigns and throughout her poetry, and creating a platform to celebrate SWANA women, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

Uprising: Zein Sa'dedin’s Affection for the Oxford Comma

With Jordanian roots, Zein Sa'dedin grew up surrounded by all aspects of her cultural heritage, shaping the way she approached both language and creativity. What she describes as a “deep appreciation” for both poetry and music, she says, “In the Arab world, those two are almost synonymous. There’s a sensory fluidity to both that can’t be put in a box and tied neatly with a ribbon. They ebb and flow and change constantly while working on multiple levels at the same time.”

A “super talkative, super curious kid”, Zein loved reading, cherishing the stories she read and going through books at an impressive speed. The opportunity to “zone out” into her imagination was tempting enough for her to take inspiration from what she read, and she began “creating stories and little poems” of her own. She says, “Writing and creativity came pretty naturally and very early on in my life,” even influencing her choice of studies as she embarked on an English literature and creative writing course at the University of St Andrews.

Moving to the UK where she not only completed her bachelor's but her master's as well, Zein explains the experience of delving deeper into her focus on poetry, “The two years I spent getting my MFA were probably the most formative for me as a creative and as just a person so far.” Surrounding herself with both the language and other creative writers on her course, she reflects on how the process gave her a thick skin: “Experimentation was key and we got to be playful with our words on a whole other level. Learning to workshop poems and get feedback also set me up for life. Very little gets under my skin now. You can’t take things personally and be precious about your work when an entire room is pointing out where it falls flat to them.”

Zein relished the ability to consistently develop and grow through the conversations, feedback and experience she gained during her studies. She says, “Most of all though, getting to develop a creative practice around other creatives, learning and growing together, was so fundamental. I’ll treasure that forever and constantly try to recreate other semblances of it wherever I go.” After finishing at university, she returned to Jordan where she began teaching English at a postgraduate level with a local university, while also publishing her own poetry and editing her own literary platform. When the programme ended and there was a moment to reflect, Zein embarked on a change of career. “I decided to switch it up and try my hand at something super creative and super new and started applying. A few great conversations later, my agency believed in me, gave me the job, and brought me out to Dubai straight away. It’s been incredibly interesting and every day is a learning experience.”

Fresh into the industry, Zein began working on a pitch that acclimated her to the pace of adland by getting right into the thick of it. “It was very long hours, a totally new industry, an unfamiliar process. I had very little idea as to what was done to make things happen behind the scenes in the world of advertising. It was a dive into the deep end of the unknown for me, which was just what I needed.” The steep learning curve meant that Zein was able to “watch and learn in real-time” as well as being surrounded by “incredible creatives at the height of their craft.” It’s safe to say that it was certainly a memorable experience.

Reflecting on the initial project she worked on, Zein notes the “team energy and collaborative aspect” of the process. “The back-and-forth that led to the final ideas. I loved it, that the best ideas came about by building off one another. Bouncing your creativity off other people, letting all of your imaginations push each other. It just proves to me that the best kind of work is never solitary, it’s always in collaboration.” And so she learnt her first lesson in the new environment. 

“Don’t get me started on the Oxford comma.” says Zein, “It’s such a small, tiny detail but every time I have to remove it for guideline purposes or whatever, my heart dies just a little.” Pausing for a moment, she continues, “In all seriousness, I want to see more brands taking a step back and committing to making a difference with the power that they have while recognising their limitations too. An ad won’t save the world or end decades of conflict, but there are real steps that can be taken to make something of a difference, whether by driving awareness or platforming marginalised communities with real commitment to enact change. No fluff, no empty slogans, but actual tangible initiatives designed to help real people with very real problems. And that’s up to us to make happen.” 

Working on Bridgestone’s ‘Eyes on Road: Route to Ramadan’ campaign, Zein reflects on a campaign that not only had creativity but as she says, “actually did something.” She continues, “It brought together fleet drivers who would otherwise celebrate Ramadan alone and met them where they were with what they needed. It took what would’ve been a time of loneliness on the road and made it a time of community and celebration. To me, that’s incredibly cool.” Rather than spoon-feeding an audience, similar to her poems, Zein favours subtlety in all its aspects, encouraging trust between the audience. “Leaving out just enough for the reader/audience to connect the dots themselves. It makes them feel so much more involved and connected to the work. If audiences miss out on that “A-ha!” moment, so much is lost. “

When she isn't crafting creative copy, Zein writes poems, “Poetry has been the true love of my life for as long as I can remember, and recently I’ve been a little alienated from it. But I’m clawing my way back, slowly but surely, picking up books, taking metaphors out for a spin, and surrounding myself with words.” But when she isn’t working on her words, she also has a passion for volleyball, getting outside whenever the Dubai heat permits it. On days where she can’t, she either finds herself reading the work of the likes of “Etel Adnan and Frank O’Hara” or indulging her guilty pleasure of watching “trash TV”. Careful to work on herself, she takes the advice of one of her inspirations, Sharon Olds and references a quote she once said when asked about her advice to writers, “Take your vitamins. Exercise. Just work to love yourself as much as you can – not more than the people around you but not so much less,” to which Zein says, “I take that with me and it’s done worlds of good.”

Sharing her passion for poetry, Zein has worked on BAHR // بحر, “an online multilingual literary platform” which published poems, prose and inter/anti-genre work as well as showcasing “creatives in SWANA [South West Asian/ North African region], with a specific focus on marginalised communities.” With the team consisting of just her, she’s firsthand seen the platform grow and the need to support the minority community. “The community it’s built, the love, trust, and grace it continues to receive, make it so infinitely worth it.”

Zein finishes by describing her motivation, “I feel driven by a lot of things. The two biggest factors are my indebtedness to the communities that made me (whether at work, friends, family, poetry, or in life). My desire is to honour and care for them. The second is that I always need to be learning something. If I’m not immersed in learning new things, I get bored. I feel like I’m a bottomless well of curiosity but in a good way. There’s just so much out there to learn and so many people to learn from. It never ends. I find that so exciting.”

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Serviceplan Middle East, Mon, 09 May 2022 15:13:00 GMT