Category Archives: The Writer’s Life

Once upon a Time…

Standard

“Media are major industries, generating profits and employment, they provide us with most of our information about the political process, and they offer us ideas, images and representations (both factual and fiction) that inevitably shape our view of reality.” (David Buckingham, Media Education)

I immigrated to the United States in the fall of 1990.  Iraq invaded our adopted country of Kuwait (my family was originally from Palestine) in August of that summer and after weeks of fleeing and general bureaucratic drama we finally landed in little Rhode Island, making us refugees twice in three generations.

The most memorable part (even though there were many) of leaving the only home I ever knew in Kuwait was the fact that I was only allowed to bring one toy and one book along on that journey.  This was a tall order, an only child and grandchild who (until then), but been lavished with every toy, craft, and Barbie dream house set available in the 80’s.  I spurned the cabbage patch kids and Barbie bedroom set for the soft and cuddly panda bear I aptly named Dabdoob. (Doob is Arabic for bear).

The infamous Dabdoob posing with a photo of my youngest child

The infamous Dabdoob posing with a photo of my youngest child

I provided emotional support to poor little Dabdoob (he was a bit guileless in his young years) on the journey out of Kuwait; military checkpoints, arid desert heat, custody battles, embassy lines, patriarchy, you know the usual…and the main way I did that was by reading to him.

The book I chose was my favorite at the time, Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid.  Now, before we get any farther, I need to clarify this was NOT the Disney version.  Happily ever after was ambiguous for the Little Mermaid, who ended up essentially sacrificing her life for that of her love, the prince.  You can read this version Here. It was clear that even at that young age, I already had deeply entrenched ideas about gender, female power (or lack of it), and societal expectations.

A mermaid has not an immortal soul, nor can she obtain one unless she wins the love of a human being. On the power of another hangs her eternal destiny.

I mean you may as well take out “mermaid” and replace it with female here and take it from there.

Unseen she kissed the forehead of her bride, and fanned the prince, and then mounted with the other children of the air to a rosy cloud that floated through the aether

Yup, here she is, giving it all up so that the prince can have this other lady while she floated through the aether until she can earn an immortal soul…

anyone wanna tell her they are other fish in the sea...?!

anyone wanna tell her they are other fish in the sea…?!

 

Well, needless to say, Dabdoob was totally taken by it, but I wasn’t buying any of it. I liked my princesses strong and loud with big badass hair but it would be another twenty years before Hollywood and the general media caught up.  At least it kept us occupied while my mom replenished our water supply in the intense August heat, or when we ran out of gas on the outskirts of Bagdad.  The familiar story lulled us to sleep in the back of my mom’s read Honda at the desert sky darkened and filled with stars.

Flash forward a couple months in America, I found myself repeating first grade since I had zero English. I have vivid memories of my teacher being really nice and patient. For one of our projects that year she had us write stories.  My oral English was fine, but I hadn’t mastered reading or writing yet.  She let me tell her my story while she transcribed my words for me to copy down later and this was the result:

The Poor Princess

The Poor Princess.  Wait? Is she levatating?

 

 

And here is the story page by page:

 

dat penminship tho

dat penmanship tho

 

story-2

 

What's better than a cookie eating monster vanqushing princess?

What’s better than a cookie eating monster vanquishing princess?

 

story-3

 

story-4

 

happily-ever-after

Big hair dont care

 

last

The end.

The princess didn’t need anyone’s help, just her own ability to eat a magic cookie. BAM!

In 2nd grade I created a princess that was also able to enlist the help of forest creatures and the natural environment to kick invading colonial forces (okay, an evil witch) out of her land- er, castle.

I wrote this one is 2nd grade!

There was ALWAYS a princess...

The princess was made a refugee, wonder where I got that idea from?! Ha!

 

My stories have gotten more complex over the years (probably not by much!) But the ideas of going against the general or popular grain of social expectations, especially ones reflected in the media remains at the heart of my writing. Dabdoob is not impressed though, he doesn’t like making waves.

Before the war, surrounded by my bday loot!

Before the war, surrounded by my bday loot!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Short Story Research: Creatures!

Standard

Who doesn’t love a good creature story?

classic mermaid folks

just a classic mermaid here folks

Nothing gets my imagination fired up like a tale involving mysterious creatures.  Below are some of the creatures I have been researching for some upcoming story ideas.  Enjoy!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cackatrice

-Can cause death with a single glance

-Eyes can turn you to stone

-Protection involves-carrying a mirror

-breath is poisonous

-Enemy is a weasel

Cackatrice

The Regal Cackatrice

The Soucouyant

The soucouyant is a shape-shifting Caribbean folklore character who appears as a reclusive old woman by day. By night, she strips off her wrinkled skin and puts it in a mortar. In her true form, as a fireball she flies across the dark sky in search of a victim. The soucouyant can enter the home of her victim through any sized hole like cracks, crevices and keyholes.

Soucouyants suck people’s blood from their arms, legs and soft parts while they sleep leaving blue-black marks on the body in the morning. If the soucouyant draws too much blood, it is believed that the victim will either die and become a soucouyant or perish entirely, leaving her killer to assume her skin. The soucouyant practices black magic. Soucouyants trade their victims’ blood for evil powers with Bazil, the demon who resides in the silk cotton tree.

soucouyant

Lovely Soucouyant

To expose a soucouyant, one should heap rice around the house or at the village cross roads as the creature will be obligated to gather every grain, grain by grain (a herculean task to do before dawn) so that she can be caught in the act. To destroy her, coarse salt must be placed in the mortar containing her skin so she perishes, unable to put the skin back on. Belief in soucouyants is still preserved to an extent in some Caribbean islands, including Dominica, St. Lucia, Haiti, Suriname and Trinidad.[4]

 

The Kappa

The Kappa

These scaly-skinned humanoids hail from Japanese folklore. The name roughly means “water-child,” and myth has them inhabiting Japan’s ponds and rivers. The hairless plate on the kappa’s head carries water, the source of their power. Sometimes they’re tricksters. Sometimes they’re killers. Either way, kappa make excellent stories.

The Kelpi

The Kelpi

Oooh! A mer-horse!  The Kelpi

You’ll find kelpie myths near water too, but only in Scotland. Their names are associated with horses, and this is their native form. But they’re just as likely to take on the guise of a human. That makes it easier to lure unsuspecting men and maidens into the water.  Read more on the Kelpie:  HERE

 

The Ichneumom

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 35–36, 37): ” The ichneumon is known for its willingness to fight to the death with the snake. To do this, it first covers itself with several coats of mud, drying each coat in the sun to form a kind of armor. When ready it attacks, turning away from the blows it receives until it sees an opportunity, then with its head held sideways it goes for its enemy’s throat. The ichneumon also attacks the crocodile in a similar manner.”
Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 2:37): “That which is produced from the smell of this beast is both healthful and poisonous in food.”  Ewwww!

The Ichneumon

Our old pal the Ichneumon

Leonardo da Vinci [16th century CE] (“The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” edited by Jean Paul Richter):” This animal is the mortal enemy of the asp.

The Asp

The Asp

It is a native of Egypt and when it sees an asp near its place, it runs at once to the bed or mud of the Nile and with this makes itself muddy all over, then it dries itself in the sun, smears itself again with mud, and thus, drying one after the other, it makes itself three or four coatings like a coat of mail. Then it attacks the asp, and fights well with him, so that, taking its time it catches him in the throat and destroys him.”

The one and only Cthulu

……and of course I live in Providence so I can’t leave out Cthulhu!  According to Wikipedia, Cthulu is considered a Great Old One within the pantheon of Lovecraftian cosmic entities. The creature has since been featured in numerous popular culture references.Cthulhu’s anatomy is described as part octopus, part man, and part dragon.

Cthulhu

Dead but dreaming

I wonder what lurks beneath these waters…?!! hmmm?!

Providence River

Providence River

 

I hope these inspire me as I set out to create my own Providence River monster! My wheels are turning; More info about our local gator: HERE

 

Short Story Reseach: Intro and Scituate Reservoir

Standard

For the next few months, as a way to get organized and have a place for all this randomness I’ve been collecting, I am going to post various articles related to my short story research.  Hopefully this results in encouraging some forward momentum for my writing projects and engagement with a wider community on inspiration and the artistic process.

Short Story ideas? Below are two Providence Journal articles of interest. The first covers the nearly forgotten history of the human cost of the Scituate Reservoir, our state’s main source of drinking water. The second is about some atmospheric anomalies (um? strange, huh?) that made little Scituate a vital piece of America’s war effort in WWII. Not sure how I will incorporate this information yet, but the wheels are turning!

Scituate Reservoir

Scituate Reservoir

SCITUATE, R.I. — On an April day in 1915, Scituate residents went about their daily routines checking for the mail wagon, plowing fields, stopping in at Fred Jacques’ Richmond village store, pausing perhaps, to discuss the weather.What they got that day was certainly a grim forecast, but it had little to do with the springtime skies.Weeping through the ringing crank telephone was the storekeeper’s daughter Vera bearing stormy news: The Rhode Island General Assembly had passed a bill that would drastically change the face of their town, news that would have an effect on a large portion of its 3,342 residents. A reservoir, to provide water for the city of Providence, was to be constructed through the heart of Scituate. It would eventually erase five decades-old villages — Rockland, Ashland, South Scituate, Richmond and Kent, and portions of other villages.Some 1,195 homes, churches, mills, shops, schools and farms — even hundreds of graves — would be moved, torn up, demolished. Many of the homes and farms to be erased had been in families for generations, and the fear and anger, historical accounts say, tell of townspeople protecting their property at gunpoint, while other residents took their own lives, unable to witness the loss of homes and livelihoods. Some people packed up and moved elsewhere rather than witness the newly formed Providence Water Supply Board blot out their villages.But those 10 years, 1915 to 1925, were documented and hundreds of photographs were actually shot by the Providence Water Supply Board before buildings, many large, ornate and handsome, were torn down.

Lost Villages of Scituate

Lost Villages of Scituate

Some 1,500 of those photographs can be found at the Providence City Archives, notes city archivist Paul Campbell, with 30 presently on exhibit at the North Scituate Public Library through July 1 in a project called “Before the Reservoir: Pictures of Buildings That Are No More.”“These photos showcase some beautiful architecture, but also capture some of the reactions that people had in this traumatic event,” said Rachael Juskuv, North Scituate Library’s reference librarian and organizer of the project, which captures aspects of village life before the reservoir. “A hired photographer,” she said “traveled to each house and had to explain to each person what he was doing.”The exhibit marks the beginnings 100 years ago of this major change in Scituate, attracting a good bit of attention at the library, where Juskuv said most people are aware of the villages that disappeared under today’s large stretch of reservoir, but given the passage of time and residents, the reality of it is growing dim.

Fortunately, in the 1970s and ’80s, several residents realized that memories and facts regarding the 1915-25 town event would be lost if those who remembered didn’t document what they knew. Several films, videos, books and projects came together as a result, such as a 1988 Scituate Lions Club video, seven hours of slides and memories; a 1985 graduate course video; individual town histories, including a 1981 cookbook, illustrated by Marion King Wieselquist .More recently, several “Images of America” series books have been published, one written in 1998 by the Heritage Room Committee called “Scituate,” and another, “The Lost Villages of Scituate,” compiled in 2009 by Raymond A. Wolf, 73, a town native who recalled his late mother lamenting the loss of her village of Rockland.“She never got over it,” he said. His mother, Helen O. Larson, died at age 94 in 2005.“The pain and agony of seeing her dad’s mill torn down, her school torn down, the store where they shopped torn down — many people she never saw again,” he said of those who moved on. His books contain dozens of the photos taken by the Providence Water Supply Board, including one of his mother’s family farm.

Unknown-2

Haunting photos of large mill complexes and rambling homes with wrap-around porches are in his book and in the library exhibit.“My father said some of the houses that were moved were sold for $50,” said Esther Tidswell, 78, a lifelong Scituate resident and daughter of the late local historian Frank Spencer. It was her father, born in 1908, who devoted many hours to recording his Scituate recollections for the Lions Club video.Scituate native Wayne K. Durfee, 90, now of Narragansett, a retired University of Rhode Island professor, recalled the reservoir as “just being there” by the time he was born in 1924. It became a place in his boyhood for youngsters to sneak a swim on a hot day, hoping “the city men” patrolling it wouldn’t catch them. Both Tidswell and Durfee pronounce the town name as Scit-u-ate, as they say it was pronounced when they were children. Durfee even recalls the reservoir being referred to as the “reser-voi.” And he said he regrets not paying more attention to his mother, a schoolteacher, when she spoke of local history. But much of it can be found in Scituare libraries, including a 1975 newspaper article written by the late mapmaker and historian George E. Matteson, who captured in an essay that 1915 day, April 21 as he has it listed, when the news came to the village store.These 100 years later, the Scituate Reservoir stands as a stunning surprise when it appears beyond the hundreds of grown-up evergreen trees planted to protect the watershed area.

According to historical information emailed by Lauren DeRuisseau, public information director at Providence Water, the “reservoir system and treatment plant on the north branch of the Pawtuxet River in the town of Scituate still provides water to most of the State of Rhode Island … The original treatment plant was state-of-the-art at the time of its construction. The plant was considered to be among the most technologically advanced of its day, and for many years was the only plant of its type in New England.”While many people suffered great loss a century ago, some, Raymond Wolf included, say in the long run, the addition of the reservoir helped maintain the rural character of Scituate and, he asks, “what would Rhode Island do without it?” Sixty percent of Rhode Island residents get their water from it.

__________________

AR-150809367

Global eavesdroppers: In World War II, dozens of radio operators in Scituate dialed into enemy conversations worldwide

seventy years ago this week Rhode Islanders swarmed into the streets with other joyous Americans celebrating the end of World War II. It would be three more months before the world learned of Rhode Island’s top-secret role in defeating Germany and Japan.
It was a tale of espionage, now virtually forgotten, centered in, of all places, an old farmhouse in Scituate.
The clandestine mission that went on up there on Chopmist Hill from 1941 through 1945 not only helped defeat the enemy, historians say, but brought to Rhode Island the representatives of a new organization called the United Nations, looking for a headquarters location.

“They even had plans to build an airstrip if the United Nations ended up here,” says Scituate Town Historian Shirley Arnold. “Can you imagine that? In Scituate?”
No one knows the story anymore, she says. “All the old-timers are gone.”
There was nothing remarkable to see on Chopmist Hill in 1940 when, a year before the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor and bring America into the war, a Boston radio technician by the name of Thomas B. Cave drove up Darby Road.
England was already at war with Germany, and Cave knew it was inevitable that the United States, already fortifying Great Britain with supplies and weaponry, would enter, too.
Cave worked for the Intelligence Division of the Federal Communications Commission, charged with finding a hilltop in southern New England that could serve as one of several listening posts to detect radio transmissions from German spies in the United States.
What he discovered up at William Suddard’s 183-acre farm was nothing short of miraculous.
Because of some geographic and atmospheric anomalies, Cave reported he could clearly intercept radio transmissions coming from Europe — even South America.
As a Providence Journal story revealed after the war, military officials were initially skeptical. They wanted Cave to prove his remarkable claims that from Chopmist Hill he could pinpoint the location of any radio transmission in the country within 15 minutes.
The Army set up a test. Without telling the FCC, it began broadcasting a signal from the Pentagon. From atop the 730-foot hill in the rural corner of Scituate, it took Cave all of seven minutes to zero in on the signal’s origin.
In March 1941, the Suddards obligingly moved out of their 14-room farmhouse, leasing the property to the FCC.
Workers set off erecting scores of telephone poles across the properly, purposely sinking them deep to keep them below the tree line. They strung 85,000 feet of antenna wire — the equivalent of 16 miles — around the poles and wired it into the house.
They fenced off the perimeter, erected floodlights and established armed patrols to keep people out. They filled six rooms with banks of sensitive radio receivers, transmitters and directional finders.
Then the FCC turned loose a 40-member spy team of men and women to listen in on the world —although none of them knew the full extent of the information they were cultivating.
The interceptors kept tabs on more than 400 different enemy radio transmitting stations broadcasting on any given day. They ferreted out secret low-frequency transmissions hidden under the beams of commercial radio stations abroad.
Much of what they intercepted were coded messages that were then recorded and sent electronically to Washington’s “black chamber” for decoding.

Shaping the war
The Chopmist Hill listening post soon became the largest and most successful of a nationwide network of 13 similar installations. Its ability to eavesdrop on German radio transmissions in North Africa, for instance, was so precise that technicians could actually listen in on tank-to-tank communications within Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s infamous Afrika Korps.
The Germans’ battlefield strategy was then relayed to the British, who under Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery eventually defeated Rommel at El Alamein.
The Chopmist station is also credited with saving the Queen Mary, the pride of England’s maritime fleet, as it was about to sail with 14,000 troops from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Australia.
20020525-24_pole
The station intercepted orders from Germany to the Nazi’s submarine wolf pack operating in the south Atlantic to sink the ship. The radio station alerted the British, who ordered the ship to change course.
Cave, who supervised the Chopmist Hill station, told The Journal in November 1945 that virtually all the wartime messages sent by German spies working in the United States were intercepted in Scituate.
Often, those German spies were allowed to continue operating so counterintelligence officers could run down their sources of information.
One of Scituate station’s most important jobs was to intercept German weather reports from Central Europe.
The reports, broadcast at a frequency undetectable in England, flowed easily across the Atlantic to Chopmist Hill. The information proved vital for British bombing raids over Germany.
Occasionally the station assisted in air and sea rescue operations. On one occasion a plane carrying actress Kay Francis got lost off the coast of Florida en route home from a USO tour. No other radio installation on the East Coast had picked up the pilot’s distress calls, but the Chopmist Hill station did, guiding the plane home safely.
In 1981, George Sterling, who had been the FCC commissioner during the war, told a Providence Journal reporter that he never understood why the United States was caught by surprise in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor since the Chopmist Hill listening station had for months been intercepting Japanese messages in the Pacific indicating an impending attack.
Once war broke out, the station thwarted Japanese attempts to bomb the United States using unmanned hot-air balloons laden with explosives. The Japanese had placed radio transmitters on the balloons to track them as they rode the jet stream across the Pacific in the hope they reached the West Coast of America. Many did, and the Scituate eavesdroppers heard the balloon signals. They relayed the information to Washington. U.S. fighter planes intercepted and destroyed the balloons.
Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, a week after Hitler committed suicide in a bunker in Berlin. The Japanese agreed to surrender on Aug. 14, 1945, five days after the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb, on Nagasaki.
UN takes a look
The remarkable radio capabilities of Chopmist Hill captured world attention after the war when, in November 1945, the FCC permitted a Providence Journal reporter to visit the monitoring station.
Two months after her story ran, seven inspectors from the United Nations Organization were climbing an icy fire lookout tower on Chopmist Hill and scanning the rural landscape below for what might become their new headquarters.
The Jan. 26, 1946, issue of The Providence Journal carried the lead headline: “Chopmist Hill District is rated One of Top Potential Locations for UNO Quarters by Committee.”
The story described how inspectors were seriously considering the site as its headquarters because of area’s unmatched capability to reach every corner of the globe by radio.
“This is a possible site,” Dr. Stoyan Gavrilovic, of the Balkans and chairman of the inspection committee, told reporters during the tour. “It meets most of the technical points. It is good.”
During the tour the inspectors went into a room in the Suddard farmhouse where on one bank of radio equipment signs hung listing the cities of Lisbon, Madrid and Cairo — the cities the radios were tuned to. One of the inspectors asked Cave, directing the tour, what was the range of the radio station?
“Well, Sydney, Australia,” replied Cave. “That’s about the farthest place there is.”
The inspectors said they were also looking for a wide tract of land to build an airport as well as a headquarters. Cave said the site offered about 50 square miles of property spanning Scituate, Foster and Glocester that could be available, although about 1,000 people would have to be relocated. The inspectors were in town for only a couple of days before heading off to inspect possible sites around Worcester and Boston.

In the end, the United Nations officials settled on New York City after John D. Rockefeller Jr. offered them $8.5 million to purchase a six-block tract of land along the East River.
Today the Suddard house still stands behind the same ornate stone wall it did more than 70 years ago. But the hill around it, once mostly pasture and scrub, is covered with tall trees and dotted with new homes.
The house, privately owned again, reveals few clues to what happened there the last time the world went to war, save for a tall, thin radio tower in the yard, now covered in ivy, reaching for the clouds.

Unknown-3

more info: http://www.quahog.org/factsfolklore/index.php?id=5

and: http://www.quahog.org/factsfolklore/

On Inspiration: Making Space for Creative Thought Daily

Standard

Writing daily is tricky while caring for children, a home, a partner and oh yeah myself!  But thinking creatively and finding inspiration doesn’t have to be…in fact, its deeply necessary and essential to an artistic mind.  blog picBelow are some quotes that I’ve kept in my “inspiration” list.  This is a living document, something that is constantly growing and changing over time.  I enjoy collecting  these tidbits, images, quotes, or thoughts for various reasons including simply reminding me that I am still immersed in the writing life, even when I don’t have a moment to write.  This helps jump-start my writing or just makes me remember the joy of creation, particularly on days when that’s furthest from my mind. Enjoy!

This is a classic one for me since discovering it in college:  “The first act of the conquered is to imitate their conqueror.” ~Ibn Khaldoun

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’ve always been a fan of political poetry/spoken word and this one introduced me to this new writer as well:

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
~Warsan Shire

LAMAR1

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You were raised to believe anything was possible, but in a threatening sort of way that meant seemingly inanimate objects could pose very real danger.  ~Edward Gorey

I accidentally discovered Gorey after buying a desk calendar… but what a nice discovery indeed.  One day I’ll visit the Gorey house!

Unknown

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You were born for these transitional times. You came to create. You are here to make a difference. You are a player in a grand experiment. You are a change agent. You are an emissary of our New Earth…”

Astrological thoughts to inspire deed as well as character creation for a fantasy novel…!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Any observation or information about pre-1948 Palestine always gets me:

“There is little evidence of the people who lived here because their houses were razed to the ground after 1948 by the Israeli government, but blue Mesopotamian irises continue to grow on the grounds of the village cemetery. The custom was to bury the dead with three irises: one placed on the head, one on the stomach, and one by the feet. Today, the succulent buds poke through the earth of the cemetery of Sar’a, as nature continues to both witness and renew.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Darwish is the man:

And I have vowed
To fashion from my eyelashes a kerchief,
And upon it to embroider verses for your eyes,
And a name, when watered by a heart that dissolves in chanting,
Will make the sylvan arbours grow.
I shall write a phrase more precious than honey and kisses:
‘Palestinian she was and still is’.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A remembrance of the sacred is key
 This is not a world that sustains our models of economic growth and consumer desires.
This is rather a world of wonder and magic, and a world that needs our attention

Unknown-3

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Writing ideas/advice:

“In short stories there’s more permission to be elliptical. You can have image-logic, or it’s almost like a poem in that you can come to a lot of meanings within a short space.” – Karen Russell

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“A short story works to remind us that if we are not sometimes baffled and amazed and undone by the world around us, rendered speechless and stunned, perhaps we are not paying close enough attention”— George Saunders, in an interview with Ben Marcus on Granta, quoting Marcus’s introduction to New American Stories
(via poetsandwriters)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And finally, from the writer Salman Rushdie’s new book Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

Unknown-1

“To be thin skinned, far-sighted, and loose tongued, he said, is to feel too sharply, see too clearly, speak too freely.  It is to be vulnerable to the world when the world believes itself invulnerable, to understand its mutability when it thinks itself immutable, to sense what’s coming before the others sense it, to know what the barbarian future is tearing down the gates of the present while others cling to the decadent, hollow past.  If our children are fortunate they will only inherit your ears, but regrettably, as they are undeniably mine, they will probably think too much too soon, and hear too much too early, including things that are not permitted to be thought or heard.” 

Unknown-2

Lonely: Writing Inspiration

Standard

“I love you even when you don’t notice…”

post industrial art with a message

post industrial art with a message

 

I was recently asked:

Q: Why did that particular tag resonate so much to me that I used it with my essay? ( We Are Providence)

A: I love this tag for many reasons. As a writer, I think a lot about voice and perspective. This tag made me think about what kind of character could be saying this. Who, or even what, would martyr themselves to the degree this tag is expressing? Not only does this line hint at the common literary motif of martyrdom, it inspires my imagination when I take in the context.

Sunset in Providence

That building, abandoned for so many years, sitting on a waterfront that has seen everything from slave trading vessels to world class shipping fleets… right up the bay a19th century landfill is now transformed to a environmental education center.

Save The Bay in Providence

Save The Bay in Providence

An intricate waterway where fresh water meets the sea yet its burdened with waste and pollution. It’s this juxtaposition between nature and industry that has always resonated with me as a writer.

The tag raises all sorts of questions for me like, what kind of place is this that keeps on loving us even when we don’t notice? Even after years of environmental degradation, abuse of the natural resources, industrial sludge… and still, love remains? How telling of our potential for renewal. For transformation. How powerful.

The speaker could be the land or could be that lonely abandoned factory, trying to get our attention. There are so many possibilities there for us to envision. What sort of abusive, ill balanced relationship is this that we have with our Earth? With the city of Providence? It will keep on loving us even when we don’t notice it.

red bridge- Providence

Red Bridge- Providence

Isn’t the drive behind loving and being in love being seen? To be known? Still, there she is. Willing to forgo even that most basic recognition. We have dumped, we have polluted, we have neglected, we have gentrified… but still she loves us.

Gotta love Earth...

Gotta love Earth…

 

Tackling Nonfiction: Discovering Narrative Medicine

Standard

I’ve shifted to writing nonfiction lately with the hopes of creating a memoir but it hasn’t been the same process as writing fiction. With fiction there is a freedom of imagination, of creating from scratch that doesnt work the same way with nonfiction. I recently read that in order to tell if your story is a novel or a memoir you must ask yourself: Did change come from change of circumstance or from within? This didn’t help much since it was both for me…I know that a memorable voice is most important in memoir and in writing nonfiction, I need to find the hidden patterns in my memories.

I’ve kept a journal consistently since elementary school, but it wasn’t till attending graduate school for creative writing that I finally opened myself up to the possibility of writing longer works of nonfiction.

images-2

I am currently working on a collection of various non-fiction essays, ranging in topic from my study abroad experience in Egypt, memories of my grandmother, my first year in the United States, and my shifting relationship with the city of Providence.  I hope to have most- if not all- of these essays completed and out into the world by the fall.. but the more important part has been sitting down and writing out these long-held thoughts and memories.

Writing in general is a long, arduous process nevermind writing nonfiction… the act of processing memories in a way that promotes a coherent story is even harder, but very necessary.  As I am sure folks have heard before, writing is an addiction…  If I am not writing, I pretty much lose my shit…!

Writing is how I make sense of my world, process my emotions and experience order in an otherwise scrambled day. This year, I was introduced to the concept of Narrative Medicine and after looking more into it, fell in love with the concept.  Originally designed for medical students as a way to sort through their experiences as well better support their patients, it has grown to be an organized program of study at medical schools such as Columbia in New York City.

images-1

Narrative Medicine aims not only to validate the experience of the patient, but also to encourage creativity and self-reflection in the physician.  Sort of serving as healing the healer…

“Our approach begins with the exploration of observational skills. We believe that there is an extraordinary language within the visual world that is often perceived unconsciously; when properly understood, this language can potentially offer new depths of information about and access to the clinical experience.”

Narrative medicine is the encompassing of our awareness of health and disease into a storied structure. We embed the illness into the life story of the person in such a way that we discover meaning and purpose in both the illness and the experience of recovery.  It’s hard, sometimes, to give a simple definition, but in a diagnostic sense, the label of “sickness” becomes secondary to the life of the person who has a particular sickness. In order for a person to get well, there has to be a story, one that everyone believes, that leads the individual back to health.”

After reading that I though about why I write- certainly, to realign or lead me back to emotional health.  What a great reminder to keep grinding and just keep….writing!

images

Read more about narrative medicine here : http://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/narrative-medicine-heals-bodies-and-souls.aspx#ixzz32p8bppGW

Frequency: Tuning into What Works for my Writing

Standard

Creating and balancing a writing life is one of the most challenging part of being a writer in the world.  Now that its been about 2 years post-MFA, I have some reflection space to think about my writing life and how it has changed since MFA:  During my time in graduate school, I was familiar with a certain sense of frequency-  just write, write, write, produce! oh! and know that you will suck cause your new/young, you may as well give up now…I recognize that the high intensity structure of a low residency MFA might not have been the best option for how I learn and develop as a writer.

images-3

It was still a valuable experience! I learned so much and still feel connected to the community I built there, but I couldn’t help but feel as though it was this frantic, drop everything and step out of your life thing (where we gathered for 10 days of work-shopping, reading and seminar).

It was wonderfully all-consuming in that it felt like a writing vacation, but once returning to my normal life, it was difficult to bridge those realities. I know that a huge piece was the fact that I was very recently divorced, single mother of a one year old.  I struggled through the emotional ups and downs and financial difficulties. In one way this made my writing residencies super important as they served as my constant, my time to shift my focus back to the big picture of my life as a creative being.  But, on the downside, it felt like a huge shift post MFA, I started a  new middle school teaching job where it felt close to impossible to maintain a writing flow (other than my blog, and even that was scant).  At that point, I felt strongly about shifting my awareness  towards rebuilding  my personal and emotional life.  Writing most certainly was still at the cornerstones of that, but I simply no longer jived with the culture of guilt I built around myself for not meeting accountability deadlines.

images-2

I became my worse enemy, would feel badly if I didn’t complete a project or submit to a million places that way fellow grads might have been doing.  Thankfully, after a hard, but necessary dry summer (dry, as in lack of writing production), I found that I needed that time to slow down and listen to  my new life frequency. Jobs and ideas shifted, schedules changed, priories reordered.  Recently, I found a local community based writing course that fits perfectly with my schedule and needs.  I get to be back to work-shopping peers, producing writing, all in a more realistic time frame.

images-1

The name of that community organization is (of course) Frequency.  I didn’t read into the name and what it might represent to me till just recently, when I felt like I was finally tuning into what works best for me and my writing now. For example, one of our in class writing exercises was making a list of life moments or events that we either experienced or witnessed that held a lot of weight for us and managed to stay with us or define us over the years.  I began like I normally would listing:  immigration, war, transitioning to life in the US, learning English, changing schools….Then remembering my current writing project ( which is based on what I would want to read and holds tons of inspiration for me) I stopped and made a new list right next to it:

The time the Providence River Cove was uncovered: http://www.urbanophile.com/2012/04/10/providence-the-rust-belts-most-northeasterly-point-by-nicholas-cataldo/

Picture-9

When police discovered a secret apartment illegally built in the mall: http://consumerist.com/2007/10/03/man-builds-secret-apartment-at-mall-gets-away-with-it-for-four-years/

Unknown-1

living under the mall...

living under the mall…

The gator released into the Providence River:   http://www.ibtimes.com/alligator-living-river-and-four-foot-alligator-found-home-819269

Unknown

hmmm? a gator?

hmmm? a gator?

and so on… I know it might not seem like a big deal to others, but for years, my life has been defined by these huge life events I had no control over as a child.  Now for the first time, I have allowed myself to tune into to other frequencies…

images-4

Check out and support Frequency:  http://frequencywriters.org

The Poem that Made me Want to Write: On Inspiration

Standard

I love reading and learning about those moments that inspired artists to commit to themselves and their art.

It reminds me to keep on, keeping on, that writing has been and will always be my path in the world

What sustains you?

What sustains you?

The following is an article that appears in The Atlantic titled “The Poem That Made Sherman Alexie Want to Drop Everything and Be a Poet” –

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/10/the-poem-that-made-sherman-alexie-want-to-drop-everything-and-be-a-poet/280586/

His words reminded me of those days in college when I was taking any non-western or post-colonial literature class I could.  This was a time I was grasping at straws, hoping desperately to see myself and my experiences reflected in works of literature.  More than that, I needed an affirmation that pursuing a career in writing was not a fantasy for an Arab American woman-That ( thankfully) seems so silly to me now- as evidenced by the ever growing literary presence of amazing Arab American writers, poets, film makers and artists of all stripes- but this was a time when it felt that the entire world, family included- thought I was better off waking up and smelling the teaching degree, aka: a ‘real’ job.

The art of writing sometimes means the art of taking your dreams seriously...

The art of writing sometimes means the art of taking your dreams seriously…

Most, if not all, writers can undoubtedly relate to some sort of economic strain, social acceptance, and lack of self confidence- and this is doubly true of women of color from refugee/immigrant families…

There were many authors/artists that helped spark that inspiration for me; Randa Jarrar, Suhair Hammad, and Joseph Geha to name a few.  But the poem below by Naomi Shihab Nye was undoubtedly that drop-everything-and-write- moment for me:

Making A Fist

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

‘How do you know if you are going to die?’
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
‘When you can no longer make a fist.’

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

Naomi Shihab Nye

nothing but road...

nothing but road…

Of course I related to this first and foremost for the ‘journey out’.  Having fled Kuwait during the Gulf War with my mom as a 6 year old that feeling of ‘traveling for days’ and  ‘watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass’ resonated with me.  As did the ill feeling due to a scarce supply of water and endless hours in the back of a car. I still joke that must be why I love tiny Rhode Island because I get car sick after less than an hour in a moving vehicle!

I write about our great escape here:

https://nowapproachingprovidence.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/just-stay-still/

But most importantly, it was that very specific stubborn tenacity that pushes us to ‘make a fist’ that hit closest to home.  This was how I had experienced being Palestinian in the world, spot on.

clenching

“clenching and opening one small hand”       YES.

So readers, drop me a line.  What inspires you? What reminds you of your purpose? Was it a single piece of art/writing/movie/conversation? Or a series of events?

How do you return to your source?

How do you return to your source?