Category Archives: Writing Nonfiction

Once upon a Time…

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“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!

 

 

 

 

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Lonely: Writing Inspiration

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“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…

 

We Are Providence: Featured Essay!

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Learn more about Devon, the “Lonely” tagger and support his campaign: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/lonely-as-i-have-ever-been-providence/x/12087612

One of my essays has recently been featured in Frequency Providence’s first ever anthology, Missing Providence.

Order the Missing Providence Anthology Here! It’s chock full of local talent and great writing:

http://frequencywriters.org/2015/09/09/order-frequencys-anthology/

 

art and the post-industrial city

art and the post-industrial city

“She came from Providence, the one in Rhode Island Where the old world shadows hang heavy in the air She packed her hopes and dreams like a refugee Just as her father came across the sea “

– The Eagles, “The Last Resort”

He lives downtown...

He lives downtown…

 

We Are Providence

Each section of the city of Providence holds magic for me. Mount Pleasant is home to some of the only old growth oaks in the city, Federal Hill’s original Narragansett name is Nocabulabet, which means place between the ancient waters, and Fox Point was a major international shipping center, with slave ships and all. While the sycamores, forgotten bridges, and the layers of history are fair game for any artist searching for inspiration, Providence has burrowed her way into my dislodged center, setting it right again. She has made me feel at home against all odds.

Growing up Palestinian in Rhode Island, my need for relevance and connection was fierce. While undoubtedly this is connected to Palestine’s longing for statehood and international recognition, its also because Rhode Island is not an easy place to immigrate to. Directions are impossible to deal with unless you happen to know “where the old Dunkin Donuts used to be.” Sometimes the same road has several different route numbers and locations are referred to by their “unofficial” name. No, South county is not an actual county. I never set foot in Palestine, but with my Teta’s grandmother stories I at least got to feel like I did. I know the fishermen and orange groves in Yaffa well enough to imagine the sights and sounds of our ancestral land. I remember her countless retellings of that ill fated spring in 1948, with it’s thunderous bombings and dismembered bodies vividly enough to feel as though I witnessed them myself. While my grandmother’s stories were already seeding my identity, my own experience with fleeing Kuwait as a six year old added to the entanglement of roots.

My mother and I fled Kuwait a few weeks after the Iraqi invasion in 1990. Despite the whirlwind of narrowly escaping plundering soldiers, intense dessert heat, and a custody battle that included a thumb-less kidnapper hired by my father’s family, (a story for another day), I was thrown into this new world without so much as a guidebook. In elementary school while my classmates ate peanut butter jelly sandwiches, I ate Zaet and Zaatar pita my mom packed. In second grade you could easily spot me in the school cafeteria. I was that girl with the frizzy braids and thick rimmed pink glasses, (before they were cool) patiently explaining in broken English that no, I wasn’t eating bird poop, just herbs mixed with olive oil. My mother, finally freed from stifling gender norms could raise me without fear. Since she was divorced, it was law that I would only be with her till age eleven, after which my father-a distant but not wholly unpleasant accountant, would have been my legal guardian. Had my mother remarried or was caught out on a date, she would be deemed an unfit mother, losing custody even sooner, perhaps even securing my fate as a math whiz instead of a writer.

       As the months grew into years, the novelty of Rhode Island faded. I hungered after stability in people and places. I envied my classmates for the simple routines that involved sport practices or family vacations. While they went along their seasonal routines, in my family there was still talk of moving away, of new schools, new relationships, and yet another world to get accustomed to. I ached for a predictable life. I still find myself in awe of people who have the notion that life will unfold in exactly the same way it had for generations. I knew the comfort was an illusion. I understood that friends had some flavor of childhood trauma or economic insecurity rippling beneath the placid surface of their day to day lives, but I envied the illusion. My experiences were too raw to be hidden. They had marked me with a discordant vibration; amplified by the cadence of my mispronounced name. I recognize this discordance is others, in fact, Providence is abuzz with it; all those layers of old world muck latticed through downtown’s polished center. You can see it in people and places like the half collapsed Moshassuck bridge; centuries old, dark in the shadow of newly constructed luxury condominiums. My insecurities mirrored by the city itself. I might not have fit in where I wanted to, but at least Providence understands.

I could never experience home in the same way my Teta did but I could lean on Providence for support. Like so many before me, I have been seduced by this haven for those “distressed for conscience” and I’ld like to think that it’t no mere coincidence. While researching the history of State Pier One’s role in immigration for a story idea, I came across some surprising information.

The Fabre Line, a fleet of steamships, supplied Providence with immigrants well into the twentieth century. Immigration quotas threatened to put the Fabre Line out of business, but they decided to redirect the routes and pick up immigrants and visitors from cities like Beirut, Alexandria and Yaffa. Yaffa! The same city my family was forced to flee in 1948. This steamship came from Providence and went to Yaffa as part of it’s journey, to pick up goods and people way back before my disoriented self ever stood on that Providence pier.

Fabre Line

      Could it be that after several years of defining myself as a misplaced and misunderstood outcast, that I actually been home in Providence after all? Do I have ancestors floating around having a good laugh; chuckling ‘oh silly girl! nothing is random.’ ? I remember downtown before the mall, before Water Place Park and well before those luxury towering condos. The tourism council will have you thinking that Providence always had a glowing face of fancy restaurants and Waterfire, but I knew her before the Botox injections. Before she tried to hide her puffy post-industrial eyes and walk in Boston’s high healed pumps. Maybe if we sit by the Providence River at dusk and look down toward the smoke stacks and consider the gentle lapping of its briny water we could hear the voices that came before us. If we hold still and listen closely we might even hear H. P. Lovecraft famously proclaim, I am Providence. To which we can now respond: “No Mr. Lovecraft. We are Providence”.

misty Providence River

misty Providence River

Fabre Steamship in Providence Hatbor

Fabre Steamship in Providence Hatbor

 

***PUT PROVIDENCE ON THE LITERARY MAP!!   Support Frequency, order the anthology, check out the featured workshops: http://frequencywriters.org

*** SUPPORT Devon and the pursuit of accessable art: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/lonely-as-i-have-ever-been-providence/x/12087612

 

WRITE OR BE WRITTEN

Tackling Nonfiction: Discovering Narrative Medicine

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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.

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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.

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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!

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