Tag Archives: Creative Writing

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!

 

 

 

 

Story Research: What’s in a Name?

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There is much to be said about the origin of words and especially, names.

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Whenever I hit a snag in getting a writing idea off the ground, I brainstorm some concepts and look up the etymology of the words.  Almost always that sparks inspiration and a clearer sense of direction for my writing.

For example, take a look at the etymology of name:

one’s reputation”             “well-known,”             “the essential thing or quality”

When you know someone or something’s name, you know the main, or essential quality of the thing… or I could take this to mean that one’s name could also describe qualities they are well-known for… this would hopefully help me with naming characters.

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As a mom, I’ve had the opportunity to name these little people who are my children. I was taught this was the single most important task as a parent as the name has the potential to describe a child’s personality and place in the world. I probably feel this way because of stories my grandmother told me as a child.  A little bit of family folklore:  my grandmother used to say that parents think they name their children, but the name actually already exists out in the world and parents only hear it when the creator wanted them to hear it.  Apparently, the name was their destiny anyway as it reveals information about how they would be in the world. She told me that it was no coincidence that my name is Nada, meaning hope. Yes, very nice, thank you Grandma!  I could get into an interesting debate regarding fate versus free will and all the opposing views that often exist side by side, but that’s for another day!

So what’s in a name? For my creative writing, I am inspired by looking at whether names run with or opposite of what is expected. I think it would be fun to create imagery, settings, and characters based on this concept. There is lots of space here to create multilayered meaning, or irony.

Also, I can’t talk about naming without seeing it from a post-colonial lens: that which you name, you own and control. luckily, many of the original names of places in and around Rhode Island survived all these years.

Roger Williams and the Narragansetts

                               Roger Williams and the Narragansetts

In 1636 Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, settled on the east bank of the river and was told its name by the local Narragansett Indians. The name “Moshassuck” means “river where moose watered”.

Here’s some more name info I’ve gathered:

  • Woonasquatucket River (pronounced /wuːnˈɑːskwəˌtʌkᵻt/, Algonquian for “where the salt water ends”
  • Quinnipiac River: (Quinnipiac) “where we change our route”
  • Conanicut Island: (Narragansett) named for a 17th-century chief Canonicus
  • Conimicut: (Narragansett) thought to be named for granddaughter of Canonicus
  • Hockomock Swamp: (Natick-Abnaki) “evil spirit” or “hellish place”
  • Siasconset: (Narragansett) “at the place of many/great bones” (whales?)
Providence

Providence

  • Pawtuxet: Little falls confluence of north and south branches of the river at river point village in Warwick. empties into Providence River at Pawtucket River.
  • The place we call Federal hill,  was known as Nocabulabet: place between the ancient waters
  • Moshassuck : river where moose watered source: pond in lincoln’s lime rock preserve.
  • Woonasquatucket: where the salt water ends, Where I wrote about Here!   

This post wouldn’t be complete without a break down of the name I choose for the blog itself several years ago: Now Approaching Providence.

Providence means God’s grace-and grace could mean- among other things- favor, esteem, regard, pardon, mercy.

Turks Head in downtown Providence; looking graceful.

Turks Head in downtown     Providence; looking graceful.

The name fit as I often feel like I might be approaching, but not quite arriving at… Providence.

 

Happy Writing!

Ambrosia

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Ambrosia

I will leave the light on

For you.

For me.

For the vision of me this new love allowed.

For the life I so easily divined from first we met.

After shadows so dark they threatened to choke out what little remained.

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A vision felt but not seen

Darkness, after all can be fertile

imagination sparked

There is no going back

They used to stutter my name

Even in the midst of the daily drudge, The hustle of bills and care taking, attention to detail.

That glow remains.

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I think of you first whenever I approach a book store display.

Endless possibility

 

I want that spark, that light, to come away from the periphery

to settle in and become my center.

My north star.

It is there when the daily battles with myself toss me in darkened waters

onto unfamiliar shores

When I find it hard to remember my name.

You return all my senses back to me, to remind me of my divinity

This whole language I have with myself, in which you are mysteriously fluent

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A hidden and fortified room I built

where the strongest and most vulnerable pulp resides

Where it shelters, conjures

pulls at the sticky sweet nectar, ambrosia.

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you understand it without knowing, communicate without sound

I let you in

you clear out the cobwebs, keep away marauders.

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I love you more than I knew was possible

darkness sweeter and deeper than I could conjure

When I lose the way,

when thousands of lifetimes scramble my frequency,

The light bends in a way that makes me feel your presence

your intention

 

 

I hear you whispering my name

and I return.

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On Inspiration: Making Space for Creative Thought Daily

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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

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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

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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!

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“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…!

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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.”

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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’.

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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

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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

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“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)

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

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“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.” 

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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

Why Teach?

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Recently I was asked the big question, ( one of many I guess), Why teach?

What came to mind at first was how growing up I was the eldest cousin in our extended family home and it felt natural for me to lead groups of children in various activities.   Also, young people inspire me, they teach me as much as I hope I teach them.  I like to think of it as a mutual exchange.

After thinking about it some more, I came up with a better and more relevant answer ( which of course happens after the job interview is over, right?)

I think teaching is one of very few avenues where someone could earn (because yes, teaching is profession)  the access to molding the minds of a generation.  Unfortunatly, standardized curriculums and testing is changing this (being forced to teach a scripted curriculm is so much fun, yeah?)  But, I digress.

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So why teach?  Because in our society, it’s how we can directly pass on – and potentially change- our culture, our values, our dreams for the future- it shouldnt be taken lightly- and Im very fortuate ( dispite the displacements, pink slips, schools closings, ect…) to have chosen teaching as part of my life’s path.

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Below are some awesome education related links:

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Rethinking schools:  An amazing social justice eduation resource for all teachers-  http://www.rethinkingschools.org/index.shtml

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Boston 826: A nonprofit organization decidicated to support students’ creative and expository writing

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-http://www.826boston.org

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Providence Student Union: A group of local students working towards educational justice-   http://www.providencestudentunion.org

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Do you teach? Create? Build? Dance?

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What do what you do? Know of other amazing ed orgs?  Leave me a note!

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The Poem that Made me Want to Write: On Inspiration

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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?

The Power of Reading: My response to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming’

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Reading Rainbow was the bomb...

Reading Rainbow was the bomb…

As a teacher, (and a young one at that),  I often wonder what makes schooling today so much different than when I was in school. No matter where I’ ve taught ( charter or public school, Urban or Suburban…) , its all so very different than when I was in school, which was again, not that long ago ( graduated in ’07’) !      So, I was pretty moved after reading Neil Gaiman’s lecture in the Guardian
 ( http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming)  I think it touches on I i’ve  why the gap between educational experiences is ever widening.
One of the main differences I’ve seen is the school culture around reading and appreciating fiction has vastly changed… whether through the take over of standardized testing or the push for an English curriculum that values informational texts over creative texts; its impacts are far reaching and speak volumes about what how we see ourselves and connect to each other.   I remember reading endlessly and being read to from all teachers in all subjects, I remember being the audiance to several school sponsered puppet shows, storytellers, and fairytale events.   I remember library being an actual class where we learned to work the card cataloge and put together multistep projects and work as a team.
reading in the 90's was wicked awesome!

reading in the 90’s was wicked awesome!

What is interesting to me is that as a Palestinian woman  growing up in post 9/11 America, I didnt realize that is wasn’t my work as an undergrad antiwar activist or as a spokesperson for students for justice in Palestine that was going to spark a revolution, but my imaginiation that will. How empowering it is to be reminded that one of the most revolutionary things I could be doing right now is exactly what I’ve worked on and wanted to do all my life; “make stuff up and write it down”.
ok, so what this wasnt a book? still pretty great...

ok, so what this wasnt a book? still pretty great…

When Gaiman states, “We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy” I am reminded of how I was taught to teach- just hook kids into reading anyways, anyhow… ( so I had creative control and freedom of what I was teaching them)    It was life or death…  and for the group of students I primary taught it was.  It didnt matter if I got teens reading graphic novels, or those hood novels which some schools thought were too violent…just get them to read!  Now its about reading informational articles that are short and boring as hell… last year, the public school had me teaching a scripted cooperate program ( so much for creative freedom or even professional respect) about polar bear habitats to English language learners in the 7th grade.  This was supposed to be an English class… and yes getting poor students  of color in Providence reading is life or death:
                      “The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners  are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.”
The most important thing reading did for me anyways is to build empathy with others.  I didnt know a lick of English when I immigrated from Kuwait and didn’t understand a thing about American culture.  Needless to say there were times growing up I felt awkwardly lonely and very misunderstood. Gaiman says that [reading helps] “you get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well.”  That other world, for me, was America.
Alex Mack was the BEST

Alex Mack was the BEST

He goes to say, “you’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.”
I certainly was.
I learned about the Black struggle through fiction, about slavery and immigration and other wars and other times besides my own.  I wasn’t simply born political by way of nationality as others like to joke ( Ive known many a palestinian with sucky politics…) Reading helped me form my own thoughts and ideas about the way things could be.  Reading provided me with the background and the historical context I needed to build from, its not only personal experiences that shape one’s politics, its all these things and more.
 Reading fiction assured me I wasnt alone, that I had a place, that there were others out there like me who I could one day connect with, organize with, change the world with… This was revolutionary given how cut off my mom and I lived from any Arab or Muslim community, how sedated my suburban white environment actually was and how drowning that felt as a youth.  Reading was my savoir, the key that unlocked the wider world and my future possibilities.  More than anything reading fiction gave me hope, it taught me that “the world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.”
My son and his friend with Big Nazo puppets at PRONK festival, imagining a different world...

My son and his friend with Big Nazo puppets at PRONK festival, imagining a different world…

Gaiman goes on to talk about reading as a form of escapism, arguing that “escapist fiction opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.”  As a child witness to war and domestic violence and now as a teacher of students with varying levels of  trauma, Ild agree that reading is certainly a real way to cope with and in turn, change reality.
I wholeheartidly reccommend reading Gaiman’s lecture.  Here’s the link again: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming
                      “Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all” and the truth is, all of us, whether or not we are teachers or writers, have the power to imagine and create a better world and the obligation to provide for others to do the same.
Sunset over Providence

Folks marching at Providence PRONK festival