“It’s Wonderful- We Hate It”

In my search for answers and the truth these past years or so, I have wondered about the road that I am on, the road on which there is so much beauty and pain. This journey towards the unknown that we call life.

After the tragic loss of my husband I realized that the line separating life and death is so thin and that his absence is so real and so final. It’s this absolute finality that I still have trouble dealing with. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined something like this happening to us.

To understand much of what happened in my life I have done a lot of reading lately.

YoungReader

I have read lots of books on loss and spirituality. And one thing all these writers have taught me is that the end does not matter as much as the process. That if you concentrate too much on the future you lose your sense of the present and of yourself.

They have taught me that failure and success are just terms that all too often determine, often falsely, how we regard our lives and our work. And that setback is a better word for failure, since it is more accommodating of second chances and lessons learned.

And success is such an impersonal word and an exclusive concept. It more often depends on how others see your work and adds obstacles to your path, obstacles of your own making; excessive struggle, extreme effort and undue expectations.

William Faulkner wrote of Mark Twain:
“A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven ‘sure fire’ literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.”

The books have also taught me that fulfillment is a warmer word and more significant than success. It does not depend on material rewards and is even at the core of all your dreams and your soul’s desires. I learned that only upon clearing my mind of all such mental obstructions would I find myself on the path of least resistance and the right path to achievement and contentment.

On a lighter note, Nan Hays wrote:

“It’s Wonderful-We Hate It

We gave your submission a lot of thought.
It’s one of the best that we almost bought.

We’d just love to receive something else from you;
In all probability we’ll return that, too.

Keep your day job if you need the money.
This won’t pay the bills- but it sure is funny.”

ChK

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Remember To Have Fun!

So many times I have read and heard motivational speakers or spiritual gurus say, “You can control your mind better than you may believe.”

Not all the time. And definitely not for me. My biggest problem is that I can’t shut my mind off especially when I am worried about something. There’s too much going on in there right now and I can’t even concentrate on anything I seem to be doing. I am just so restless I don’t even know how to stop fretting and stay calm and write.

I know the creative path is difficult, full of anxiety and failure. If you’re a writer or an artist who works alone without validation from the world, it’s hard not to keep from living in the future. It’s hard to live in the present and not despair. But creative path can also be filled with challenge, achievement, elation and why not even triumph. Although there is no right or wrong way to be creative here are some steps to start with.

Step 1: Start with an Idea.

Step 2: Draw out a Plan- theme, characters, plot.

Step 3: Read and Research (if necessary).

Step 4: Start Writing (actual writing process).

Step 5: Keep on Writing until you Finish the first draft.

Step 6: Put it Aside for a While and do Something Else.

Step 7: Get Back to your Draft and Start Cutting and Editing.

Step 8: Query Agents and Publishers.

Step 9: Don’t wait, Start a New Project.

And last but not least remember to have fun!

ChK

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Can’t Fail At Being You!

Yesterday evening over dinner my kid said, “What a shitty summer we had.”

Yes, it was a shitty summer for all three of us. And staying positive is one of the biggest challenges I face right now. It has become a real struggle for me. God knows I try. Nothing works for me better than writing. Even if what I write doesn’t make sense sometimes. Just the process, the real act of writing, moving my hand on the page is enough to get me going. 

But after a while I stop. Self-doubt kicks in and I ask myself what’s the point? I ask myself if I will ever get published someday. That’s when I stop feeling happy. What once seemed so promising now seems like folly at best, madness at worst.

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What has happened? Have I allowed the struggle to overpower the hope and positive energy I began with? Shall I abandon the whole process then? But the mere thought of abandoning my writing takes me to a new level of depression. I remember Edmund Burke’s words:

“Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair.”

Then I think of all the successful people who have struggled long and hard and endured multiple failures before achieving their success. I ask myself what better way is there to live knowing that writing provides me with endless discipline and demands for excellence.
 
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:

“To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”

Since the only time that I am my best self is when I write. Maybe I should congratulate myself for having the courage to write rather than berate myself because I haven’t already succeeded? After all I am succeeding at being my best self. I can’t fail at being me. That’s something I alone can achieve.

So why am I upset about things I can’t control? Right now the thing I can control is the work that I can do in the next hour, or later today.

Henry David Thoreau writes:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.” 

ChK

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When A Thing Is Wrong

Henry David Thoreau writes:

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

Many are the times when I make a promise to myself that I will stop watching the news only to break it soon after. I am terrified to watch terrorists commit atrocities against innocent people and against humanity in different parts of the world.

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My heart bleeds when I see children killed while playing innocently, or teenagers being taken away at gunpoint from their families. As someone who has had the experience of being held at gunpoint by militias I can imagine what these innocent people feel and think the moment they fall into the hands of those ruthless rebels.

There’s a passage stuck in my head from Hemingway’s book For Whom The Bell Tolls, that reads:

“That’s my town,” Joaquin said. “What a fine town but how the Buena gente, the good people of that town, have suffered in this war.” Then his face grave, “There they shot my father. My mother. My brother-in-law and now my sister.”
“What barbarians,” Robert Jordan said.
How many times had he heard this? How many times had he watched people say it with difficulty? How many times had he seen their eyes fill and their throats harden with the difficulty of saying my father, or my brother, or my mother, or my sister? He could not remember how many times he had heard them mention their dead in this way. Nearly always they spoke as this boy did now; suddenly and apropos of the mention of the town and always you said, “What barbarians.”
“You only heard the statement of the loss. You did not see the father fall as Pilar made him see the fascists die in that story she had told by the stream. You knew the father died in some courtyard, or against some wall, or in some field or orchard, or at night, in the lights of a truck, beside some road. You had seen the lights of the car from the hills and heard the shooting and afterwards you had come down to the road and found the bodies. You did not see the mother shot, nor the sister, nor the brother. You heard about it; you heard the shots; and you saw the bodies.”

Doesn’t this paragraph pretty much describe what is happening now to innocent civilians in some parts of the world? Isn’t this what we see and hear on TV, radio and internet constantly? Hemingway copyrighted his book in 1940. Three quarters of a century has passed since then during which we have advanced in so many ways, in science, technology, medicine, etc.

Why does it feel then like we haven’t changed much?

“When a thing is wrong something’s bound to happen.” Ernest Hemingway

ChK

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Stories Do Work

Scott Thoreau asks:

“Could a greater miracle take place than for the us to look through each other’s eyes?”

We have been telling stories to one another for centuries now, for as long as we have been using language to communicate as human beings. As children we are fascinated with the magic stories bring to our lives.

As a child I for one loved the stories my maternal grandmother used to tell me. Her stories were no ordinary fairy tales. No! She used to tell me stories of her childhood and youth, and of the place where she grew up. A far away land so captivating that I always went to bed dreaming about it.

My grandmother and grandfather came as refugees to Lebanon in 1939. My mother, the eldest child in her family, was not even eight years old then. My father was only ten. The entire population of Musa Dagh in Turkey was displaced. “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” by Franz Werfel is our story, the story of my grandparents and great grandparents and their heroic fight for freedom.

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I loved to hear about their displacement and the hardships they faced in their new home in Ainjar, east of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon near the border with Syria. A place where they didn’t even speak the language. To me as a child these stories were so fascinating regardless of how heartbreaking and painful and sad they were.

Because their stories taught me the most valuable lessons in my life. That if you have the will to live and succeed no matter where you are, no matter if you have nothing in this world, you can do so if you work hard and persevere.

Scott Russell Sanders wrote:

“Stories do work on us, on our minds and hearts, showing us how we might act, who we might become and why.”

ChK

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Fear and Freedom

Frank McCourt once said, in an interview with Writer’s Digest Magazine:

“When I taught high school English and creative writing, I’d write two words on opposite sides of the chalkboard: Fear and Freedom. I’d tell the students that the first word, “Fear,” is something we all suffer from. But the second word, “Freedom,” we don’t all achieve.”

Every writer has a story to tell, but sometimes it has to wait until both the writer and the story are ready. To Frank McCourt, writing Angela’s Ashes was cathartic, as he put it. It took thirty years to write and it helped him face his past to achieve that freedom.

On days when I feel blocked, which lately is on most days unfortunately, I start the day by just scribbling on the page. I just let my hand move as I write about anything and everything. Sort of letting it out.

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It might be about a new incident that has upset me, or an old event or memory that comes back. And I start to remember things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Julia Cameron calls this a stream of consciousness.

Heartfelt writing is honest writing, and honesty isn’t always pretty. You have to tell the bad with the pretty. Life is a gift but it rarely comes in beautifully colored packages. And if our readers cannot see what we as authors see, hear what we hear, taste what we taste, smell what we smell, and touch what we touch, then we fail as writers. That’s what Frank McCourt did with his own book Angela’s Ashes. He made his readers see, hear, smell, taste and touch the truth. He writes:

“One of the most difficult parts of writing is telling the truth. But I’d have to be honest. No one has the right to censor you. Of course I’d never intentionally hurt anyone. Recently, in an article I wrote for Rolling Stone magazine I mentioned my daughter Maggie’s past as a follower of the Grateful Dead. She threatened never to speak to me again if I didn’t kill the story. Of course I couldn’t do that. How could I let anyone have that power over me? No one has that right.”

ChK

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Happy Breathing!

I hadn’t realized how true Anton Chekhov was when he wrote: 
“Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.” 

For the past few months now, I am facing a crisis. The problem of the noise that comes from my neighbors’ apartment below. All kinds of noise like loud music or screams and shouts at any time during the day or night. What’s so annoying is the way my floor shakes from their subwoofers.

I have even told my landlady time and time again to ask them to change its location in the house but in vain. I eventually realized that she hasn’t said a word to them. If I want to listen to music I will listen to mine not theirs. 

What also makes me angry is that every night I go to bed with all these ideas for stories in my head but come morning I am too tired from sleep deprivation that I can’t write, and I can’t even respond to the comments of fellow bloggers, writers and readers.

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Because I spend my time on Google checking houses, neighborhoods and so on. And this bugs me. What I thought was a phase has turned into a day-to-day problem that’s become hard to deal with.

And on most mornings now when I can’t write I read. For an hour or so I read inspirational quotes from other writers to de-stress and forget my problem. Here are some I would like to share with you.

“Write only from experience but you must be one on whom nothing is lost.” Henry James

Dylan Thomas said that he wrote only when he was inspired. But the more he wrote, the inspireder he got. 

“Every day I get up and look out the window, and something occurs to me. Something always occurs to me. And if it doesn’t, I just lower my standards.” William Stafford

“In the Eskimo language, the words to breathe and to make a poem are the same. Remembering that has been widely helpful to me. It means a freeness to plunge in, almost like doing a finger painting. It’s a free flow, suspending fact, meaning, sanity, then seeing, in what pours out uncensored, what can be shaped, fashioned, pared down or enlarged to become a poem.” Lyn Lifshin

I wish you all a happy breathing!

ChK

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