Even Writing Can’t Calm The Dread!

Lately I often make myself promise to not watch the news, and I fail. If I don’t watch it on TV, I read it on the internet. I get so disturbed and lose sleep over the events taking place around the world but I just can’t stay away. And what happened yesterday in Nigeria, whatever is happening in the Middle East over the past days, or years even, is so overwhelming.

I personally have lived through civil war. I was in high school when the civil war in Lebanon started. And to think that such extremist militias are still active elsewhere and terrorizing innocent civilians is beyond my comprehension.

As a student living in the dorms, many were the times when we were awakened in the middle of the night by militia gunfire and bombs falling nearby. And later, one day on our way to work my late husband and I were stopped by gunmen and he (my fiancé at the time) was taken away at gunpoint while I was told to take the car and drive off because they were going to kill him.

Fear is universal. No matter what your religion or your social or economical status, there’s no fear like the one you feel when you are held at gunpoint for the only reason of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I don’t know why they let me go that day. The same way I don’t know why after torturing him for a day they let him go too. But I know I’ve been lucky and my loved ones were spared the pain.

I remember during those years how many people fled to Syria as refugees. Even much later in 2006, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon when my kids and I had gone back to say goodbye to my parents because we were moving to Canada for good, we had to cross the border to Damascus and fly out from there. And now it’s others, Syrians and Iraqis, who are fleeing to Lebanon for safety and shelter.

“I took to writing at an early age to escape from meaninglessness, uselessness, unimportance, insignificance, poverty, enslavement, ill health, despair, madness, and all manner of other unattractive, natural and inevitable things.” William Saroyan

This time even writing can’t calm the dread and horror I feel. And I can’t help but think of all the people and loved ones I have left behind. Family, friends, colleagues and all. I can’t help but be frightened thinking what will happen to them if those extremists take over or gain leadership.

I pray for their safety. I pray for the safety of all those innocent lives caught in the crossfire of some political or religious game. But at the same time I can’t help but wonder if there’s anything we can do as fellow human beings to help prevent human suffering.


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Shall I Publish On LinkedIn?

A week ago, on the 16th of June to be exact, I got an email saying, “Congrats Choghig! You’re invited to publish on LinkedIn.”

I was thrilled! I started my blog on WordPress in January 2011. Since then I have been writing and posting articles regularly. I am happy to say that I have been able to form myself a fan base too. I might not be the most talented writer but I know I have so much love and passion for it to keep me writing no matter what. My hard work paid off. 

In 2012 I received the following email from an editor at WordPress:
“Congrats! We’ve picked your post:  What Is There In Writing Except Language to appear on Freshly Pressed on the WordPress home page.
We really enjoyed it, and we know the rest of the WordPress community will too. Your post will appear on the site in the next day or two, so get ready to welcome your new readers.
Once your post goes live, shout it from the rooftops! Tell your family, friends, and readers to check out the WordPress home page, and share the good news with your social networks (we’ll do the same). 
Most importantly, keep up the great work. Thanks for making the internet a more interesting place!”


Now, almost two years after that, to gain a new platform with the ability to publish on LinkedIn, I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to try it out. 

However, after publishing my second post I realized there was a problem with it. I could see that there were 30 comments on the post but I couldn’t read any. So I did what most people would do, I found the link to their help center and opened a ticket. And here’s part of the conversation with a LinkedIn Customer Experience Advocate: 

Member (this would be me) (06/19/2014 18:48 CST)
There seems to be something wrong with my second post called ‘We Have Failed’ as on the post itself, it shows 74 views (and counting), 0 likes and 0 comments. However, when I click on “See all” my posts, I see 74 views, 7 likes and 30 comments (which I can’t find or get to).
When I click on like myself, I see a red bar with Error at the top of my page and the number of likes remain 0. Attached please find the three screenshots displaying these issues.

LinkedIn Response (06/20/2014 05:13 CST)
Thanks for the information and I’m sorry you’re still having problems. Were you able to switch to a different browser? For example, if you were having problems when using the Internet Explorer, did you try it again with a Firefox, Chrome or Safari browser? Here’s a current list of supported Internet browsers:If you’re still having problems, please send me a screenshot of the issue as it occurs when you use the different browser.

Member (06/20/2014 06:50 CST)
I had included the screenshots in the LinkedIn.pdf file attached to the ticket, but I can send it again if you like. It occurs on Firefox, IE, and Chrome, and looks exactly like the pictures in all three cases. It even looks the same on the LinkedIn mobile app for iPhones. There are the three problems I mentioned on all these platforms. You could probably see for yourself if you tried to like or comment on my latest post.

LinkedIn Response (06/23/2014 01:28 CST)
I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but it seems like the problem has now been fixed. If you have further questions, please feel free to reply to this message.

Member (06/23/2014 05:03 CST)
EXCUSE ME? How can you tell me the problem has been fixed when it CLEARLY has not? All three problems are still open, I am STILL waiting from someone from LinkedIn to help because this is CLEARLY a technical problem, and you tell me it is fixed? If you cannot fix it, I would really appreciate if you can transfer my ticket to somebody else who will be able to fix this for me because it is very frustrating that a professional network such as LinkedIn cannot deal with technical problems professionally. 
Let me try this once again, there is something wrong with my second post called ‘We Have Failed’ as on the post itself, it shows 128 views (and counting), 0 likes and 0 comments. However, when I click on “See all” my posts, I see 0 views, 7 likes and 30 comments (which I can’t find or get to).
When I click on like myself, I see a red bar with Error at the top of my page and the number of likes remain 0. I cannot even leave a comment on my post. The LinkedIn.pdf attached to this ticket TWICE now shows all three screenshots displaying these issues.

LinkedIn Response (06/23/2014 05:18 CST)
I wish I had an immediate resolution for you. This particular issue will need to be escalated to our internal research team. I understand this may be frustrating but as soon as I get an update, I’ll let you know. Thanks for your patience in this matter.

Member (06/23/2014 05:50)
Thank you! Please do escalate the issue to your internal research team! I hope it gets solved soon!

—After all this I am not so sure about continuing to use LinkedIn to publish posts. It definitely was not handled professionally on their side. WordPress hasn’t let me down so far! Was I wrong to expect my problem to be solved by their experts? Have you had similar experiences?  Please comment!


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The Devil You Know!

There’s an old saying that goes, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”

Aren’t Iraq, Egypt and Syria examples enough?

Growing up in Lebanon, I studied Arabic literature in high school and later even took a course in university. Arabic was not my first language but I still loved the literature. I loved to read about the poetic gatherings in palaces in Baghdad. I loved how ancient and old their history and culture was.


We didn’t have that many Arabic books in the school library but I was lucky to have a teacher who was happy to lend me his books from his personal library. I couldn’t wait for his classes, for him to bring me a new book every week to read.

Later, when we were living in Dubai, I heard on the news and saw on TV the museum in Baghdad being destroyed and all the books in it burned. Books as old as 3000 years. All that history wiped out in a few moments. And I remember how saddened my husband and I were. For my late husband himself was a huge fan of Arabic literature, art and calligraphy. Perhaps to quote J.D. Salinger:

“Certain things, they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.” 

Times have changed since then as is expected. But they haven’t changed for the better. What was once ancient and beautiful has turned crazy. The people who see things differently and call themselves the rebels are nothing but misfits and troublemakers. They don’t follow rules and, what’s worse, they have no respect for human life.

That’s the worst part of all of this so called revolution. The torture and killing of innocent people. And the outside world is divided in its opinion. Some find these acts glorifying because they believe it is for a better cause while others find them horrific.

But the one thing that we can’t do, that we shouldn’t do as human beings, is to ignore them. Mother Teresa said:

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” 


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We Have Failed!

While the world is busy watching the World Cup, a lot is happening elsewhere that we as human beings should not accept. 

I watched the news last night and I learned about the killings of innocent people inside their homes in Kenya because they were Christian. I saw pictures of Kessab, the Armenian town in Syria bordering Turkey, how the houses were burnt, how the churches were vandalized. When I watched the destruction I asked myself, “How did we allow this to happen?” 

In a century so advanced both technologically and scientifically, we have failed as humans. We have failed because we are allowing innocent people to be tortured and killed in the hands of militias and gunmen in the name of religion. We have failed because we are watching women and young girls being gang raped in Tahrir Square in Egypt, on buses and in fields in India. We have failed because we are allowing these same terrorists to kidnap teenage girls, students, and sell them in the name of Allah or God! We have failed because innocent children and women and men are being slaughtered in the name of democracy in Syria and in Iraq.

We constantly worry about the economy, about the environment, while these atrocities against innocent civilians continue around the world. Perhaps I am mistaken to think that we just sit empty handed and try to find someone to blame or wait for someone to take responsibility.

What good is the environment, the economy, science or technology, if home and school are not a safe haven for people in some parts of the world. I get shivers when I think of the kind of example we are setting and the kind of world we would be leaving our children and grandchildren.


Robert Fisk wrote:

“War is primarily not about victory or defeat but about death and the infliction of death. It represents the total failure of the human spirit.”

As human beings can we join our voices to theirs? How can we stop all this? Or is it to late to do so?


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Will They Like It?

Yesterday was Father’s Day. Another year has passed without him. Yesterday morning the landlord called saying she will send a plumber to do I don’t know what on the roof. I politely declined saying it was hard for us to stay home on this day and that we were going out. Because somehow being outside the house made it more bearable.

Yesterday my mind had gone completely blank and I couldn’t write anything. Personally I have to distance myself from my pain to be able to write objectively. And as always with my blog the first thing that comes to mind is will people read what I write? Will there be anyone who will like it? And that’s when I get blocked.


And yesterday morning I spent the entire morning thinking I should have written, no matter what. That’s when I read the following words in an email I received from my uncle Setrak in Beirut:

“So, dear Shogh, no matter what you write, or how you write, there will always be people who would criticize, or who would see “the little empty part of the glass which is full of water.”
Please write when you feel like writing, write what you wish to write about, and write whenever you feel like writing. Don’t pay much attention to little-minded people. Try to be proactive. You decide what you want; you decide how you want or when you want anything, especially when it comes to writing. Even when I make comments, don’t get offended. Think about it and then you decide what action to take.”

The best advice a writer can get. I knew then that I should have followed my heart and written. In his email he had also included one of Aesop’s fables which I would like to share even though you are probably familiar with it.  

The Miller, His Son, And Their Ass

A miller and his son were driving their ass to a nearby fair to sell it. They had not gone far when they came across a group of girls returning from town. They were in a merry mood, talking and laughing, and when they saw the miller and his son, one of them cried out, “Look there! Did you ever see such fools like those two, trudging on foot when they could be riding?”
Upon hearing this, the old man told his son to get on the ass while he walked along cheerfully by his side. Soon they came to a group of men who were having a serious argument.
“There!” said one of them. “That proves what I was saying. There’s no more respect shown to the old nowadays. Do you see that young loafer riding while his old father has to walk? Get down, you miserable creature, and let the old man rest his weary limbs!”
Upon hearing this, the father made his son dismount and then got on the ass himself.
They had not proceeded very far when they met a company of women and children.
“Why, you lazy old fellow!” cried several tongues at once. “How can you ride that beast, while that poor little lad there can hardly keep pace with you?”
The good-natured miller stood corrected and immediately had his son mount behind him. They were now about to reach the town, when a townsman said, “Tell me, friend, is that ass your own?”
“Yes,” answered the old man. “Oh! I wouldn’t have thought so by the way you’ve loaded him down. Why, you two fellows are better suited to carry the poor beast than he you!”
“Anything to please you,” said the miller. “It wouldn’t hurt to try.”
So, dismounting with his son, they tied the ass’s legs together, and with the help of a pole, they attempted to carry him on their shoulders over a bridge that led to the town. They made such an amusing sight that the people ran out in crowds to laugh at them. However, the ass – neither liked the noise nor his situation – began kicking at the ropes that bound him to the pole. As a result, it tumbled off the pole and fell into the river. Thereupon, the old man, angry and ashamed, made his way home as best he could, convinced that by endeavoring to please everybody he had pleased nobody and lost his ass in the bargain.”

Happy writing everyone!


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Hey! That’s My Story!

“I write fiction to tell the truth.” Pam Houston

Last month on May 28 the world said goodbye to a great poet, a great writer, a great human being, an activist, a mentor and a phenomenal woman. Dr. Maya Angelou. As a woman I loved to hear Maya Angelou talk. Her wisdom, her stories, her courage and determination inspired me so much. I loved to read her writings, specially her autobiographical memoirs starting with ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’.

What I like most about her books is that they are not invented, as in fiction, but are true stories as told by the one and only Maya Angelou. In her eulogy Oprah mentioned that the first time she read ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ she could relate with the story so much it was as if she was reading her own story.

When I was in my early teens I read Simone de Beauvoir for the first time. The first book I read from her was ‘Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter’. Even though socially, economically and geographically we were worlds apart I felt a connection with her story. I felt as if she was talking about my life as a daughter and my dreams as a girl. And as such I fell in love with the author and became a huge fan of hers.

Thr Reader

I guess that’s what a memoir does; it tells small stories that move the readers and it transforms fragments of memory into what a life means.

I personally like to read memoirs. I am interested and care about the “I” story mainly because of the force of language, strength of insight, and skill of storytelling involved. Yet no one tells a story perhaps as well as the late Maya Angelou, or Simone de Beauvoir, or Frank McCourt. Not only that but in their stories they take imaginative leaps that lead beyond the facts to the emotional truth of memory. As Joan Didion wrote:

“…perhaps it never did snow that August in Vermont; perhaps there never were flurries in the night wind, and maybe no one else felt the ground hardening and summer already dead even as we pretended to bask in it, but that was how it felt to me, and it might as well have snowed, could have snowed, did snow.”


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What Can I Say

Once in a while I become doubtful about what I am doing in pursuing a dream that is perhaps not realistic or never going to happen. And of course as always I ask myself what’s the point. But then I sit at my desk and start reading. I read what other writers’ take is on this matter and eventually I get inspired and put aside all thoughts of self-doubt. Here’s one such letter that I would like to share with you, Ann Beattie wrote this to a Young Fiction Writer:

“If I had not been asked to offer some thoughts to someone starting their career, I feel sure I would not be writing the words I am about to write. And the reason is really inextricable from one of the most important things I can say: you must do your own work- the work you are compelled to do- rather than capitulating, and letting your arms be twisted like Gumby’s. There is only so much time, and you have only so much energy (and, I hope, a little more than you think, because you’ll need that to carry you through), and your obligation is to yourself, and to your work.

What I mean is that curious people- perfectly okay to be curious; also perfectly okay to pass on other peoples’ curiosity- will want to know if you write every day, what your writing habits are, whether you take characters from so-called real life, etc. They are asking because they want to hear that on some level- and they will clutch at the most tenuous filament- what you do is just a version of what they do. It isn’t.

But by way of advice? What can I say- don’t make mistakes? Hardly likely.

Find the time to write. Protect the time to write. Be inventive: get gorgons. Forget e-mail. Whatever it takes. Because you’ll still need more time than there is, and also it’s important to leave enough time to waste. That’s one of the many reasons the stereotype writer with the bottle holds, though the creative wasting of time is not only more fun, but nobler. Don’t let people persuade you to walk away from your material, and don’t let them persuade themselves that you are only another version of them ( I suppose it’s harmless delusion for them, but don’t be around when they’re stating the ostensible similarities. Such comparisons kill brain cells).

Hope for luck, wish to turn out to be photogenic, pray that the mess that book publishing is in may eventually result in something good.


May the road rise you. … Just kidding. Put out of your mind my advice and anyone else’s and listen to that inner voice. It will prevail over the inner child, that will tell you to go running and screaming away from writing, directly to the playground.

People who do not write will tell you that they haven’t gotten around to it yet because they know they can do it. They just need to get the kids in school, hire a lawn service and spend weekends writing, re-cycle their notebooks into usable material, make a concerted effort to remember their dreams. It can be done tomorrow. Any time. They are just about to get to it- that thing comes naturally to all of us, that thing we’ve all done all through school and with great elan in our love letters. The books they could write, their plots based on something that happened to them, that are more exciting than le Carré’s. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. I’ll see you tomorrow.

They are not writing because they can. You are writing because you can’t.”


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