I Hear Voices

Maya Angelou wrote:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

When I was a child I used to love reading in my bed at night while my parents sat with their guests in the adjacent room chatting. The sounds, the noise coming from the living room, their voices would somehow make me feel protected and give me this feeling of peace and safety. I would lose myself in the story I would be reading, knowing that all was well with the world outside of my room. 

But during my teen years, when the civil war started in the country, everything changed. Especially during my university years. I was away from home and stayed in the dorms so when at the end of the day I closed my eyes to go to sleep I still heard noises. But they were not as calming as my parents’ voices. The noises I heard were of gunshots and mortars, of people screaming with fear and the sound of footsteps scurrying for shelter. Lying in bed with my book I tried to shun away all the noise coming from outside, and in my mind I tried to hear the familiar voices of my parents.

Decades later I still hear voices even though the house is dead quiet during the day. I hear them all the time. I hear them when I am in my room staring at the walls. I hear them when I close my eyes. I hear them even in my sleep. The voices of loved ones whom I miss so very much. 

If you’re thinking I am crazy, I can assure you I am not. I believe I am as sane as any other normal human being. But instead of losing myself in others’ stories I rush to my notebook to write my own.  

Yes I am a writer! That’s why here I am at sitting at my desk and staring at the walls of my room, trying to come up with something good to say. In the middle of the night the voices are there and I know what to say or write. To quote Saul Bellow:

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.”

In my subconscious I was writing but this morning the voices are not speaking to me. The room is quiet and I feel like my brain is dead and I have said everything I have to say. It’s the same ritual I go through every time I think of what to write. 

There are so many good bloggers out there that in order to be among them I have to come up with something new, something original, or a new approach, a new way of saying things. There has to be something different in my article, some kind of sparkle that will make the reader want to read it. 

If you ask me what I mean by sparkle I would honestly reply that I don’t know what exactly a sparkle is, but I certainly know it when I see it. I have all these ideas and thoughts that I want to write about. Instead here I am at my desk, staring at the blank page, wondering where to start from. 

Stephen King writes:

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.” 


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What You Remember

When I was teaching in Dubai and my children were still in elementary school, I noticed how they referred to their teachers as being old. And when I asked how old they thought a teacher was, “old like maybe thirty,” they would say. When I asked if they thought I was old, they would reply, “but you’re a mom.” So whenever my students asked me how old I was I always answered, “old enough to be your mother,” and I don’t really know why I said that or what they thought of me at the time.

It’s surprising though how one’s perspective changes with time and age. I remember when I was a little girl, my teachers were the world to me and I never thought about them as being old people. Old to me were my grandparents. When I imagined myself to be an old woman I got goosebumps. I was so frightened of old age, of hospitals, of the dead.

Toni Morrison wrote:

“What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?”

I still have strong and mixed feelings about the old but perhaps it’s not fear anymore as much as it is pity for them. I get teary-eyed when I meet old people who rely on others to take care of them. It’s a sad phenomenon for me, and I don’t know how to deal with it.  

I am not in the prime of my life anymore. I have had my share of the bad, the good, the beautiful, the ugly, the sad, the happy. I feel that I have lived in a constant battle of ideas, dreams, sorrows, disappointments, promises, heartaches, pain and bliss.  


I realize now that towards the end when all is said and done, the time you spent with the people you love, the meaning they brought to your life, are the only moments worth remembering. You realize how meaningful and rich your life is with them around you and you don’t want to let them go. 

But destiny plays its dirty hand and fate like some wicked witch takes your life in her grip and you are left to grieve your loss. I do want to come to terms with my loss but the knowledge that my life without him will never be the same again, not in the same way ever, is what makes it so empty and bitter. 

After all these years and after all I’ve been through the things I remember most are the precious moments I spent with my loved ones, and especially with him. The things we said or did, the tranquility and the bliss that enveloped me when I was with him despite the chaos around me. 

Gabriel García Márquez wrote:

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”


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On This Cold And Snowy Morning!

I recently joined a few groups for fountain pen lovers on Facebook. Being a new member, I posted one of my old blog posts on one group’s wall to introduce myself. I was overwhelmed by their welcoming comments. It was one of the very first articles I had written when I began blogging four years ago in 2011.  

One particular reader and blogger made the following comment:  
 “The mix in ‘Home Away from Home’ of art, economics, geography, literary and writing experience, and implied politics fits very much with a world that has a new global intelligentsia and perhaps swiftly changing geographic relationships. It’s a gem of an article.”

I was thrilled. And on this cold and snowy morning I can’t help but think of how proud this comment would have made my late husband, who was my believing mirror and number one fan. I can’t believe it has already been two years and three months since he passed away. I still can’t write or put anything on paper that he wouldn’t find interesting and truthful, however silly that may seem to my readers.

“You don’t write for the whole world, and you don’t write for ten people, or two. You just write for one person.” Kurt Vonnegut  

Here’s the original article:

When I was a little girl in elementary school, I used to accompany my father to downtown Beirut on his business trips. After he’d finished his work, he would either take me to what seemed to me to be the biggest bookstore, Librairie Du Liban, where I used to lose myself among rows and rows of books on shelves. And in the end choose only three because that was what I was allowed to buy each time. Or he would take me to this shop on the corner, that sold the most beautiful Parker pens ever, to buy me cartridges for my pen. I loved to write with fountain pen, even though the ink would stain my fingers. The joy I felt when I filled the pen with ink, the smell of the ink when I wrote…My mom thought I was crazy, maybe I was or still am. Anyways, I remember the glass counter with all those nice pens beautifully arranged in special display cases inside. The silver pen with gold trim in the poster above was my favorite. It was so beautiful that I used to ask my father, “Can you buy it for me when I grow up?” and he would reply, “That will be your graduation gift, and if you make the honor roll I will buy you the complete set; the fountain pen, the roller ball, the ball pen and the mechanical pencil.”

Back home I worked hard to be on the honor roll, making the list every term of every year until my graduation. The day came when I graduated with honors and was valedictorian. But I did not get the promised gift, my dream pen set. Instead I received a Parker pen set from our village bookstore and that’s because long before I graduated from high school the civil war had started in Lebanon. The first place to get destroyed and turned into rubbles was downtown Beirut. The streets that were once the business hub had turned into a battlefield for different militias and the shop, the Parker shop in the corner, was no more.

Years passed. The war continued and spread to almost all parts of the country. By the time I graduated from university, I didn’t even have a graduation ceremony due to the dire situation in the city. I collected my bachelors degree and my education diploma from the registrar’s office on campus.

Life went on and not long after, I got married and moved to Dubai to work and start a new life away from the dangers of war. The first weeks and months were hard. We had left all our friends and family behind and we waited anxiously for their news of safety.

I started teaching in a school. I had Thursdays and Fridays off. Every Thursday I roamed the streets of Dubai. Fahidi street then in the late 1980s was a shoppers’ paradise. I walked along the streets, went into shops, looking for a familiar face, or something that I could relate to, that would remind me of my home, the place where I belonged. Then one Thursday I needed ink for my pen. I walked around as usual but this time I knew what I was looking for. Hidden in a corner off the main street I found this shop, King’s Traders, and on the display window was my dream pen of my childhood years. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Without much ado I rushed home to tell my husband about it. The next day we went back together.

A few weeks later on my birthday my husband surprised me with my dream pens. The pencil was discontinued at the time but Mr. Karani, owner of King’s Traders, had made special arrangements with Parker Pens UK and had it specially manufactured for me, so I received it after exactly ninety days. Then my set was complete thanks to Mr. Karani and Parker Pens and my dearest husband of course, and after more than a decade my dream had come true. The shop itself, King’s Traders, didn’t resemble the shop I used to visit with my father, but none the less it became my corner shop in Dubai and Dubai became a home away from home.


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How Reliable Are They?

Helen Hanson said:

“Inspiration is the windfall from hard work and focus. Muses are too unreliable to keep on the payroll.” 

Have you seen the movie ‘The Muse’ directed by Albert Brooks, and starring Albert Brooks and Sharon Stone? It is a 1999 comedy about a neurotic screenwriter suffering from writer’s block, and his modern-day muse.

I used to believe that muse, i.e. inspiration, comes to us writers like a bolt of lightning, and at once with a feverish excitement and a twinkle in our eyes we begin to write. Well I never experienced anything like that. As a beginning writer I struggle with self doubt for days on end. That painstaking urge to believe that everything I have ever written or will ever write is a total mess haunts me like a ghost.

Writers differ in their views on almost anything related to the art and craft of writing. From the aspects of the trade to being a writer, and then of course the writer’s life as a storyteller. They all agree though that it is discipline, not muse, that makes a writer productive and eventually successful. If you write only when she beckons, it’s as if you are not writing at all.


Over the years I have put together my own devices of dealing with doubt. When the writing demons knock on my door I turn to a collection of quotes by my favorite writers, that nourish my desire and make me want to write. I keep a few of their books on my desk and whenever my confidence sags I scan through the pages. I read interviews with other writers, especially Paris Review Interviews, and copy quotes that make me want to write. I re-read whichever book or writer’s biography that inspires me most. To quote Rob Brezsny:

“All of us need to be in touch with a mysterious, tantalizing source of inspiration that teases our sense of wonder and goads us on to life’s next adventure.”

At the end of the day when all is said and done I would like to imagine that if I ever saw my muse: 

“She would be an old woman with a tight bun and spectacles poking me in the middle of the back and growling, “Wake up and write the book!”” Kerry Greenwood


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Until You Learn How To Do It!

“How do you become a writer?” 
“You write.”

Many a time we are told by our writing coaches, professors and other more experienced writers to write from the imagination, to write from inside, to write what we know. For our stories to be real and believable we have to add our personal touch to them. Our unique experiences.

Experience is not something we go and get. For me personally every event, every emotion, everyone I have met, every person I have loved or lost has left a mark on my life. Because of it all I am who I am today and a better person than when I started my life journey. Every experience that I have had so far has been a gift, a gift that I have received because I have been open to accept whatever has come along in my life.

“Write from within” is also another phrase that I have heard more experienced writers give to us, the less experienced or the beginners.
I am sure you have all read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. Perhaps like many of us, even studied these two great classics in high school English classes. What did the Brontë sisters know about life? Other than the vicarage they lived in and the few people they met, and the school they attended. But they all started writing at a very early age.

They wrote every day. They wrote about what they knew, the vicarage, the landscape, the moors. They wrote about their feelings, their emotions, they wrote from deep inside. 

“Artists are people who are not at all interested in the facts- only in the truth. You get the facts from outside. The truth you get from inside.” Ursula K. Le Guin 

So if you are a writer how do you tell the truth?
“You sit down, and you do it, and you do it, and you do it, until you have learned how to do it.” Ursula K. Le Guin 



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Writing Gives Me Wings!

What makes a writer tick?

Warren Kieffer writes:

“If there were a recipe for creating an original, pleasurable, readable, saleable manuscript and getting the finished product sold and published, it might read something like this: one part idea, two parts talent, and three parts motivation seasoned with patience.”

A story starts with an idea. We all have ideas, but some of us have more than that. We have the incentive, the guts and determination to put our idea on paper. Whether we complete the task or not is something very personal. Maybe it’s the desire to see our name in print, or ego.

I can’t think of a better answer than to say that writing gives me wings. Yes writing gives me wings. It frees me of all cultural taboos. I have always had issues with the basic question of identity. Who am I, really? What is my role in this world? How many do I play or how many am I expected to play? What is my true religion? What is my social status? How do others perceive me? How do I perceive them? Questions that make me tick as a person.

And when I sit down to write I feel liberated! Because in my story I can choose to be any one of my characters. In my story I can  belong to any race. I can choose my religion. I can choose my gender, I can play with my age. I can have any profession I choose. I can be tall or short or thin or fat. I can be pretty or physically challenged. I can choose my cultural background and even have the education or the vocation that I had dreamed about my entire life and never had the chance to pursue. I can alter any characteristic and I still end up with a different person.

In my story, I can be the villain, or the hero, or the princess waiting to meet her prince. Or I can be the jealous lover, or have the most desirable career and be successful. Or I can find my soulmate and fall madly in love.

Writing gives me wings and I can fly with my ideas to a wonderland where no one is left heartbroken. A universe where none of my characters are sick or have cancer and die at a very young age. A universe where miracles happen.

Writing gives me wings to write from within my soul, to write what I know and what my heart desires!



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Fascinating Mechanics Of Writing

There is this common notion that a writer is always working, even when he/she is asleep. That’s when the subconscious mind takes over and after much shifting and rearranging images, ideas and scenes, sets the stage for the next day’s work. Hence the idea that the writer is working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I have always found the mechanics of writing fascinating, even before I started to write. Besides wanting to read the work of authors, I am interested to know about the more physical aspects of their writing process. Are they a night owl or early bird? Do they write at night or in the morning? Do they write longhand or use the computer? What kind of pen or pad they use? Do they have a place, a room they write in? Do they plan and outline in advance or do they just plot things out as they write?

That’s the kind of thing writers always want to know. What other writers are doing. The writing habit of fellow writers. When do they write? How do they write?

Tom Wolfe set himself a quota, ten pages a day, triple-spaced, about eighteen hundred words, and always keeping a clock in front of him.

Mario Vargas Llosa wrote by hand for two hours. He worked in the morning, and in the early hours of the day. Then he typed what he had written, always keeping a few lines untyped so that the next day he could start by typing the end of what he’d written the day before.

Tom Stoppard had a nice long room, which used to be a stable, with a table and lots of paper. But he wrote most of his plays on the kitchen table at night, when everybody had gone to bed.

Maya Angelou wrote lying on a made-up bed, with a bottle of sherry, a dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus, yellow pads, an ashtray and a Bible.

Georges Simenon marked off in black each day of writing on a 11-by-16-inch calendar, one chapter a day, and in red the three days spent revising it. He used the two sides of a 7-by-10 brown manila envelope on which he began shaping his characters two days before he began the actual writing of his novel.


Doris Lessing started something off, at first a bit awkward, but then the writing took off and became fluent.

P. G. Wodehouse started his day off at seven-thirty. After his daily exercise routine and breakfast, he went to his study and sat down in an armchair to think and take notes. And before he started any book he had four hundred pages of notes.

Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote whenever he got up in the morning. He wrote no matter what the disturbances were around him.

Irwin Shaw claimed that writing for him was an intense and private occupation. He wrote in the mornings and was never to be disturbed while writing.

Gore Vidal wrote whenever he woke up in the morning. He wrote for about three hours. He wrote his novels in longhand on yellow legal pads. But for some reason he wrote his plays and essays on the typewriter.

Joyce Carol Oates didn’t have any formal schedule, but loved to write in the morning before breakfast, and didn’t have a break until two or three in the afternoon. That’s when she had her breakfast on a good writing day.

Jerzy Kosinski wrote when he felt like it and wherever he felt like it, day, night and even at twilight. He wrote in a restaurant, on a plane, between skiing and horseback riding, during his night walks in Manhattan, Paris or any other town. He woke up in the middle of the night or the afternoon to make notes and sit down at his typewriter.

Octavio Paz said that writing was a curse that required huge efforts and sleepless nights. 

Are you a night owl or an early bird? At what time of day or night do you write best?


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