No Mrs. Obama I Cannot Answer Your Question

In November 2019 Michelle Obama published her book, “Becoming: A Guided Journal for Discovering Your Voice.” The book (a journal) contains over 150 questions designed to help you the reader capture your own voice by reflecting on your personal and family history, your goals, etc. Questions like:
1. What major historical events affected your family, whether in the distant past or more recently?
2. Where did your ancestors came from and what challenges did they face?
3. What kind of childhood did your parents or grandparents have? How was it different from or similar to your own?
4. If you could rewrite history books, what would you add that was left out?

See, the story of my grandparents and parents is so tragic and sad that it hurts to even remember.

When I was a little girl growing up in Lebanon, the stories I was told by my elders were not of Cinderella and Prince Charming. Rather, they were stories of survival told by my parents and grandparents. I did not fully comprehend them at the time. All I knew was that my grandparents had fought the Turks and eventually left their homes in Musa Dagh, and upon reaching Lebanon as refugees (when both my parents were very young, aged 7 and 10), had lived in unbearable conditions under tents in a place where no one had lived before, in a place where they didn’t even speak the language. Through much suffering and hard work, they turned it into the paradise it is today, Ainjar.

My parents and grandparents come from Musa Dagh, where they put up a resistance and for forty days, fought against the Turks. “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” by Franz Werfel is their story, our story. As Chris Bohjalian writes:
“If anyone knows bits and pieces of this story, it is likely through German writer Franz Werfel’s magisterial 1933 novel, “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.” The novel was an international bestseller when it was published, though it was loathed early on by the Nazis. When the Germans were mercilessly putting down the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1944, the soldiers were surprised by how many copies of the novel they found among the dead Jewish fighters.”

So my childhood was anything but normal as I grew up on these survival stories. I grew up attending vigils alongside my parents and grandparents in memory of all those Armenians who perished at the hands of the enemy. I grew up remembering our dead. Because:
“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” Elie Wiesel

Today is the 24th of April. Had it been during normal times, with no COVID-19, Armenians all over the world would have gathered and marched the streets of cities all over the world, in memory of the 1.5 million who died at the hands of the Turks one hundred and five years ago. That’s what we do every year on this day. We hold vigils and march in different parts of the world, honoring our dead and demanding justice from the world.

In an article by Robert Fisk in the Independent, “The Forgotten Holocaust,” I read:

“On 24 April 1915, Turkish troops rounded up and killed hundreds of Armenian intellectuals. Weeks later, three million Armenians were marched from their homes – the majority towards Syria and modern-day Iraq – via an estimated 25 concentration camps.
In 1915, The New York Times reported that “the roads and the Euphrates are strewn with corpses of exiles… It is a plan to exterminate the whole Armenian people.” Winston Churchill would later call the forced exodus an “administrative holocaust”.
Yet Turkey, while acknowledging that many Armenians died, disputes the 1.5 million toll and insists that the acts of 1915-17 did not constitute what is now termed genocide – defined by the UN as a state-sponsored attempt to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. Instead, Ankara claims the deaths were part of the wider war, and that massacres were committed by both sides.
Adolf Hitler, in a 1939 speech in which he ordered the killing, “mercilessly and without compassion”, of Polish men, women and children, concluded: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of, the Armenians?””

The atrocities committed against Armenians by the Turks are so terrorizing and vicious and the survivors’ stories so sad and tragic. Every living Armenian has a story he/she carries in his/her heart, passed on by generations of survivors. I know that my great grandfather (maternal) was taken from his home and killed by the Turks. On this day and every day, we owe our lives to all those who lost theirs.

I don’t know much about my grandparents’ childhood. Their life was overshadowed by their fight against the Turks, by their displacement, by their struggle to survive when everything they had was taken away from them, their homes, their lands. All I can remember is that they got teary-eyed talking about their home.

memories

I have never seen the houses my parents grew up in, nor the lands in the province of Musa Dagh, now in present-day Turkey. They were very young when they lost everything, my father was ten and my mother seven at the time. As refugees in a foreign land, my parents didn’t have a childhood. My father had to work at the age of thirteen to support his family and so did my mother. Deprived of their childhood and proper education, they did their best to give us the best childhood and send us to the best schools and universities.

So no, Mrs. Obama, I cannot answer your question without getting hurt and offended, because our story is one of a kind. It’s the story of genocide, the first in the 20th century. Had the tyrants and murderers been punished, perhaps the holocaust and other genocides could have been prevented. To quote Robert Fisk,
“Encouraged by their victory over the Allies, the Turks fell upon the Armenians with the same fury as the Nazis were to turn upon the Jews of Europe two decades later.”

And if I ever had the chance to rewrite history books, I would try and portray the events as they really were and get the truth out to the world. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

ChK

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Nothing In Life Is To Be Feared, It Is Only To Be Understood.

“Midway this way of life we’re bound upon,
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
Where the light road was wholly lost and gone.

Then I looked up, and saw the morning rays
Mantle its shoulder from the planet bright
Which guides men’s feet aright on all their ways;”
Dante

Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is here wreaking havoc across the continents and paralysing the world.

Here in Montreal, the mayor declared a state of emergency that has been in effect since the 28th of March.

On the 14th of March, on a Saturday morning when things were still normal, I went out for my usual grocery shopping with my daughter. It was early in the morning and cold, very cold. Usually in the mornings the supermarket that I go to is almost empty. But not on that day; I was surprised to find so many cars in the parking lot that early. On the escalator on my way there I had this strange feeling in my stomach.

Inside, it was so crowded that the lines of people at all the cashiers reached well into the aisles. I had never seen so many people in this supermarket before, not even during the most crowded hours of the evening. Looking around I had a moment of déjà vu, a feeling of having been in this situation before.

Anxious, I pushed my way through the queues as I headed towards the refrigerated section. To my surprise, all the fridges and almost every shelf in the store actually, were totally empty. No meat, no poultry, no milk, no eggs, no frozen fruits or vegetables, no canned foods, no rice, no pasta, almost nothing was left. The only item available from my list was coffee and that’s because I had switched to decaf…

I stood there shocked, in front of one long, empty aisle, trying to process what was going on without panicking. Suddenly I remembered a similar situation from way back in Beirut during the civil war. On a cold February morning some thirty plus years ago, I had walked to the nearest supermarket to do my grocery shopping when I found myself facing empty shelves and people panic buying everything. I remember rushing straight back home and calling my husband. It took only a few hours for the bombing to start between the militias, and we had to spend the worst days of our lives in the basement of the building, hiding from the incoming bombs.

Most things are forgotten over time. Caught up in the ordinary events and struggles of daily life, I had forgotten about the war, about those days. And on this Saturday morning, here in a different city, in a different country, on a different continent even, I stood in front of one of the empty aisles, feeling anxiety and panic slowly creep in. I felt helpless, with no idea what to do or where to go next. And this time it wasn’t bombs I was frightened of and hiding from, but a nasty killer virus called the CORONAVIRUS.

Disappointed and stressed, we returned home. A few hours later, the Quebec province’s premier announced the closure of schools and universities and urged the people of Quebec to work from home and stay home.

Ever since that day things have been changing so fast for us all. I am worried and even frightened sometimes. And in the words of Elie Wiesel:
“I have learned two lessons in my life: first, there are no sufficient literary, psychological, or historical answers to human tragedy, only moral ones. Second, just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.”

Hope given to us by other human beings. By our leaders, our government and specially our Quebec Premier Mr. Francois Legault and his team of experts, Director of Public Health Dr. Horacio Arruda and Health Minister Danielle McCann. They are always bringing us daily updates of the latest statistics in their briefings and providing us with guidelines to follow to stay safe and keep the situation under control. They have become a source of comfort and hope in making us aware of the situation and helping us to understand the truth about this monster virus.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie

I am grateful for them, but mostly I am grateful for all the doctors, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, researchers, and all those people who are out there away from their families and their loved ones. They are risking their lives and working hard to provide us with all the necessities so that we, the rest of us, can stay home safe. My thoughts and prayers go out to them all.

There will be people who will not follow the guidelines and who will put their lives and the lives of others in danger. It’s those people that we should be most wary of.

The fight against this awful virus is global. None of us knows what will happen next. Yet we go along and follow the guidelines given to us, and we stay home. Because we trust that, like everything else in this life, these days will pass. Because we believe in our professionals and their expertise. Because we have faith.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

“Faith is not being sure. It is not being sure, but betting with your last cent. Faith is not making religious sounding noises in the daytime. It is asking your innermost-self questions at night- and then getting up and going to work.” Mary Jean Irion

You are in my thoughts and prayers! Be safe!

ChK

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Life Is Always Moving

“I have always known that at last I would take this road, but yesterday I did not know that it would be today.” Narihara

I am having kind of an off day today. I certainly am not myself. In fact all week last week felt kind of odd to me. It was as if I was observing my own life pass by and I had no part or say in it. I am cranky because my writing corner is messy, my desk is cluttered with books and notebooks and I can’t find anything. I am cranky because I am exhausted. I’ve let myself forget my moments of solitude necessary to center myself. Instead I feel that I am trying to fill myself up with the wrong things.

There was a time in my life when I hungered for space and time to nurture my creativity. I remember being so organized and disciplined that I could take care of my children, my house and my job and pursue my dream even if it meant spending sleepless nights at my desk. I always thought that it was the right thing to do until I read what Toni Morrison had to say:

“We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for that.”

If only I knew then what I know now. I’ve been this way many times before. It’s not easy when I don’t have a specific place to go, somewhere to be every day. It’s not easy to feel that I ought to be doing something when there is nothing in the next twenty-four hours I have to look forward to.

“How can you know what road to take unless you know where you are going?” Dumas the Younger

The life I want is not the one I have chosen and made but the one I will be choosing and making. Life is always moving and it’s not that life is throwing something new in my face every time. It is the same wretched thing over and over again. When this happens week in and week out I know that I am not experiencing harmony in my daily life. I know that I am not participating in the process of living in the moment. I need to find my inner peace. I need to start again, begin at the beginning. I need to find something that sparks my imagination. I need to move on.

The Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne originally published their poems and novels under male pseudonyms: Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. George Eliot’s real name was Mary Ann Evans. She assumed a man’s pen name to publish her books Middlemarch, Silas Marner, The Mill On The Floss. They, like many contemporary female writers, did this in an age that discounted the genuine longings of a woman.

George Eliot Wrote:
“It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good and we must hunger after them.”

ChK

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To Our Angels

“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.” Lemony Snicket

I lost two loved ones last month. My aunt Lucy, my mom’s younger sister, died suddenly on the 9th of February. Her death was so unexpected and her loss so great for us all, and especially for my mom. My mom died of a broken heart twelve days later on the 21st of February. Not a moment has passed since then that I haven’t missed them both. Not a night has gone by that I haven’t cried myself to sleep.

I admit I’m still in some kind of shock. It’s heartbreaking to lose a loved one, let alone two, within such a short time. I still question how and why. How did this happen? Why both? I search for answers but can’t find any.

You know the saying that everything happens for a reason? In my mind I am convinced that this is what happened and maybe it’s for the best, but my heart tells me something else. I can’t help but feel angry. Angry at myself that I lived so far away and I hadn’t seen them in a long time, even though we talked every day. Angry that I wasn’t there to give them a hug, cover their lovely faces with my kisses, hold their hands and tell them how much I loved them and that they both meant the world to me.

As the days pass by, my feelings of sadness, hurt, and loneliness get stronger. During this last month and weeks I feel like I am spinning in and out of uncontrollable emotions. One minute I am sad, the next I am empty and depressed and crying my heart out. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross claims that the depressive state is not a mental illness, it’s a response to a great loss.

I remember the exact moment I received the sad news each time. The hardest thing is when the life of a person you love stops suddenly and you are left to put the pieces together. Strange how a feeling of panic hits you when you realize the reality of the situation. You become aware of the fact that they are gone and it’s final. You become aware of the shortness of time, of an unfulfilled dream, of a wish not granted, like on my part the wish to see them once more. You feel sadder than ever and try to accept the fact. You think you will be okay but the truth of the matter is, you won’t.

As always when I am in trouble and overwhelmed with sadness I isolate myself from my surroundings. That’s the only way I know how to heal. Being alone is my way of adjusting to my world of loss. I feel helpless with people who don’t understand me. I don’t want my feelings to be exposed especially when I am grieving.

And I turn inwards to try to understand the meaning of all this. I find myself filled with so many memories, so many stories, so many treasured moments, and of course so many questions that are all trying to surface. Tears, pain, crying, despair that cannot be stopped nor reasoned with. The only way I can capture all of these is by putting them down on paper. And on days like this I can only put words on my page. Words that once written could help me leave those feelings behind… or so I wish. And by doing so I try to find myself after all has been lost.

Dearest aunt (morkour) how I wish more than anything to hear your voice once more as I wish I had more time with you to tell you how much you meant to me. You were the dearest and nearest person to me and I loved you so very much. Growing up I looked up to you. You inspired me in more ways than you can imagine and later on you became my best friend. What we had was very special and sweet and irreplaceable. You were my special person and I think deep down you knew that. Now that you are gone I feel kind of lost. You were so giving always, ready to help your loved ones no matter what. I miss hearing your sweet voice, your encouraging words. I miss your smile, your liveliness, your optimism, and your prayers. You were there for me every step of the way and I couldn’t even be there to pay my final respect. I am forever grateful for your love, for your support, for knowing you and having you in my life. I think of you every moment of every day and I will always remember you for as long as I live and for as long as it is possible for me to do so.

Dearest mom you always told me that when you die I shouldn’t leave my family and travel all that distance for you because you won’t even feel it. But I wish I could have done so. It hurts to know that I wasn’t there to pay my final respect to you both after all that you two have done for me, for my husband, for my kids, for my family.

Dearest mom you left us unexpectedly without me being able to tell you once more how much I love you, how much I miss you. I miss hearing your voice, your loving words, your blessings and your prayers. I miss hearing your voice telling me all will be okay. Thanks to you I am the person I am today. Your sacrifice to your family and loved ones was so great. You inspired me to be a good mother to my children, you never tired of giving. You were always there for me. Every time I faced a difficulty it was you who gave me courage to go on. Words are not enough to express my gratitude for what you have taught me, for all you have done for me, for us, for all the sacrifices you have made so that I can be where I am today. It’s hard to go on knowing you are not in this world. I miss your hugs, your love and your giving and caring nature. Love you forever.

I know I will never find an ending to this grief. The feeling of a loss never goes away. Sarah Dessen writes:
“You never got used to it, the idea of someone being gone. Just when you think it’s reconciled, accepted, someone points it out to you, and it just hits you all over again, that shocking.”

If it’s any consolation we have two more guardian Angels in heaven watching over us just like they did here on earth. The world and this life will never be the same again now that you’re both gone. You will always be in our hearts. We miss you both so much. We will always love you both and will never forget you.

Rest in peace my Angels.

ChK

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Blessed To Be Valued As A Woman

“Sometimes I feel quite distinctly that what is inside me is not all of me. There is something else, sublime, quite indestructible, some tiny fragment of the Universal spirit. Don’t you feel that?” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

I read a report by Al Jazeera dated 28 Jan 2019 about how ‘Twitter users mocked authorities in the UAE after it emerged that winners of an initiative designed to foster gender equality in the workplace were won entirely by men.’
The report also referred to the status of women in UAE, saying:
‘The UN was concerned that it was still possible for a man to prohibit his wife from working and to limit her freedom of movement.’

This last paragraph took me back to our first years in Dubai in 1984 when we first went to work and live there. We were part of the foreign workforce in Dubai. For any of us in to be able to work and live in Dubai we had to have an employment contract and a sponsor, primarily the employer.

As I have mentioned in my earlier blog posts, the advertising company that my husband worked for transferred him to Dubai before closing its offices in Beirut due to the ongoing civil war. So his company, in this case his sponsor, was responsible for his work permit and thus his residence visa.

As for me, even though I had a signed contract with a company, my husband suggested at the time that it was better if he sponsored me so that I would have the freedom to change jobs. Something he didn’t have then. To change jobs you had to also change sponsors and your visa would get cancelled; you had to leave the country for six months and only afterwards could you apply for a new job. Back then that was definitely not an option for my husband and for so many of our friends.

I was lucky that my husband belonged to the category of workers who could sponsor their wives. Not everyone could do that. However, before I could even work my husband had to write a letter to the Ministry of Labor. In the letter he wrote that he had no objection for me, his wife, to work, and hence I was granted a work permit.

He did the same afterwards for my driving license. Once again he wrote a letter to the authorities concerned saying that he, my husband, had no objection for me, his wife, to drive a car. Hence I was allowed to register with a driving school and get my license.

We didn’t mind doing whatever was necessary. I had my family and a great job teaching mathematics to high school kids and coordinating the entire Math department in an international school of over 3000 students, so it wasn’t a big deal writing all those letters and filling out all those forms.

In my spare time I was also taking correspondence courses and writing a book. When I finished my manuscript I started looking for publishers. I got a list from Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and I queried them. Unfortunately 9/11 had just happened and all my manila envelopes were returned back to me unopened. So I had to look locally and was lucky to find one publisher.

The first and most important thing the publisher informed us was that the manuscript had to be approved by the Ministry of Information and Culture and that my husband had to write another letter saying that he had no objection for his wife to write a book, and what’s more, that he did not object to have it made public. The publisher then instructed my husband to take the letter and my manuscript on a floppy disk on my behalf to the ministry for approval and censorship. Only then was an ISBN assigned and the disk went directly to the printers, in this case Al Bayan Printing and Press.

After the book was published, my husband had to deliver ten copies of the book to the ministry, as required. All the talk and negotiations were carried out on my behalf by my husband. I was never present in any meetings and yet the book got published. There was no press release or anything. The book was placed in Book Corner, a bookstore that sold English books.

When it was time for us to leave the country for good in July 2006 and immigrate to Canada, a representative from my husband’s company drove us to the airport and accompanied us to the departure gate to make sure that we were leaving the country and that our visas were cancelled.

Despite all that I felt sad at the airport. Sad that a part of our lives, a good part of our lives, was over. All rules and regulations set aside, we had a good life in Dubai, we met so many good people and made many good friends.

Twelve years later as a Canadian citizen, I feel blessed to have a place to finally call home. I feel blessed to be valued as a woman and treated as a first class citizen. I feel safe knowing that I won’t be escorted out of the country when I lose my job. And for the first time in a long time I feel that I belong.

“When traditional rationality divides the world into subjects and objects it shuts out Quality, and when you’re really stuck it’s Quality, not any subjects or objects, that tells you where you ought to go.” R.M. Pirsig

Have a great week!

ChK

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Write Myself Into Well-Being

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” Carl Jung

Last Tuesday my horoscope from my phone app read:

“If you have been wondering about your purpose here on earth, today is a great day to gain some revealing insight on your life. You may be frustrated because life’s daily challenges, petty disputes and irritating problems are getting in the way of doing whatever it is you are meant to be doing. But if you take some quiet time to dwell on your purpose today, a window will open up to you giving you a clearer, sharper look at why you are here. Hint: those challenges, disputes and problems are part of the learning experience. So don’t curse them but rather embrace them for what they are.”

This past week has been a rough week. We had the biggest snowstorm of the year so far in Canada and of course here in Montreal. According to Environment Canada meteorologist Alexandre Parent: “With the temperature not exceeding -15 degrees Celsius, we have to go back to 1920 to see a snowstorm like this.”

On a personal note I endured a challenge last week. I didn’t see it coming; it happened just as I was back on track with my writing and I thought everything was okay. I’ve confronted and overcome many challenges in my life before, some even life-threatening, and I still do so. The fact that this affects my writing is when it gets depressing for me.

Feeling sad, bitter, angry, and discouraged, I started to doubt everything in my life. I asked myself questions like: “Could I have done something?” “Should I have done something?” “Was I right to do what I did?” “Why couldn’t I have been smarter?” “Why couldn’t I have been more alert?” and so on.

Joseph Campbell wrote:

“Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.”

It’s easy to become caught in self-doubt, weighing and analyzing the unseen factors. It’s like these past few days I have felt a force pulling me into the mysterious world of fears, worries, and regrets. I’m dragged away from the life I have into empty fantasies about the life that could have been, if only things had turned out differently.

I don’t remember who it was who said that life is like a game of chess and that “no one has ever won the game by taking only forward moves. Sometimes you have to move backwards to take better steps forward.” I tell myself I have to stop dwelling in difficult times. I have to stop this blaming process for the decisions I made decades ago. There is no need to count back over the past looking for wrong turns. I must choose to focus on the positive and avoid the negative. I cannot change the past but today I can perhaps do better.

Past experience has taught me that with time any given situation or problem resolves itself. The trick is not to panic, not to stress. Hence I must write. With pen and paper I’ll revise my world and my priorities- as much as I can for as long as it takes- or as long as is possible for me to do so. I must write myself into well-being.

I must make a wish list. Wish lists have always worked for me in the past. It helps me get real and be grounded. It helps me remember who I am and what my goal is. I only have to force myself to focus on the possible positive. I have to just keep on keeping on. I have to muster the courage to continue.

Creative changes begin in the heart. When I start within myself from my wish list and move outward, expressing what I love and what I value, life eventually will get better and I will feel better. Or so I hope.

Carl Jung wrote:
“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

ChK

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My Corner My Refuge

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Virginia Woolf

Isn’t that every aspiring writer’s dream regardless of gender?

I grew up in a small village in the east of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. My grandparents came to that place in 1939 as refugees with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. My mother was seven and my dad ten. They lived in tents under dire conditions in a place where they didn’t even speak the language. Through hard work, determination, and a will to survive, they beat the odds and turned that place into the paradise it is today.

Growing up, we didn’t have much, but we had stories and we had books. My parents loved to read and they passed on that love to us. I would feverishly wait for the start of the school year when I would stay in bed with all my new books. I would make their spines crack gently as I opened them for the first time. I would sniff their special smell, look at the pages, the pictures, and then start reading.

As a child I shared a bedroom with my two siblings. My bed was in a corner by the wall. My most cherished memory of my childhood is sitting on my bed with a lap-desk that my father had made me, immersed in my books or scribbling with my pen in my notebooks, with the sound of rain beating on the roof.

I was a teenager when I got my own bedroom. In a corner next to my bed I had a desk with a typewriter which I only used to write term papers. I did all my scribbling and writing in that corner in long hand using fountain pen. I would fill page after page only to tear them up afterwards.

Back then I didn’t think I had enough material to write about. I hadn’t really lived my life. The only life I had known, the only people I had really known, were the ones living in my village. Later I discovered that a writer could focus on a small place; that if he wrote about it honestly and intimately enough, he could make it his own, and he could make it matter.

Years later when I moved to Dubai with my husband, I carried my writing with me. I fixed a corner of my bedroom to be my sanctuary, my writing corner. The only difference from my previous corners was that this time I had a real desk with drawers on both sides.

I don’t know why exactly I never considered any room in the house for writing other than my bedroom. Maybe because I am someone who gets scared very easily and late at night when I would sit to write, having my husband sleep in the room gave me some kind of security or safety. Even with him in the room my corner was my place of solitude. It was the place where I was free to go into my own world and dwell in it for as long as it took. It was my place to be alone and write my stories and my books.

Moving to Montreal, I shipped my desk with me and again set my writing space in a corner of my bedroom. I thought finally I would be able to write what I had wanted to and dreamt about all along.

Shortly after, my husband passed away and I found myself in a hole, at the bottom of a bottomless pit, in almost total solitude. Inside my house I was so alone that I almost felt alienated. I felt so isolated from my surroundings and even myself. It was then I realized that only writing can save me. My corner became my sanctuary, my shelter, my refuge, my altar, my home.

Joseph Campbell writes:
“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

ChK

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Cheers And Happy New Year

“Man follows earth, earth follows sky, sky follows the way, the way follows nature. Don’t commit actions which go against the basic character of nature, don’t commit acts which should not be committed.” Gao Xingjian

The New Year is around the corner and I can’t decide on any resolutions. I gave up on promises long ago when I discovered that no matter what I decide or do, if something is bound to happen it will happen. As the saying goes, “if it is meant to be it will be.”

I believe that we can to some extent take control of our lives. I also believe in fate. I learned this through my personal experience. The truth of the matter is that even if you do everything by the book, destiny strikes and something totally unexpected happens that turns your life upside down. Fate is unyielding and humans are frail and weak. People experience realities which differ greatly.

As 2018 is coming to a close I look back at the good times and the bad times I had. I lost two special people who were very dear to me this last year. I regret not having made the time nor the effort to call them often. I regret losing opportunities to advance my career as a writer. I regret my lack of courage to approach people with my ideas and projects. I regret not being forward and persistent in chasing after my dream. I regret spending my time sitting like an idiot waiting for the phone to ring.

Too much critical thinking, too much rationality, too many implications! Life has no logic! Otherwise how can anyone explain why people fight? In a century that is most advanced of all centuries technologically, scientifically and medically, why is there so much violence? Why do innocent people get killed? Why do terrorists torture people? Why are women and children abused by people they trust most?

I used to think that when children played outside it meant that people were safe, that times were good. But time has proved me wrong again. Even children are not immune from falling bombs. Where is the logic behind all this? What is the meaning behind all this? I think I need to break away from this kind of thinking, this is the cause of all my anxiety. Life is to be lived, not understood.

To be a good writer, you do not have to have a complicated moral philosophy; a writer always tries to understand a little about life and pass it on. To be a good writer you not only have to write a great deal, but you have to care.

My perspective is always changing as I age. I don’t know where I am going and sometimes I don’t even know what it is that I’m searching for. Not knowing what one is looking for is pure misery. I sleep badly and I get up early and that sort of behavior damages my self-esteem.

Somehow these last months I was able to get myself out of my inertia. I managed to write a blog post every week since November 11, the day I decided to put a stop to all the nonsense excuses I created for being lazy. Thanks to my readers and fellow bloggers I am back in the game.

Kurt Vonnegut writes:
“When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at a top speed.”

Writing takes a combination of complexity and purity, it takes integrity, a conviction that something is beautiful since it is right. Henceforth, my resolution for 2019 will be none other than to continue writing. I will try and write from the deepest part of myself and go on giving and writing, since I believe as always that the giving is going to be my best reward.

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” Ernest Hemingway

Cheers to you all and a happy New Year!

ChK

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That Which Is Most Personal

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a writer. I loved books and paper and pens. I loved to read books and create stories in my head. I loved to collect pens and pencils and journals and diaries and notebooks of every shape and size; white paper, colored paper, lined paper, blank paper…

My favorite pastime was doodling on a blank page. I would just write anything and everything on the page. Stories I came up with, things that happened to me, thoughts that occurred to me, phrases that did not make sense at all. I would continue writing for as long as the ink lasted in my pen. And then I would tear up the pages. As Arthur Hailey writes:

“I never just sit and think; I do it by making notes because you doodle naturally. The first ideas are always very naïve, and I always destroy them because I never want anyone to read them.”

By the time I was in high school, the civil war had started in Lebanon. Overnight everything changed. All the dreams that I had for my future suddenly became impossible for me to realize given the terrible state of the country. I gave up on most of my dreams – survival became the priority.

Years went by and I finished university and got married. The company where my late husband worked closed its offices in Beirut and they offered to transfer us to Dubai. We were lucky. It was a wise move at the time, even though it was emotionally very stressful.

The war was still going on in the country and we were leaving behind our families and friends. At the same time, we were happy since we both had jobs waiting for us in Dubai. For us having a job meant security and peace of mind.

By the time the civil war stopped we were already settled in Dubai. We had our circle of friends, and somehow Dubai had become our home away from home. Our life seemed to be normal once again and I was free to dream. Finding the courage to dream again, I also found that the parts of myself I had put aside or misplaced were alive and well.

Neil Gaiman writes:
“People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.”

I started writing. I participated in writing workshops and enrolled in correspondence courses. I stopped tearing up the pages I wrote and I started to share my writings with others. I realized that the more freely and openly I spoke about myself and my experiences the more people could relate to them, and the more connected I felt to the world. The more genuine I became in communicating my feelings and doubts, the more people connected with my writing. In the words of Carl Rogers:

“That which is most personal is most general.”

Dubai offered me comfort and safety and my job gave me the security I needed to realize my dream. I became not only a writer but an author too when my first book got published there.

I still remember our first Christmas in Dubai. In December 1985, on Christmas Eve, after attending my husband’s company’s Christmas dinner, we stopped at the nearest supermarket to buy some milk on our way home. As we were about to enter, a group of little kids came out shouting and screaming cheerfully. They were so young that the oldest looked hardly ten years old. They were kids from the neighborhood, the boys wearing their traditional dishdashes and slippers, and the girls in their long colorful dresses with their black shiny hair combed into long braids. The youngest of the boys, the tiniest, stopped to speak to us. His face beaming with happiness he said in an excited and loud voice,
“Look! He gave me Christmas, did he give you yours?”

He showed us his hands. He was such a sight to look at. We went in to find Santa handing out goodies and sweets, much to the amusement of the local kids.

So whether it’s Christmas or Hanukkah or New Year you’re celebrating, I hope it will bring joy and peace to your hearts the same way it brought happiness to that little boy even though he belonged to a different faith.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

ChK

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Sweetest Times Simple Pleasures

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” Carl G. Jung

In one of my earlier blog posts Try Again Fail Again Fail Better I wrote about the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I also mentioned how following her instructions in the book I wrote morning pages on a daily basis. Another basic tool for creative recovery that she talks about and which I tried to accomplish is The Artist Date. What exactly is the artist date?

“An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers. You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist, a.k.a. your creative child. That means no lovers, friends, spouses, children- no taggers-on of any stripe.” Julia Cameron

A date alone with yourself, your artist self, your creative child. Sounds amazing right? The first thing that came to my mind was to have a nice cup of coffee somewhere. I am a coffee person and hence going on a coffee date was the most reasonable thing for me to do as a first date. The more I thought about doing it though the harder it appeared to be.

I realized that I had never been on a coffee date alone for quite some time now. I had always been either with my late husband or with my friends. Unfortunately I had lost two of my good friends to heart attacks and my husband to cancer all within three years of each other. I was hesitant at first. When I finally summoned up the courage and drove to the nearest Starbucks I felt so out of place that all I wanted to do was drive back home.

I didn’t go on artist dates after that for about three weeks. On the fourth week I thought I would give it a try again. Since I love books, pens, pencils, paper and notebooks, basically anything to do with writing materials, I decided to take my artist to a bookstore or a stationery shop.

So I drove to the nearest Staples. I roamed the aisles looking at different things. I really took my time to walk around the entire store. It felt good, I felt good. I remembered when I used to do the same thing with my kids back in the old days when we lived in Dubai.

When I was teaching and my kids were young children in elementary school, our school week started on Saturdays and ended on Wednesdays. So we had Thursdays and Fridays off, while my husband had Fridays and Saturdays off. Friday was our only day together as a family.

On Thursdays, to make it a special day for my kids, I used to take them out on a kind of shopping spree. They both had their weekly allowance depending on how clean and tidy they kept their rooms, and sometimes even an extra bonus for getting good marks. Both my kids loved to read and draw and paint. So on Thursdays I would take them to this shop called Fahidi Stationery on Fahidi Street in Bur Dubai, to buy whatever they wanted as long as they stayed within a limit of 10 dirhams of their savings.

Besides stationery, the shop also sold toys, children’s books, backpacks, lunchboxes, and lots of other stuff. Once inside I would watch their excitement as they each grabbed a basket and wandered through the aisles looking for things to buy, stopping and counting to check if they exceeded their limit or not. Back in the days there was no tax in Dubai and 10 dirhams could get them quite a few items.

Afterwards I would take them to eat burgers at a family-friendly restaurant where they could also watch Cartoon Network on a big screen. They would return home happy and anxious to try their new stuff and plan for their next trip. What we did then may not seem much, it may not have been something splendid or out of the ordinary, but I believe that those moments were the nicest and sweetest times that brought simple pleasures to us.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to go on an artist date for over two years now. Most of the time I find myself longing for things I cannot have, for places I cannot go. I cannot live where I want. I cannot do things I love to do. I cannot even say what’s on my mind. Then I tell myself that it’s okay. It’s okay to long for things. It’s okay to dream. I can never give up longing and wishing, no one can. I feel the beauty around me and since I can only write, it would be stupid of me to not write about how I feel.

“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau

ChK

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