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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An Act Of Faith

“Creativity is an act of faith. As artists, our graceful ability to encompass difficulty rests in our ability to be faithful.” Julia Cameron

Faith: Allegiance to duty or a person; loyalty; fidelity to one’s promises; sincerity of intentions; believe; trust (Miriam Webster’s Dictionary)

Faith: trust; strong belief; unquestioning confidence (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary)

I have been blogging for almost eight years now and after a long pause I managed to post an article every week for the past four weeks. Why is it then that I feel wretched?

I sit at my desk and look back. All my life all I’ve wanted to do is write stories and books and get published. There is nothing more satisfying or gratifying to a writer than getting published. But the reality is completely different.

My first book “The Lost I” was published in Dubai in April 2004. Not a word was said about it in the press. It was just dumped by the publisher in one bookstore that sold English books in Dubai. What’s worse is that the publisher didn’t have the rights to distribute the book in any other bookstore, it being an English novel. The few people who bought it and read it loved it. And it stopped there.

If that was not lesson enough I fell in the same trap here when we first arrived with a publisher from New York, Raider Publishing International. Maybe because I was too ambitious, too quick to sign a two year contract without doing much research on them. That was a big mistake on my part. Afterwards I published it on Amazon in Kindle format. Even Amazon didn’t let me control the pricing to give it for free when all I wanted was for people to read my story.

I trusted the wrong people and innocently believed their words. All those books on agents and publishers that I had read didn’t help at all to prevent me from making these mistakes. Throughout my life I’ve always been disappointed and hurt by people and their empty promises.

Sometimes I feel that no publisher will accept my manuscripts simply because I write about things and people that no one in this part of the world is interested in. Or maybe because I can only write about things that touch my soul and these have no commercial value.

As a writer my beliefs are shaken. I tremble when I think of the changes I have to make to my stories and my style if I want to get published and I do not know quite how to make them. Maybe that’s why I feel I don’t have the courage to write the book I’ve been planning and plotting in my mind for quite some time now. If I try and fail, I don’t know what the rest of my life would be like. Isn’t it better to live cherishing a dream than face the possibility that it might all come to nothing?

But I write anyway. I try to write every day. There are many days when I don’t feel like writing. And when I am not writing, I create all sorts of drama to distract myself from the fact that I am not working. There are days when I want to throw in the towel and say, “Oh, what’s the use, why try? It will come to nothing anyway.”

I feel time is running out on me. I have to have some kind of validation. I need to have something to hang on to. I need to have confidence. I need to have faith. I need to have some deeply rooted faith in my work. I need to trust my work and believe in its worth regardless of the world’s apparent acceptance or rejection. What I shouldn’t do is look for the answers for myself, but rather mark the ways I’m wrong today so that I can be a little less wrong tomorrow.

Robert M. Pirsig wrote:
“Growth is an endlessly iterative process. When we learn something new, we don’t go from “wrong” to “right”. Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong. And when we learn something additional, we go from slightly less wrong to slightly less wrong than that, and then to even less wrong than that, and so on. We are always in the process of approaching truth and perfection without actually ever reaching truth or perfection.”

ChK

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Perhaps

It’s the month of December again. It’s that time of year that I would rather skip altogether if I had the choice. This week marks the birthday of someone very special and dear to me. It will be the first birthday without her around. It will be the first time that I won’t be calling to wish her a happy birthday and hear her cheerful voice back.

And in less than two weeks it will be my late husband’s birthday, his sixth without him. And on his birthday on December 13 I will bake a cake and the three of us, my kids and I, will light a candle in his memory. We will celebrate his life and the times we spent together and the life we had. We will cry and laugh remembering his jokes as his voice and laughter will echo in our ears and thus continue his legacy. For isn’t this how a legacy is built? One memory at a time?

Then Christmas will come and we will have our traditional family dinner, his empty chair at the table. Afterwards we will either watch a movie or just sit around wondering if the night will soon pass, if it will ever pass. Asking how much longer we can endure it before we can go to our rooms.

Mitch Albom writes:
“You can’t keep things alive. I’m learning that, painfully. No matter how much you love something, or someone, their existence is out of your control. You can weep. You can wail. But you can’t summon them back. All you can do is carry on and remember. So I pull out the furniture and move it around, if only in my mind, which is where so much of this holiday lives. Empty chairs. Missing loved ones. Lord, how their voices once filled the room, as their echoes fill it now.”

Empty chairs. I look around. Every room in the house has a corner that was once his and is now empty. The furniture, everything, is exactly the same as before, except for the emptiness. Sometimes, some tiny little thing, a sound, a song, or a memory, makes me stop short all of a sudden and I feel the strong desire to cry in the middle of whatever it is I am doing. It seems unbearable that everything should be the same as if nothing has changed.

And now more than ever I am less confident and less optimistic than I once was. I do not know with how much or how little courage I can face my future if it comes; old age, lonely days and nights. I know for sure my peace of mind is gone forever, it will never completely return. But I pray that come what may, the love we had and the memory of our life spent together will help me continue.

PERHAPS
“Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of you.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though you have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although you are not there.

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of you
Was broken, long ago.” (V.B. 1916)

ChK

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Try Again Fail Again Fail Better

“True life is lived when tiny choices are made. Tiny choices mean big changes. But it is only with infinitesimal change, changes so small no one else can even realize you’re making them, that you have any hope for transformation.” Leo Tolstoy

On a cold February morning in 2014 I met a woman in the waiting room of a clinic here in Montreal. The wait was long and while I sat there kind of depressed and feeling down this young woman came and sat beside me. She started talking by saying how she hated the long waits in the clinics here and before long we were chatting. She then asked me if I had read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. When I said no, not even heard of her, she said it’s a must read for every artist and will help me get unblocked. By the time I reached home I had already ordered the book and asked my son to pick it up for me from the bookstore on his way home from university.

It was a time in my life when my self-esteem was at its lowest. I had quit teaching to be with my late husband, to support and care for him in his battle with cancer. Now if you are working you know there’s something about earning money. It kind of helps give you control over your life. It kind of gives you freedom; you enjoy an independence that cannot be replaced by anything. You know that you can take care of yourself no matter what happens.

I had lost that privilege. I had lost my freedom- my power- my control over my own life. Hence I was not only angry but I also loathed myself for being in this situation. To top it all I wasn’t doing well physically. I had been rushed to the ER a few times for my heart, with stress related symptoms. The most difficult challenge for me at the time was managing my way through the emotional roller coaster I found myself in.

That night I started reading and this book hit home. One thing led to another and soon I found myself borrowing from the library and sometimes even buying and reading all kinds of self-help books I could lay my hands on. I even started reading books on sixth sense and spirituality and all those that I normally wouldn’t read.

Going through those books somehow calmed me down and made me feel good about myself and I completely lost myself in them. I started following these authors on Facebook and dutifully obeyed their instructions and did the suggested exercises in their books, especially Julia Cameron’s morning pages.

“What are morning pages? Put simply, the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness: They might also, more ingloriously, be called brain drain, since that is one of their main functions.” Julia Cameron

This was all new to me and it felt like I was taking control of my life again. I believed that I would soon get unblocked since in Cameron’s words, “The morning pages are the primary tool of creative recovery.”

So I filled notebook after notebook with my writing, believing that soon I would start to write and gain back my confidence. Why not? But after doing it for months I realized that all my writing was so negative. All I was doing on the page was complaining and whining and blaming circumstances and others for all my failures. What’s worse is that I had stopped writing. Once I wrote my morning pages I was so drained mentally and emotionally that I didn’t want to write anything afterwards.

George Bernard Shaw writes:
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”

Being an early bird I always wrote in the morning. And now that I had totally stopped blogging I was angry and frustrated most of the time. I missed writing, I missed blogging. Don’t get me wrong; I loved reading self-help books and I still do from time to time. What I didn’t like was my dependence on them. I had somehow convinced myself that as long as I was following their advice and doing those exercises I wasn’t wasting my time.

What I missed most was being inspired. For me inspiration often came reading about my favorite authors, perusing their biographies and watching or listening to their interviews. I missed reading the kind of books and literature that I always liked. I had lost faith in my ability to create. I was a wreck. I realized that all I ever did was stall. And all I wanted to do now was start writing again, to try again. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Julia Cameron writes:
“Any creative work is made by many small steps. The steps themselves are rarely great leaps. It is the faith to begin that we must cultivate and act upon. You need to begin anyway. Just do it. And if you don’t feel a sense of faith, you need to act anyway. As you move forward, you will feel hope and it will help you continue.”

Maybe those books helped after all. Have a great week!

ChK

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