One Word At A Time, One Page At A Time

Another night of insomnia has worked its magic on me. Exhausted my mind jumps from worry to worry, from one thought to another. To stay calm emotionally, I have to guard myself against despair. And when I find myself lying in bed awake at night, when I feel anxious and sort of lost and sleep won’t come, like tonight, I tell myself all will be well but I bet my mind doesn’t believe this.

My mind is always flooded by a million different thoughts. I constantly worry about anything and everything. It’s really frustrating. It tires me out. I just don’t have peace of mind. I remember a time when I wasn’t this tense. Maybe because my late husband was there to share and lift the burden off my shoulders. It seems like it was such a long time ago even though the day before yesterday, Friday the 16th, marked the sixth anniversary of his death. So much has happened since then.

Sometimes when I am too overcome by life, extremely swamped by responsibilities and the expectations of others, I become so distraught, so stressed and exhausted. Even my horoscope a few days ago from my phone app read:

“You may be feeling overwrought or overwhelmed by life’s challenges lately. You can handle it of course, because you are a pragmatic individual who faces life and deals with it no matter how tough it gets. But even you can succumb to stress and tension now and then.”

Feeling undermined the way I am, I start wishing for some external power or some magic to help me face my fears and get me out of the dire situation I am in. And tonight is no different. I toss and turn hoping and wishing for a miracle, for some kind of a break that may never come.

One of my biggest problems in life has always been to let go. Bearing in mind what I have been through during these last three years, I feel beaten, and focusing my energies on the negatives, I have become creatively blocked. I cannot control the outer world but I try as best as I can to control the inner world I live and create in, in order to maintain my state of well-being and stay physically well and healthy.

It’s being in the heart of things that is tricky for me. And right now I am determined to throw off the influences of any unfortunate environment and to put my own life in order. That’s the least I can do to move forward. Hence I need some place safe and quiet in which to dream and work and still keep my calm.

I crave a sheltered, harmless, stress-free, critic-free, and gossip-free environment. I have a few friends who know what I am going through and understand me and my needs. I try to only talk to people who encourage me and make me feel good about myself and avoid those who are negative and make me feel like I am a failure. I try to take it easy and live a simple life and move forward a little at a time, one baby step at a time. And when I begin to slide into despair, I know it is because I have lost my sense of grounding.

Robert M. Pirsig wrote:
“Peace of mind isn’t at all superficial, really. It’s the whole thing. That which produces it is good maintenance; that which disturbs it is poor maintenance.”

As always in times of trouble, reading and writing have been my saving grace. And even now when my life seems to be roughly out of control, I still try to put words on my page. I know from my experience that if I could just write through these difficult times steadily enough, one word at a time, one sentence at a time, one page at a time, one day at a time, life would calm back down.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in, forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

ChK

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Comfort, Love And A Peaceful Heart

The other day I was talking to a representative from the Canada Council for the Arts, when she asked to see my blog. Moments after I emailed the link to her she called back saying, and I quote:
“What a beautiful blog, very elegant, very simple and beautiful design.”

I felt a lump in my throat and at the same time I felt happy and proud. It’s been a long time since someone complimented me on the design of my blog considering that I’ve been blogging for close to eight years. I often receive compliments for my writings even though I haven’t posted for a long while now.

See, my late husband, may he rest in peace, had designed my blog for me. I didn’t have to tell him how I wanted it to look since he knew what I liked. We both believed that beauty is in the simplicity of art.

During the twenty two years that I taught mathematics to high school kids, I tried to motivate my students to think and find all the possible solutions, all the different methods of solving a given problem. And afterwards I encouraged them to choose the simplest solution which also happened to be the shortest and clearest to follow, beautiful for the eye to catch.

Bertrand Russell wrote:
“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty –a beauty cold and austere- like that of a sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.”

Sublime beauty and truth! Yes! I find beauty in the simplicity of not only mathematics but arts and literature too. My choice of books and writing reflects pretty much that. As a reader I love books that are simply written and yet speak to my heart and convey a message or portray real life situations. Books written simply about ordinary people with extraordinary dreams, people that I can relate to. I cannot stand superfluous prose where you feel the writer behind the lines pretending to tell you something beyond comprehension all in the name of art.

I feel that there is already too much going on in the world and my mind that I need everything else around me to be as simple and as peaceful and truthful and real as possible.

For the past two years or so I have sometimes felt vulnerable, sometimes bored, at other times frightened and sad, and most of the time confused and insecure regardless of how hard I have tried to stay hopeful and inspired. And as a consequence I have allowed myself to be in some kind of mental inertia. I have permitted myself to abandon my writing, my blog, my “brainchild” as Julia Cameron would call it.

In the beginning I had to let go, due to some unexpected and unpleasant situation in my life. But then it turned into a habit, a self-destructive habit that has made me miserable and depressed. A habit that has caused me to let my readers and myself down hence leaving my heart in turmoil.

Mitch Albom writes:
“You can feel the whole world and still feel lost in it. So many people are in pain –no matter how smart or accomplished- they cry, they yearn, they hurt. But instead of looking down on things, they look up, which is where I should have been looking too. Because when the world quiets to the sound of your own breathing, we all want the same things: comfort, love and a peaceful heart.”

ChK

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Imagine A Life Without Timekeeping

I spent an hour of my precious time on my computer this morning. I spent it online, checking my emails, signing in on Facebook, then browsing the web on different shopping websites. I woke up early from a bad dream and couldn’t go back to sleep.

Usually when something like that happens I stay in bed and read. But not today. Even though I grabbed my book from my bedside table I left it unopened on my bed and reached for my laptop. At first I tried to convince myself that it was only for a few minutes, just to check my email. But of course as always I couldn’t keep my promise.

Lately I have planned not to spend much time on social media and especially on Facebook. Instead I wish to use that time to work on the different writing projects that I have dreamt of for so long but haven’t yet started. That’s why I have limited my entry to these pages to twice a day and only for a few minutes at that.

As some of you know I am a fountain pen enthusiast. I like to write longhand on blank paper using fountain pens filled with different colors of ink. My love for this started early in my childhood when my late father got me my first fountain pen and bottle of ink. Since then my passion for these fine writing instruments has grown and my interest has drifted to include other stationery items like mechanical pencils and notebooks.

I love journals and diaries and notebooks of every shape and size, with white paper, colored paper, lined paper, blank paper, you name it. A good and uplifting pastime for me would be to enter a bookstore or a stationery shop and roam around and browse for hours, watching the different items on display.

These past two years have been extremely difficult for me. There were times when I was physically unable to do anything but lie in bed and read. After some time reading also became difficult and exhausting. I couldn’t concentrate for longer periods of time in one sitting.

Lau Tzu writes:
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

In order to stay positive and since I couldn’t physically visit those places I searched for different websites that sold pens, notebooks, pencils, and journals, and subscribed to their newsletters. Browsing those sites and watching all those beautiful items that I loved was the only way I knew to let things flow naturally forward.

I believed that what I was going through was only temporary and that things would get better one day soon. But the longer I waited the harder it became to stay positive. Hence while I waited, which seemed to be a very long while, I visited all those sites every day and watched and fell in love all over again with my favorite pens and notebooks.

And now that things are looking more hopeful I am trying to break away from that habit and try and be more productive. It takes time, courage and determination to do that. And sometimes I can’t help but waste my time like this morning.

Mitch Albom writes:

“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.”

ChK

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We All Make Choices In Life

When Barbara Cartland was asked if she thought anybody could write a book and have it published, she replied:

“I can’t remember what it was, but I think it was called Wings of Love. I finished it, and sent it in under a false name, and with false details about myself, to a publisher. They returned the manuscript, saying that I ought to go on writing and perhaps I would have a chance in the future. I then changed the author’s name back to mine, and sent it to my usual publisher, and it sold enormously well, like all the others.”

Lately I have watched quite a few films where a struggling young writer is trying to get his/her work published, only to receive generic rejection letters that sound exactly like this one I received years ago:

“Dear Writer:
Thank you for your inquiry. We are sorry that we cannot invite you to submit your work or offer to represent you. Please forgive the form letter – it is necessary given the large volume of submissions we receive.
We wish you the best of luck elsewhere.”

One such film is “The Words” that I watched last year. Even though it was released in 2012 I hadn’t had the chance to see it before. The genre of the story, mystery-romance, is close to my heart not only as a reader but as a writer too since I like to write mystery-romance novels myself.

The film opens with a public reading of the famous author Clayton Hammond (played by Dennis Quaid) from his book “The Words”. In his book the author tells the story of a fictional character Rory Jensen (played by Bradley Cooper), a struggling young writer living in New York who tries hard to get his book published but gets repeatedly rejected by publishers and agents.

Being ambitious he then finds a job in the mailroom of a well-known literary agency, managing the mail. One day he succeeds in personally giving his new manuscript to the senior agent of the firm. Months pass by before he hears from the agent and his book finally gets published. It becomes an overnight success and makes the bestsellers list. But unfortunately the book he wrote is not his. No one knows this except himself. He copied the text word for word from an old manuscript he found in an antique leather briefcase that his wife bought him during their honeymoon in Paris.

Eventually he confesses this to his agent and wants to make things right by the real author (played by Jeremy Irons). The agent refuses saying that he will not allow Rory to drag his agency and its reputation down.

It’s the sad reality of the publishing world nowadays. To quote from the film:
“We all make choices in life. The hard thing is to live with them.”

What’s ironic is that according to some Swiss newspapers even the film “The Words” has been copied – the plot is similar to that of a 2004 novel Lila Lila by Martin Suter, made into the German film Lila Lila released in 2009 – which is about a young unsuccessful author who discovers an old manuscript and is pushed by his girlfriend into publishing it. He too becomes an overnight success but later is confronted by an old man who knows the real author. He then publishes a second book about how this all happened.

Brian Klugman and Lee Stemthal the writers of “The Words” claim they knew nothing of Suter, his work, or Lila. They had no idea. Weird or what?

In the latest publishing news, on the 16th of February 2018, The Guardian International published an article about James Dashner, author of the bestselling young adult Maze Runner books. The article states that Dashner, after being accused of sexual harassment, has been dropped by his US publisher Penguin Random House. Dashner is also working on his first adult novel, The Waking, which had been lined up to be published by one of Random House’s imprints. Dashner was later dropped by his agent too.

Next in line was “13 Reasons Why” author Jay Asher who had also been dropped by the Andrea Brown agency after accusations of sexual harassment.

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote:

“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words, it’s expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.”

ChK

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“Sometimes I Think That’s The Only Right Thing To Do”

“I dream. Sometimes I think that’s the only right thing to do.”  Haruki Murakami

According to Miriam Webster’s dictionary a dream is defined as:
“A strongly desired goal or purpose, something that fully satisfies a wish; a visionary creation of the imagination; a state of mind marked by abstraction or release from reality.”
While the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines it as:
“The state of mind in which things going around one seem unreal- mental picture of the future; beautiful or pleasing person, thing, or experience.”

Hence a dream is not only a goal, but a visionary creation of the imagination. Something beautiful that we hope or wish or long for or lust after. It is a desire for a future that is beautiful and more pleasant than our present state. It is that which takes us away from our reality into something better.

Dreams have been part of us since childhood. We all have dreams. Whether it is to study, get an education, a good job, fall in love, have a family, a nice home, become the president of a bank or the CEO of a company, make more money. Our dreams are part of our fancy and they are what make our life bearable. They are what make us get out of bed every morning and face the day.

For some of us, in fact for most of us, our dreams don’t come true. We try. We live most of our lives struggling to make them happen but sometimes the lack of resources available to us or the circumstances we find ourselves in stand in the way. We put our dreams aside to take care of our loved ones. We stay in jobs, in places we don’t like because our families depend on us. And hence our dreams change. I know mine did.

At some point in my life I realized I will never accomplish what I had dreamed for myself. I learned it the hard way the day I lost my better-half, my husband of thirty years, the one I had dreamed of getting old together and spending the rest of my life with. I understand now that I will never achieve that dream no matter what, because it was taken from me on that cold November day five years ago. And on that day my life changed completely. It kind of took a U_turn, changing my priorities with it. I still have a hard time swallowing the reality of him gone as I am having a difficult time trying to come to terms with it. I know I have to before I can move on though.

The one thing I am more aware of now is my mortality. I know now that time is running out. Instead of continuously running around and trying to make things happen, these last years have taught me to slow down and be more attentive to all that goes around me.

After all these years of living and making mistakes, I think I have become more experienced. I have gained life skills I didn’t have before. I have a deeper understanding of myself. Today more than any other time in my life I know who I am and what I want to do. I know what makes me tick, what makes me really happy.

These past years have taught me to take things easy, to control my temper and become more tolerant. Waiting in the doctor’s clinic for hours doesn’t bother me anymore and I seem to care less about what people think or say about me. Although I still think I have to be less sensitive to criticism. I realize now that there’s a big world out there over which I have no control. But what I can control is my reaction to it.

To quote William James:
“The greatest discovery of my age is that men can change their circumstances by changing the attitude of their mind.”

So far in my life I have faced many challenges and overcome many obstacles. When I look back, I look with some satisfaction. Because whatever I have done whether in my professional life or my personal life, I have given it my all. I have done it well as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a teacher. Sometimes when my kids joke and tell me, “look at you, you’ve got so much white hair,” I tell them “It’s my right. I’ve earned it. Every single one of them I have earned.”

I still have dreams. Dreams that have been enunciated but have yet to be fulfilled. They are no longer about trying to achieve new heights and conquer the world. Rather, they are to write more and read more. To become a better mother to my kids, a better friend, and a better person. And to give back to the universe the only way I know how, by writing.

Helen Keller once said:
“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” 

On a personal note I would like to thank you for not leaving my blog and not giving up on me. It’s a blessing to have you in my life. I really truly appreciate you. Thank you. 

ChK

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Everybody’s Always Looking For It

For the past six months I have been waiting for an important phone call that I hope will change my life. And until I receive that call I feel like I am just walking around, getting along and counting the hours. I do not have any control over the situation. I seem to have zoned out of my life lately. I don’t feel comfortable anywhere and most of the time there’s so much going on in my head that getting started on the simplest task becomes sort of an ordeal for me. 

I am stuck and I can’t move forward. For some reason or another I cannot even do what I like to do most, write. That’s so hard to do when you’re in pain. To be able to create I need to silence all the little voices in my head and concentrate on the moment, the now. On most nights I go to bed angry and frustrated at myself for wasting yet another day. And that hurts. 

But then again I am trying to cope with the situation as best as I can and waiting for things to get better, if they will ever get better. And the waiting, oh the waiting. You wait and wait and wait, and all the while you wish and hope against hope for some miracle to make your troubles go away. It’s hard when your life sort of depends not on the decisions you make yourself, but on others, and harder still is the uncertainty of the situation.

Eckhart Tolle writes:
“There are two levels of your pain; the pain that you create now, and the pain that comes from the past that still lives on in your mind and body.” 

On days that I’m too overwhelmed with the difficulties of the present, with all the troubles, I try to calm myself the only way I know. I close my eyes and go back to my childhood days. I try to remember the smell of home, the smell of my mom’s cooking that welcomed me every noon when I hurried home from school during lunch break. Early in the morning the little talks I had with my family over coffee. The things they said or did. The tranquility that enveloped me despite the noise around me. The precious moments I spent with my best friend, sometimes doing nothing more than walking along the streets of my village.

So much has happened since then. I’ve left the village and the entire country, escaping the civil war, seeking a normal and peaceful life. And eleven years ago I finally settled in Canada with my family and chose to make Montreal my permanent home. A country where I don’t have to worry about displacements or wars. But the many sad memories, the many things that went wrong during that time never allowed me to find what I was looking for. And I don’t know if I ever will feel at peace again.
 
Eckhart Tolle writes:
“Emotional pain is the main cause of physical pain and physical disease. Resentment, hatred, self-pity, guilt, anger, depression, jealousy, even the slightest irritation, are all forms of pain.”

I found out the hard way what it costs us to love and lose, to dare and to fail. Not the superficial or material costs that life is full of, but the real cost of losing a loved one, and the pain that comes with it, the real pain of loss. 

That’s why the happy memories for me are rooted in that small village called Ainjar, east of the Bekaa valley in Lebanon. A place where everyone knows everyone else. A place where my mom and part of my family and friends still live. The place where I had all that could never be bought with money.

Sometimes when I sit at my desk and stare at the blank page I get this urge to write about that place. I want to remember the dawn, the weather, the river, the orchards, the mountains. I get this longing, this yearning for that place, the place which I sometimes become so nostalgic about that it hurts.

Maya Angelou writes:
“The truth is you can never leave home. You take it with you, it’s under your fingernails; it’s the hair follicles; it’s in the way you smile, it’s in the ride of your hips, in the passage of your breasts; it’s all there, no matter where you go. You can take on the affectations and the postures of other places, and even learn to speak their ways. But the truth is, home is between your teeth. Everybody’s always looking for it.” 

ChK 

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Only The Echoes Of My Mind

Some day in July when I read my horoscope from my phone app it said:

“If you could go back in time and explore a period when everything was happy and hopeful for you, Aries, it might give you a sense of serenity and security that you can tap into now. Although you do not have a time machine, you do have the ability to project yourself into the past during those moments when you are relaxed and optimistic if you work at it. This week, the universe will be sending you seemingly random memories that will form a kind of pattern for you. If you study this pattern, and look back with a real sense of purpose, you’ll be able to forge a path to a happy, successful, fulfilling future, starting immediately. So look for memories that take you back, and use them to build a new foundation.”

The writing hit home simply because these last two months I survived by tapping into the past and remembering. The months of June and July are difficult for me and my kids. Perhaps more difficult than any other time since my kids’ birthdays and both our anniversaries, engagement and wedding, fall in June and July respectively. And even after almost five years it still feels difficult to accept his absence.

As my horoscope indicates, the past was a time when everything was happy and hopeful for me. Looking back I long for that sense of security and serenity that I once had. And remembering the past and living it gives me some kind of hope that maybe just maybe things will change somehow for the better for me.

The Webster’s Dictionary defines Hope as: to cherish a desire with expectation of fulfillment, to long for with expectation of obtainment, to expect with desire.

And to Wait is: to look forward expectantly, to stay in place in expectation. 

The late Elie Wiesel wrote:
“If everything was concentrated in the present, there would be no possibility of transcending the present. We are suspended between the absolute past and the absolute future over which we have no control. It’s a creeping flame. Sometimes it brings light and sometimes fire or destruction. Take away the waiting, what remains?”

For some time now I have been waiting for things to change in my life. Sometimes I get impatient but then I try to convince myself that there might be a reason why it’s taking too long. At other times I think that it will take forever or it won’t even happen. But then again what if it does? Who knows when or how or what may happen to change one’s life. But I do know this for sure: that my life without waiting would be so empty. 

Friedrich Nietzsche once claimed that the formula for his happiness was: “a Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal…”

I used to think that if I worked hard and did my best in everything I tried, I would be happy too. My line, my path was pretty straight. I had a great job teaching and coordinating the math department in an international school. I had my home, my family, my husband and two kids, and was living a blessed life until we decided to put an end to it and move to Canada in search of a better life.

But wasn’t what we had already the best? Why did we take all we had and all the blessings given to us for granted? Did we defy providence by turning our back to it all? Did we make the universe and the gods angry by leaving all that behind? All that serenity and security that comes with a loving and caring home and a steady job, we lost it all when we moved.

Unlike Nietzsche, at some point in my life that straight line changed its course and curved into a U-turn.

Unfortunately I could not set it straight again. I continue to live and face all obstacles thrown in my face. I listen to those around me and nod in agreement and go along for a while. That kind of makes me more angry and sad. Because that’s not who I am. The going along does not define my character.


 
I wait and wait and wait. In my mind I want to leave all this and go somewhere where the sun always shines. In my head I play Harry Nilsson’s song: 

“Everybody’s talking at me
I don’t hear a word they’re saying
Only the echoes of my mind.
People stopping, staring
I can’t see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes….”

There was a time in my life when I had my dreams and my visions that were different than everyone else’s. I had the courage to swim against the current and take risks in order to fulfill my dreams. Life for me was not to listen to the voices around me but to “the echoes of my mind,” just like in the song. To hear that inner voice inside telling me I can do it. Is it too much to ask for that kind of courage and hope again?

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard wrote:
“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly.” 

ChK

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