You Were In My Dream

You were in my dream last night. In my dream I was asleep when I heard a noise like someone talking. I woke up and walked to the sitting room. I saw you standing by the window overlooking the deck, talking to someone. I didn’t see who, I just heard your voice. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was so overjoyed I started crying and rushed into your arms.

“You came back! You came back!” I shouted at the top of my voice. You smiled your beautiful smile at me and you held me in your arms and told me,
“Shh don’t cry, you’re doing fine, you really are. Shh everything will be okay, you‘ll see.”

And in my dream I could feel that something was wrong- I heard myself say this can’t be, he’s dead. He can’t come back. I woke up and dumb as I am I even walked to the living room only to find it empty and have to face the harsh reality.

My dream felt so real though. I heard your voice. I looked into your eyes and they were smiling and it felt so good. I didn’t want to wake up from it. I wanted it to last forever.
Sometimes I wonder if we were still in Dubai where we had our successful careers and jobs, we had our circle of friends and colleagues, our group of supporters, where our life simply was much more organized than here, would it have made it easy for us to continue?

What bugs me most is how quickly everything changed. My perspective of life has changed completely. And I am sad today specially, because today marks the opening of an art exhibition in Beirut, Towards New Centennial, on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Musa Dagh. Yesterday I received a Facebook invitation to the event. 

I was surprised and disappointed to not find your name in the list of participants. You were among the first to capture the life of our villagers on canvas. The simple everyday life starting from the chair they weaved to the pot they used for cooking during those first years as refugees.

How can they overlook you as an artist? Is this ignorance on the part of the organizing committee or is there a certain criteria that artists have to meet and you don’t? Whichever is the case I think it is very wrong to exclude you from it.


On a lighter note, the other day when I was talking to a representative from the Canada Council for the Arts, 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.” 

Those were her words my darling and she kept repeating it a few times. I felt a lump in my throat and at the same time I felt so proud. See you are gone but your legacy and your work remains even though some either forget or ignore it. 

You continue to live through your kids who miss you terribly. I miss you, we all miss you more and more every day. How we wish that things had turned out differently for you and us.

May you rest in peace my darling. 


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Need For Speed

When writing a novel, the advice many experienced and professional writers give to beginner writers is to write the first draft as quickly as possible without wasting time on fixing anything. Just get the words out on the page as fast as possible.


The first draft of a story or novel is often written at top speed. Maybe that is the best way to do it. Dorothy Canfield Fisher once compared the writing of a first draft with skiing down a steep slope that she wasn’t sure she was clever enough to manage. She says:

“Sitting at my desk one morning I ‘pushed off’ with a tingle of not altogether pleasurable excitement and alarm, felt myself ‘going’. I ‘went’ almost as precipitately as skis go down a long white slope, scribbling as rapidly as my pencil could go, indicating whole words with a dash and a jiggle, filling page after page with scrawls.”

Frank O’Conner doesn’t start changing words until the first draft is finished. He explains his need for speed:

“Get black on white used to be Maupassant’s advice- that’s what I always do. I don’t give a hoot what the writing’s like, I write any sort of rubbish which will cover the main outlines of the story, then I can begin to see it.”

Once the first draft is finished he then rewrites “endlessly, endlessly, endlessly. I keep on rewriting and after it’s published, and then it’s published in book form, I usually rewrite again. I’ve written versions of most of my early stories, and one of these days, God help, I’ll publish these as well.”

Joyce Cary says:
“I work over the whole book and cut out anything that does not belong to the emotional development, the texture of feeling.”

James Thurber revises his stories by rewriting them from beginning, time and again. He says:
“A story I’ve been working on was rewritten fifteen complete times. There must have been close to two hundred and forty thousand words in all the manuscripts put together, and I must have spent two thousand hours working at it. Yet the finished story can’t be more than twenty thousand words.”

There are other writers, however, who revise as they write.

“I seem to have some neurotic need to perfect each paragraph- each sentence, even- as I go along.” William Styron

Dorothy Parker says that it takes her six months to do a story:
“I think it out and then write it sentence by sentence- no first draft. I can’t write five words but that I change seven.”

Julia Cameron, on the other hand, writes:
“Perfection has nothing to do with getting it right. It has nothing to do with fixing things. It has nothing to do with standards. Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. Perfectionism is not a quest for the best.”

Hmm… Makes me wonder! I always believed that what makes a writer’s work great is the commitment of the writer to rewriting endlessly until he/she achieves perfection. And to me that is what distinguishes the great writer from a good one.


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The Crisis Of The Novel!

Going through the books in my library the other day, I came across the classics. As I dusted and rearranged those books I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the new generation has read these books other than those assigned for them in school. Tolstoy, Balzac, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Dumas, Hugo, Dickens, Austin, Eliot, Hardy, Woolf, Flaubert, Turgenev, Gorky and many others. 

François Mauriac once said when asked if he still read novels:

“I read very few. Every day I find that age asphyxiates the characters inside of me. I was once a passionate reader, I might say insatiable, but now… When I was young, my own future assured to the Madame Bovarys, the Anna Kareninas, the characters from Balzac, the atmosphere that made them, for me, living creatures. They spread out before me all that I dreamed out for myself. My destiny was prefigured by theirs. Then, as I lived longer, they closed around me like rivals. A kind of competition obliged me to measure myself against them, above all against the characters of Balzac. Now, however, they have become part of that which has been completed.
On the other hand, I can still reread a novel by Bernanos, or even Huysmans, because it has a metaphysical extension. As for my younger contemporaries, it is their technique, more than anything else, that interests me.”


“It is because novels no longer have any hold on me that I am given over more to history, to history of the making.”

Novels nowadays no longer interest me the way the classics did when I was much younger. It’s so true what Mauriac says about the technique of the writers. I can hardly finish a novel without complaining about the story, the characters, the plot and so on. I mean, for some of the novels that I have read I don’t remember anything about the story nor the characters. I know that while reading I am fascinated by the way the book is written, and for me that is not enough. 

“Today, along with nonrepresentational art we have the non-representational novel- the characters simply have no distinguishing features.
I believe the crisis of the novel, it exists, is right there essentially, in the domain of technique. The novel has lost its purpose. That is the most serious difficulty, and it is from there that we must begin. The younger generation believes, after Joyce and Proust, that it has discovered the “purpose” of the old novel to have been prefabricated and unrelated to reality.”

Have a great week reading and writing!


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Was There A Time

Today marks the ninth anniversary of our move to Montreal.


I remember sitting on the bus and wondering about my life, about us, about our future as a family. And I remember having this sad feeling too. This gut feeling that this was it, this was our final move and there was no turning back no matter what. Specially since we had left our extended families back in Lebanon which was at war with Israel. And nothing was ever going to be the same any more.

The future of our kids was what mattered most at the time. We kind of expected some of the difficulties my late husband and I would face. We had read accounts of families who had moved before us and we had heard about how difficult it was to find jobs here, full time jobs. All was fine and we were ready. My late husband was a hard working honest man who did everything for us, his family. He had this joie de vivre. He loved life and loved to laugh. He even joked about how he got his cancer passport before getting the Canadian one.

Cancer. That was something we were never prepared for. While we were busy making plans life happened. And on a day like today I can’t help but think of all the dreams we had that were never realized, of all his dreams, the unfinished projects and canvases he left behind. On a day like today I can’t help but think of the poem “Was There A Time”  by Dylan Thomas:

“Was there a time when dancers with their fiddles
In children’s circuses could stay their troubles?
There was a time they could cry over books,
But time has sent its maggot on their track.
Under the arc of the sky they are unsafe.
What’s never known is safest in this life.
Under the sky signs they who have no arms
Have cleanest hands, and, as the heartless ghost
Alone’s unhurt, so the blind man sees best.” 


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Get That Muscle Working!

It is one of those busy mornings again when I have a lot to do and I feel frustrated because I know that I won’t be able to write during the day. Sometimes even thinking about upcoming bills and expenditures causes me to be creatively blocked.

Usually I am a positive person. I am well aware that some things are out of our control and that there is nothing we can do about them except wait. I am a positive person by character and I realize that if I don’t expect anything from anyone I don’t get disappointed or hurt.

During all my school years and even later in university, I don’t remember anyone telling me how to make decisions in my life. Certainly, no one shared with me a process of finding out what I love to do. I have been taught to look to the outside to find answers, to quickly look for alternatives out there and hang on to them.

And I guess I am that kind of person who no matter how well I am doing today I can’t stop worrying about tomorrow. Maybe because I have lived most of my life in the Middle East where there is no political stability. And when we finally moved to Canada to provide a better life for my kids, I lost my husband to cancer and with that I lost that social, financial and economical stability I needed to feel safe.

Maybe I am the kind of person who really values having that security that really allows me to be happy, and lets me concentrate on enjoying every part of my life. Because right now I am worrying about what’s next and I just don’t like it. This confusion hinders my creativity and I find myself constantly blocked.

And yes, I get very depressed sometimes. I know I have to step back and take a look at myself. Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? Or do I take the advice of the so many great writers before me and try to put words on the page no matter what. Sarah Harrison writes:

“Yes, I got very depressed at times. But it doesn’t all just happen.
You have to keep driving yourself to put words on paper. It’s the point I’m making to these would-be writers I’m talking to at the moment. Writers say they find it difficult to achieve the ’flow’ so I genuinely think covering the paper is the most important thing, because if you make yourself write a page, then suddenly, halfway down the second page, you find you’ve written a couple of paragraphs that do flow, and you did not notice it happen.
My advice to any aspiring author is, I think, not to stop writing. I think people put their all into one short thing and send it off and wait for the result, instead of immediately writing something else. I know it sounds terribly banal, but if you keep the muscle working, it’s better.”


I guess I have to keep that muscle working no matter what.


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It’s A Geometrical Problem!

During one of her interviews Oprah mentioned that for her a good novel must be over 300 or 350 pages long. I don’t remember the exact number of pages even though I had it somewhere in my notes.

I personally don’t agree. Literature is full of stories that say otherwise. Because the value of a book for me is not in the number of pages. It is in the story, the characters, the way it is written, and most importantly the way I as a reader connect with the story and the characters.


Among my all time favorites are Hemingway’s “The Old Man and The Sea”, Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays With Morrie” and “For One More Day”, Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot”, Naguib Mahfouz’s “Midaq Alley”, Albert Camus’ “L’etranger” (The Outsider), Robert James Waller’s “Bridges of Madison County”, and Erich Segal’s “Love Story” just to name a few. 

Georges Simenon, one of the most productive writers of the twentieth century, has altogether 550 million copies of his work printed. He has written nearly 200 novels, over 150 novellas, several autobiographical works, numerous articles, and scores of pulp novels using different pseudonyms. Capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day, his novels are not much longer than some short stories. Most of his works are written and revised in about two weeks. Here’s how he does it:  

“It is almost a geometrical problem. I have such a man, such a woman, in such surroundings. What can happen to them to oblige them to go to their limit? That’s the question. It will be sometimes a very simple incident, anything which will change their lives. Then I write my novel chapter by chapter. On the eve of the first day I know what will happen in the first chapter. Then day after day, chapter after chapter, I find what comes later. After I started a novel I write a chapter each day, without ever missing a day. Because it is a strain, I have to keep pace with the novel. All day I am one of my characters. I feel what he feels. … And it’s almost unbearable after five or six days. That is one of the reasons why my novels are so short; after eleven days I can’t- it’s impossible. I have to- It’s physical. I am too tired.”  

Nobody else writes in quite the same fashion as Simenon. When asked if he would continue writing novels even if they were not published, he answers “certainly.” 

“I think that if a man has the urge to be an artist it is because he needs to find himself. Every writer tries to find himself through his characters, through all his writing.” Georges Simenon


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Dammit! Stop Writing!

In my previous post I wrote about the first stage in writing a story, the idea, the germ, the “aha moment.” 

For me it’s hard to start a story with only an idea. There has to be something more, something emotional, a sensitive situation, a touching moment. To quote Dorothy Canfield Fisher:

“Generally intensified emotional sensitivity … when events that usually pass unnoticed suddenly move you deeply, when a sunset lifts you to exaltation, when a squeaking door throws you into a fit if exasperation, when a clear look of trust in a child’s eyes move you to tears.”  

Then comes a process of reflection, and meditation. Sort of conscious, wakeful dreaming. As Angus Wilson calls it, “the gestatory period” which he says is:

“…very important to me. That’s when I’m persuading myself of the truth of what I want to say, and I don’t think I could persuade my readers unless I’d persuaded myself first.”

“I always remember the date, the place, the room, the road, when I first was struck. For instance, World Enough and Time. Katherine Anne Porter and I were both in the Library of Congress as fellows. We were in the same pew, had offices next to each other. She came in one day with an old pamphlet, the trial of Beauchamp for killing Colonel Sharp. She said, ’Well, Red, you better read this.’ There it was. I read it in five minutes. But I was six years making the book. Any book I write starts with a flash, but takes a long time to shape.” Robert Penn Warren

Georges Simenon writes:
“As soon as I have the beginning, I can’t bear it very long. … and two days later I begin writing.”

“I never quite know when I’m not writing,” says James Thurber. “Sometimes my wife comes to me at a dinner party and says, ‘Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.’ She usually catches me in the me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, “Is he sick?” ‘No,’ my wife says, ‘he’s writing.’”

While Nelson Algren writes page after page to find his plot. He says:
“I always figured, the only way I could finish a book and get a plot was just to keep making it longer and longer until something happens.”

“I invariably have the illusion that the whole play of a story, its start and middle and finish, occur in my mind simultaneously- that I’m seeing it in one flash.” Truman Capote

I too take a long time to write my book, a very very long time.


Happy writing everyone!


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