“To Hell With You!”

According to Writer’s Digest magazine, sending your writing to any agent, editor or publisher and hoping it works out is a career killing mistake for a writer.

“New authors frequently pitch the wrong agents for their literary genre. An agent specializing in biography, self-help or science titles isn’t going to take on your first children’s book. He knows it’s not a good fit for his expertise, even if you don’t.” Shannon Celarek

What if as a writer you have done your homework. You have thoroughly researched their list. You have familiarized yourself with the type of books an agent, editor or publisher represents. You have studied every single genre in detail. You have even bought the books of the authors they represent. In short, you have covered every corner, checked and gone over every possible scenario, and come to the conclusion that your manuscript fits into the same category that is represented by these same agents, editors or publishers. The next thing you do is to send them your manuscript, thinking and hoping that they might reply. 

And you wait and wait, only to receive a note from one of them saying, “Your work doesn’t fit the list.” Nothing about your writing or story. Only that it doesn’t fit the list. In other words your work has been rejected.


You got the “R” word. Rejection, this “R” word, is the most dreaded word to a writer. But as Saul Bellow writes:

“I’ve discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, “To hell with you.””  

Kathryn Socket said that, and so did many others. And her book, “The Help”, which was turned into a movie, was rejected by 60 literary agents before an agent agreed to represent the author. It has since been published in 35 countries and three languages. As of August 2011, it has sold five million copies and has spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. (Wikipedia)

As Saul Bellow said, “To hell with you!”


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I Don’t Like It When People Tell Me!

Lately I haven’t been blogging as I used to, or as I would like to. The reason? Well I feel kind of blocked. Not that I have nothing to write about or talk about. On the contrary! Every time I sit at my desk I only think of the one thing, the only thing that hurts me the most and I don’t know where to start from, nor do I know how to deal with the pain.

People have told me that I should move forward, that it’s not good to dwell on things passed. That I should write about happy stuff. But how could I? How could I not talk about him? How could I not say or write about what’s in my heart and stay true to myself? Isn’t good writing based on the truth? Your own truth? Doesn’t all good writing or the best writing come from within the heart and the soul?

If so, how could I then not write about how hard it is to come home to an empty house where no one is waiting for you? An emptiness that wasn’t of your own choosing? How can I not write about how it feels when I wake up in the middle of the night and find the other side of the bed empty. Or how in the evenings, at the dinner table, when the kids talk about their daily routines and achievements, I realize more than ever how empty his chair is. And I swallow hard and try not to break down, and hide my feelings as best I can so that I won’t spoil it for them.

I don’t like it much when people tell me that I should go out, have some fun. Even though I know their intentions are good and they have my well-being at heart. And I try. God knows I try! But on some days I just can’t! And I sit at my desk and stare at the blank page and wait to hear his voice telling me it will be okay, everything will be okay. And when I don’t hear it, the pain grows bigger and bigger until I don’t know how to feel or what to say or where to start. That’s when I leave my desk!


I leave my desk without having written a word. Because honestly I don’t know what to say. Because I don’t know what I like or don’t like anymore! Everything has changed, the world has changed because you, the one person who meant the most to me, are not here anymore. :’(


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I’ve Learned A Lot!

“I believe in not quite knowing. A writer needs to be doubtful, questioning. I write out of curiosity and bewilderment. …I’ve learned a lot I could not have learned if I were not a writer.” William Trevor

I too have learned a lot about myself by being a writer. About my true inner self. 

Some days, most days lately, I sit down to write a story and my mind is blank. Not entirely blank though. I have a vague idea of what I want to say. I have no plot, no real characters, but still a strong urge to write. So the first thing, the only thing I do, is write the title My Story and then stare some more at my page.

Slowly the story starts to take shape in my mind, in my imagination. I know what to write next but I’m still not sure about what the beginning should be or how to start my story. I close my eyes and the first thing I want to do is shut the voices in my mind. The voices that try to boss around and control my imagination. Once I have silenced the noise and emptied the clutter in my mind I try to focus on my breathing and my heartbeats. 


I try to listen to that little voice coming from my inner core. And that voice tells me to cease to be myself and become this vague character that I want to write about. Bit by bit that vagueness disappears and all this character starts to take shape. And slowly all my emotions, all my fears, all my anger and disappointments, all my dreams, all my passion and desire become his. And suddenly the character is not vague anymore. 

Quickly I open my eyes and start scribbling and that’s when the magic starts. In no time the letters start to take shape and the character is materialized, and I have a clear idea of what to write. My soul is free and my imagination is soaring and once again I am genuinely truly excited about writing. 

Virginia Woolf wrote:

“I will not be “famous,” “great.” I will go on adventuring, changing, opening my mind and my eyes, refusing to be stamped and stereotyped. The thing is to free one’s self: to let it find its dimensions, not be impeded.” 


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Now That’s A Start!

Lately I have been contemplating editing the manuscript I started writing a decade ago. During the time of the actual writing of this book, the process was interrupted by major changes in my life. Like surviving the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, moving to Canada, and the saddest and worst of all, losing my husband to cancer.

With all that was going on in my personal life at that time, I somehow managed to finish the first draft some four years ago. For the past few weeks I have been thinking of editing and fixing it somehow, but after I put the book down I realized that I don’t like what I wrote. The book doesn’t say anything to me. I don’t feel with the characters and the story doesn’t make sense anymore.

To Write

And I thought of course it won’t make any sense since not only did my entire life change but my beliefs, my outlook on life in general is quite different now. Especially after losing my love, my dearest husband. And I realized that all I am doing lately is complaining. About the snow, the cold weather, the TV programs, the books that I read, publishers nowadays, agents and marketing.

And I realize now the more I complain the more blocked I become. And that scares me. Then I have to find a way to unblock myself. I am so caught up with my pain and troubles and worries, in the past and the future, that I am missing the now.

Friedrich Nietzsche once tried to describe the inability of writing to capture it all.

“Think of all the great books ever written. Now close your eyes and think about one moment in real life.”

Now that’s a start!

Happy writing everyone!


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I Hear Voices

Maya Angelou wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen King writes:

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


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What You Remember

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

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

Toni Morrison wrote:

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

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

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


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

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

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

Gabriel García Márquez wrote:

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


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On This Cold And Snowy Morning!

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

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

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

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

Here’s the original article:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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