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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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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