The Light Is Always Shifting

I haven’t posted anything on my blog for some time now. Actually I haven’t been able to write anything at all for a while. And when I don’t write I feel empty and lost. 

Joan Didion tells us writing is the act of saying “I, I, I,” while according to Julia Cameron:
“We write about what we see, about what we are trying to see clearly. We write, and write some more, because language is slippery, and truth is. We write because the light we have to see is always shifting.”

Writing for me is a form in which I can explore and express my reality. It requires that I look at things. And the light that I have to see with that Julia speaks about is constantly shifting lately. And every time I think that everything is okay and I can continue and get back in the game, something happens to hinder my process, let alone my progress. And when that happens things seem hopeless and empty and I find my faith dwindles yet again.

“Faith is not being sure. It is not being sure but betting with your last cent. Faith is not making religious-sounding noises in the daytime. It is asking your Inmost self questions at night – and then getting up and going to work.” Mary Jean Irion 

You ask your Innermost self questions at night. Questions like ‘What if it will never happen?’ ‘What if for some reason or another I’ll never be able to pursue my dream again?’ ‘What if the thing that I long for most is out of reach?’ And that feeling, the feeling of self-doubt that comes with all these questions, is enough to drain all my energy and make it harder to find my path again.

Julia Cameron warns us against doubt, self-doubt specially. “We must not doubt,” she writes. “Once in your system it will take in another doubt- and another- and another. They must be stopped.”

To stop these destructive and negative thoughts I do the one thing I know how to do best. Turn away from the real world, switch off all the noise outside and go to this safe place I know. I curl up in my corner of the house and bury myself in a book and read. This always works for me. I get lost in the story and things look good again and I feel fine afterwards. 

“Survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention.” Julia Cameron 

Pay attention! Pain is what it took me to pay attention. It was only after I lost my husband to cancer that I tried to slow down, look around me and pay attention. I tried to listen carefully to the inner voice inside me and the voices of those around me.

I realized that in times of pain, when the future looked too terrifying to mull over and the past too painful to remember, each moment, taken alone, was always bearable. Even four years and five months later, the precise moment I am in is always the safe place for me. Just at this moment, just now.

“Attention is an art of connection. The reward for attention is always healing. May begin as the healing of a particular pain, the lost lover, the shattered dream. But what is healed, finally, is the pain that underlies all pain: the pain that we are all as Rilke phrases it ‘unutterably alone.’” Julia Cameron


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Who Would Do Such A Thing?

Two weeks ago I came across a heartbreaking article on the internet about the Australian writer and blogger Belle Gibson. Heartbreaking in a weird kind of way.

According to the article Belle Gibson built a public profile (since 2013) around her claim through her book, Instagram and Facebook accounts that she was diagnosed with brain cancer as a 20-year-old in 2009 and was given four months to live.

Her book ‘The Whole Pantry’ was promoted at the London Book Fair in 2014 by publisher Penguin Books and she was invited by Apple Inc. to attend its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco that same year.

What’s pathetic is that she lied about her cancer. She lied about rejecting conventional treatment and beating it through healthy eating. What’s more, she exploited public generosity by falsely claiming most of her income went to charities. And in 2015, she admitted that she never had cancer. The article reads:

“Federal Court Justice Debra Mortimer ruled that Gibson’s deceptive and misleading claims about her charitable donations from the sales of her cookbook “The Whole Pantry” and a related app constituted unconscionable conduct under Australian law.She could be fined up to AU$200,000 and her company, Inkerman Road Nominees which is now in liquidation, could be fined up to AU$1.1 million at a penalty hearing later this month.”

Seriously? I wonder how many people have believed her, followed her diet and taken her on her word. You would think that Penguin, one of the oldest and biggest reputable publishing agencies, would do better than that.

It disgusts me to think how people can lie and fake even cancer to get some attention, some publicity and wealth. It disgusts me to even think that the publishing business is only about profit lately. It disgusts me to learn that Penguin Publishers have published her lie and promoted her cookbook, thus causing perhaps hundreds of people with real cancer to follow her diet and her lies. 

It disgusts me to learn that there are writers who have sold their soul and dignity just to make money and be talked about. Who can sink that low and pretend to have cancer just to gain a few followers on social media? 

Shame on her! Shame on them! And shame on the people, in this case primarily Penguin, for providing them with the platform and for allowing them to do as they please. 

Do you remember James Frey’s story? When he lied on national television about his memoir, about his wholly fabricated details of his criminal career, and said “all true – I think I wrote about the events in the book truly and honestly and accurately.”

His book ‘A Million Little Pieces’ was first published in 2003 by Nan A. Talese, Doubleday, and became a New York Times Bestseller before it was chosen for Oprah’s book club. But three years later it was withdrawn from bookstores. 

Are we as publishers, agents, writers, so desperate to make it big and get rich quick, so as to forget all ethical and moral issues? Are we to sacrifice our values and everything we live for and believe in for the sake of financial gains or for marketing purposes?

It saddens and depresses me to think that there are thousands of dedicated writers out there with great stories, whose work won’t even make it onto the publishers’ and agents’ desks. And yet they keep writing and trying and sending or emailing their proposals here and there only for their queries to be marked as spam and end up in the trash of some agent or publisher.

Shame! Shame! Shame!


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Name Your Dream

“Imaginary Lives: If you had five other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them?” asks Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. Then she writes:
“Name your dream. That’s right. Write it down. “In a perfect world, I would secretly love to be a —–.”” 

Three years later Sarah Ban Breathnach copies her in Simple Abundance and writes:
“If you had ten other lives to lead, what would you be doing?” 

Viola Davis in her acceptance speech at the Oscars for best supporting actress for her role in “Fences” said:

“You know there’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories, the stories of people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost.”

When I first heard Viola’s words on TV I couldn’t help but get emotional. I remembered my loved ones who have long gone and the dreams they had and that never came true. I thought mostly of my grandparents and parents and the kind of life they had, or rather were forced to have.

My parents and my grandparents came from Musa Dagh, where they put up a resistance and fought against the Turks. “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” by Franz Werfell is their story, our story. Kurt Vonnegut also later wrote in Bluebeard:“

“Musa Dagh!” he might say. This was the name of a place in Turkey where a small band of Armenian civilians fought Turkish militiamen to a standstill for forty days and forty nights before being exterminated.””

The story of my grandparents and parents is so tragic and sad that it hurts to even remember. I grew up listening to my grandparents’ horror stories of displacements. How they had to fight the Turks and how they were helped by the French and taken in boats with nothing but the clothes they had on to the safer shores of Lebanon. In a place where they didn’t even speak the language. And what was once their home became a memory they cherished and passed on to us together with the bad.

Both my parents were very young when they became refugees. My mom was seven and my dad was ten. They lived in unbearable conditions under tents in a place where no one had lived before. 

Their first school in the refugee camp was a tent where all the children were gathered to be taught. Winters were fierce and there were epidemics like malaria that killed many. But those who survived, through much suffering and hard work, turned the place into the paradise it is today, Ainjar. 

I can’t help but wonder what dreams they had before they left their homes and their lands. What were my parents’ dreams when they were forced to work at the early age of thirteen to help support their families? Deprived of their childhood and dreams they worked hard to give us a normal life, and allowed us to dream. And I wonder about the life they could have had if they were not forced out of our homeland.

But we also had our share of misfortune later on when the civil war started in Lebanon. Our dreams also got interrupted. My late husband was among the fifty students accepted into Engineering that year at the American University of Beirut, out of two thousand applicants. But unfortunately after only one semester he had to abandon his dream due to financial difficulties.

It’s sad that his dream never materialized. Sadder still his much anticipated dream of an exhibition for his paintings in this part of the world. This dream died with him, the day he passed away.

So yes Viola, if only our beloved ones could talk and tell us their stories, their dreams. 


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Conversation Part Six

Last month when I started my conversation series on my blog, I thought I would have a real conversation with some of my readers, a few of them at least. I thought as a writer, I would be engaged in conversations with writers about other writers and their writing. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. 

I feel that all I’ve done is jot my feelings and thoughts on my page. Which is quite well, of course, although a bit disappointing. After all my blog articles are nothing more than ramblings, random thoughts shared on the internet.

So I think what I would like to do now is stop and end my conversations with one last blog in the hope of continuing them sometime in the future.

Lately I’ve been rereading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and doing the morning pages, although with much reluctance. Every morning when I hold my notebook in my hand to write something tells me to stop. I hear a little voice telling me that I have to focus on my writing instead. 

I have mixed feelings about these pages, especially early in the morning. That’s the time when I like to just read for an hour while having my coffee. I like to sort of block the world and everything else around me and recharge. And when I can’t do that I don’t feel at peace with myself no matter what I do during the day.

Long before I had heard about Julia and knew about the morning pages, I used to write an article almost every day and post it on my blog. And that kept me happy. But now I find it hard to write after writing three pages early in the morning. After about thirty to forty five minutes of pouring my heart out on the page, writing three pages in a 27.6cm by 21.2cm notebook, all I want to do is just read a book. But I do them anyway. I show up at the page every morning and write. 


To be honest I skip the tasks in the book too. I find them hard to do. Not that they are difficult, no. But for me to just sit and write down the answers to a bunch of questions as well as follow some instructions is not something I have the patience nor the stamina for anymore.
For example one of the tasks Julia asks her readers to do is:
“Describe your childhood room. If you wish, you may sketch this room. What was your favorite thing about it?”

And three years later Sarah Ban Breathnach writes:
“See yourself at ten: Walk through the rooms in your childhood home. What did your bedroom look like?”

Then for another task Julia writes:
“Write and mail an encouraging letter to your inner artist. This sounds silly and feels very, very, very good to receive. Remember that your artist is a child and loves praise and encouragement and festive plans.” 

While Sarah writes: 
“Write a long, wonderful love letter to yourself from your authentic self. Let your authentic self encourage you as you would a young child. Mail the letter and save it for when you’re feeling discouraged.” 

Maybe I am getting too old for this kind of assignments. Because for me the most encouraging and truly inspiring thing to do is read or listen to interviews with the writers I like. 

Reading about other writers, listening to their interviews, hearing about the difficulties they faced both on the page (being blocked) and in the publishing world, and how they overcame them, truly moves me. Their success stories teach me how to beat the odds and gives me some kind of hope that maybe, just maybe I can also do it one day. 

Jalai Ud-Din Rumi writes:

“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about. … Say yes quickly, if you know, if you’ve known it from before the beginning of the universe.”
Julia used this quote in the beginning of her book The Artist’s Way. Is it surprising that of all the quotes on artists and creativity out there, Sarah used the exact same quote in her book?

In his advice to beginning writers a well known author once said: “Borrow widely, steal wisely.”

Happy reading and writing everyone!


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Conversation Part Five

I have a horoscope app on my phone that I like to check on a daily basis. Today morning after reading the first few lines I stopped. It read:

“You may be associating some experience from the past with a present endeavor, so an old fear may be creeping into your reality…”

I put my phone away and didn’t want to continue reading.
Fear- horror, dread, terror, panic, alarm, fright.

Jim Carrey in his 2014 commencement address at Maharishi University of Management (MUM) said:

“Now fear is going to be a player in your life. You get to decide how much you can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future. But all there will ever be is what’s happening here in the decisions we make in this moment which is based in either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.”

Decades ago we moved to Dubai from Lebanon. It was during the Lebanese civil war and the company where my late husband worked was closing its offices in Beirut. We were lucky because he was offered a job in their Dubai office. It was a wise move at the time even though it was emotionally very stressful. 


The war was still going on in the country and we were leaving behind our families and friends. But at the same time we were happy since we both had jobs waiting for us in Dubai. For us having a job meant security and peace of mind. So we kind of knew what we were getting ourselves into and we were not afraid to make the move.

By the time the civil war stopped we were already settled in Dubai. We had our circle of friends, and somehow Dubai had become our home away from home. Some of our friends moved back with their families to Lebanon but we were hesitant. We gave the matter a lot of thought and time. But then we were afraid. Fear prevented us from taking that step.

I think when a person is facing a challenge it’s not the challenge itself that’s scary, it’s what comes after, what follows. What if it doesn’t work out? What if we can’t find a job, or the situation isn’t as stable as it seemed?

Years later though when we decided to move to Canada, we took a leap of faith. We had hardly settled when my husband got sick and eventually passed away. We were in a new city, in a new country, still looking for jobs, and trying to meet and make friends. In our wildest dreams we never anticipated anything like this. 

But what bugs me most is that the first year we were here, my late husband was offered to exhibit his paintings in New York and he declined, saying “he wasn’t ready yet.” He never got the chance. He would never know what people would have thought about his paintings, how they would have reacted to his art. And that hurts.

Julia Cameron writes:

“Fear is what blocks an artist. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of not finishing. The fear of failure and of success. The fear of beginning at all. Fear is the true name for what ails the blocked artist. It may be fear of failure or fear of success. More frequently, it is fear of abandonment. There is only one cure for fear. The cure is love. Use love for your artist to cure its fear.” 

Is it any wonder that three years later Sarah Ban Breathnach writes:

“Our dragons are our fears: Fear of the unknown. Fear of failing. Fear of starting something new and not finishing. Again. Or the real fear, the one that sends shivers up our spines: the fear of succeeding, of becoming our authentic selves and facing the changes that will inevitably bring.”

What do you think?

Have a great week!


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Conversation Part Four

It’s a cold snowy winter morning in Montreal. I sit at my desk hoping to continue my conversation. I have taken notes in my journal of all the points that I would like to tackle in my blog. I start to leaf through my notebook.
It’s one of those days where I can’t focus on any task. There is a lot going on in my life right now and sometimes I find the simple act of getting out of bed and continuing with my everyday ordinary chores overwhelming. 

On any regular day, I would know what to write about without referring to any notes. But not today. Today I feel I need to silence the noise in my head and turn away from the world and unto myself. I try to relax, take a deep breath, and start reading.


On the page I have copied three quotes, and next to each I have scribbled in brackets (‘ideas for blogs’). The first two read as follows:

“You are the author of your life.”
“You are the choices you make.”  

I sigh and ask myself. Am I? Am I really the author of my own life? Have I truly written the script of my own life, where I have given cancer to my protagonist, my hero and killed him? How’s that even possible? 

In what universe would I have made that choice when I know that the world is a better place with him beside me. In what mindset would I choose to terminate the life of the one person who has made me a better person and my life worth living? How could I do that to myself and create a void in my heart that gets bigger and bigger with every passing day. Did I ever have any choice in this matter?

True, we make choices, but sometimes the universe does not support our choice. Sometimes providence or destiny or fate, call it what you will, plays its tricks on us leaving us with no choice but to accept what happened. Then what do we do? What can we do?

Faced with the harsh reality we do our best and try again, because there are others who look up to us and we have to set an example. We have to be courageous and faithful and hope that the day will come when we will come to terms with our loss and the void in our heart will not feel that big anymore. 

I sigh and continue to read the third quote:

“Borrow widely, steal nicely.”

I remember the book I took this quote from, a book on writing. And I return to continue my conversation of the previous week. Julia Cameron vs. Sarah Ban Breathnach.

In her book The Artist’s Way (1992) Julia writes:

“Collage: Collect a stack of at least ten magazines, which you will allow yourself to freely dismember. Setting a twenty-minute time limit for yourself, tear (literally) through the magazines, collecting any images that reflect your life of interests. When you spot them, clip them, buy them, photograph them, draw them, collect them somehow. With these images, begin a file of dreams that speak to you. Think of collages as a form of pictorial autobiography. Including your past, present, future, and your dreams. Now take a sheet of newspaper, a stapler, or some tape or glue, and arrange your images in a way that pleases you. Give your collage a place of honor. Even a secret place of honor is all right- in your closet, in a drawer, anywhere that is yours.” 

While Sarah Ban Breathnach, in her book Simple Abundance (1995), writes:

“You’ll have to visualize your ideal life. Now see if you can’t find pictures in magazines to match your ideal ones. Cut them out and create a collage on an eight-by ten- inch piece of posterboard. If you can’t find images to match your dreams, tap into the creativity deep within and draw a picture. When you’re finished, find a photograph of yourself that you specially like. Cut yourself in the center of your treasure map collage.
Above all, remember that no one needs to be privy to your personal treasure map but you. Keep your personal treasure map in the back of your illustrated discovery journal and look at it often.”
What do you think?


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Conversation Part Three

The second most important basic tool for creative recovery according to Julia Cameron (in her book The Artist’s Way, 1992) is The Artist Date. She writes:

“The 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.”
Julia doesn’t stop at that but continues to say that “your artist needs to be taken out, pampered, and listened to.” She suggests “a visit to a great junk store, or an art gallery, or watching an old movie- doing things that do not cost money but time.”

Three years later Sarah Ban Breathnach (in her book Simple Abundance, 1995) recommends the reader to go on creative excursions. She tells us that “creative excursions are regular solo rendezvous with your authentic self.” This can be done by visiting a “fabulous thrift shop,” or taking in a “movie, (one of those English old dramas you love).” Anything that “requires an investment of time, not money. None of us are too busy to find two hours a week.”   

Julia then explains how important it is to go on artist dates, because as you do “you are receiving- opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance. A weekly artist date is self-nurturing but also remarkably threatening- and remarkably productive. You are likely to find yourself avoiding your artist dates. Recognize this resistance as a fear of intimacy- self intimacy. In the course of the release engendered by our artist date, we begin to hear resolutions. Perhaps equally important, we begin to fund the creative reserves we will draw in in fulfilling our artistry.” 

Sarah on the other hand also warns us to be “prepared for strong, emotional resistance. Excuses will be plentiful. Don’t give in. There are ways to do it, once we realize that nurturing our imaginations and developing a relationship with our authentic selves is an investment we can no longer afford to put off. Expect nothing less than signs of wonders to follow.”

In her book Julia designated three full pages explaining the artist date. She brings examples from real life as she makes clear what the advantages and benefits are by going on weekly excursions and what the drawbacks are when avoiding these dates.

Sarah in one page writes about all that Julia has already written earlier, sometimes even using Julia’s words. 


Is it a mere coincidence on Sarah’s part that she talks about exactly the same thing, in exactly the same words, after three years of the publication of Julia’s book The Artist’s Way? 

In my opinion it’s more than that. It’s natural for people to have the same ideas or thoughts but to express them in exactly the same phrases and words, even using the same examples or exercises, there must be more to it than just coincidence.

What do you think?


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