Literary Prizes!

“I’ve always been a fan of Canadian literature. I think it’s important that we celebrate and highlight the extraordinary achievements of our own cultures. It is a privilege and a pleasure to highlight and bring forth the magnificent achievements of Canadian literature through The Giller Prize,” said Justin Trudeau, current Prime Minister of Canada, when it was announced that he was to host the Giller Prize on November 7 2006. 

It was my first encounter with the Giller prize. It was the first time I heard about it. Before that, my favorite Canadian authors were Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, M.G. Vassanji, Alice Munro, and Mavis Gallant. I watched the ceremony on TV with awe and followed the authors, read their books and read and watched their interviews. Since then I have become a huge fan of the Giller.

This year, of the five books on the short-list, I liked Samuel Archibald’s “Arvida” the most (translated from French by Donald Winkler). I don’t know what it was but there was something in the way the author told the stories, and how they seemed so personal and hence so original, that touched me. But unfortunately my preference didn’t win. André Alexis won for his book “Fifteen Dogs.”


I felt disappointed and somewhat angry and wished that we readers had a say in who wins. But then I remembered an anecdote about another prestigious literary prize, the Goncourt, the biggest prize in France, told by Simone de Beauvoir in three letters to Nelson Algren. She wrote:

“Great literary events in Paris this week. There was the Goncourt prize- that is the most important prize for a novel in the year. The book at once becomes a best-seller; it sells 100,000 at least, which in France is much, and the author is covered with fame and money. Ten old men, a kind of “academy,” give it, and there is a terrible battle between the publishers; they bribe some of the old men, often. The jury is supposed to choose the best novel, but always chooses the worst. So it was a great amazement this year because they really picked the best, Week-end in Zuydcoote, the story of the Dunkerque battle…” (10 Décembre 1949)

“Queneau entered the Goncourt Academy, that is strange and a bit disappointing since it is such a conformist, mild, worth of nothing kind of gang, this thing. Camus, Sartre and myself always said no when asked to enter it.” (Monday, 5 Mars 1951)

“Something very funny happened today! Maybe you remember when Kreswell gave you some books back, I showed to you a piece in one of the booklets where I was mentioned and strangely compared to Pointcaré; it was called “Literature Below the Belt,” something like that, and the author was Julien Gracq. In the same piece, Gracq said how disgusting it is to give prizes to authors, and how they degrade themselves by accepting them. Well, it happened this man wrote a book this year, a dull, sophisticated novel, and the Goncourt Academy decided to give him the prize! Indeed he could not accept after all he had written about it. He gave a lot of interviews saying he would not accept the prize if he got it. But the ten members of the Goncourt Academy, and Queneau among them, said the prize had not to be accepted to be given; they give it as they choose. And indeed today they gave it to Gracq. He is really a man who never tried to get publicity, wrote one, two books which did not intend to sell well.” (Tuesday, 20 Novembre 1951)


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The World Is A Sad Place Now

The world is a sad place now.

It’s a sad week in Paris, France and in Beirut, Lebanon. Especially after what happened in Paris and in Beirut this week. So many innocent lives lost, so many others injured. My heart goes out to all the victims and their families, to all those who lost their lives or their loved ones. And the memories, oh the memories.

Ironically enough last month I started rereading Simone de Beauvoir again. I started with her letters to Nelson Algren.

“It’s so beautiful just now in Paris that it is impossible not to feel happy and to hope.” She starts the letter of the 7th October 1947.

This week I am rereading another one of her books, The Mandarins. I have this habit of writing my initials, the date, and the city where I bought the book in the top right corner of the first page of all my books. This one reads 25-August-1986 Venice.

August 1986, I had traveled with my late husband to Rome and then Venice and from there we were flying to Paris before returning to Dubai.

I remember the bookstore where I bought the book from. This tiny little place in some tiny street corner where we used to walk every morning to go to St. Mark square. There was always a line-up of young people outside, the equivalent of perhaps the line-up of Starbucks nowadays. It was a bookstore that sold English books.

At the time, The Mandarins was the only book I was missing in my library from Simone de Beauvoir’s books. I had bought and read the rest while I was a student at the American University of Beirut from Librarie du Liban across the street from the university.

We were both so excited about this trip. It wasn’t our first trip. In fact we had spent Christmas in Hong Kong and China. But it was the first in the sense that it was sort of a pilgrimage for both of us. For me I would finally visit the city where my favorite author Simone De Beauvoir lived. I would visit Café the Flore, sit at the desk where she sat and wrote. I would walk to Sorbonne and wander on St. Germain and Montparnasse. Stroll along the Seine and climb the stairs of Notre Dame.

As for my late husband, Paris meant he would visit the Louvre and Montmartre, he would see the impressionists’ exhibition and most of all he would see Picasso.

I don’t remember how we went to the Picasso National Museum that day, whether we took the metro or a cab. But I remember we were early. The museum hadn’t opened yet and we waited with a few others outside. I could feel my husband’s restlessness. Until then the only paintings of Picasso he had seen were from the many books about art and artists he had collected since his early teen years.

Just when the doors opened and they let us in he said to me, “Can you please keep an eye on me inside and see that I don’t get too feverish or become too hot or something?”

We went in there and I had to watch not only the paintings but my husband too. That’s how much he loved Picasso. Being an art lover and an artist himself, I still remember the way he watched those paintings, the way he was so caught up in them. It was all so fascinating to watch him.

Those are sweet memories. Memories give me hope and make me strong. My life is so full of so much love and beautiful memories. Because of him my life is so meaningful today.

Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of his death and I am still unable to come to terms with his loss. Not even after three years and not ever. Rest in peace my darling.



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Learn To Let Go!

One of my biggest problems in life has always been to let go. I constantly worry about anything and everything. I remember a time when I wasn’t this tense. Maybe because my husband was there to share and lift the burden off my shoulders. I have difficulty to just be in the moment and try to live each day as it comes.

For the past couple of years I have been trying to get out of this bad habit. I say bad because I feel that by focusing my energies on the negatives I have become a blocked creative. The moment I sit down to write, I start thinking and analyzing. I ask myself why? Why am I doing this when my first book is not selling even though people who read it love it and say it made them cry. Am I wasting my time?

Then I get paralyzed with fear and uncertainty. I leave my page and go around the house doing things like emptying drawers and tidying them again and again, rearranging my library,  mopping and washing until I am too exhausted physically to do anything other than grab a book and read. All the time feeling guilty for wandering away from my goal, my purpose and my spirit. 


There is nothing in this world that gives me more pleasure than to be home with my spirit. To work and think lost and absorbed in my moment and let go of the rest.

The philosopher Plotinus wrote:

“In our best and most effective moments, when we really ‘enter into’ our work, we leave it behind…. This is the experience of Pure Spirit when it is turned toward the One. When we reach this stage we often doubt that the experience is real because the ‘senses protest that they have seen nothing.’ Hence there is a kind of unconsciousness in the highest experiences of the Soul, though we cannot doubt them, not in the least.”


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Life Is In Fact A battle

It’s almost the end of October and the cold weather has already settled in. The sky is grayish blue on most days.  The leaves have fallen from most trees and people are busy blowing them off their lawns and backyards. The days are short and dark. 

I love autumn. I always have. I love how the trees and the leaves change color, some so red and blue and purple and orange and yellow and green and velvety. I love to simply walk in the streets and be amazed by the different colors of the leaves and feel the change in me too.

Unfortunately this autumn I couldn’t be outdoors much. See, I am not in the prime of my life anymore. And as such I have some challenges that I have to face and sometimes I have to slow down and take it easy and make the most of my situation. 

I still watch the trees from my living room window. I see boys and girls walk hurriedly to school in groups in the morning. I see them walk by in the afternoon back home, this time leisurely, playfully, talking and laughing noisily. For me there’s no better and greater feeling of well being than to hear voices full of life and vigor and know that all is well around me.


Winter is around the corner with its cold and snow and wind and storms. But for some people nothing will change. They will still walk to bus stops, to the metro, to their cars every day, to go to work or school.

My life is both bitter and sweet right now. Bitter because of the greatness of my loss. Yet sweet because of all the things and especially all the people still in my life. 

Winter also means that another year has passed and I might be closer to my goals than I was a year ago. I feel that I have matured as a person and a writer and what seemed impossible a year ago might become possible. I feel that finally I am not that lost and I have come home to myself. And as I hope, I feel that this winter will mark the beginning of something new in my life. 

To use Henry James’ words:  

“Life is, in fact, a battle. Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting, but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy. But the world as it stands is no narrow illusion, no phantasm, no evil dream of the night; we wake up to it, forever and ever; and we can neither forget it nor deny it nor dispense with it.”


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How Beautiful It Was!

It was thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. A day to spend with family and loved ones. 

Ever since my husband passed away almost three years ago, every day is thanksgiving for me. As painful as the experience was for us, my kids and I, we are much stronger today because of it. 

Last week I watched a television interview with Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, stars of the movie Love Story. When the interviewer asked them, “How does it feel to lose a loved one?” they both answered, sad. That’s how I feel most of the time now, sad. No matter where I am or what I do, I feel an emptiness that can never be filled, no matter what.

I mean, I am so grateful for the two wonderful and most precious people in my life, my kids. I am so grateful for my family, my mom, my brothers and their families, my aunts and uncles who, even though they are miles away, check in on me and my kids on a daily basis to make sure we are okay. 

I feel I am more appreciative of the things I have and especially of the people in my life. I am a much calmer person now, and no matter how busy my life gets sometimes I make sure I find the time to listen to my kids, to talk to my family, to listen to the birds sing, to watch the squirrels climb the tree, to notice the leaves change color, to watch the sunrise and the sunset. 

I see the world as a beautiful place and my life as the biggest gift that I have. Even though some nights when I place my head on the pillow and think of him, of all the things that he is missing, I feel a sadness so overwhelming that I swallow hard to keep the tears from running. Because no matter how our kids have grown and have become successful and exceptional human beings, no matter how great they have turned out to be, he would never know, would he? He would never know what people tell me about how great his art is. He would never know.

Yet he was lucky. We were lucky, to experience the great love that we had and a life filled mostly with love and laughter and happiness. Others don’t even have that.

Because of that love I am a much calmer person now and when I sit at my desk and get an empty page to write I feel engulfed with this serenity and all I want to do is write about the beauty that surrounds me, about the life we had and how simple and beautiful it was. 


I don’t remember who it was who said we are born to die, and it is up to us to fill the time in between. Even though I lost my old me and the world in which my loved one lived, I lost our world together, life is still good. It is the most precious gift that we are ever given and even if everything else goes wrong, to be alive alone is something to be thankful for.

Hope you have a great week.


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When I Learned All This!

When I first met my late husband, he was reading Van Gogh’s letters to his brother. He said he was rereading the book, and wanted me to read it too. Being an artist himself, Van Gogh was one of his all time favorites. Throughout all the years we spent together he would always read from that book again and again.
The first time I read the book, I was in awe. The great painter that he was, Van Gogh had a terribly hard life. And yet I could feel through his letters kind of journaling his everyday life that it was one of the greatest lives that was ever lived- and perhaps the happiest. It was a life of loneliness, of starvation and poverty that led to insanity, and yet it was the happiest. And the few words he had written in his letters have changed my whole life.

In a way I understood why my husband kept rereading his letters. See my late husband was this simple man who was very grounded, very appreciative of life and everything around him. He had such an observant eye for the simple things in life. He loved art for art’s sake, he loved to create, he was the happiest when he was painting. 

On a train trip to Toronto last week, I tried to be fully aware of the beauty surrounding me. And never, never had nature seemed to me so touching and so full of feeling. There are moments in life when everything within us is full of peace and sentiment but it is not so always.

Van Gogh’s simple drive is in all of us. But in us it is foggy with worries, like will the work be good or bad, or will it make money?

On that day in the train, I became only aware of the beauty of the creation around me.


And I had this impulse to share with others the feeling that I had. I thought to myself that in a few years I must finish a certain book that I am writing. And that I need not hurry- there is no good in that- but I must work on it in full calmness and serenity, as regularly and briefly and as focused as possible. 

“When I learned all this then I could write freely and jovially and not feel contracted and guilty about being such a conceited ass; and not feel driven to work by grim resolution, by jaw-grinding ambition to succeed, like some of those success-driven business men who, in their concern with action and egoistic striving, forget all about love and the imagination, and become sooner or later emotionally arthritic and spiritually as calcified and uncreative as mummies.” Brenda Ueland


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Give Yourself The Gift Of Faith

Brenda Ueland writes:

“Everybody is talented because everybody who is human has something to express.” 

As the saying goes, everybody has a story to tell. Whether we do it on paper, on stage, on canvas, or through our voice, when given the chance we all have something to say, to express.

Creativity, nevertheless, requires faith. We have to believe, we have to have faith in none other than our self. Self-trust is one of the most important issues in writing. I say in writing because that’s what I can do (I wish I could do other things too). There are days when self-doubt kicks in, when I not only can’t write anything but I don’t even like the things I have already written. There are days when I try to talk myself out of it by saying things like, “What’s the point?” 


Each time I post an article, I get excited not only because I can’t wait to hear the comments of my fellow bloggers (for which I am so grateful) but also for the fact that I did something. I showed up at my laptop and wrote. The process gives me joy. But when the excitement passes I tell myself, “Ok you did it, then what?” 

But then again, what I remember most from my high school days is our talent shows. The excitement, the anxiety when we came together to put on a show, whether it was a drama, or a concert, or a dance. We all worked for nothing but fun, for that glorious inner excitement. It was hard work but there was no other pleasure or excitement like it and it was something never forgotten. It was the creative power working in us. 

Julia Cameron writes:

“Give yourself the gift of faith. Trust that you are on the right track. You are. You will come to experience a more comfortable faith in your creator and your creator within. You will learn that it is actually easier to write than not to write, paint than not paint. You will learn to enjoy the process of being a creative channel and to surrender to your need to control the result. You will discover the joy of practicing your creativity. The process, not the product, will become your focus.” 


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