So excited about my current work-in-progress! It’s making me wake up EARLY.

Which is something I have to thank my last manuscript for. Among other things, these are some of the ah-has I had while writing it:

  • the amazing-ness that writing in the morning hours is
  • when you hit a wall, take yourself & your laptop to a new location; you will break through somehow (it can be as simple as writing in another room or, my favorite, an episode of writing in Istanbul, overlooking the Bosphorus)
  • imagery is so important to the process of acquainting yourself with a new world (or a discover-again world); use photographs as aids
  • if a certain part of your story becomes dead and you dread picking it up again, go back to where it was still enjoyable to write and begin again; if you don’t want to write it, no one will want to read it
  • liven scenes with sensory details
  • always plot with all the threads – be a fair writer
  • organization and set-up allows creativity to flow more freely; pantsing & plotting go hand-in-hand

Dead Ringer from The New Yorker

 

2556267391_70a0fd2941_m

buh-bye

photo by penny

I am not a multi-tasker. When I teach, I teach. When I cook, I cook. When I write, I roam the moors and shires of my mind, scythe in hand.

I can only focus on one thing at a time.

So when my puff-cloud of a dream of becoming published, anchored FOR THIRTY-TWO years, left Earth and embarked on a swift ascent in a manner uncharacteristic of cumulus matter (i.e. I signed with a literary agent within three weeks of submitting my manuscript), I kept on cutting construction paper and getting band-aids and talking about the differences between a square pyramid and a triangular prism. With weird mechanical calm.

Sure I shared with friends and family and my yoga teacher, but I didn’t SCREAM AND FLAIL AND GO INTO A HAPPINESS COMA – like I imagined I would when I cracked the code of getting someone in the industry to say, hey, this might be sorta good, this two hundred page thing she’s been working on for five years.

I am still waiting for the giddy.

BECAUSE, GUYS, EVERYONE, MY-SEVENTH-GRADE-TEACHER-MS. ZULTEK-WHO-STARTED-MY-WRITERLY-OBSESSION: MY BOOK MAY HAVE A CHANCE OF BECOMING PUBLISHED!

Let us back up and trace how it is that this white puffy wonder that is my writing aspiration snapped its sail to set off. (I’ll drop the cloud metaphor now that it’s getting unmanageable, like pirates are waiting to enter stage left.)

In 2007 I decided I wanted to return to pursuing my publishing goal. The one I’d chased since I was a child and gotten a degree for in the 90’s but placed on hold to parent two children and be everything else.

In 2009, I took a year off work to write. I wrote the novel that taught me how to write beyond a short story/article. It was bad. Very bad – it even had a scene where a silverfish (yes, the insect) helped the main character of a contemporary young adult novel make the decision that would bring the story to its climax. No it wasn’t magic realism. And no, the main character wasn’t on drugs.

Still I queried this thing because, damn, I’d worked on it for FIVE MONTHS! And wonder of wonders, out of the five queries + pages I sent out, I got two full requests – and from Writers House and ICM to boot! The lovely Tina Wexler read it ALL and suggested things I needed to work on and even offered to be there for a revise and resubmit. (I still cringe on imagining her face when the pivotal silverfish crawled in.)

I went back to teaching but also came back home to work. I read about what goes wrong in novels and what makes things go right. I went on a revision retreat in Boston with writing mentors. And I saw that this first novel was a trunk novel, the kind you put in a drawer and close tight.

But one character in it, the one everyone loved without fail, crawled out of the drawer.

She wanted her own story. In early 2011, I let her start it via a private blog. When her story started to take shape and form, I plotted it a bit and teased all the threads and wove them with equity a la J.K. Rowling’s most magnificent spreadsheet. I kept doing this: micro writing and macro planning and weaving, always in bits.

I worked on it for three more years. And it was done. I had two great critique partners and six beta readers.

They loved it but I didn’t. The beginning wasn’t working for me. One of my critique partners agreed that it wasn’t as strong as the rest of the book. But she couldn’t figure out what was wrong either.

So for another year, I worked on just the beginning. I vacillated between wondering if I was just hiding my fear of failure behind this excuse and knowing with certitude that I needed my novel to be in tip-top-silverfish-free shape before I queried again.

Last year, I decided to do a query-run. Again sent out 5. No bites. I knew the query and first pages had to be strong and, frankly, they weren’t.

In December, I wondered what it would feel like to not want to be a writer. I imagined the freedom. I did that for three days before I went sobbing back to the keyboard.

And in that reaffirmation of my dream, I found a beginning that worked better for me.

During March Break, I wrote a query I liked, no double-guessing involved. I sent it out before the break ended, figuring it would take about three months to know if my book had a chance – just in time for summer vacation, when I could spend more time on my writing.

Instead, I got a steady stream of immediate requests for the full manuscript from rockstar agents I’d considered untouchable. In shock, I complied.

Then, offers of representation! I cried and wanted to jump on the first one – which was from a highly-sought after agent I’d queried after I saw my pitch was working.

That’s when experienced friends stepped in. Published people who helped me hone in on what kind of a published writer I wanted to be. With their guidance, I allowed myself to envision my career as an author.

And with that in mind, I chose THE agent that fit my writerly-style and writerly-aspirations: John M. Cusick from Folio Jr. Literary!

johnmcusick

Guys, guys, guys, I have to gush here because I’m so thankful that I took the time to think things through and ask questions. John has insight, strong sales and industry experience but more importantly, he came with resounding recommendations, has a communication style that fits my impatient-bratty-self and most most amazing, he’s a writer himself! The kindred spiritedness that springs between writers – I’ve never found that with any other human species when the topic of writing comes up and with John, I got a strong sense of his true passion for writing and writers.

That’s who I want to begin my (please God, LONG) writing career with. I am so so so excited!

Okay, cue pirates. Enter moor, stage left, sidestep crawling insect, and start your story – I’m more than ready to write it down…

2296485013_4ddc2fd8cb_m

photo by Oliver Dodd

 

P.S. Getting this far took a long time but it would have taken even longer without the many great writers out there who actively share what they’ve learned. I’m always willing to share what I’ve learned – both from them and from my experiences – so if anybody has any questions/wonderings, please do let me know. I’d love to help others with their own dream clouds.

Writers, listen to this until the very sweet slightly tedious end:

We are gathered here today, dearly beloved, to talk about beginnings. Why they sometimes suck. Well, for me.

Beginnings are introductions. And I’m an ambivert, bad at introductions, good when things get going, great when there’s action, awesome when it’s time to say good-bye and the exchanging of numbers, information and business cards are happening.

I’m shy and hesitant initially – because I don’t know if you’ll like who I am and what I offer. When there’s warmth and things are safe, I let myself be and then hopefully, you’ll like what you see.

My first meet with my husband was like that. I was quiet for the most part but then our second meet was in a bookstore and that’s safety-city for moi, so I was me. And we got married seven months later.

This pattern unfortunately presents itself in my writing. I’ve worked on this but it reasserts itself in every new project.

New writers need a leg in the door and that leg starts with a foot called the first five to ten pages. And this foot’s supposed to be your best foot.

Alas, my foot is not the prettiest.

I’ve read most of the recommended books on the importance of your manuscript’s opening and I’ve done the work (start later, ditch the backstory or weave it seamlessly, start with inciting incident, NO prologue etc) but beginning the beginning right is not my forte.

I know this because I’ve had the awful but lovely experience where a new writing teacher/professor/mentor reads my work with pen striking often in the initial pages, admonishing inks becoming sparse on the next few pages and then disappearing in the middle only to reappear at the end with a Bravo! or an A+ or an I can’t wait to read more of your work.

They don’t go on being so critical on the openings of my subsequent pieces, but the uniformity of responses to my introductory set-ups have made a deep impression on me.

So I kind of play around with my beginnings a lot.

Is it a form of procrastination? I don’t think so – because I do send work out. Is it a form of perfectionism? Yes, that it is.

I try to console myself that other notable books have less than stellar beginnings. But they all made it in the door somehow. Their feet squeezed through.

Okay, back to pedicuring my MSs.

My manuscripts, all lined up. Ugh. Photo by Vern Hart

One day I woke up and I was in my 40s. Early 40s, but when did this happen?

I know the truth is that I forever will feel these four ages: three, seven, fourteen and twenty-one, with bouts of thirty-six. My husband pegs me as having the heart of the second of the ages I listed. After seven solid years of marriage, he’s still in awe of my marveling at simple joys and amusements.

But I think the feeling of forty is creeping up on me. So I anticipate the dawning of wisdom. I’ve heard that’s what happens during your forties. (As long as your forties are not the new twenties. Please God no.)

Looking back from this wisdom-awaiting position, I see my thirties were my pivotal years. I felt the most at peace with where I was headed, because I changed directions. I left my stagnant marriage, had a good divorce, as outlined in the Qur’an, and worked on my self, my deen and my relationships with loved ones. I started this blog in 2006 to capture some of the journey back.

I believe the work I did on finding the best me led me to be able to meet the love of her life. There was no bitterness or defensive chip on my shoulder when I went for coffee with my soon-to-be life partner. I presented myself, the one I’d uncovered.

So my thirties were beautiful.

And my twenties? They belonged unconditionally to my children – I sprang to be The Most Devoted Mother with gutso. I shoved myself, squashed myself actually, in tending to them. My early thirties taught me to balance me & them. My mid-to-late thirties forced me to balance me, the children and my husband.

What do I want of my forties? I want big wisdom. The kind that sees beyond the immediate situation immediately. Not after the fact, when the deed is done, and I’m holed up reflecting. Is it too much to hope for that first-aid kind of wisdom? The type that can stop the flow of blood, the flow of wrong decisions, word-choices, actions with paramedic calm?

I want my forties to be when I get published. Big-time published. I love writing too much to have it sit there accumulating in my dad’s old university bag from the sixties (because it is). In the ten years I’ve turned back to my craft, I’ve learned that I can be patient and that I can plod-on and that I can keep up. Now, it’s time to make my mark.

My son, in third year University, tells me that everyone’s talking about intersectionality. I looked it up and read about it. I couldn’t completely understand it, like I would’ve understood it when I was in University and my mind was in Derrida-land, but the seven year-old in me likes the simple intersection(s) idea. That my identity is made up of multiple identities, a series of crossed lines and the point in the middle is the me no one else is.

That’s the point from which I want to make my mark as a writer.

As a micro writer, I’m not used to revising in the way it’s understood to mean: re-working a draft to get to the story. This inexperience is due to the fact that I’m constantly chipping as I write; continuously re-reading, re-arranging, re-envisioning my words as I lay them down. Each time I open scrivener* to write a new chapter, I re-read my whole or most of my manuscript and cut/re-arrange as needed. (It can take hours to get to the actual writing part.) Each time I pick up from where I left off when my last complete thought finished, I have to back up and read every sentence before it. (Like the sentences in this paragraph were played around with quite a few times. Okay, maybe SEVERAL times.)

I’m not going to lament that all they teach you in creative writing/mfa programs at universities is how to write a tidy, lyrical short story and how different that is than writing an entire book with a PLOT. I think I’ve ranted on that enough in another blog. And anyways Ann Patchett does the lamenting way more brilliantly and with way more logical sense in her writing memoir, The Getaway Car – a must for every aspiring writer to read.

Short stories need a different sort of revising. Micro writers will find no discomfort in doing that sort of revising because essentially it’s what we already do: check the flow.

But a book now. That is one big unwieldy thing to keep still enough to check the flow on. Check the flow in all directions and with all threads.  Just thinking of all the times I’ve grappled with this makes me weary.

So I gathered my saved bookmarks of great revision tips and printed them out and bindered them up and they have become my personal coaches.

IMG_2916

Here are some links if you are so inclined (mostly or maybe all from writers of Young Adult books):

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Revision Roadmap

Veronica Roth’s Revision Day One, Day Two and Day Three

Mary Beth Lundgren’s PDF of collected final revision checklist

Darcy Pattison’s 2 Amazing Ways to Revise Your Novel (And When to Use Them)

Maggie Stiefvater’s From Rough to Final: A Dissection of Revision

Janice Hardy’s The Spit Shine: Things to Check Before You Submit

Hope this helps other aspiring authors out there.

*and, psss, if you don’t have scrivener, get it! It’s a must for writing big things.

Love this piece about sending/putting your writing out there: The Art of Submission: Why we submit.

I discovered that literary journals consider things you’ve put on your blog as being in the category of PUBLISHED PREVIOUSLY. Which they then don’t accept as publishable pieces.

And since I have a few blogs I keep, my writing has been PUBLISHED PREVIOUSLY in plenty of spaces. (Who knew it was so easy to be published, huh?)

I’m hoping to merge my many blogs one day so I’ll do a link here to the brief one I kept while away from home; the first post:  Snowflakes in Doha. The blog is called Marvels & Oddities and it was an attempt to balance my positive impressions with my I-wanna-go-back-home impressions. The latter was my predominant penchant.

 

Every Monday I get to tote around two fresh teen (just entering teenhood, refuses to be called tween) librarophiles around town, tasting the delights of a new Toronto library.  Some time ago, while picking up my daughter and niece from school, I threw out a wistful thought, in that absented-minded way of mine that always means more work is coming into my life: Imagine, just imagine, if we visited EVERY single library in Toronto. Wouldn’t that be great? 

The idea stewed for a couple of years. We attempted it here and there and then I moved abroad for a year and now we are back and ready. Ready to take on Librarython T.O. Edition, where we visit and then blog about the library in question.

We started at our home branch of Port Union Library, port-union-library-03but that, we agreed, was just to figure out what this whole discreet critiquing thing entailed. (I.e., we’re not too impressed with our home library but too loyal to start bringing up its negative qualities.)

First, a brief background on the two critics and their credentials.

Sherlocka Critique, future graduate of Oxford, lives at 221B Baker Street, London, England. She wants to tell everyone who’s not too bright that she’s a huge fan of the “bloody brilliant” BBC T.V. series, Sherlock. (Commonplacer: stop swearing in British!) (Sherlocka: By the way, I’m not a FRESH teen. Quite aged actually.)

Hermione Pendragon, future graduate of Hogwarts, lives in Tajikstan. (Commonplacer: remember my intro –  these are FRESH teens.) (Hermione: Please note, this is being edited by Commonplacer.)

So, moving on, to Cedarbrae Library. 

cedarbrae-library-01

(They decided to take the Good Cop/Bad Cop Review Route; they’ll be alternating roles for each library they review.)

Sherlocka: Cedarbrae Public Library is a ruddy brilliant library for young folks, I mean, aged-folks, like myself. This is due to the adorable seating areas and modern furniture. (I ought to buy some myself!)

Hermione: Really, I believe that all of these “adorable seating areas” are all good and well, but they tend to make the patrons feel as though they are in a living room, and behave as such. Quite rowdily and noisily, if I do say so myself.

Sherlocka: Now now, you must ignore my mate here, she really is adorable, but she likes to critique, hence the job. Cederbrae is very well lit, mostly because of the floor to ceiling windows. They also have these quaint study areas, along with computers. And when I say computers, I mean lots and lots! This just adds more to the modern feel.

Hermione: In my opinion, those lights were much too bright. Quite blinding, in fact. And as for the computers, they were all occupied by youngsters playing a particular popular pixellated program (excuse the alliteration) which I shall not name. This is fine, but there really should be a higher limit on time.

Sherlocka: Continuing on, I must say I was rather impressed by the enormous selection of non-fiction books. And might I say, non-fic really is all the hype these days. The fiction section was also quite grandiose. Don’t get me started on the checkout system. Bloody brilliant. They had a bunch of these little self checkout machines, which everyone knows makes you feel independent and all the rest!:)

Hermione: I concur, they do have a rather large selection of books, which is lovely, but really, this makes their twisted organizing system even WORSE. Is it not a sad display of the state of the library system when one has to grub, yes, actually, physically, literally, spiritually, metaphysically, zoologically, whatever, BURROW beneath the Teen section shelf, just to reach some good old-fashioned science fiction?

Sherlocka: I must say, the organization in my opinion was great. Hermione was just upset because the science fiction had a section at the bottom of the shelf. (She must be a hard-core fan!) It was a fabulously organized library! The adult fiction was large indeed. And is it just me, or is this turning into a row (fight for you Americans)?

Next up: Agincourt Library

*And to think, these two, Sherlocka and Hermione, used to call themselves Ruby Garnet and Emeraldine Amethyst in another time…sigh, how they grow.*

It was my son who was flabbergasted by the Al-Maghrib teacher’s tweets/memes/remarks. I’m in the kitchen preparing dinner and he makes a sound from the family room. It’s a weird sound, one that I don’t hear him making often, like a breath intake cut short by a “whaaaa?”.  Then he says, coherently this time,  this guy says what?

My son proceeds to read aloud what’s making him so speechless, something posted on twitter: “Int’l Women’s Day is great, but starting tomorrow, it’s 364 International Men’s Days again, so stick that in your oven and cook it.”

This tweet was from a man who says he’s an Imam and Scholar. Later, he posted a meme that said Don’t Try to Understand Women. Women Understand Women and They Hate Each Other.

In response to the outcry, he followed that with this classy one,

that escalated quickly

Imam and Scholar? Really, Al-Maghrib?

My son is a typical eighteen year-old in that he loves everything delivered with a side of humor. Just this past weekend he emceed the improv performances for a Muslim youth event. He sees a funny angle to most everything.

That he saw no humor in this Imam’s words was hopeful. That he pointed out the incredulity in this Imam’s statements made me happy; I had raised a Muslim Male Ally, someone who will see through the schlock of those in the Muslim community who conveniently push aside the remembrance that our beloved Prophet challenged misogyny from the early days of Islam.

Here’s the scary part: that some Muslim sisters applauded this Imam’s train of absurd comments. I can only think that these sisters have somehow been spared from seeing the realities of what women and girls suffer around the world due to inequity.

And is there a funny part to all this? Perhaps it’s the well-written salvos equating those who took offense to the Imam’s words as being in that ever-dreaded camp of “secular-western-femi-nazis”. How droll. And unique?

Nice try but you can’t slam this one shut in that filing cabinet drawer.

We’re opening the drawers up. It’s time for some “Spring Cleaning”.

Canadian reads (mostly)I think all these books except The Shipping News are Canadian.  Photo by susanvg.

Happy New Year!

I started 2014 by reading Alice Munro for the first time. While contemplating writing this sentence, I wondered whether I should cringe with shame while typing. Alice Munro, Canadian writer extraordinaire? (I haven’t read Margaret Atwood either.)

This is strange because much of my undergrad time was spent in English/Literature courses.  My degree in Creative Writing required hours contemplating the minutia of the Canadian experience. You would think that some of that would mean considering already published Canadian voices. Alas, no.

My brief experience with Canadian literature was in high school, where the majority of the English faculty were stodgily Canadiana-oriented. Students yawned because the chosen texts were ill-chosen. I was way into Southern Gothic by then  (Flannery O’Connor! Eudora Welty!) so I pretended not to like what I read in my classes, even going so far as to, after perusing a few chapters of The Diviners, take on Margaret Laurence in a precocious essay. Though I marvel at the fact that I received an A+, I chalk that audacious move of mine to the FOIBLES OF YOUTH.

I did enjoy writing about the Canadian identity, having grown up in a home obsessed with the CBC, where they always seemed to be debating what Canada was, is, will be. I was of those eager to dwell on the “will be” part of the discussions. Hence, the first Canadian writers I read by my own volition were the newer immigrant ones: Rohinton Mistry, followed swiftly by M.G. Vassanji.

But to not have read Munro, Atwood or the other stalwarts of Canadian literature? To have read Mordecai as a child (Jacob Two-Two) and not as an adult?

I feel a shame-tinged hole that widened after almost a year spent abroad, where I longed so much for Canada and its identity-crisis of an identity. I’d never wanted anything more than to return home to the embrace of ice-laden deciduous forests. And libraries.

As there were no libraries in the sandy place I went to live, that was the first public space on Canadian soil my daughter and I went to visit. And now that we’ve been to many in the six months we’ve been back, I think it’s time to turn to what is housed in those libraries in the section filled with red-leafed spines.  It’s the year to read Canadian.

I hope to update the blog with reviews celebrating Canadian literature, old and new. New will be first as my current read is The Orenda by Joseph Boyden.  

Stay tuned! And if anyone has any must-read Canadian lit suggestions, please post in the comments.

Never want to forget this book:

taro and the tofu

The first book that made me realize what a book was/is: a bundled-up world that one could slip into and once one slips out again, things looked different – a bit different or a lot – in the real world.

What a nice aha to get as a young child. I thank my dad for bringing home loads of books all the time. One of those loads contained this very special book.

It’s gone now but I hope to get a copy again one day.

Just seeing the cover induces coziness.

Recently I was told that I don’t represent Islam. My Muslimness wasn’t the real thing, being of the Canadian sort.  The way it came out, it was like my Islam was kind of flaky, not AUTHENTIC.

I was told all this by a non-Muslim.

It mainly had to do with the fact that I find the honor-thing really perplexing. Upon sharing my confusion regarding this, I was told that it’s part of my religion, didn’t I know?  That it’s such a very intrinsic part of Islam?

I’ve been a Muslim my entire life, an extremely proud one from the age of sixteen, brought up in a religious household, taught by a father who’s an Islamic scholar, nurtured by a variety of Muslim communities, camps, conferences and never ever once was I informed that “honor” is a part of Islam.

Needless to say, the encounter with the Islamic “expert” left me reeling. No matter how many times I tried to refer to the sources of my religion, I was talked over and repeatedly told that I don’t know my own faith.

It doesn’t help that there exists awful cases of Muslims doing horrible things to each other. But the world is full of people doing horrible things to each other.

Only a bigot would hear of a crime and immediately attribute it to a religion or culture or race. It seems that bigotry rules the day in many parts of the world when it’s so mainstream for news media to attribute crimes to Islam, so unabashedly. Perhaps that’s why this expert felt so expert about Islam – perhaps the experts on Fox News or CNN had given him all the facts.

I thought back to all the horrific crimes I’d read about recently. I tried to deconstruct my own thought processes (on hindsight) regarding the Steubenville Rape case and the Newtown shootings.

There wasn’t an instance when I attributed these crimes to the culture they occurred in. But I know what would have happened if the perpetrators had been Muslim.

We would have all been schooled on what Islam was all about, by people who don’t know the first thing about it.

This week, my class (grade 3’s this year) encountered the word “dandy”.  So I explained to them that dandy was like the “sick” of about a hundred years ago or so (I’m not sure if my etymological dating is logical but it’s not linguistics 101 so…).

They’re currently on an active crusade to revive the word, because it’s just so…DANDY.

And here’s a real dandy video I encountered on Asmaa’s blog:

I absolutely love it.

– posted on my other writing blog on January 7, 2011

my son, a Boy?

Tomorrow I’m going to spend a part of the day at the bookstore with my son. The other two children will be socializing at birthday parties and such, so it’ll be just me and my fifteen year old.

The other day (which was like six weeks ago), I suddenly realized that my son had become a Teenage Boy. This fact hadn’t imprinted itself into my brain even though the child is over 6 feet tall and has his dad’s jock build.

But then, there we were at the supermarket, and the cashier girl suddenly began acting all coy. You know that awareness that alerts us humans when we spot a potential someone? Especially when us humans are in the teen versions of ourselves? Well, this teen-girl cashier caught it right then and there.

Her eyes changed, she kept tucking her hair behind her ears (though none of it had fallen into her face) and was kind of too quick in her movements handling my cereals. When she started biting her lips periodically, I started to wonder. Then I looked at exactly what she was sneaking glances at, between scanning my yogurt and granola bars.

This? My boy? My itty-bitty child?

Yeah, and he knew it too. I could tell by the stoic, mature, yet coolly-withdrawn way he was passing the items from the grocery cart. That’s when I saw the man-on-the-way emerging from the faint figure of the seven year old playing in the park that I seemed to perpetually see when I looked at him.

If it had been a movie, the soundtrack to the emotions and images in my brain would have been kiss the rain by Yiruma.

Life passes and I hadn’t fully understood that I am the mother of a teen boy.

I can’t wait to spend some time with him tomorrow. I want to imprint the fact that yes, he is coming into himself and I love him as he is now.

And this time, I promise to refrain from scrutinizing the cashiers. Those brash young things.

So here’s what I’ve thought about before commencing to open up commonplacer again:

The blogosphere is essentially a carefully zoned (organically carefully zoned for the most part) virtual space of massive proportions.  When I left CP for more than 8 months, I realized it was like moving away from somewhere I’d felt at home at.  I began another blog in a new ‘hood.  The Young Adult writing zone.  I built up some followers, but I felt kind of sad.  I missed this niche over here.

I also realized, with the closing-up-shop of a handful of other blogs that I’d been faithfully following via Google Reader, that it’s important to keep up the little space on the web that we carve out for ourselves.  It just feels good to read someone familiar.

I sometimes think about how important our part is in this mega-medium that commentary via the internet has become.  It’s like the transformations that happened in literary history when people began thinking about reading in new ways via serialized content (a la Dickens) or just about any other change in previously established lit norms.

It’s just fascinating and I enjoyed blogging here so yes, dad and others, I’m back.

(Can you tell I’m excited? Two posts in one day, woah!)

Hi 2011!!!

I want to wax poetic about my absence from commonplacer but I’m just getting settled in again so later, or maybe never (about the time away).

Aaah, home.

:)

 

The last time I posted about my daughter’s bff sleepover, there were 6 girls sleeping in our condo.  Fast forward two years later, and the number has grown to…TEN.  Ten girls and oh yeah, now it’s no longer a condo, it’s a house (we moved in December) so that’s how it got to be so big suddenly.  It’s 1 a.m. and I still hear loud laughter, screams, screeches and whatevers coming from the family room.

Before all this “sleeping”, they were all dressed to the nines as guests at our solve-the-crime party taking place in the 1920’s.  We had the jazz music playing as they mingled and tried to find out just which one of them had stolen the Duchess’ ring, the Rani’s crown, the Museum Curator’s ancient relic, the abstract artist’s painting and the Russian businesswoman’s Faberge egg.

(It was the abstract artist.  She was a starving artist (her work was quite horrible).  She stole her own painting to throw off the scent.)

The boys are gone – my hubby to his mom’s and my son to his grandma’s. Yay, it’s just us girls!

I just heard my daughter informing everyone that there is no curfew for bedtime tonight.

Now I just heard her story-obsessed friend informing everyone that I promised them a bedtime story.  Wasn’t the solve the crime party a big story already?

I just muttered loudly, “Hmm, I don’t remember promising any stories”… I think they heard.  My feet are killing me – I was “the butler-who-didn’t-to-it”  for the whole party.  I literally was the butler, the scullery maid, the cook (though my husband made the delicious chocolate cake) and the handmaid.

Now I’m hearing someone saying this is boring (it’s 1 a.m., the dress-up party started at 6 p.m., they masqueraded, they danced, they ate, they solved, they laughed their heads off, they watched a movie and now it’s boring?)

Someone else just said, yeah, this is boring.  I was about to leave my blog posting to tell them that if it’s so boring, they should all go to sleep when I hear the DS’s coming out…ooooh, suddenly everyone’s having fun.  Again.

In 1998, I had the experience of extensively visiting four countries in two months.  In each of these countries, I encountered the lovable mosques offered to me.  (Some were un-offered as I am female).  This was way before I began blogging and I wrote a whole imaginary post on the unity of the global mosque experience.  And the washroom experiences therein.  (The best was in London, England. The worst was in…I shall not say in order to protect the reputation of that beloved country.)

Yesterday, in the middle of a bustley day, we stopped by a downtown spot to pray.  It had a secluded, alcoved spot for women.  It was lovely.  In the middle of this bustley day, it felt perfect to have a bit of quiet one-on-one time with Allah.

Usually, I’m not the type that gets excited at cordoned-off zones for women.  I love seeing the Imam when I listen to the Khutba – as I get to do at the mosque I attend regularly.  But I also love it when I occasionally get to visit the mosques that separate women so entirely.  I only recently discovered (maybe within the last five years) how much I love them.  Love them occasionally* that is.

The quietude that descends in these places is almost blissful.

Perhaps I see them this way because I visit these mosques on road trips, hectic errand days or while vacationing.  While juggling a happening day, a spot of dedicated prayer space anywhere is just beautiful.

But in almost all these mosques, no matter how different, you will find the following lovableness:

  • a variety of jumbled flip-flops hanging around somewhere – some lonesomely single; others, mismatched but companionably so. No, I wasn’t meaning this to be a metaphor for the state of marriage in the Muslim community – it just ended up being so.
  • an extraordinarily sweet older woman who kindly assists you in some way and then asks you where you’re from and then tells you she is from Bulgaria/Egypt/Pakistan/Somalia/Bosnia and then kisses you so much while asking you to pray for her family and their problems…the ones from Pakistan say all this in urdu but you can string it all together due to past experiences with extraordinarily sweet older women.  The last one I met was from the Ukraine.  She helped me find the women’s washroom – which happened to be situated at the end of a maze.  And I did pray for her family as the imprint of her numerous kisses reminded me right at my nightly dua time.
  • a stinky feet smell permeating the shoe zone and each time you inhale, you berate yourself for not being more active in offering your volunteering services to clean a mosque, any mosque.
  • numerous computer printed signs in the washrooms reminding people to be clean/keep it clean.  Some are misspelt, some don’t make total sense, but alhamdulillah, they all recognize the importance of reminding Muslims multiple times about something.   Nagging works in our community.  At least I think so, judging by the reduction in sopping wet counters and slippery, lawsuit-worthy floors in the mosques I’ve visited recently.
  • a cute jumble of Qur’ans on a shelf/cart/on something more special than its surroundings…sometimes even Qur’ans in a variety of languages.  It just warms your heart so much to see that Cantonese copy of Allah’s words in a predominantly Indo-Pak mosque.  Almost nothing screams  “our global Muslim family” more poignantly.  Or, “I inherited a box of Muslim World League dawah project Qur’ans in all sorts of obscure languages and I am going to do a mosque run around town to dispose of them in a way which warms my heart and yours”.
  • a corkboard overflowing with flyers, ads, that basement apartment Ahmed has available for rent, that apartment Muhammed is looking to rent, that baby-sitting (with free Qur’an recitation classes thrown in) that Safiyyah will provide…and that care-giver Zainab desperately needs…can’t we all just start a Muslim craigslist, people?  Because, while I know it might be working (as evidenced by the number of phone number tear-offs Safiyyah’s ad has received – sort of like an ancient way of gauging the number of hits a web-site’s getting), it just hurts my head to see it all shoved together like that.  But apparently, it doesn’t hurt anyone else’s heads and that is just so heartwarming – that almost every mosque proudly boasts its prized collection of random announcements and offerings/wantings.  The bigger the mosque, the bigger the cork real-estate.  I love it.

What else is there that’s lovably the same between our mosques?  And if anyone knows about a Muslim craigslist, I’d love to learn about it!

These flip-flops are suitable paired, alhamdulillah. (Photo by Paul Keller)

*I say this know quite well that I have a choice in terms of the mosques I experience, whereas many women do not have that luxury and instead deal with always being ushered into dungeon-like premises in order to pray.

You know when you love a song the first time you hear it?  This is one of mine.  It reminds me of my teens.  So sadly much.

(so sorry for the sensational post titles)

“Matt Damon Disappointed with Obama

Matt Damon, up for the role of a Kennedy, is not satisfied with Barack Obama’s performance. The actor said Obama’s health-care proposal and Afghanistan track record have left him disappointed. Damon, who campaigned for the Democrat in 2008, said: “Politics is compromise. I’m disappointed in the health-care plan and in the troop build-up in Afghanistan.” Damon, meanwhile, confirmed he was in talks for a role as Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, the brother of the late President John F Kennedy, in a yet-to-be-titled biopic. Robert was assassinated in 1968 in Los Angeles. He added: ‘Everyone feels a little let-down because, on some level, people expected all their problems to go away. But real change comes from everyday people. You can’t wait for a leader.’
In other news, here’s one everyday person (well, award-winning everyday person) with courage to change things. Like people’s perceptions. And if you can do it on a subway wearing a thobe, you have real guts.  Go Boonaa!:)

I just realized I didn’t say anything in February (on my blog that is).

Just a quick hi (so that I don’t have any month in the 2010 archives (insha’Allah) whence i didn’t say anything). :)

I’m working away writing (too much according to my soulmate).

Insha’Allah I hope to post soon.

I feel so bad as I write this post title knowing I am about to be misleading…especially with a big, prominent BLOG WITH INTEGRITY button on my sidebar.  But I can’t stop myself…but just to be more “integrous”, I will do some nice disclaimers:

1. No I did not get my book published.

2. No I did not get my book published.

3. No I did not get my book published.  Yet.

There, now that I thoroughly ruined my post, I will just tell you that I feel like such an author – finally – after all these long years, yearning to be one…because of my daughter, who had to chose a poem to memorize and recite to her 4rth grade class from AN AUTHOR (search on the internet even, they were told).  I directed her to Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes even Shakespeare! but she asked me if I had written any poems.  I tried to get away but was forced to reveal that I had written some and that there were a few on my blog. Next thing you know, she was memorizing and practicing In Your Praise, tasbih in hand for proper effect.  When I tried to dissuade her, I was told that I am an author – my poetry is even on the internet just like Maya’s is!

At the beginning of December I read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver in 3 days while recovering from surgery.  The only thing I could do was read.  I was astounded by her book – not blindly astounded, because I do have some criticism (like the depiction of the character of Rachel, the eldest daughter, was not humane – she c(sh)ouldn’t have been THAT shallow, that bad).    I was simply astounded in the sheer work it took to get something that realistic in terms of the socio-political/economic situation in the Congo (well, really the world) – yet still in fiction form – out.  Wow, she’s a powerful, strong, muscled writer.

I say this as I’m struggling to understand that writing is really hard work – sweat and all.  I think I had been flying by on inspiration on all my previous success in turning out little things here and there.  But to write something whole and big and substantial is as terrifying as giving birth for the first time.

I fear the one book I’m concentrating all my energy on right now is shallow and deplete of any contribution to the world.  But I so enjoy writing it.  Does that mean I’m shallow and ditzy (’cause the book is)?

The other two should hold my attention more.  One more than the other because it has the job of shifting people’s thinking in a monumental way (it was going to try to be one of those books).  It had such a lofty, precise goal that I kept trying to plot it and plan it just so – that I lost interest in it for a long while.  And then I read Kingsolver and saw that I was in no way fit to enter the league of writers of those books.

The third book is about a topic I know nothing about, am scared of and just writing because I’m recording a saga I’ve told over the years to my daughter and nieces and since it was their ultimate favorite from all other told stories, I undertook the duty of duly recording it.  But it’s one thing to make the kids you love believe you’re an expert on something you know nothing about and another to convince the rest of kiddom.  And the research makes me squirm and squeal.

So that’s it for my writing whinefest.  Back to my ditzy novel.

This past month has felt like a year.  It felt like a life – with all that comes with it: anticipation, hardships, joys, tests, relief, grief.  But I will only say Alhamdulillah.  I’ve been shaken with such small, miniscule shakes in the grand scheme of things and I don’t feel like I stood as tall as I could have, as I should have – given the enormity of blessings that weigh down my life.

A new friend phoned me the other day and called me graceful in the way I handle things.  She was speaking of what she knew of on the outside.  Would the One who knows the whole, the inside and the outside, call me graceful?

I hear my sister’s voice and it is asking me not to ask so much of myself.  But who else to push myself to a true state of submission and all that goes with it: sustained patience and sincere attachment to truth, to Him?

So I  remind myself of my central blessing:

“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones
– the ones at home. “
Mother Teresa
My family: overcrowding with love, brothers who cry with you, for you, so you feel like comforting them in your time of grief; parents who love unconditionally with inhuman sacrifice; a sister who bears and shoulders with you; in-laws (parents, sisters, brothers) who are beacons of kindness and understanding; children and nieces and nephew who are love in cuddly form and a husband who is all that I have ever asked for in love.  And friends who don’t forget.

That is A LOT to have in your life.  Thank you Allah.

—————————————————————————-

I also wanted to share in this post.  Share 9 things.

1.  I’ve loved a beautiful, inspirational photo blog for a long while now: Daily Colours Photography
I love her pictures and her gleanings (see the Mother Teresa quote above).   Her photography is soft and observant and reminds me of being attentive to how God measures beauty and how easy it is to find it immediately and so nearby. The words she chooses to accompany her pics are often just right for the moment I’m in.

2. The most appropriate, best?,  umbrella in the world:

3.  When I grow up, I want to blog like her: Maira Kalman, of “And the Pursuit of Happiness” fame
(and psst, her husband, now deceased, designed that most appropriate umbrella).

4.  A Story Before Bed (http://www.astorybeforebed.com/) is such an awesome idea.  If you are far from a treasured child in your life, connect with them by reading them a favorite book via this service.  The child gets to access the book you chose and your recorded image and voice reading it.  There’s a small fee – but it’s worth it if you cannot be close in proximity to a little one who would really appreciate hearing from you.

5. Islamic Relief Fair Trade Partnership: bring it to a mosque near you.   Equal Exchange (with over 2o years in the fair trade “trade”) is the partner – and yum, their quality is as good as their integrity .

6. Profound Aesthetic.  My husband likes their t-shirts – they strive to have meaning (profound?) in them. They have an interesting blog too. This is one of his favorite t-shirts (I think I need to get him another one) – the designer we talked to described it as asking one to consider the dichotomy/or synthesis (depending on your view) between nature and human-produced music:

7. Kareem Salama has a new reworked Generous Peace song – it’s more upbeat now.  He’s reproducing many of his tracks – look for them coming soon to his updated website or itunes.  Here’s the official video to the new Generous Peace, directed by Lena Khan:

I like that he’s continuing with his talent.  And with the new song and video, he has an added fan at our  house – my son, an avowed country-music avoider who would argue with my daughter when she would want to play Kareem’s songs in the car over and over.

My son actually made me buy the new song right away on itunes –  for HIS ipod.

8. Chicago.  I just got back from there – visiting my husband, who is designing a restaurant in the windy city.  Even though it holds a part of my grief, I still found it a fascinating city – one that I would want to spend more in.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

pic by my husband

9.

Missed

a shadow dies
medically pronounced
it sounds mistaken

i grew ten more years
in the time you stopped your perfect heart
small, lifeless but still
it had filled,
so completely
taken over mine

I just made this post public.  After searching for solace – I found it in the words of God’s Prophet.  How perfect is Islam in that it addresses everything a human goes through.  How beautiful a Prophet who went through trial after trial, a simple human with all that it entails, yet again and again, he finds his fortitude in that which lies awaiting with his Lord.

I love the second and third songs (Fatima  and Wavin’ Flag).

Speaking of music, I had been meaning to profile an artist I met at ISNA this summer.  I don’t have the time presently to write a lengthy piece but I want to make sure to mention him.  I was impressed with Ismail Daugherty’s (who goes by the name Khalil Ismail) talent and character.  From the intro. song (awesome! classical music sauteed with hip hop/rap to perfection) on, Ismail’s ability to use his musical aptitude with thought and full awareness/consciousness (which is rare to see with such consistence throughout an album) is obvious.  If you can, please support this brother who is well-spoken, a good writer and musically gifted, masha’Allah. http://www.khalilmusic.com/ 

Once upon a time, there was a time when there squeezed through the bustlings of my day a little bubble (pink, faintly bubble-gum smelling) of time – just enough to write something down…and, lo and behold, with some key-tapping, it would be something that could be read by readers out there somewhere. Oh whither that bubble?

I miss blogging.  But I don’t miss writing as I’ve been doing that pretty consistently since my official year off work began.  My book, well, bookS now (when one takes a snooze, I turn my mind to the otherS) is/are coming along slowly but surely – with Allah’s help.

But I miss blogging because when one is blogging, keeping up with reading bloggers and discussing things, you’ve got your finger on the pulse of what we’re about – in real-time, in actual-history.  And now, to be shut away (even if by choice), it feels rather peculiarly lonesome.

One of the bloggers whom I used to lurk at before I launched on my own, Ali Eteraz, just came out with his book, Children of Dust.  I haven’t had the chance to read it – but as he was a captivating writer, I think I will need to pick it up.  I am still holding out that he takes up writing a book he had once described called The Poverty of the Prophet.  As I remember from a brief excerpt he published, it was unique in its ability to so compellingly capture the moving simplicity of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

While I am tapping away on my story, I am constantly trying to rein my cart in before the horse…I so want this year to be fruitful in finishing a book.  Even if it does not see the light of publishing day, I feel like that song by the beatles, blackbird…I was waiting all my life for this moment to arrive… to become a writer.

Well, I like to think I became a writer in grade seven when my homeroom teacher, who had the reputation for being the strictest in the school, called me to her desk on the first day and asked in a stern voice if I really did write the “What I did this summer” essay on my own.  I quakingly said yes.  For two weeks, she watched me carefully every time we got assigned something to write and then finally, called me again to that majestic desk and handed me a paper marked with an A+ and asked me if I knew that I was a writer.   I quakingly said no.  I did not know anything definable about myself besides Muslim, girl and perhaps, brown? Muslim Brown Girl.  Now Ms. Z. made me Muslim Brown Girl Writer and it felt good.

So this moment has arrived and I try to take the pressure off by devoting all my energy to making googly-eyed breakfasts for my daughter and packing heartier, healthier lunches for my son, and growing more in gratitude to the Merciful One for the love He allowed to fall into my life through my awesome husband,  and by having so much fun with the condo:

 (and my favorite, the beginnings of a library!)

but the moment has arrived – to write, to finish and to have and hold: A BOOK.  Written by a Muslim brown girl, insha’Allah.

(But please remember, I still miss blogging.  And I’m thankful that some of you still miss me and keep googling commonplacer.wordpress only to find nothing updated…I so sorry.  Perhaps, at that point, you can say a prayer that I finish my book. :)  )

My youngest uncle on my mom’s side passed away this past weekend.   It was sudden, unexpected and beautiful.  How can I say this about the death of a man with a quiet smile and a wide heart?  Perhaps this is why I can say it – maybe it only makes sense that a life of generosity and gentleness would end after fajr with the shahadah being the last words uttered over and over on the way to the hospital.  He died of a brain hemorrhage.  Unexpected and sudden.

The first and lasting memory I have of  him is of a thin young man, his arm outstretched with something – fruit, candy, something yummy – being offered to us – his nieces, nephews, the teen girl across the road who played with us.   The spunky, fun girl who would suddenly become shy when she got a glimpse of him.  And pretend she didn’t want those slices of mango all the rest of us were clamoring to get from his fingers.  Then he would look to the side, smile knowingly and say to me or my sister, “why don’t you take a bit extra to share with your friend?”  Oh, that would just make her shy smile glow.  I think that was the first time I understood what love could look like.

They got married soon after and though it must have pained them both, he joined the exodus of young men going to the UAE to work in order to support their families.  And it was here we would often stop by on our visits to India or while on Umrah.  On these visits, we would find ourselves in a surreal situation – watching my uncle in his cramped, simple quarters lay out a pricey feast of food for us – his roommates hovering nearby to help host us with an intense loyalty which surely must have been generated over the years of knowing Sidi Aaka.  It would feel awful at first and make one want to shout: Please don’t pamper us like this! We are overfed Westerners who just got off a plane which suddenly appears luxurious though we had just finished complaining about how cramped it felt! But…then, the sight of his eyes lighting up, his smile glowing as we ashamedly ate would quell these thoughts.  We would once more take from his outstretched hands  because we understood what love could look like.

May Allah have mercy on your soul Sidi Aaka and may your young wife, three children and all of us who love you hold those quiet, gentle and loving hands once more in the life to come.

It’s so nice to hear this from an American president.  Alhamdulillah.

A Saturday afternoon to myself! How did that come about? I can’t say I miss the old days as a single mom when I had many a Saturday afternoons to myself – to write, to take a nap on the white sofa in the sunlight, to swim and to chat with friends and make plans for the evening.   Wait, that sounds so lovely that it sounds like I miss it.  Ok, so while I absolutely love being married, the solitary Saturdays are like drops of… of… of something sustenance-ing.

My husband is working on a project, my daughter is at a BFF sleepover – extended version, my sonS (stepson too – with us for the summer) are with their uncle.  And I is alone.  Sigh (of sustenance).

The vestiges of the whirlwind of a summer we found ourselves in are still in the hallway to be unpacked – we just returned from a camping trip yesterday. My husband and I get exhausted when we rhyme off all the things we’ve enjoyed, done, encountered, endured, accepted, planned, etc just in the month of July.  Let’s just say that they involved, among other things,  3 separate road trips, baseball season for my 13 year old, a hospital stay and balcony gardening battling with the wind (he says he has learned not to garden 19 stories up, I say I’ve learned to choose more hardier plants – and you should see the extra tough sweet peas that bloomed!) And I forgot to add that the summer also involved two step-sibling 9 year olds lugging around their stuffed panda and dog, each stuffed into their very own mini-sleeping bags, all the way over to east coast U.S.A. , Quebec and Ontario wilderness – all the while alternating seamlessly between bickering and being the bestest of friends.

I think I’ll go nap on the white sofa now.

Only Yusuf Islam could do a love song to his spouse and God (second part) all in one.  I’m missing my husband as he is out of town for a few days and this song just so beautifully captures the Islamic view of love between spouses… It’s from his new album, Roadsinger.

Risk

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to blossom.

Anais Nin

The topic I’ve wanted to blog about for so, so long – muslim women, marriage and the turning upside down of all that we’ve grown up being massaged into buying by the many things we’ve read, watched, drooled over, eavesdropped on and imagined can be summed up almost perfectly in the above poem.

I want to write so much on this topic (on which I’ve read so many sister bloggers weigh in but on which I’ve never found that I’m in agreement with any of them) but I’m sure I’ll become verbose so I’ll succintly just state my thesis:  A good man is not at all hard to find – if you take the risk of opening your good heart.

I hope to write more on this as I’m often running into the opposite of the sentiment I just wrote.

yellow-flower1

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 48 other followers

%d bloggers like this: