Tag Archives: writing

Over and Over Again

10 Jul

Renowned martial artist Bruce Lee described the opponent he was most wary of: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” In my astrological opinion, you should regard that as one of your keystone principles during the next 12 months. Your power and glory will come from honing one specific skill, not experimenting restlessly with many different skills. And the coming weeks will be an excellent time to set your intention. – Rob Brezsny

It’s a theme that is so common in every thread of life: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

I hear it every week in belly dance class. My instructor and dear friend, Claudia, is unyielding in her insistence that you can take a set of simple moves and make them incredible with a metric ton of practice and a heavy helping of personality.

I can drill with the best of them. I love it. I could shimmy for hours; hone my taksim and maya for days. Add in that personality or emotional factor, however, and I crumble. Showing my vulnerability is one of my biggest fears. To show your vulnerability is terrifying, but essential to being a whole dancer. It’s what gives the dance tarab. Tarab is the climax of a feeling derived from hearing music expressing an intense emotion. I struggle with this, because I love belly dance with a passion; I want to be a complete dancer—tarab and all. I feel these emotions with the music and the movement, but somehow I can’t set them free into the universe, because that would open me up to something incredibly scary. The audience would see the raw, naked parts of me. It’s the gift of imperfection. It’s what makes us relate to other humans. But I always seem to see it as a gag gift. To her credit, Claudia never gives up on me. She just makes me do it again and again. If we dance for an hour and she sees one glimpse of my wall breaking down, she knows it can happen another time, and she encourages me to get back up and expose myself again. I am a dancer. Music and movement are my passion, and no amount of failure will make me stay down, because I yearn to cultivate this gift of mine.

Dating…I cannot count the number of times I’ve been stood up, “ghosted,” or rejected. If you’ve ever tried online dating, you know the frustration that can build so easily. Greater quantity does not necessarily mean better quality. I’ve met some true gems, but the timing wasn’t right or our schedules didn’t match up. Do I sit at home and cry about it? Yes. But then I get back up and try again. I set up yet another date to meet someone new, holding out hope that my person is out there. I am strong, smart, beautiful, and deserve to be loved. I am love.

America has felt over and over the hate that comes from fear. We see people killed for reasons beyond our comprehension. Hate crimes, terrorism, crimes of passion. It is a scary time in our existence. We easily fall down rabbit holes of depression and distress, struggling to get back up.  Should we give up, let ourselves sink back down to the darkness forever? No. We repeat our mantras of love and acceptance. We recognize that there is a purpose for the light and the dark, and search for a balance. We get to know our neighbors. Sometimes I falter at knowing what I can do for my brothers and sisters of the world. But I can start with something small—holding each of us in the light. That is what my Quaker faith taught me to do—understand that there is that of God in every person, no matter what they have done or who they are. I can start there. Wash, rinse, repeat.

If my one, time-tested impeccable “kick” turns out to be sharing my love with you, then I am honored to try, try again, with every blog I post and every action I take, whether that be writing a few words, sharing my passion for dance, or practicing loving kindness, expecting nothing in return.

love

Why: Part III—Origins

20 Jan

This “Why” series is a way to bring me closer to you—by revealing my inner-most thoughts and being 100% vulnerable with you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking my words and embracing them with love and kindness. This is the third and final installation of this series. Read parts one and two here. 

History

In honor of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday this week, I would like to talk about my roots. So often I shy away from calling myself a patriot. Images of the Bush administration(s) or our recent wars dance in my head, and it makes me feel less than proud to be an American. There is a lot I can criticize about the American Spirit as a whole, and much I can laud. Regardless of all of this, I am an American, which means this country’s history is my history.

I was raised in a small town in Ohio, surrounded by the typical Midwest culture mix—majority Caucasian and African American, with the tiniest sprinkling of other ethnicities. I easily identified with the two majorities, but had very little knowledge of the other cultures, except for what I read in the many books my parents showered upon me in my youth. I also had my Quaker background, which filled me with a curiosity for people from all walks of life. My hunger for information was vast, but actual real-world experience was lacking. Because of this, I felt especially called to understand African-American struggles and triumphs.

Living in Portland, Oregon for the last 11 years, where the population is currently somewhere around 76% Caucasian and the other ethnicities are largely Asian or Hispanic/Latino, I’ve noticed there is a marked lack of African American culture. I find it inspiring to speak to my African American friends and hear their view of living in such a place. Most of them are not originally from Oregon; Portland has a unique saga pertaining to its “whiteness” which most definitely leaves a bad taste in the mouths of African Americans. I won’t go into the whole story here, but if you want to know more about the fascinating history of why this is, read here from the Oregon History Project.

It’s easy to feel defeated about equality and race relations when we hear about stories like those that have happened in Ferguson and even in our own backyard. I admit that my connection to my hometown roots and those larger African American populations in the Midwest and the South is farther away than most, living here in Oregon. I am thankful that I have my small enclave of friends that share either a physical skin-color connection or a mental one concerning first-hand experience with the American outlook on race relations. We often discuss the things that advance America’s viewpoint as well as those that keep it tied down to past negativity.

It is so important to acknowledge our history as Americans, no matter what color we are. As my dear friend Hannah said to me yesterday, “This is your history too! It’s your victory too! White people should pause just as much in celebration. They were freed from enslaving notions, too. It’s a shared victory.” Truer words could not be spoken. We have many stories of immigration and population shift throughout American history, but no one can deny that the African American chapter in our story is one of the largest parts.

The purpose of MLK Day is to make us aware of a few things. Number one, to always remember America’s history and what makes us a great nation, willing and ready to push beyond our past into an awareness of equality, love, and opportunity. The past will always be there, and it is important, but what matters right now is the love we are giving the world. The second is to highlight the importance of serving the greater good.

Service

We may or may not have the fortitude to become civil rights activists in the manner that Martin Luther King was, but we can certainly find peace through helping others and sharing our love. Volunteering at the food bank, becoming a mentor, donating a few dollars to a worthy cause, or just looking in on a friend who is having a bad week is just as important as a march on Washington. It is not the size of the impact; it is the intention behind it. I encourage you to really get to know your American history, no matter what color your skin is, and vow to celebrate the American Spirit in the way it was intended.

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Crow Medicine

18 Jun

In my personal Numerology, the number of the day is seven. Seven is the number that is all about meditation and self-reflection. In the resource that I use, the missive reads:

Look Within

Be alone, at least for part of the day. Be still. Read. Think. Listen to your inner soul. Drop the business world. If you pursue money today, it will run from you. If you keep still and wait, things will come to you. Study something spiritual or scientific. If you read the scriptures, choose Matthew 6 on this day. Work with your plants. Take a long walk or a drive in the country. The number 7 always reveals something. Meditate. Be open. – Louise Hay: Colors & Numbers

I certainly needed that message today. I have been in a funk this week and am having some trouble getting out of it. I won’t go into the details here; it’s not necessary. When I feel like this and decide to do something uplifting instead of huff and pout my way through the day, one thing always happens: the world drops some knowledge on me, loud and clear.

Crow Medicine

Crow Medicine

Since it was nice and sunny outside after work, I decided to sit and write on my porch, a setting I enjoy but do not make time for very often. I pulled my camp chair out of storage, grabbed a notepad, and filled a giant goblet with cold water, sitting it beside me on the cement. I had been listening to a song on the radio on my way home earlier, and it came into my mind as I stared at the blank page. Then, I started to write. The words came easier than I expected, but there are always natural pauses in my work. I fidget, or look up when someone walks by. I get hypnotized by the honeybee pollinating my poppies. I imagine something crawling on my toes and feel the need to whip them up in the air and shake them around a little…you know, just in case.

I was two stanzas into my song/poem when I saw some large shadows moving across the ground in front of me. I looked up and saw two crows. They spoke to me. I didn’t know what they were saying, but I knew I had to put pen to paper and somehow get it out of them. Here’s what I wrote:

Now, stop.
Look at yourself,
really take a look, and breathe.

It’s too much to ask that
you believe in yourself?
I just want to know you’re staring back
into the glass and seeing what’s there—
love, loyalty, wisdom, and truth.

Wake up and hear your crow-cry!
Don’t fill your head with toxic waste.
Go instead into your beautiful mind,
and see love infinitely, authentically,
at last.

Why do you forget this gift,
roll over and part ways
with the one who loves you best?
I just want to know you’re filled with hope.
Know the world is here to help.

I got curious. I have these Native American animal medicine cards, and I thought, if Crow is giving me such a strong message, I owe it to myself to get that book out and reread what crow medicine is all about. Instead of copying and pasting the entire page (however, please click the link to experience it in its entirety), I will attempt to paraphrase.

The Crow sees that all worlds are an illusion, and that there is something much greater the laws of humanity. When we think of the Crow, we tend to think of death. This is just one of the infinite worlds. Because Crow is a shape-shifter (some see this as the metamorphosis between the living world and the dark unknown of death), it is illustrating that change is always imminent. Nothing is what it seems, but the Crow is the one who is able to peer through the clouds to ascertain what is truly important. Those who feel a connection with the Crow should use this knowledge as their guide.

The last paragraph is beautiful and eloquent, and I would not be able to do it justice, so I will end with this quote:

As you learn to allow your personal integrity to be your guide, your sense of feeling alone will vanish. Your personal will can then emerge so that you will stand in your truth. The prime path of true Crow people says to be mindful of your opinions and actions. Be willing to walk your talk, speak your truth, know your life’s mission, and
balance past, present, and future in the now. Shape shift that old reality and become your future self. Allow the bending of physical laws to aid in creating the shape shifted world of peace.

Boom. That spoke to me, big time. All the bad feelings I’ve been having this week were shattered by that paragraph. I felt refreshed and different when I read it. I love that words—and words alone—can do that for me. They bring up something inside that just needs the tiniest bit of prodding to come out.

Have you read, heard, or watched something that made you feel this way? If you want to, borrow Crow today and see what it brings out in you.

You’ve been asking for it!

28 Nov

I’ve decided to post an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo 2011 novel! I’m not going to give any backstory or details. I want you to read it, and if you like it, please tell me so. If you’ve got suggestions for content or development, I’d like to hear those too. I’ve been working hard all month on this, and I’m very proud of what I have so far. There is a lot yet to do, but I think the groundwork is there. So, without further ado, please enjoy an excerpt from [working title] “From Rich Soil:”

[Vanessa, third person]

She knew she had to get back to work. As Vanessa reluctantly lifted her body out of the chair and moved to put on her coat and hat, her mind wandered to a day in the previous summer, when she had asked Nasreen about the spider tattoo peeking out from between her shoulder blades. There were no colors in the art, only shades of black and gray. The two front legs straddled her neck, its eyes bulging. Vanessa said she didn’t look the type to have such a picture on her body. She was too…nice. Nasreen told her it wasn’t about being hard or looking scary. The spider was the African god Anansi.

“What did Anansi do?” She asked.

This time Nasreen spoke more than a few words: “The legend goes that Anansi was the keeper of all the stories. They first belonged to the sky god Nyame. Everyone on earth was very sad because there were no stories. Anansi wanted to obtain and be the keeper of the stories so that he could spin all the great stories about life on earth. The sky god did not give them up easily because he wanted them all to himself. He challenged Anansi to a set of tasks, telling him that if he could complete all the tasks, that he would then be the keeper. Anansi was very smart and clever, and used all of his best tricks to complete the tasks. When he finished, Nyame was true to his word, and gave the stories and the ownership to Anansi. That is why people say ‘I’ll spin a tale for you,’ it’s because Anansi was always spinning the stories in his web.” She had learned that story in the Peace Corps in Ghana. Every time she told the story her cadence got smoother. Many people had asked her, and she patiently told the story each time.

Nasreen felt a kinship with the spider after hearing its tale many times while she was in Africa, so when she got back to the states, she wanted to commemorate it somehow. This way Anansi would always be with her, to inspire and encourage her.

*         *         *         *

[Nasreen]

I left for the Peace Corps almost immediately after college. Like most college graduates at this time, there were few jobs available, and not many opportunities were as adventurous as going to a foreign country to work and live with the natives. The idea appealed to me very much. My father had given his blessing almost immediately. He encouraged me to get as full a view of the world as I possibly could. This was because Firuz had travelled to many countries in his youth. He hadn’t gone to fancy, tourist-filled places, but rather the places where people showed their true colors. He found that this was preferable to going to a place where the hosts tried to make it as much like home as possible. It was only a few weeks after my graduation ceremony, but I was ready to go.

Africa was, quite literally, a different world. I had been to Tehran once when I was a child, but other than that had not travelled internationally. The very first step off the plane in Ghana made me want to run back inside and demand the pilot take me home. The heat was like none other I had ever experienced. It was deafening, like a sound I couldn’t shut my ears to. During the entire four years I was in Ghana, my long black hair pretty much stayed up on the top of my head or in a wrap. I couldn’t stand the sticky feeling of it touching my neck, droplets of water sitting on the ends, waiting until just the right moment to drop down the front of my shirt. My host family was amazing. They did the best they could to keep me comfortable, but there was only so much they could do without air conditioning or a full time cabana boy.

I would have preferred the cabana boy who fanned me all day long, but I made do with Francis. He was a Christian minister who worked directly with the Peace Corps volunteers. He struck me as the type of man who had rotating girlfriends each time a new crop of people came to the village, but he was kind, made me laugh, and never made me feel used, so I left that thought to the wind and just enjoyed myself while I was there. He went so far as to take an HIV test, showing me the results. I trusted him without the test, but I have to be honest and say that it gave me a better night’s sleep to see it in official type. We weren’t allowed the luxury of lounging around, making love whenever we felt like it; most of the time it was whenever we could get his roommates out of the house. I refused to do it in my host parent’s house, feeling it would somehow betray them. They were so very sweet to me and I wanted to be perfect around them.

I was not perfect outside the house. In addition to sinning with a native, I, without a doubt, was terrible at my job for at least the first six months I was there. I talked too much, didn’t listen enough, and got caught up in the drama of sweating and hard labor. It was a hard blow to my ego when my supervisor had to sit me down and talk to me about it. He was a handsome man of about 50 years old. Greg had been supervising Peace Corps volunteers for 10 years. His face was wrinkling from the sun, but his body was hard as a rock from lifting, pushing, and moving constantly almost every day of the year.

“How are you liking it here, Nasreen?” He asked me. My blood instantly ran cold. Those were the words of someone who had a bomb to drop.

I tried to swallow but my throat was dry. “Well, I’m learning a lot, that’s for sure! I never would have touched most of these tools in the states, and I think I’m doing okay at using them…” I trailed off, not knowing what exactly he wanted. I felt like I was being baited into saying something that would give me away as a liar. I got the feeling he was about to send me out to the fields to pick four-leaf clovers twelve hours a day for the rest of my life.

“You are,” he said amiably. “But I’m not sure you’re allowing yourself the full experience here. Do you ever feel like you’re a high-heel shoe in the middle of a bunch of work boots?”

I protested, “I didn’t bring any heels! I think my footwear is perfectly acceptable.”

“Maybe I should have put it another way,” he said. “You’re going through the motions, you’re contributing, but I don’t think you’re in the moment.” He paused. “I’m not here to tell you how to live your experience here in Ghana, but I would consider it a failure if you left this place merely knowing how to shingle a building. There’s so much more to it than that.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, perplexed. I could feel the sweat starting to make its way down between my breasts. As if the normal heat wasn’t bad enough, my body heat produced by the nervousness I was feeling gave me the impression I was in a sauna.

“Have you gone to any of the village festivals yet? Have you made any friends outside of the PC volunteers?” He countered. “Do you feel you will leave a part of your heart here when you leave?”

His last question left me a little breathless. “I’ve only been here six—“ I stopped. I hung my head and took a deep breath, and then lifted it to look Greg straight in the eye. “You’re right. I’m not letting Ghana inside. I get it. I really appreciate you looking out for me. I don’t want to miss anything here and I have been in my head so much that I haven’t seen the beauty of it here.” As I said the words, I knew he was right. I tended to be that person who was so caught up in the details that I couldn’t see the big picture.

From that day on I saw everything. I started going to village story-telling nights. I heard all of Anansi’s stories. I met beautiful people, young and old. I learned that their life force was so strong you could almost cut it with a knife. You know that stereotypical picture of a shriveled African man sharing his single bowl of rice with a child who couldn’t fight for a bowl themselves—the one you see in a National Geographic? I met many like him. It all became a reality while I was there. I felt myself changing long before Greg checked back in with me another six months down the road. My soul quieted down, as did my mouth. Before saying a word I would take it all in and meditate just a moment before my reaction left my mouth. Sometimes my body would give it away before I could stop it. I wasn’t all that good at hiding things at first. Slowly I grew up, knowing when to speak and knowing when it was smarter to be still.

NaNoWriMo has begun–write now!

4 Nov

I started the blog this week by creating a pie chart of how my time is divided into a million pieces, how I’m soooo busy, and how I worry that I won’t have enough time for National Novel Writing Month amongst all my other bad-ass extracurriculars. Then I realized that is pushing the nerd envelope, even for me. So I pitched that concept and decided to be honest. I may not write great blogs during November. I may decide to copy and paste some of my novel into WordPress and call it a blog post. What I don’t need to do is worry that you all are judging me for not writing—except that I am writing, in enormous quantities—and do what my heart tells me, which is to live my NaNoWriMo experience and take a breather from This Curious Universe if I need one.

What I will give to you this week is a look inside my brain. My novel is going to emphasize the characters instead a plot. Have you ever seen the movies “Mother and Child” or “Crash?” Those were based on the intertwining of several people’s lives, all of which came together in a dramatic clash of action and emotion at the end. My story is heading in the way of dramatic, for sure. But first I need to get to know these people and figure out how they are going to lead this story.

If you’ve ever started writing, and all of a sudden the story took over and left you typing frantically to get it all out, then you’ll understand my elation when last night one of the main characters finally told me what her purpose was in the story. It was one of those moments where the answer was so obvious, but it had taken me the better part of a day to figure it out. I got over 2,000 words written last night, which was amazing and gave me the ability to meet the November 3rd word quota. I have never met a word quota in my life. I was so excited!

Now that I am a few hundred words ahead, I can stop panicking and really start digging in. These characters are going to tell me what they do and do not like; if they are outgoing or quiet; if they went to school or built their way up from the bottom at a small company; if they secretly snort cocaine. It takes a while to develop them and to get to know their motives and personalities. I’ve got a gay 25-year old man, a playboy ER doctor, a female black activist who is missing her pinky finger, and a grumpy Persian man who is ready to retire, among many others. Those descriptions are just one part of them, and this week I am determined to find out everything about all of my characters. Have an idea? I welcome them! I don’t want to expose too much of my story today, but I can honestly say that any plot twist you throw at me, I could probably work into my story somehow.

If you are a comrade in NaNoWriMo 2011, good luck! If you’re in the Portland area, hit me up for a write-in. I attended my first one on Wednesday with a new friend that I met at the Portland NaNoWriMo kickoff meeting and it was highly successful! Until next week…

Why I Write

24 Oct

ONE WEEK UNTIL NaNoWriMo!!

This is from another assignment courtesy of NaNoWriMo 2011: Why do you write?

I write because I have so many fascinating thoughts in my head that I know others would find interesting, given they were written with the right set of words in the right order. It’s up to me to put those right words in the right order…and there is the challenge.

As a youth, I wrote constantly. I wrote poetry, fiction, song lyrics, whatever I could get on paper. I posted my work on my bedroom walls, in my Trapper Keeper, and in any random notebook I could get my hands on. My mother was so proud that she sometimes made her guests sit down and read all 187 hand-written pages of the “novel” I penned in four arduous years, from 4th to 8th grade. Other times I read my poetry aloud. These were usually followed by a piano recital. I took 9 years of piano lessons, and while I liked it, I knew it wouldn’t be my ultimate calling. In college I majored in creative writing, knowing full well my mother was dreading graduation day when I would not, as I anticipated, have a fabulous writing job the instant I had diploma in hand. Her prediction was correct.

When I moved to Portland I jumped into a weekly writing group. That lasted maybe 8 months, and I quickly dropped it when the bellydance lessons I had been taking switched nights, which conflicted with my writing group nights. I soon left writing behind and pursued dancing with the greatest passion. Bellydance has done so much for my self esteem and bodily grace…but the feeling I get from performing in front of an audience is not the same as when I successfully post a blog. Don’t get me wrong, they are both amazing, but writing is my soul. It’s what I have always yearned to do.

Last year I participated in the 2010 NaNoWriMo, after hearing about it for several years. I took the plunge! I completed 17,000 words out of the expected 50,000. I was undaunted. I will try again this year! In the meantime, I have started a weekly blog that I consider to be one of the best parts of my life. When I started it, I thought it would be terribly difficult to find things to write about. The truth is, it has been the exact opposite. Words have flowed out of me every week, sometimes twice a week, from the start. I’ve had over 1,000 hits on my blog in the last 5 months. I consider this amazing, and I don’t mind saying it makes me feel a little more legit as a writer.

So I persist. I love it. I will continue to do it, even after my bestseller hits the market.

So…why do YOU write?

Should I do a Post a Day in October??

1 Oct

November marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a project in which thousands of writers around the world work toward completing a 50,000-word novel by November 30th. Sound like something you want to get in on?

Whoa. That’s 1,667 words per day. I’m not ready for that!

We hear you — writing a whole novel is a pretty big undertaking. So why not gear up for the project by starting the WordPress.com Post a Day Challenge this October? It’s a great way to meet others in the WordPress.com community, including writers who have completed NaNoWriMo in the past.

At The Daily Post, home of the Post a Day Challenge, we provide creative inspiration each and every day. You can also find tons of writing prompts at Plinky.com, so you never have to worry about running out of ideas. Participating in Post a Day is also a great opportunity to prepare outlines, character sketches, and research before starting your novel in November.

*     *     *     *

That excerpt was taken from my WordPress News email I get every week. Now…I’m thinking this is a great idea. The more you write, the more it flows! I’m not sure which direction I’ll take it. I am probably not going to put my NaNoWriMo info in it. It most likely will be a continuation of the blog I already write…er, maybe not. Perhaps I should not flood This Curious Universe, perhaps put it on a different page with a link on This Curious Universe for people who want to read my daily posts. Well that decision was just made for me! I’m extremely excited for National Novel Writing Month to commence, but I must say, I am still collecting a LOT of content for my novel. I have a basic idea, but I don’t have the big conflict yet.

Well readers, stay tuned! I will reveal my link when it’s all set up…as if you need to read more from me! I think this project will be more for my benefit than yours, but what can I say? I like to share!

And YES, I will be writing a long and detailed post about my fabulous flying experience from Portland to Chicago to Detroit to Scranton, with lots of giggles and frustration in between. (Look at the right side of this page to read my Tweets during the adventure.) The adventure continues—I still don’t have my luggage! I am praying it will show up tomorrow. I am exhausted, and finally able to get more than 2 hours of sleep, and so I will depart for now!