I Surrender to 2011

Extravaganza by Pilottage

Every generation must feel as though theirs is the one to leave footprints on history: “Where you when…” insert your iconic moment. For children of the ’80s this includes the Columbia shuttle explosion and the ’60s can’t be discussed without the assassination of JKF.

But when we look back on 2011, there are so many moments it seems difficult, if not impossible to choose just one that will figure in the years to come as the definition of this one. This may be because I’m now in my thirties. Or because I live overseas, in the Middle East, one of the regions that was in the headlines on a monthly basis. Maybe because I scan my Twitter feed every few hours when waiting in line or for a delayed appointment. You might even say it’s the intersection of all three that has left me imprinted with the revolutions of 2011, the deaths of major figures, the earthquakes: each of these has left an impression on me about the fragility of life as we know it as well as the power of the individual to triumph.

While these major battles were been staged everywhere from Tunisia to Bahrain, on a personal level I experienced my own seismic shift. The voices in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain led me out of an office where I worked for others and into the classroom to teach young minds. I had promised myself for years that I would give my writing the full attention it deserved and this split from promoting the work of others towards focusing on marketing my own titles and bettering my craft happened in 2011.

I dipped into the digital publishing world with three manuscripts that had been declined by agents with form rejection letters and took the content straight to the reader.

Our son turned one, and on that first birthday he took five consecutive steps, thereby pushing out of infancy and tumbling into everything from furniture to glass partitions.

At year’s end, I look back on a year of sacrifices — skipping meals, hours of sleep, exercise goals  — and can say each month has been well spent, meeting writing goals and expanding professional know-how. Along with all these milestones I’ve realized two things: if I don’t have anyone to celebrate them with, then they mean very little. And if I don’t turn off the constant connectivity all of those tweets, posts, and emails become a burden instead of a joy.

The fact that my phone went missing on a recent trip to visit family in family — a trip that while waiting for the plane to take off, I was still sending out emails to editors whose lack of preparation was causing a panic on my part  — removed my wired tendency. The missing phone was confirmation of what I sensed but would not have the discipline to enforce on my own: it’s time for a break from being connected to everyone and everything and this may be God’s sign to take the phone out of my hand, and bring my brain back to the present moment. Otherwise none of it will have any meaning. And that’s a sacrifice I am not willing to make.



10, 33, 60 — Nothing But Numbers

Photo by Mykl Roventine

This month I had an event that comes only once a year —  my birthday.

As a Hind child growing up in the west, December 25th came and went in our house like most other days. Friends would call and ask what I got. While I fumbled for an answer, the conversation would move on to their substantial gifts. My birthday however was the one day in our house that we were able to choose a present, a cake, even on rare occasion, plan a party funded by our parents. As a child (and later as a college student) I learned to let my birthday slide because it was so early in the American school year that those kids who came to my birthday parties were not those I was friends with by that other great gift giving time: Christmas.

Moving to Qatar had somewhat the opposite effect as there was a national day that was celebrated on September 3rd. This holiday meant a three day weekend during which I’d dash to Bahrain for some festivities. Now we celebrate National Day on December 18th so it appeared I was robbed of the Labor Day like weekend in Doha. Except for this year: Eid Al Fitr came a few days just before, so we packed our bags, snatched up the baby, and went for a weekend getaway to Santorini, Greece.

I promised myself a digital fast as a way to clear my head, enjoy the trip, and also being with my family. I did what many thought would be impossible: left my Blackberry at home. All the flights for this trip were early morning, making my vow to stay away from the Internet relatively easy. The morning we flew out, I did scan my email as the nefarious Cyclopistic blinking red light beckoned me even at dawn.

Congrats on winning the SheWrites New Novelist competition, Mohana!!!!

Incredibly, there it was. One of those messages that you keep your antennae up for but I had to brush my teeth and get on with the more normal parts of real life.

Needless to say, getting into the airport lounge and onto a computer was immediately the next order of business. I read with astonishment that my project, the one that had been rejected 10 times by agents and editors because they “weren’t compelled by it,” or didn’t feel they could do it justice. While the no’s were increasing from polite to reverse compliments (you have a wealth of material) they were still dismissive.

Of course, being no rookie, I knew all about not taking rejection to heart and writing on. And I did — saving this manuscript that is a semi-autobiographical first novel onto the hard drive — starting a second novel based on questions I was thinking about life in Qatar and how people fall in love. Yet when SheWrites reminded me on Twitter that they were doing a contest for the first chapters of unpublished novels. Winners would have their material in front of agents and editors with critiques. I downloaded the chapter, sent it in with my photo, and there my husband was in Greece, reading my synposis and first 2000 words as one of five finalists.

The Help a book that purportedly was rejected sixty times is now opening as a film all around the United States. J.K. Rowling is perhaps one of the most lucrative examples of never giving up on your work or yourself but there are many, many others including Stephen King, whose wife fished out that nail bitter, Carrie, from the trashcan and said she’d help with writing the teenage girlishness he was unsure of.

A contest breathes life back into a story and indeed this writer. A good lesson in writing close to my birthday or indeed any time of year. If you’re an aspiring writer or a writer who need encouragement, dust off the keyboard, notebook, desk and get back in there.

After all, no one can read you if your work isn’t finished.