Linking to a piece I wrote for ‘Wordgathering’ awhile back:
Linking to a piece I wrote for ‘Wordgathering’ awhile back:
The Arab Edition » Notes on the Flesh / Book Review
— Read on thearabedition.com/blog/notes-on-the-flesh-book-review/
A recent review of my book Notes On the Flesh
I recently experimented with a release of a small prose-poetry book. It doesn’t really have a genre and I was approached by a local publisher (they only publish Arabic books), so I was hesitant and didn’t think the book would receive any attention. Forget the Words is not as close to my heart as On Love and Loss which is still selling rather well on Amazon.
But this is not the point of this post. The book managed to reach a few people’s hearts, on a very intimate level. Firstly, my mother read and understood it, and she was able to see that the book was fragmented because I believe in fragments and inconsistencies. My mother is not one to enjoy English books, which reminds me of Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” – in which she asserts that as long as her mother could enjoy her work, then this means she can reach a wider audience.
I received feedback from people I hadn’t met, sending me messages, emails, letting me know that the book spoke to them, that they were able to connect. Some were previous students of mine, others were new, and then there were those who had simply heard of the book by word of mouth. I am overwhelmed with the amount of citations on Twitter and Instagram! I type in #forget_the_words and random pictures come up with quotes from my book! It is, needless to say, an exhilarating feeling.
When I wrote the book, I was simply angry with words, with life, and I hurled the book at the world. I didn’t care for its success. I haven’t even shared it with all of my colleagues, it is not academic, not scholarly, not what I would term creative fiction. One colleague though, and a beautiful friend of mine, Janet, took the time to read it and reflect upon it. I think that’s what really got me- she actually did reflect on it. She didn’t read the book because I wanted her to read it (at least that’s not what it felt like) and she was able to make the links, the connections. She told me that the words took her to another place, that she was immersed within the dialogue and the symbolism, the metaphors I used. And that’s precisely it, I just hadn’t realized it. Janet helped me put it into words, and I’ll just borrow her analysis here: I wanted those who read it to feel as though the dialogue wasn’t mine, that the Sun and the Moon represented much more, and that human connection and depth is all we could ever live for. I seek depth everywhere. I seek depth in conversations, in friendships and relationships. Like Anais Nin once wrote: “I must be a mermaid, I have no fears of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
So the book has given me a chance to connect with people on a deeper level. I am grateful to whatever entity is in charge, the Universe, the publisher who took a risk publishing in English rather than Arabic, my friends who read the book, readers who I never met, and those who took the time to think about the words, when I so blatantly asked them to ‘forget the words.’
Literary Madness, my academic monograph, is now available on Amazon US and UK.
Here is the link for scholars of literature and disability studies:
For disability scholars and writers, this is my first introduction to the journal as International Editor. Other well-known figures on our editorial board include Dr Tom Shakespeare, David Bolt, and others.
Here is the link and please browse other articles as we worked so hard to encompass a variety of voices:
Today someone reminded me of how difficult it was for me during my undergraduate days. My postgraduate days were extremely exhausting and very gloomy at times. There were many days where I thought of giving up on academia. There were times where I couldn’t hold a pen. And yet, despite the struggle, I managed. Today my papers fell out of my briefcase, everywhere, it was a total mess. And as a student of mine bent down to help me gather them, for that one moment, as I looked at her, I had a flashback of myself, as a student, struggling to carry my literature books and dragging myself to class. As we gathered the papers and I thanked her, my mind went back to the past.
It has been only two years since I got my PhD, October 2014. That day was a day where the clock stopped ticking, the viva seemed to go on forever, and I couldn’t bring myself to see the end of the tunnel. But at 3 pm that certain October day, I was finally who I wanted to be, and where I wanted to be. I rememebr being in shock for a few days after. And when I came home, I was met with endless love and celebration.
People look at me today and assume it was an easy journey. Some people tell me I am too young to be a professor. Some tell me that I wasted years amongst books. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was never about the degree. It was simply about love.
I have been teaching at the Arab Open University (Kuwait Branch) for about two years. I was also teaching there while I was a PhD candidate. It was more like an internship at the time, I was doing it mainly for the experience, and I learned so much during that time. I am extremely grateful to those who believed in me, especially Dr. Chekra Allani, the Head of the English Department at the time. When I was first interviewed for the job, Dr. Chekra was very supportive. She said that she had found a “star” in the field, and all I wanted was to make her proud. I was finalizing my PhD thesis at the time, teaching Shakespeare to undergraduates who struggled with Shakespeare’s inaccessibility, and attempting to do a good job, leave a mark somehow. And I think I did. I have resigned from AOU, moving elsewhere, starting a new chapter.
But before I “move on”, and I don’t believe we ever really move on, I have to write this post. Over the last few days, I let my students know that I was leaving. As always, it is difficult to say goodbye to them, to end this chapter. This week, during one of my lectures, I lost my voice. We tend to overdo it when we lecture, as the material is dense, and should be covered within a limited time. By the end of the day, I was completely exhausted, essentially dead, and left voiceless. As some of my friends and colleagues know, I struggle with a chronic disability, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and in general, my energy levels aren’t that great. Fatigue kicks in during the summer and heat aggravates my body, affecting even my ability to speak, to lecture. So on that particular day, I was exhausted, put my head down on my desk, and shed a tear or two. I felt like giving up, like I couldn’t keep doing this to myself, that it was too difficult to maintain a full-time job teaching. At the end of the semester, I am usually more than ready to hibernate forever.
And yet, it was only a day later, where my students sent me emails, tweets, messages, cards, everything you can think of – in which they expressed their gratitude, their appreciation, and how they have enjoyed the semester. I will always be grateful for this experience, this beautiful experience of working with amazing colleagues, and students who come to class because they really want an education, a second shot, a second chance at learning. A few students in particular will always stand out in my memory, and they were the ones who beautifully expressed these sentiments:
The classroom for me is a place of endless possibilities and meaning. But in one word, it’s a playground. You play. You play with ideas, with words, with theories, with stories. You get to really say what “shouldn’t” be said. You get to expose theories that are centuries old, and relate them to today. My newest class is an American Literature class, and I am experimenting with different ways to teach it. I decided to assign the texts to students to present, and when the time came to present the work, a student asked if they were supposed to stand up or sit down while they present. Now, normally, the idea is to stand up, to vocalize, to rely on body language. But I don’t believe in this rigid way of presenting. There are multiple ways to get your ideas across. As a professor who is not always able to stand up, I understand limitations very well. So I informed him that it was up to them, not me. I am not the authority figure. I don’t want to be the authority figure. You decide whether you want to stand up or sit down, how many minutes you want to talk, and the angle you’d like to tackle.
I was met with surprised faces. And then smiles. They loved that the power was not held by one person.
“As individuals, you are all different. I want you to realize this and realize that no one can tell you how things SHOULD be done,” I insisted.
The discussion in class that day was ultimately fruitful and a success. We talked about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” and related it to plastic surgery nowadays, whether one should alter the body, what constitutes a flaw, nature vs. science.. it was truly endless. I had to stop the discussion at the end of class because time was up, but some of the students took the argument outside!
And the other day, I attended Dr. Hanan’s class as a student. I used to be her student 12 years ago. She introduced me to the class as an ex-student who she “messed up” years ago. Funny how I wouldn’t have it any other way. My world view was forever altered when I read Plato, Butler, Cixous, Spivak, Irigary, and many others. Sitting next to her in class reminded me of my amazing undergraduate days. The uncanny part was sitting next to her, knowing what she was about to say, how she would explain this theory or that, and being able to predict the exact wording – especially when she was explaining mimicry, Plato (her favorite), and other gender theories. As I sat there, I was overwhelmed with a mixture of emotions: nostalgia for Kuwait University days, gratitude, and happiness, knowing that I was also doing the same thing in my literature classes. Hanan’s policy has always been an open-door one, with an emphasis on participation and discussion. Twelve years ago, the classroom was the place I listened, was forced to argue, formulate my own opinion and voice, and today, it is a playground where everyone gets a taste of freedom. And how can that be anything but fun?
GUST’s English Department held its first Poetry Slam event- and it was a huge success. I was invited to be one of the Judges, alongside Nada Faris, an established writer, poet, and a friend of mine. The event was very well organized and there was great effort behind it, a colleague of mine, someone who has supported me endlessly, Ms. Ann Newman, was the head organizer of the event. She managed to put together a great team of slam poets, supporting their creativity and providing a venue for expressing poetry, ideas, and mainly, expressing voices that are sometimes muted.
My main concern was that although these poets were excited and very brave, they still struggled to speak up. I have read somewhere, I don’t recall which critic said this, but I think it was a Feminist critic (might be Cixous or Irigary) who insisted that we should listen to women speak. When women speak, they tremble. Why? Because society has silenced them for too long. I understand all of this all too well. As an undergraduate student, I always lost marks on participation grades. I was too shy, too intimdated by the entire classroom, and hated attention. Sometimes, I had so much to say, but couldn’t build up the courage to voice my opinion. Years later, I was able to slowly get over this fear. I can’t say I am an all-star speaker, but I can say, that at least it’s no longer terrifying to speak!
I loved the initiative, and I hope we can establish more forums, more venues to speak up, and as we go along, develop a stronger female voice, a collective voice that both speaks and listens to the other.
International Women’s Day. A day that we celebrate, a day that is still yet to receive significant exposure. Today we think about how far we’ve come, about what still needs to be done to achieve gender equality, parity, and how we can further this agenda of women’s rights. I won’t go into the sociopolitical issues at hand, because this blog remains a personal one, but I do want to bring up a few ideas that crossed my mind.
Around me, there are beautiful, brave, strong women to celebrate. There are fighters, there are mothers, daughters, students, friends, colleagues- you name it. Each one is fighting a battle of her own. And perhaps it’s important to mention that Feminism is NOT a hatred of men, it is not us against them. At a gender parity forum today, a couple of academics and myself raised the fact that women can be hostile – they can wage wars among themselves. There is a division even between women, according to religion, social class, sect, economic position, etc.
In class the other day, I asked my students to work in pairs. I trusted that they would choose their partners efficiently, and that there would be no issues. By the time I looked up from my book, I asked if everyone had a partner. Everyone nodded and voiced “Yes.” Except for one girl. One girl who remains invisible to the rest. I’ll call her Britney, for anonymity’s sake. Britney has a mental disability, as well as a physical one. She is slightly slower than the rest, but works very hard to keep up. In fact, she tends to be the only one who reads the text before class. And yet, Britney is isolated, not spoken to. My students are adults, and yet I was suddenly reminded of how mean kids tend to be. Being picked last for the soccer team, or not being picked at all. I was reminded of how I have felt left behind way too many times in school. The utter humiliation she felt while she raised her hand to say “Me. I don’t have a partner” came crushing onto me. Some girls, unfortunately, giggled in the background. I don’t understand it and will not attempt to unravel this behavior. My reaction was: “Great. Then I’ll be your partner, Britney.” She beamed with pride. One student laughed and complained that that wasn’t “fair.” I simply shrugged it off.
What’s not fair is the way our society insists on divisions, separations. On sexism AND ableism. What’s not fair is how we want to empower women, but continue to disempower those who are at a disadvantage in one way or another. So my pledge for today, my gender parity pledge is to continue to support those that need a helping hand. I believe it is a cycle. I was supported by wonderful and kind academics when I was an undergraduate, and today, I aim to do the same, to pay it forward.
So happy women’s day, but also – here’s to doing better.