(Me)mory, Re-learning and Moments

When you’re struggling with illness you fear losing a part of yourself. I am struck by the realization lately that I am not the same person I used to be. A diminishment of self is what I fear, instinctively. I try to hold on to fragments of my life, my memories, the parts that make up this “me.” I keep realizing that no matter how hard I try to document, to remember, to record, I cannot relive any moment. I cannot conjure the parts of my life I have lost and the parts of me I want back.

And here I go with my vagueness. Write it. Write it is what Bishop tells us. I’m including the poem here:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

I remember re-learning how to walk. That was an art. The art of losing, the art of mastering it again. The fear that came with trying again, placing one foot before the other, recognizing my toes were mine, my feet had to do their job. I had never imagined I would forget the mechanics of walking. Looking up, holding on to safe and sturdy arms, step by step. And then finally, I was finding my feet, my rhythm, and Mama was there, waiting. Watching, wanting to see if I would make it without falling.

That memory, that image, makes me think of how vulnerable we are. Childlike steps, just like a child takes her first steps as her mother watches, waiting for her at the finish line. And the joy that autonomy brings. Who would’ve thought that moment would repeat itself?

I’m at a vulnerable point in my life. I am trying to preserve parts of myself. I wonder if I’ll re-learn. I am struggling to retain information, and I sometimes feel a disfigurement of my mind is taking place. I just can’t put my finger on it. And yet, here I am, writing this, grateful that I can write it. I’m able to say I am afraid and stay with that. I said the words out loud the other day and while Shame was meddling I recognized the exposure of the bloodiness and messiness of MS. It’s messy. It’s hard to stay in the moment. It’s hard to avoid thinking of the future.

But as always Virginia Woolf saves me. I remember her diary entry in which she says “Stay, the moment. Nobody ever says it enough.”

Pictured below: teaching moment, 2018. Drama class. And is life (and illness) anything but a drama?

Book Discussion Event

Last night, January 16th, 2017 was a beautiful night, at least in my journey. I was invited for a book discussion with a wonderful group, ‘Book Therapy Kuwait.’ They also invited two other groups/associations, ‘The Divan’ and ‘Kuwait Poets Society.’ I am still speechless and unable to find the words to describe the vibrant energy and creativity that exploded yesterday! I will simply post the videos to speak for themselves. After the book discussion, Kuwait Poets Society had three of their brilliant members perform/read their poetry in response to my book Forget the Words. I was left awe-struck and my jaw dropped at the way they were able to react to the work, the way they reshaped it, re-envisioned it, and produced their own poetic contributions. The three women poets each responded in a different way, each her own twist, and yet, they all chose words/lines from my work that resonated with them. It was mind-blowing, to say the least.

Nada Faris is a published writer and for copyright issues I won’t be posting her rendition of the work, but her work is accessible on http://www.nadafaris.com. Nada is a performance poet and an avid writer. She had the entire audience awe-struck once she finished reading her poem. I was not surprised with Nada’s creativity and ease with words! I have followed her work closely throughout the years and respect her professionalism and loyalty to poetry and its various outputs.

Farah Al-Wugayan, “xxmantras” on social media, is also in the process of publishing her own book. Farah wrote and shared two poems. She responded to “Presence” and “Belong.”  Farah was brilliant in her ability to feel EXACTLY what I was struggling to express, this idea of belonging/not belonging. I sat there, completely mesmerized. As always, her work is magical and heartfelt, pouring poetic jouissance into her audience.

Rawa Majdi, the founder of Kuwait Poets Society, one of the most productive and supportive women I met, also was on stage. She wrote a heartbreaking poem, a response to “A Room Without Light.” I will post both of her readings, of my work, and then her own depiction of the text. Rawa was able to have us all transfixed on her interpretation of the words. As she spoke, I felt pieces of my heart break, and I was moved by her choice of words, her ability to allude to the “madness” in love.

 

All in all, there was so much soul, poetry, and magic that night. That is the beauty of words, of language, of connection. Yesterday we were all brought together because of the love for writing, the love for words, and the endless support we have for each other. Strangers, friends, colleagues, students of mine, poets, readers – everyone was radiating. Blessed. Here’s to a wonderful start to 2017!

Below: Farah ​​

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​​below: Nada Faris 

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Last two videos: Rawa ​​

Finally a quick glimpse from the discussion

Depth and words

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.’

  

   

       

On this “Self” 

In a society that continues to dictate to us how to live our lives, what to wear, how to be a “good” wife/mother/daughter, how to be an ideal woman, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a sense of identity, without being swayed and confused by excessive demands. I grew up in an environment that attempted to control, regulate, and tell me how to be “me.”  It was difficult in a mixed American school, where kids tried to blend, mixing a Kuwaiti culture with American ideals and identities. To be considered “cool” was not easy, and to be branded “cool” did not mean that you were to stay “cool” forever, you had to please the majority, follow a certain code of conduct (or misconduct), and of course, the social class you were born in set the stage for all the rest of the demands. 

Even today, it remains difficult to remain true to who you really are. I know so many people who have lost themselves, and to try and recover yourself is the hardest thing you have to do. You may end up in a relationship where you cannot remember who you were before that person, you may end up working at a job where you change your work ethics, or you may end up trying to please the Beast. The Beast comes in all forms: parent, partner, boss, colleague, an illness, age, anything at all that threatens your sense of well-being, your inner peace. To maintain this “self” is important but we also need to know what exactly is this “self” in question. 

At times, I get overwhelmed with it all. I get comments that confuse me sometimes, for example,  I am told that I have perpetually sleepy/tired eyes. Sometimes it gives off a lazy impression, when it is simply a neurological imbalance. It can be frustrating to say the least. I said this a few days ago to my mother, a woman who has taught me to accept the physical body as lacking, to accept society as constantly critical, and to accept myself as an evolving being, but mainly, she taught me that there are no losses in life that should kill me- except, the loss of self. And the biggest struggle, the struggle of fighting to maintain that self, that is the cause. That is the cause- if we talk about feminism, if we talk about disability rights, identity studies, healthy relationships and boundaries, all of it- it’s the same cause. To remain you, at the end of the day. 

This is a random conversation this morning, her reminding me of what it means to embrace myself, even at the age of thirty, one can never do without Mom’s unconditional love and wisdom.   

  
Now, naturally, the curls are just a metaphor in this post, but as a child it was a pressing issue! 

And that’s all for now. 

Considering Disability Journal

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: 

https://cdjournal.scholasticahq.com/article/840-to-risk-and-to-represent-local-and-global-disability-in-context 

Love and Academia

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.