Hollowness of War

If history should have taught us one thing it is… the brutal hollowness of wars. From known genocides, wars, human sacrifices, torture, slavery, and the treatment of racial minorities, women, and children — all stem from parts of human nature that militate violence. Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine is no exception. It is a war of choice for all the vices thinkable by a megalomaniac.

Sadly, it seems, the world has lost its moral compass by standing idly by when there is exploitation and dominance by authoritarian alpha males, and their contention for ethnic, racial, national, or religious supremacy or pre-eminence. There is such a thirst for vengeance, a kind of immoral violence that inspires cruelty and creates an ideology of militant religions, nationalism, fascism, Nazism, communism all leading to large scale malevolent, brutal destruction of humanity.

We watch as madmen (Gengis Khan, Ivan the Terrible, Maximillian Robespierre, Talaat Pasha, Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Augusto Pinochet, Pol Pot, Idi Amin Dada, Hafiz al-Assad and his son Bashir, Kim Jong II, Recep Erdogan, Ilham Aliyev, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin…to name a few) with a penchant to rewrite history and swallow up their democratic neighbors persecute without an iota of compassion for lives lost.

Though I have not personally experienced the atrocities of a genocide and the World Wars, I have understood the pain and sorrow of the years through stories of survivors.  I have been raised by victims of genocide who have spiraled through the chaos of its labyrinth, persecuted and exiled.  They were once children who grew up with harsh realities of trauma and hardship that come with the responsibility of a culture trying to survive with the “baggage” of its history.

I have heard the stories, felt the pain, seen great marches, heard great speeches, have participated in movements where people were fighting for justice against all odds and changing the world in spite of itself. But nothing prepared me for the grotesque useless war in Ireland, or the brutality of war experienced in Lebanon where over 120,000 lives were lost. Nothing prepared me for the 44-day war invaded on the Armenian territory of Artsakh where human rights and civil liberties continue to be ignored with over 4,000 lives lost and others MIA. Realities of unmentionable experiences and horrific violence, loss of homes, separation from parents, being forced to flee, witnessing death and atrocities, and eventually harboring non-reconciliatory resentment, and the loss of innocence. No argument under the sun can justify the unspeakable cruelty of any war.

“War is a crime against Peace.”

If you need convincing of the hollowness of war, look no further than the poem In Flanders Fields by Canadian poet, soldier, and physician John McCrae. McCrae wrote the poem in 1915 as a memorial to those who died in a World War I battle fought in a region of Belgium known as the Ypres Salient.

In its simple complexity the poem demonstrates the horrific realities of engaging in war. It suggests that war is a shared responsibility that affects everyone. It is a responsibility we of the living owe to the dead.  War is destructive. It is a crime against peace.  Ultimately, we are called to “hold [the torch] high” which demands that we recognize our own complicity and responsibility in war.

If madmen are capable of the most appalling injustices only to seek their own self-absorbed grandiosity, then certainly, the rest of humanity with a conscience seeking peace, is capable of the most glorious battle against them. If blind prejudice can lead to untold hatred and murder, then solidarity of action and faith in justice could destroy it. Standing together for our shared human values against tyrants may be difficult, but it is nothing compared to the agony of a people at the hands of a brazen invader.

We must do more than stand in silence next to each other.
Lest we become hollow voices… amid fields of crosses.

 

 

 

 

 

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60, the Youth of Old Age

January 2022, and I am living in my sixth decade of life. I am grateful for yet another year granted me by the grace of God.  I know that my physical attributes may signal to others as “old” because it includes silver hair, skin that is losing its elasticity, a strange obsession with music from the 1970’s, and a belly that jiggles as I laugh even after years of yoga and exercise. I am simply grateful for these years, because I’ve stopped worrying about the insignificant things in life and have come to a better understanding and appreciation of myself. I’ve lived long enough to accept what I can do and what I am unable to do with a good sense of what works and what doesn’t — which gives rise on occasion to be a grump and say important things that people don’t want to hear.

Is it wisdom? Maybe. It’s tough to define. Wisdom cannot be focused on how much knowledge I have accumulated. It is different from knowledge. It embodies moral elements that impart the down-to-earth pragmatics of life. When I think of the wise people in my life, I think of how they relate to others and how they are fully present as they listen with attention before they part their lips with “words of wisdom.”  Wisdom emerges not necessarily from their book knowledge but from their life experience and is reflected by a sense of balance, of making thoughtful decisions, and acting with understanding toward people of different backgrounds and perspectives. It is out of savoring the fullness of each passing moment (even the difficult ones) in the years of my life, from which is gained the understanding and compassionate awareness with regard for the frailty and strength of others. It is wisdom.

Through good fortune and tragedy alike, and across the years of six decades I have forged the truest possible friendships.  I have learned that such heartiness doesn’t necessarily come from being raised in the same neighborhood or under similar economic conditions. It doesn’t come from attending the same schools or belonging to the same religious group or having children the same age or rallying for the same political candidates. It is friendship forged not out of convenience but out of honesty and respect, of seeing our narrative from the inside as we experience it and from the outside in a way that we cannot. These are friends that draw out a candor in us and walk us to our own conclusions while holding us to the highest standards of our character even when they don’t always agree. The years have taught me well to be open, curious, and willing to embrace paradox, rather than choose sides. Whatever else might separate us, sharing a love for each other is enough common ground to start the harder conversations of aging and time.

We make assumptions about time and age. Well, the answer is simple. We have today, and that’s it. We don’t count the years; we live the day. And who says we must act our age? There are days I feel 10 and sometimes 25 and 40 and 50.  I believe that my life should not be defined by numbers but by what I have experienced and what I have given of myself. In the end, the number of years attached to my life will not matter. What I have given of it to others will.

And if 60 is really the new 40, then I haven’t reached middle age yet! But given a choice, for me, I’d rather think 60 is the youth of “old” age because I choose to live life looking ahead with joy, and not behind with regret. I am profoundly grateful for every act of kindness, whether from strangers or friends and family; thankful for every blessing from a loving God, realizing that the past is past, and the present is truly a present. It is my gift of life to fully enjoy today and every day, and live in a way that will best serve others by God’s grace!

Lithography by Jansem (private collection)

 

 

 

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A New Day

It is midnight.
We cross our arms and link our hands
Together in a circle
And sing to drink to days gone by.
Step into the new year,
Open the door and enter a new day,
It is no different from yesterday, but today
Is the beginning of the ending of yesterday.

Do you see in our tomorrow
Anything other than what I wish it to be?
Faith to overcome fear; courage to meet discouragement;
Confidence to draw on strength, and success amidst failures we suffer.
Between dreams and reality, an immense distance transcends
And the mystery of tomorrow remains hostage to my thoughts.

It is nearly dawn.
Take my hand offered in kindness.
Together, let’s click, clack, clomp and march our footsteps
Across the threshold of tomorrow’s open door,
And when the first sun rises
We shall tread light our steps
To welcome a new day with footprints of joy and reverence,
Because today is the beginning of tomorrow.

SK 12/31/21

 

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Envision the Future

In my younger days and toward the end of a calendar year, one of the many conversations when gathered with family and friends would be “where did we see ourselves in the future.” We would make projections of progress in our personal lives and predictions for the world we inhabited…fantasies of robots, tech advances, underwater roadways, space travel, a cure for cancer, an end to deforestation, elimination of war, poverty reduction, preservation of our natural resources, equality for all as one human race and so on. Imagining the future was perhaps our way of grappling with change in the present. We envisioned our lives, and through our lens of progress we painted an optimistic canvas for the world we inhabited.

In hindsight, I realize our vision for the future was bifurcated into putting ourselves at the center of everything and fighting for the togetherness of the world. Together we marched for peace, against wars, against racism, against inequalities. We spoke out for human rights, for clean water, deforestation and climate crisis. We demanded recognition for indigenous people and the release of the kidnapped. We raised our voices, held strikes and sit-ins and held rallies all in the name of peace and love. In our young and passionate strife, we believed that reason would lead to a world free from war and terror; that society and mankind would move toward putting an end to discrimination and turn the corner on the urgent challenges of the environment.

Were we triumphant? We may have made substantial “progress” in preventing what could have been worse, but to say we won would be a mistake. Our only triumph was our stubborn persistence. Because reason may never fully rule man; violence may never be eradicated; social, personal, and intellectual problems will always exist; crime will always be with us no matter how rich, educated, or socially caring we become; and environmental concerns remain mired in processes that take too long to resolve.  Does that mean we lower our expectations of what the future can be? I think NOT

There is no doubt that today we face a particularly tough set of challenges especially as we begin to catch our breath and build upon the imposed life-style balance after two years of a Covid-19 pandemic.  That said, the countless challenges we faced showed us just how resilient and adaptable we could be. Many experienced losses, never to be replaced. Despite that, we did our best to get through each day and set some higher expectations for the year 2022.

Today, the world we live in relies heavily on the advances of science (which gave rise to the fastest vaccines approved and administered to millions in the fight against Covid).  We depend on the speed of technology in ways of education and learning.  Internet, computers and social media, video conferencing tools, and mobile apps have become the silver bullet for connecting with the world at our fingertips. With the advances of science and the expansion of technology, the future is in our hands.  We shape it. We are the participants, whether we passively accept the old and unsustainable business-as-usual route or embrace change by implementing new models that deliver brighter futures for society, business, people and the culture in which they operate. We face huge challenges, but with a positive and open, empathetic mindset; with a commitment and a profound sense of community so powerful as to compensate for the difficulties of the year and time lost, we can shape a future that brings us much closer to an ideal. This means that each of us, through the choices we make and actions we take in governments, companies and as individuals, is accountable in determining the direction of the future of society in the world we inhabit.

And in the years to come, people of the future will be able to see where our actions have led. Did we reduce poverty? Have we halted the wave of famine that sweeps the world of our time?  Is homelessness no longer an issue? Have we met our climate pledge and reduced global warming to an insignificant degree?  Is forest destruction a thing of the past?  Does everyone have water? And did we shelve the bullet and bomb to invest in peace?

As for me, I have narrowed my vision of the future to one year at a time. As I approach the Christmas season and look ahead to 2022, knowing that all things are possible, I will embrace the New Year with an open heart and a fierce spirit. 

May God bless you all with a safe, healthy, and joyous New Year.

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Grateful For Today

In a fragmented world when night and day meet
I ask,
What gifts have I been given?

You are born, you breathe, and you grow,
You work, you harvest and you create.
Life is your gift.
Let it sing through you
And convey the prayers of a world in need.

Go set a table of bread and salt
For family, friends and strangers alike.
Greet one another in the familiar language of love,
And ignite the night sky with laughter and praise
As you tell the stories of those whom you’ve lost.

Wake up to the sun with open arms.
Embrace what is before you
Because the magnitude of your blessings
Is given you only day by day.
Breathe in,
Breathe life.
Be grateful for today.

Thankful for all of the blessings that have been delivered throughout the year, have a joyful and happy Thanksgiving 2021.

 

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To the Memory of Mom

To every mother,
I see you and I hear you.
I see you making sacrifices as an act of love,
Listening to one more story and whispering, “I know.”
Too tired to cry.
Bridging the gap between the years of family
Siblings, aunts, uncles
Experiencing what it means to let go and hang on
While still being yourself.
Children, all grown
Holding them in your heart as you fall asleep
Because they no longer fit in your arms.
Tears leak on your pillow
Because somedays,
You still need a mom.

Sprinkled with salt from my tears of memory.

Portrait: Mother and Daughter by Saundra Lane Galloway

 

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Domestic Violence, The Shadow Pandemic

Today starts a National Week of Action recommended by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV).  With hashtag #EVERY1KNOWSOME1 reminds the nation that this is Domestic Violence (DV) Awareness Month, designed to increase awareness and understanding of a topic not often brought into the open. I say MEN & Women STEP FORWARD. Domestic violence is NOT a thing of the past. Instead of diminishing, it keeps growing in our societies. One in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence mostly from an intimate partner. Campaigns such as “ENOUGH, NO MORE,” “There’s No Excuse for Violence or Abuse”, “SPEAK OUT”, “REAL MEN DON’T HIT,” “ME TOO,” still haven’t “Put The Nail In It.”

With the outbreak of COVID-19  all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified.  This is known as Shadow Pandemic (report of UN WOMEN emerging data). The Shadow Pandemic has no geographic borders or boundaries. It exists and it is growing in all neighborhoods and among most cultures. Exacerbating factors include, health and money worries,  aftermath of wars, cramped living conditions, isolation with abuser, codependency. A global collective effort is needed to stop it. Everyone has a role to play. MEN & Women STEP FORWARD. This is the time to elevate the visibility of community resources available to help, to engage policymakers to enact change, and to celebrate the strength and resiliency of the brave survivors in our lives and in our communities.

Here are recommendations by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) for a Week of Action:

Media Monday (10/18): Share a piece of media on your own social channels that bring awareness to domestic violence
Twitter Chat Tuesday (10/19): Join NNEDV 3:00-4:00 PM ET on Tuesday, 10/19 as they create conversation around NRCDV’s DVAM theme: “No Survivor Justice Without Racial Justice.” 
Do Work Wednesday (10/20): What does “do work” mean? Well, you all have a role to play in ending domestic violence. Today, donate to support the work being done in your country or communities. Share and follow your local program’s social accounts. Look into volunteering at your local program.
Purple Thursday (10/21): It’s our favorite day of #DVAM: #PurpleThursday! Wear purple today to show your support for survivors and your commitment to ending violence. Get the Purple Thursday printable, frames, and more  from on line, or copy the one in this article
• Philanthropy Friday (10/22): Survivors and programs urgently need financial support. Make your gift and make a difference.  I donate to Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA)  for their work with shelters in Armenia. 
• Speak Up Saturday (10/23): Policy and advocacy are key to our work to end domestic violence, and your voice is needed to make a difference. Sign up to receive action alerts from local and national organizations.
• Sharing Sunday (10/24): Domestic violence can happen to anyone, and it’s likely happening to someone close to you. Today is a perfect day to share resources.

Make a vow to STEP FORWARD. Remind the nation that there are still countless people–victims and survivors, their children and families, their friends and family, their communities–impacted by domestic violence. We, all of us, should not stop until society has zero tolerance for domestic violence and until all victims and survivors can be heard. MEN & Women, STEP FORWARD

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Testament to Talismans

Whenever I am traveling, I wear three pieces of silver jewelry (two crosses and a pomegranate charm) that dangle on a silver chain from my neck. It has become a ritual.  Some call them my talisman.

Now I know the cross is not a talisman, or an amulet or a good luck charm. I don’t wear it to protect myself from misfortune, or to change anything on my journey irrespective of my will. I can still be hit by a car, be in a plane crash, have cancer or lose my job with a cross around my neck. That’s because the cross will not magically change the reality around me. But there’s something very psychological and subconscious about these piece — and it’s in the stories, my stories. I am emotionally connected to them as symbols that unite good and dispel the bad. 

While nothing replaces a firm belief in one’s faith, religiosity, or trust in self achieved outcomes, people and cultures from around the world have relied on talismans for good fortune against evil for thousands of years before the rise of religion.  Most known especially in the Middle East, Mediterranean and Asia is the Evil Eye ornament or amulet worn or hung. It is said to protect against looks or glances that bring bad or harmful thoughts or wishes. Talismans like the Hamsa Hand (also known as the Hand of Fatima or Hand of Miriam) go on necklaces, bracelets, wall hangings, door knockers, and are universally known for uniting the good, dispelling the bad, and thwarting negative energy. Other talismans used for similar purposes are dreamcatchers of Native Americans, the Japanese Omamori, horseshoes, fish symbols, elephant charms, Egyptian scarabs/blue stones, Japanese waving cats, Chinese golden toads, Irish four-leaf clovers, British rabbit’s foot among others… each unique to their birthplaces yet universal to human nature in their function as good luck charms.  

Talismans or good luck charms take many forms, including ritualistic behavior. The ritual performed inspires personal positive meaning for the individual and serves to connect to something else… a confidence generally greater than the person’s own solitary self. Tennis players and athletes are prime examples of performing ritualistic behavior before each game.

Tennis star Maria Sharapova stands with her back to her opponent, stares at her strings while aligning them and clenches her fist before each point – like clockwork. Rafael Nadal, without fail, clips the floor behind him with the tip of his foot before picking his shorts out from his bottom, tucks his hair first behind his left ear then his right, and then wipes his forehead, and bounces the ball again before every serve. It is said basketball superstar Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts underneath his Chicago Bulls shorts in every game. Now retired Curtis Martin of the New York Jets read Psalm 91 before every game.

These rituals act as talisman – a ritual to empowerment but each one imbued with personal meaning for the individual. Is that leaning toward superstition? But I am not superstitious. I do not have a deep-seated belief in good luck charms, nor do I feel I am tempting fate in their absence.  So why do I have a tradition/ritual of wearing the same three pieces of jewelry to hang from my neck whenever I’m traveling?

In brief, the tradition started with a pure silver cross from Jerusalem given to me by a faithful young man on a bus ride on a pilgrimage to Armenia. He took the cross and silver chain off his chest and gave it to me saying, “Wear it. It is now yours. It will carry you through your travels.” The second is a silver pomegranate gifted to me by young members on that same pilgrimage. We shared memorable meals, milestone events and conversations together. And the third is a small decorative cross with a missing stone given to me by a leading Archbishop of the Istanbul Patriarchate.  All three items were given with the firm intention to protect me from harm and deepen my sense of seeing goodness. How can I deny them their belief, faith and their goodwill? I cannot. There is a power within these tokens given in good faith that reach deep into the human heart and human emotions. Their spirituality resonates within me.

Whether you grasp such “talismans” in your palm, wear them around your neck, or mount one near your front door, talismans or amulets are meant to provide a better future, a warding off from evil spirits or bad forces. For some, a talisman represents the seminal event in their life. For others, it’s a great piece of jewelry. If the spirituality of the token resonates with you, wear it as a jewelry piece to express your spirituality and to attract hope and positivity. It still counts. It still matters.

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Lebanon Betrayed

An FBI report dated October 7, 2020 but recently reported by Reuters, disturbed me immensely. It showed how close the Lebanese came to a cataclysmic slaughter. The report noted that of the 2,754 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the port in the capital city of Beirut, only 552 tons had exploded on August 4, 2020. Had the full amount of ammonium nitrate detonated, most of Beirut would have been flattened, leveled, razed. The number of deaths would probably have been in the tens of thousands of people, if not the hundreds of thousands. Following the report, the New York Times reveals that officials in the Lebanese government hampered the investigation into the port explosion. Clearly, the Lebanese government knowingly perpetuated fraud and raped the country.

As a Lebanese expat, it pains me to the core to see the suffering happening to my fellow countrymen for they are my family of the Middle East. This tiny country once coined the Switzerland or the Paris of the Middle East, a country where most people had advanced degrees and spoke three or four languages; where the American University of Beirut attracted students across the globe to medicine, engineering, nursing, sciences, arts, history, law, etc.; where the arts from all over the world came every summer to perform at the festival in the Roman ruins of Baalbek and Byblos; where many religions coexisted in peace; and where freedom of individual expression was enjoyed by persons from other Arab world countries that practiced institutional, societal and religious oppression — this tiny country now lies in ruins, stricken by poverty and neglect.

I knew, during every single one of my frequent visits to Lebanon, that there was desperation and instability all around us. But there was also vibrancy, a love of life and seeking joy in the small things – a vendor balancing a large tray of “ka’k” on his head (baked bread covered with sesame, shaped like a purse); the watermelon merchant pushing his wooden cart through the streets shouting “on the knife, watermelon,” (indicating he would cut a slice for the buyer to taste); the vendor of cooked corn on the cob with his clickety click of the metal tongs announcing his arrival; the cafes full of mixed sects sitting, smoking, drinking, laughing, eating. I have not been back for the past two years first due to COVID and then the horrific blast of Aug. 4, 2020, that uprooted the lingering magic of the country, and collapsed whatever hope was left in the long-suffering spirit of the people.

Plagued by sectarian tension that is also part of the governing constitution, and with the collapse and demise of its financial system (due to decades of corruption of its leaders), Lebanon’s crisis has been in the making for many years. Sectarian deep-seated antagonism, unworkable political institutions, mind boggling levels of corruption, the unspeakable effect of the Syrian civil war and influx of refugees, the grip of Hezbollah (and, by extension, the Islamic Republic of Iran), and the permanent tension with Israel not to mention struggling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, have thwarted the possibility of any real political and economic stability. Lebanon has dangerously sunk into the darkest of times having been betrayed over and over by her leaders who are now nailing her coffin.

If Lebanon was already on her knees, amidst all these crises, the heinous explosion of Aug. 4, 2020, most certainly broke her back as the port at the heart of Lebanon’s capital Beirut was annihilated. Shock waves ripped the facades from every building in neighboring districts – and behind every shattered window are shattered lives, but deeper still are the wounds to a nation that was already reeling from economic crisis, debilitated by pandemic and weary from political chaos and corruption. It has rendered hundreds of thousands homeless.

In a recent article by Ben Hubbard of the New York Times (Aug. 5,2021, Section A,  Page 1), he describes the “scores of people lined up for free meals from a charity kitchen, some equipped with cut off shampoo bottles to carry their food because they can’t afford regular containers.” Friends tell me that lines for food grow. My brother tells me fuel is in short supply. People wait for hours to fill a gas tank while others walk for hours to various destinations because they can’t afford transportation. Medicine is scarce. Power cuts can last 23 hours. Covid cases are increasing. Hospital staff have diminished. Food poisoning is on the rise (due to no refrigeration), and alcohol overdose is a given. There is a new kind of poor in the country. They are soldiers, bank employees, professionals, healthcare workers, educators, civil servants all whose salaries have lost 90% of the bulk of their value.

France and EU proposed billions in aid but only if the government restructured and eradicated corruption. The government did not.  The government will not, as their own self-interests prevail. Self-interests that are made possible by corruption facilitating money that gets squirreled away in foreign bank accounts while the Lebanese, buried under a rubble of crumbling buildings, search for a crumb to survive.

I feel an unsurmountable surge of responsibility and concern for my fellow countrymen, my family of the Middle East. I feel that if we don’t exercise our humanity toward Lebanon, a country that served the West, Europe, Israel, Syria, Iran and the entire Middle East with boundless tolerance and freedom of thought among the pluralism of its society, with churches and mosques and a synagogue side by side, with centers of finance, commerce, learning, medicine, and a frolicking social life of fashion and style, I fear our humanity will rust and we will be indifferent to the corrupt elites of the world who find ways to prey on a country’s vulnerability, and shamelessly game every tragedy to their advantage.

Meanwhile, I live vicariously through conversations with my brother who still resides there and the memories of parents and grandparents and relatives that speak of the days of gatherings with a unique mix of culture, food and terrain that made Lebanon the place I loved and love in my imagination.

Photo by Brian Dento, NYT, Aug. 5, 2021
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My Muse

“The muses in Greek mythology  were the goddesses of the fine and performing arts. The word derives from the Greek ‘Mousa’, which translates to ‘thinking in silence’. The Greeks saw their muse as embodied spirit goddesses.”

Father sat on an antique, curved wood bistro chair… a remnant from his childhood home. A green satin pillow covered the worn-out canvas seat. He sat at a small desk in the bedroom, cluttered with newspaper clippings, books and piles of paper. This was his chair and desk. It was a sanctified space, not to be touched, not even one paper or clip removed. He would face the window to catch every ray of natural light as the pen he held between his fingers wrote words that ran into sentences sprawled across thin sheets of paper. Sometimes he would stop to rub his ink-stained fingers, which matched the ink stains on his shirt pocket, raise a fist to his lips as though contemplating a thought, only to put his head down again to produce another stream of words. Then there were times when he would stare out of the window as though he was in a trance waiting for a divine spirit to nudge him, inspire him, get him to “think in silence” about words and ideas that came to fruition from his own thoughts.

If I happened to mention a coffee break, he would smile and let out a little chuckle. Sometimes he would take his coffee at his desk, but most times he would take the break saying his “Muse would wait.” I never really understood that. Dad was an individual who maintained an awareness of the environment beyond the level of most people. I’d like to think that father found stories in what he saw, what he heard, experienced and imagined. I’d like to think that neither the chair nor the desk had an extraordinary ability to summon the “Musa” (Muse) for his stories and writings. Yet, once he put his butt in the chair, his “Muse” magically summoned the creative juices to flow as a lamp summons a genie.

If it were really that simple, of course, everyone who wanted to write or create would simply do it. But my Muse has a life of her own. She comes from the spirit of my generation and generations past. She comes from the moments I live. She comes from tangled dreams I have at night, or from a film or documentary I watch. She comes from the lady walking her dog, the homeless person who mumbles utter nonsense rummaging through trash. She comes from the book I read, from a lecture I hear, a feeling I experience when visiting family,  my homeland or town, from the food I eat, or that extra glass of wine I drink. She runs through me like an electric current that thrashes my thoughts.

Anything can be a source for my writing.  It may be a fragment of a conversation, the way the light falls through trees, a breeze that picks up a scent, how a wine tastes or the feel of fabric on my fingers. I use my senses to absorb information, both passively and actively.  I’m not an eavesdropper but often I’ll direct my ear backwards and listen and jot down notes on a conversation that I am hearing behind me, or I may be talking with a friend and catching sight of a child at play. Whether or not I am consciously aware, as a writer I’m taking in what happens around me, and my Muse suspends all judgment and expectation and allows the creativity to flow at any time. Until recently.

I’ve lost my Muse, and I’ve made her vanish because my Muse came to me at the worst possible times. She arrived when I couldn’t possibly listen to her because my world would fall apart if I didn’t finish the big work project/get another hour of sleep/annotate the notes for a meeting right then. She arrived late at night when I was tired and cranky and I didn’t care about her amazing creative insights. She came to me just as I was biting into a grab-and-go croissant. She arrived with crumbs still falling down my chin while I burned my palate on a sip of steaming coffee…because the Muse had a brilliant idea for me that couldn’t wait. The Muse expected me to drop everything and listen to her inspirational comments. So, I lost track of her because I’m a grown person with a bunch of things I must attend to that do not allow me the perfect time to put my butt in a chair and write.

My sister reminds me there is no perfect time. “Perfectionism hampers creativity,” she says. “Learn from dad. He never waited for the perfect moment. He wrote because he wanted to write despite everything. Remember, life is messy. Creativity is messy. Write when your muse is acting up, and you must do it when you’re cranky, and you must do it when you’re busy.”

I don’t have a magical chair and desk. I don’t write in a trance or a sacred space. I write in the car stuck in traffic. I write in the dentist’s waiting room. I write on a pharmacy receipt, at the market shopping for fruit, I write on the back of my hand. I write in the back of my mind. I write in the splinters of time I can find amid my obligations. I write in the early hours of the morning and much as I would like to go back to sleep, my thoughts begin to whirl and spin out of control as fragments of my world break the silence inside my head like an ecstatic dance. “She’s back,” I say. “My MUSE is back!” And I give in to her.

“When the muse comes, you must go with her, and let her take you far.” (Yerbar)

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