NanoWriMo Starts Tomorrow
I've got my characters all charted out, my sub-plots all planned (though I haven't figured out yet just how they all weave together), and I'm counting the minutes til start.
I'm actually pretty dubious about the possibility of finishing, as I'm going to be gone two weekends in November, but maybe I'll get writing in while on the plane...
Of course, concentrating on this one will mean putting off others.
I'm thinking I need to just pull back from some of the egroups I'm on for the next month so I can write on this one and other stuff as well. Email takes up way, way too much time.
Weddings and churches and doctors, oh my!
Yes, we've been busy...
My cousin Alan married his high school sweet heart in a scottish/methodist ceremony last Saturday. A very sweet, intimate wedding, with a few Scottish trappings -- men in kilts, a bit of bagpipe music, and lessons Scottish dancing for the American wedding guests.
Amazingly, though our family was seated with complete strangers, we were a relatively good match... the fellow was a jazz guitar player who had performed during the horsduerves session, and a freelance writer as well, which gave us quite a bit to talk about. The woman did the hair for the brides and brides maids and was walking refutation of the notion that one should not go to a hairstylist whose own hair is a fright. The wedding party had elegant dos that lasted all night without even one strand slipping. The hairdressers -- well it was overteased by quite a bit.
Sunday, I spoke again at the Northminster Presbyterian Church. A great group of people with intelligent questions. (Basically, every audience I've met has intelligent questions... although some of the clearly have prepared for the talk by visiting all the vitrolic anti-Islam sites on the web and memorizing the (dis) information there!) I reprieved a topic from WisCon -- both/and in an either/or world. I like the topic because it's a great launching place from which to smash a few misconceptions -- like all Muslims are the same, or, if we want to be a bit more sophisticated, all Sunnis are the same and all Shias are the same. Hate to tell you folks, but it's far more complex than that! It also allows for a frank discussion on what does patriotism mean (I come down on the side of wanting my country to be the best it can be, and doing my darndest to make it so, rather than the support your commander in chief no matter what)(big surprise...) and for the complexities involved in always being called upon to defend or denounce the actions of Muslims overseas, who come from different countries, have different customs and sometimes seem to be following some other Islam than the one I read in the Qur'an.
Of course, non-Muslims want Muslims to stand up everytime something horrible is done by a Muslim and disavow it, but not only is this tiring, distracting from real work that needs to be done, but it also is an admission of guilt by association. If you have to stand up and say, "I hate terrorism" well the implication is that it's not really clear that you would. If you disagree with that premise, you've got a much more complex message to put out -- of course, I don't agree with terrorism, what sane, humane person could? What religion teaches untrammeled violence against innocents? None. Duh. So of course we disavow these acts, and especially the people who would like to twist Islam to support their political ends, that should be unnecessary to say, but since you are so uninformed about Islam (and that's not your fault, our public education system is woefully inadequate -- I knew nothing about Islam before I started studying it. I couldn't have named a Muslim country. I couldn't have named a Muslim tenet. I couldn't have even told you the Crusades were against Muslims -- it was against the infidels, whoever they were. And Spain? It was ruled by the Moors, not Muslims) I will say it.
Anyway, quite a complex message to deliver in the thirteen second sound bite favored by news stations.
And finally, poor Saara visited the doctor today. Her knee has been bothering her. My dad thought it might be torn cartiledge. I'm worried about some form of Chondromalasia, although she's awfully young for that! Either way, doctors offices sure do eat up a lot of time!
Today I went to my pollworker training class. Only they don't call us pollworkers, they call us judges. I suppose because we are responsible for judging whether a person may vote or not. Still, I don't think I'll be calling myself Judge Taylor any time soon. :D
The hours for a pollworker are pretty grueling -- 5:30 am until the votes are tallied, the voting machines taken down, and the ballots, memory cards, and paper record of votes are on their way to the central depot -- sometime well past 7:30 pm. I guess they just don't have enough workers to let people come in for six hour shifts or something. Of course, it also helps with security (reducing the possibility that the same person could vote twice) if you have the same people working all day.
I was impressed with the measures in place to make sure that everyone gets a chance to vote, and also to make sure that no one feels coerced to vote one way or the other. Judges, for instance, are not allowed to say anything about the issues on the ballot -- they can't explain them because their explanation might be prejudiced one way or the other, even though they try to be fair in their explanation. They aren't even supposed to recommend that the voter read the ballot initiatives which are posted before they head to the polling station; they can only inform the voter that the issues are posted if they are interested in reading them prior to the actual voting process. Signs and people supporting candidates have to be 100 feet away from entrances, and they aren't allowed to come within ten feet of voters outside of that 100 feet.
All in all, a very interesting look into a process most of us are not very aware of. It's too bad that more people can't do this; I think it would increase voter participation, as well as restore some confidence in the system.
The best thing about Shawal, the month after Ramadan?
To me, that's the hardest thing to give up during Ramadan. Not because I'm addicted to caffeine (I'm not, or at least, I don't get withdrawal headaches), but because there is just something so wonderful about a hot cup of coffee in the morning as you go through your email, getting ready for a hard day of writing (lool, yes it is hard work, although it's all brain work). Breakfast, no problem. Lunch, don't hardly miss it. But my morning cup of coffee... ooh, that one pinches!
Especially on frosty mornings like today, when the grass is hoary, the leaves fiery and the sky the clearest, purest of blues.
Here's a picture of the view out my window -- it's one of my favorite things about my new bedroom -- the beautiful trees. Of course, come winter, I'm going to see the neighbors, but for now, it's all yellow, red, and orange.
Fall is my favorite time of year (along with spring). Nothing like cool, crisp days. The perfect temperature. Not to mention the beautiful colors.
from the Khalid household... Ameera, Mommy and Saara; Tasneem (in red) and friends (Sarah and Sarah!); Mommy and Noora; Daddy
The feminine Divine
A friend on a yahoo group recently wrote some of the most profoundly moving thoughts about the feminine Divine, and I thought I'd paraphrase them here as they so thoroughly touched me.
"Rahman” and “Rahim” are the two most common names of Allah. 113 of 114 Surahs in the Quran open in the name of Allah, ArRahman, Ar-Rahim. Rahman has been explained to me as an overarching compassion, while Rahim is personal and intimate.
My friend point out that they come from the same root in Arabic: RHM -- a root whose basic meaning refers to the womb. That creative life generating force which only mothers have. It's rather stunning to me that the most common names for god and the word for my womb have the same root. Can you imagine if Deus meant god and Deusat meant womb! The link between the feminine creative force and the Divine one would then be unmistakeable. In a book where God is often referred to as "He" the consistent reference to a feminine divine is particularly important.
My friend went to mention that though this is the one phrase most recited in the Quran, its meaning is substantially denied by scholars. "It is as if the whole discussion of mammals were about their intelligence and the root meaning of mammal were denied. The single most essential most fundamental feature that defines mammals is milk. That is what mammalian means. So in Arabic we have an even more fundamental root referring to female creativity as the single most significant quality of God and it is denied. It is to that extent that the Quran we read today has been denied by the scholars of our faith because of its political, spiritual, psychological, and ethical implications. It is far far deeper than male dominance. It is outright male jealousy and hatred of the female."
Powerful stuff that I'm still absorbing.
Webcams and the social fabric
Today I received a webcam that I'm going to use for my guided spiritual journal on beliefnet.
It's so much fun! We set it up, logged onto msn messenger on the computer downstairs with one username and on the computer upstairs with a different username and started sending video and audio. Amazing how something so complex can be so easy to use!
A couple weekends ago, at Context, I heard about something I'd never heard of before which was described as solo dating -- which is that two internet friends would go to the same movie the same evening and then chat online about their reactions and so on. It's not got the intimacy of going to see a movie in the same movie house, but if you and your best friends live hundreds or thousands of miles apart it's a close second. Certainly better than going to see the movie all by yourself and having no one to talk to about it.
Still, one wonders what impact the internet is having on our social relations. Internet buddies have replaced the next door neighbor as the chat buddy of choice. We don't lean over the back fence anymore, we send over the worldwideweb.
This seems to me to at once bring us closer and keep us further apart. Web conversations tend to be more easily open and frank than in the flesh ones. But it is a fake frankness? When we meet face to face does the easy openness continue or is there an awkwardness that we can never quite overcome. Does the easy openness of the internet feel the same as heart to heart conversations with a buddy in the flesh. And what of the importance of real touch. We may send cyber hugs, but they certainly can't replace physical ones.
I'm enjoying my webcame, and looking forward to being able to do web conferencing, but I hope I never find myself in the situation where all my buddies are web buddies, and I have no one with whom to share a real hug.
I found this blogger today.http://freewayblogger.blogspot.com/
He puts up signs on freeways saying things like, "The War is a Lie. Silence is Complicity."
Or "No Torture. Silence is Complicity."
Needless to say, I think we should all become copycat freeway bloggers!
He says that his signs stay up on average a week. With thousands upon thousands of people on the highways each day, maybe they'll spark enough people to actually stand up for our country that we can effect a change and actually start embodying the values we are supposed to stand for -- freedom, justice, equality for all
A rose is a rose is a rose...
...unless that rose is a writer, in which case the name does matter. (If you are wondering what the heck I am talking about... the title quote is from Gertrude Stein who was commenting on Shakespeare's famous line "A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.")
Whether it be that your name is boring (who wants to read a thriller by Jane Smith?), deemed less than acceptable to your genre (most women don't want to read a romance by Bob Brady, and a lot of people won't read sci-fi by Charlotte Willowsby), or you really would rather not have all your fans able to find your address, phone nubmer, and a myriad of other personal details at the click of an icon, lots of writers have found it useful to take a psuedonym.
I decided a long time ago to write under my own name (most journalists do, and at that time I was publishing only as a journalist). Then, after I started writing fiction, I decided to add the K, because I found out that there were a lot of Pamela Taylors out there, and a few had even written books, and I wanted people to be able to find me and my books easily.
Then when I started publishing commentary and fiction, my editors started asking me to clarify that I was a Muslim! I thought the content of the writing made it pretty clear (and I still think the content of it makes it pretty clear) but they wanted to hit the readers over the head with the fact. In the commentary, they wanted a mention of my religious affiliation in the first paragraph, and for the fiction they wanted something to make it clear in my by-line.
Which got me to thinking maybe I should take a Muslim middle name and publish under three names. I even blogged on it here, and about how I couldn't find any name that really fit. Of course, not a lot of writers use three names, but I'm not willing to give up Pamela. I'm particularly fond of Pamela as I have all my life had to fight for the last two syllables, thus developing an agressive loyalty to it. Plus, I've got at least a little name recognition as Pamela K. Taylor.
Well, I think I've got the name I was looking for... Kenza. A friend on the Islamic Writers Alliance list suggested it, and I think it's perfect.
Khatiba, which means writer in Arabic, had been my prior choice, but I just didn't like the way Pamela Khatiba Taylor tripped off the tongue (or rather, tangled the tongue up in knots on its way past the uvula...). Plus the "kh" is a problem as there's no corresponding sound in English -- the same problem that folks run into with Hannukah and Challah... both of which, like Khatiba, require a kind of flat hissing sound made between a raised tongue and the soft palate.
I thought about my husband's last name, Khalid. That would be a very logical choice, but it also didn't sound great. Pamela Khalid Taylor, had the same problem with that danged "kh," and I had resisted taking his name for so long as it isn't part of Islamic tradition. (Islamically you remain who you are, with your familial ties intact, not becoming part of your husband's property or his family's property when you marry, as switching names would imply.)
Khadijah, yuck, never did like the sound of that one. Karima, didn't sound great either. Pamela Karima -- two three-syllable words in a row just doesn't cut it. Plus the short e next to the long e is jarring. Amazingly, I couldn't find any female Muslim names starting with a K (and I wanted to keep the K, since my readers have seen me with Pamela K. Taylor for five + years now) that had two syllables.
But Pamela Kenza Taylor. That sounds cool to my ears. Two short e's and two shwas. Three-two-two on the syllables, a flowing rhythm, my beloved Pamela and my cherished K. And it's a Muslim name, although I had never heard of it until this afternoon. It means treasure in Arabic. For those who don't know that, as I didn't, it still has a foreign ring... African? Japanese? what is it? When they read my stories and (eventual) books, hopefully they'll say, oh, Muslim! At the same time, I hope a few people might pick it up thinking I'm African-American or Japanese American. Anything to expand the audience a bit!
I suppose if the editors object to three names I could even shorten it to P. Kenza Taylor and publicize hard to my current readers that that's what I'm publishing under. But still, I prefer them all together. A more accurate depiction of who I am.
Hard to imagine, one week from today and it will be Eid! Time seems to be getting all the more compressed, used to a day passed and you wondered where it went, then it was a week went by and it seemed like nothing. Now, almost an entire month is gone and it seems like hardly any time has passed.
Is it because I'm getting older, or we're getting busier? Or what?
I think I have a good plot for a horror story... a writer sends out article after article, story after story, novel after novel and the pressure of trying to shape his or her writing to a commercial standard, the anxiety of writing so many cover letters, and the tension of waiting for a response for month after month drives him or her completely insane... Or maybe, the writer ends up in hell and finds out that hell is sitting at a desk filling out submission after submission... and never getting an answer...
I suppose the anxiety of the submission process can be considered a good thing for a lot of reaons...
1) It keeps a lot of the competition from sending off anything, ever.
2) When you get acceptances, it really means a lot since you sweated it out for so long preparing your submission and waiting for the reply.
3) It gives you determination to promote, promote, promote so the next time you submit something, the editors will be eager to publish it even if the writing ain't so great.
4) It develops character. (That or it engenders masochistic tendecies in those who practice it long enough, so you really do start to enjoy it at some point...)
I signed up today to be a pollworker. I have to go to a training session in a couple weeks, and then I get to be one of those blue haired ladies that signs you in when you go to vote. (OK, so it won't be my hair that's blue, only my scarf, wink, but you get the idea.)
I'm actually looking forward to it, though it could be a fairly dull day. Even if I do end up yawning a lot, it's a great chance to get a feel for the people in my new hometown. A chance, perhaps to make a couple friends among my co-workers. A new and different way to participate in the election process.
I just hope no one freaks at a woman wearing a scarf as a pollworker...
I've decided to do NaNoWriMo this year. (And no, that's not some bizarre new dance... It's the National Novel Writing Month, or something like that, otherwise known as that mad crazy writing month.) The goal is to write 50,000 words on your novel in one month. It only works out to 1200 words a day. Pretty feasible sounding... except that life goes on, research gets in the way, paying work gets in the way, etc, etc, etc.
The purpose, for me, is to reestablish some good writing habits. I write every day, but I don't write fiction every day. If I want to finish the five... oops, now six... novels I've got running around in my head and the others that are sure to pop up, I need to find a way to write on the blog, write columns and write fiction every day. And not just a couple hundred words, but a significant chunk of fiction every day.
So we'll see how NaNoWriMo goes. My plan is to finish my quota of words for the day before I open my email... otherwise it is too easy to get engulfed. Fortunately, I have a little switch on my computer which turns off the internet. Now I just have to use it...
Peaches and Cream
Early this past Saturday morning I woke up, alone in my hotel room, to have my suhur, the meal before sunrise that Muslims partake of during the month of Ramadan. In the pre-dawn darkness, I ate a small package of peaches and drank down a pint of milk, a meal which no doubt would seem quite measly to the rest of my family who tend to have rice and stew leftover from the night before for their breakfasts. Peaches and milk, however, is one of my favorite suhurs.
Aside from the fact that the sweet, goodness of peaches goes beautifully with milk, the simple meal brought back a flood of memories from my first Ramadan, twenty years ago. Of course, that Ramadan took place in the spring, as the lunar calendar is some 12 days shorter than the solar one, but all Ramadans, no matter what season they arrive in, are timeless and seasonless, connected to one another by spiritual threads stronger than any season could ever be.
Twenty lunar years ago, I was in China and I woke up and ate alone every day of the month. Alone in a cold, dark common room, just me, a can of peaches, a soft, white roll, a bottle of milk, and Allah. I felt God's presence every morning that year, as clearly as if He was sitting beside me, sharing my food.
In later years, responsibilities to prepare food for family members, or exhaustion from staying up too late studying or writing, have limited the spirituality of my suhurs. But that year, it was like feasting at God's table every morning.
The strength of those emotions remain with me, some twenty years later, and still have the power to raise goosebumps on my arms. They have the power to reassure me about my decision to become Muslim on the days when I seem furthest from the community, when Islamophobia and Ameri-phobia seem to be competing for the greatest number of adherents, and when I despair of a hopeful future for either the Muslim world or the Western one.
I've written a story for the Sails and Sorcery anthology, and I'm pretty happy with it. It's got a lot of conflict, a ton of tension, and it's quite spooky, if I say so myself. But this weekend at Context, I went to a panel on "What is Horror?" that's making me rethink the story.
I would consider quite a few of my short stories to be horrific stories -- The Priesthood
is very Twilight Zone, Mutawwa
describes a dark, mind control distopia and while the end for the protagonist is ok, the rest of society has a pretty bleak future, and so on. My readers have, on the other hand, commented on how realistic these stories are. (Which to me says we're living in pretty horrific times!) Anyway, this response got me thinking what is the difference between the tales I was telling and a horror story. Which led me to my current story.
This new story, as it stands, is a tale of redemption. If I took out the redemptive part, and left only the horrific part, it would clearly be a horror story, and one that works pretty well, I think. Of course, it works well as it stands, but...(isn't there always a but?)... it's on the long side at 8600 words. The anthology's word limit is 9000, so I've squeaked in under the limit, but I'm thinking it will still be easier to sell a 6000 word story than an almost 9000 word story.
So now I am debating -- rework the whole thing as a pure horror story, no redemption, merely recompense, or leave it as is?
Agh! Decisions like this are tough. The story is fine as is, but it would also be fine without the redemption, certainly would be one of those chilling tales. So it's not a matter of feeling like I'm prostituting my art to the market, both stories would be good.
Only God and the editors can tell which is more likely to make it into the anthology. Maybe I'll send an email to the editors of the anthology and see which sort of story they are more interested in... That's probably a no-no as well.
Looked up at the moon today. It's full, which means we're halfway through Ramadan. Amazing how quickly a month can pass. (Or half a month.)
I love the idea that I can look into the sky and see where we are in the month by the shape of the moon. It's one of the joys of the lunar calendar.
The moon is so mystically satisfying, even after we landed on it and walked around it, the mystery and wonder and beauty of the full moon is not diminshed. It may be a mundane place covered with rocks and dust, but who doesn't shiver when they see the full moon, golden on the horizon, or snowy white high in the sky?
One wonders, what in our biological history led to the appreciation of the moon, not just the practicality of its gentle light, but at the beauty of itself. Perhaps I need to do some research, but it seems to me the appreciation of beauty and the gratification we get be merely observing beautiful objects is something that has not got a lot of evolutionary value.
Well, if you believe in signs, here's one for you... the conference schedule tomorrow runs from 10am to 5 pm without breaks. No time for lunch. Gee, too bad, good thing I'm fasting...
This weekend is the Context Weekend, so I'm headed out to Columbus for the weekend. I'm very fond of Context as Context (hmm 15, 16?)was my first conference and it was a great experience, I made some wonderful friends, and got totally hooked on science fiction conferences. (If you like sf or fantasy, you really need to hunt one up and go, they are a blast!)
I'm really looking forward to seeing my friends Boby and Cathy and Liz and Louise again and meeting Louise's friend Kay Kenyon.
I'm also hoping to corner one of the Cincinnati writers who goes to Context and figure out what happened to the sf critique group. Perhaps one of them will know.
Even if they don't, it will be a nice break from boxes and cooking. :)
The only question is whether to fast or not. Technically speaking, you don't have to fast when you're travelling, and Columbus is far enough away to count as travelling. But, gosh, sitting in a lecture hall all day is actually far less demanding than unpacking, chasing after kids, cooking and cleaning while trying to get in some writing as well.
On the one hand, I'm on two panels tomorrow, and I usually drink a lot while I'm talking, so my voice doesn't get scratchy.
On the other, if you decide to take the permission not to fast while you're away from home, you have to make up the fast later... and that's always a bummer.
Mountain Streams, the Atlantic Ocean in New England...
...and my pool. They're all about the same temperature. Fortunately, having grown up swimming in really cold water, it feels great!
One of the questions that I get all the time, but especially during the summer, is whether wearing a scarf makes me hot. Fact is, everyone is hot when it's 95% and 95% humidity, scarf or no. Other fact is, your body adapts. People who live in cold climates can walk around in flannel shirts when the rest of us are wearing parkas. People from hot climates walk around in parkas when the rest of us are wearing shorts. The internal thermostat of women who wear hijab adjusts itself so that we don't overheat. (After all, if it didn't, you'd see lots of women passed out on the sidewalk from heat stroke!)
One thing I have wondered about though, if a woman wearing a scarf doesn't have to work as hard to keep herself warm, does that mean her body isn't burning as many calories, and it's harder to stay thin?
I think I'm grasping at straws...
Never move in August...
At least not in an election year. I had about a three day window in which I could get my drivers license and register to vote. Had to be a resident so many weeks, had to register so many weeks before the election. If we'd moved even a few days later, I wouldn't have been able to vote in Ohio at all, and somehow, as much as I believe in voting, a four hour drive (two hours each way) to cast a vote in a race I know the Republicans will win anyway didn't seem like a very good use of time.
One of the great things about moving to Ohio is I feel much more like I can make a difference here. My part of Indiana was so solidly Republican that there was no chance for a Democrat to win. In fact, it was so anti-Democrat that one fellow who thought the Republican party had gotten too liberal ran as a Democrat in local elections, so as to bring things further to the right! YIKES! So much for progressive candidates!
I'm already looking forward to voting for my new Senators, and I imagine it will be a close race. One thing's for sure. Trying to get information on candidates, it's clear that television is the dominant media. You can scrounge up info on the Internet, and papers run occassional columns, but all the focus these days is on tv ads, even more so than in the past it seems. There certainly is almost nothing on radio, at least, not the radio stations I listen to. (mostly npr, classical music stations, oldies or hip hop, every once in a while I'll turn into an am all news station.)
One huge difference between the Republicans and the Democrats in my district is the tenor of the ads... the Republicans attacked the other guy, rather than saying what they stood for, while the Democrat said what he stood for or offered testimonials from constituents about how he had helped them. That alone is reason enough to vote Democrat.
Unfortunately, it seems like there is not enough difference between Democrats and Republicans... I sure wish the party had a lot more spine when confronting some of Bush's abuses of power.
And speaking of abuses of power... hope to see y'all at the demonstrations tomorrow! Say no to torture! No to ever increasing militarism! Silence in the face of what is happening today in America is collusion.
Does anyone else think it's deliciously ironic that it is a Republican who is embroiled in a sex scandal... and not just any sex scandal, but a gay, pedophile sex scandal!
I swear, as serious as this matter is, I can't help but chortle just a wee bit. Those blustering defenders of holy matrimony and Christian values, those agents cum panderers to the religious right, who claim that only Republicans have true morality...
Can you say, "Just Desserts."
I know, I know, I've got a bad case of schadenfruede. Naughty girl.
To me! 18 years today. Kind of hard to believe.
Sometime this fall marks my 20th anniversary of embracing Islam. Getting close to being half of my life! There isn't a hard and fast date, as it wasn't that sort of conversion. Perhaps for the occassion I'll write up my story and get it published online somewhere.