Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt



Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ahlan Ramadan! (Welcome Ramadan!)

It's hard to believe how fast we went from my birthday to Labor Day weekend, to Ramadan beginning September 1st-- Labor Day.

Looking back at the events of the last eight months-- just four months left of 2008, YIKES!-- it's all kind of a blur. I know that somewhere in that jumble of events leading up to this moment, my brother came out for a visit in January; a new friendship bloomed with the spring; and I'm now an Assistant Editor for a school newspaper while attending a class to help me get my work published.

In other words, time flies when you're having fun, and there is still more fun to be had.

The last few years the holy month of Ramadan has fallen during the months when the sun goes down fairly early, making the fasting not so bad with shorter daylight hours and cooler temperatures. It's still difficult to go about your day without being able to even take a sip of water then, but it's not so bad if the weather is cool, and again, the sun is up a small number of hours you are awake.

This year, Ramadan is right on the cusp of only subtle changes in the transition from summer to fall, and too long before daylight savings time "falls forward". Given that I'm at school two days a week, and have to attend newspaper meetings on those days that keep me on campus until rush hour traffic really marinates the route home, it's going to be one heck of a month of fasting beginning as soon as tomorrow.

Despite the degree of difficulty this Ramadan will possess for the time of year, and my schedule, I'm looking forward to the spiritual aspect of this month, when I get to sit with myself and read the Quran. That was such a beautiful and enriching experience that felt like a mental detox last year, I can't wait to experience it again.

As a result, and in preparation for the busy schedule ahead, I wanted to take it easy today. So, I spent a lot of time doing things I don't think I'll have time to do during Ramadan.

I sat outside on the deck reading to enjoy the last bits of summer and relax before things get too busy for such precious time, and noticed that the sun was not only beating down on the section of the deck that in the summer gets completely shaded by late afternoon, but it was also extremely and alarmingly hotter than usual. It felt like someone was holding a magnifying glass to my skin, just waiting for the sun's rays to burn my flesh like a poor, defenseless ant. Though I had sunscreen on, I chose to move to the little bit of shaded area on the deck to avoid hearing a sizzle from my skin, and that made my relaxation time a lot more pleasant, as there was a nice breeze in the air. The breeze would pick up and turn into serious wind ever so often and shake things up enough to make you think a storm was coming, but then the rustle of the leaves would soften, and soon you'd be back to enjoying a soft, cool and totally pleasant breeze.

Later, I came inside and did stuff I'd been putting off on the computer. I created a draft of the newspaper guidelines I was asked to make over the weekend, and then wracked my brain trying to come up with story ideas for Tuesday's meeting. The only somewhat interesting story ideas I came up with were finding out if and how the school is making efforts to be "green", and how high gas prices are affecting things like enrollment and students' ways of getting to school. I was supposed to come up with five ideas, and the other three are even lamer than the ones I just mentioned, but I'm just using them as fillers on the list for the time being. Perhaps something more substantial will come to me between now and Tuesday afternoon, but I doubt it.

After getting that stuff done I visited one of my favorite authors' blog and spent over an hour reading her treasure trove of insight into writing the way and things I want to write. The phenomenon of blogs is that they provide a great and convenient way to peek inside the mind of a brilliant author, and making them human to those awestruck by their creations. I think one of the most helpful resources when trying to write right is getting a glimpse of how an established writer, er, author, weaves a flawless tapestry in anything BUT methods. Getting that glimpse, you begin to see that your inability to stay focused enough to write more than six coherent sentences is hardly a unique problem, but rather the only way to write when you have a life on the side.

You also get to see just where this author gets his/her ideas, and it brings them down to earth, eliminating the perception you have of them being super beings with a super-compartment in their brain where great stories are stored-- all they have to do is sort through them and pick the one they want to write down on paper. This of course does not lessen the awe with which you view them, mind you. On the contrary-- it makes someone like me think the author I'm spying on through their blog even more brilliant in my eyes for the simplicity with which they are able to tell such amazing stories. It's totally inspiring and heartening to see their struggle, and it encourages you to keep going full steam ahead, despite your crazy life getting in the way.

I will leave you now with a video of a song called "Ahlan Ramadan", which translates to Welcome Ramadan. It is a traditional song sung and played to welcome the holy month.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Return from one busy hiatus

My sister brought it to my attention that she has noticed the lack of new blog postings, and so I thought I'd take the time and breathe life back into this machine.

I've been busy with school, what with writing for my class, and deciding to join the school's newspaper staff as Assistant Editor. These are very pleasant things to keep busy with, but they are making me a good kind of tired that has made me lag on my blogging. I go to school just two days a week, but they are busy days that carry over into my off days as well.

Every Tuesday and Thursday I attend class from 1 to 2:15 PM, and then squeeze in some writing in the computer lab until the Arapahoe Free Press News meeting at 4 PM. The meetings have generally been lasting until about 5:30, and they are all about starting this publication from scratch. That's right-- from scratch. Unlike at Metro where I was a reporter, an always existing publication with a huge staff and faculty working on it, the AFP is a publication that is completely run by students. Even the advertising is something that the students handle and make money from. It's cool, but kind of nerve-racking to have so much responsibility that includes dealing with a very limited budget.

For staff, there are nine of us, and we hope to recruit more people to write, as we're all editors and designers. Sure, we will contribute some writing, but we still need people who will just be writers to fill the gaps for news, features and reviews. It's up to us to recruit by talking to the department heads, and talking to classes in session throughout the school. There are going to be a lot of growing pains involved with taking this thing off the ground, but I think it's going to be worth it. I worked as a reporter and opinion columnist for The Metropolitan, and never got a chance to advance to an editor's position, but here I am now, an Assistant Editor. It's exciting and terrifying at the same time. I'm mostly excited, though.

Much like our bodies, our minds need exercise to better themselves, and this is an exercise with a wealth of benefits that will last long after it ends.

In the meantime, I'm one busy and tired-- but mostly happy-- camper.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

China... it's a feature!

If you haven't read my China column at Intrepidmedia.com, now is the best time. Not only have I made it easy by providing links, but it's also a feature now. Trust me, it's harder to come up with an excuse not to than to actually just go and read it.

So, having said that, please enjoy and ponder.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I don't have to justify myself. But I could.

My first day of school, or class really, has come and gone. The first day of Getting Your Work Published was an enjoyable experience, and the professor eager to help her students achieve.

My fears of being the oldest person in the room were quickly put aside when I found that most of the class was people even older than me. Moreover, I found that all the people in the class consider themselves writers, but have the same struggles in getting published that I do. There is strength and comfort in numbers, and that is the greatest benefit of such a course that is going on its third semester in the entire state of Colorado. I foresee great benefits being reaped from this course that forces students to work, produce and get published right in the classroom. I was very lucky to stumble upon this.

I did have a few moments of panic after a few writers introduced themselves and their accomplishments. One guy who is actually taking this class a second time for its benefit of helping him move along with his writing, has one book and two novellas in the fantasy genre, just waiting to be submitted. He seems to be of the younger few in the class. An older lady, said that she had written and published regularly for years, and was a contributor to Colorado Voices, a regular Op-ed column of The Denver Post. This woman also said that she was awaiting a response from The New Yorker, because she had just submitted a piece to them. WOW. That's a lot of pressure, but it's also good inspiration and motivation to write my heart out and publish the heck out of each word. But in the meantime, no pressure!

But though the age wasn't as big an issue as I feared it would be, it was still kind of strange to get back into school as an older and more aware student hungry for more knowledge.

I remember when I was starting out in college and seeing those people like me now sitting in rooms full of young faces. I thought to myself, Dude, if I was done with school and had my degree, I'd so not be here.

What I didn't realize then was that education is a privilege. A privilege that I took for granted and didn't utilize as well as I should have. Instead, I went through the motions so I could get out into the world with that degree in hand, free of homework and papers to drag me down.

A few years out of college proved to be difficult. Jobs weren't lined up for me, and I realized just how useful the career services office at school could have been to me had I taken the time to visit it, rather than leaving campus the minute my last class of the day was over. I learned a lot while in school back then, but not as much as I could've had I been hungry for knowledge. Moreover, life taught me the really important things that college never did . . . that it's hard. Really hard. Especially for a writer winging it on their own.

Well, after seven years out and about in the real world, free of homework and papers, I am hungry. In fact, I'm famished. I want to learn, I want to work hard, I want homework, I want to meet new people... all of these things I took for granted when my presence in a classroom didn't have to be justified. Well, now my justification is ready, and it's very simple.

I'm here because I want to be.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Guilty pleasures are a pleasure, indeed

You know those guilty pleasures you have that you're embarassed to be caught dead enjoying?

I have plenty of those.

Cheesy 80s movies, the movie Stuck On You, the songs from those cheesy 80s movies, Soundgarden, an old and corny TV sitcom or two . . . the list is long.

For years now I've turned up my nose at any literature that centers around a relationship between a Herculean-bodied man, and an everyday kind of woman. Not to say that I haven't ended up with books with romance in them in that time, it's just that they are usually more literary fiction-esque than the Harlequin Romance series.

I still don't read the Harlequin Romance series, nor would I want to, but I have found quite the guilty pleasure perfect for a day of sunbathing and fantasizing about a Herculean-bodied man, and well ... me.

To think I could've enjoyed laying in the Caribbean sun reading Diana Gabaldon's first book of the Outlander series, instead of The World According to Garp ... the experience would've been so much more perfect.

I'm nowhere near the Caribbean, but I am taking mental vacations throughout the day by being transported to Scotland's Highlands where kilts are sexier than a tight pair of jeans, and men are muscular and ripped for survival.

Ah, those guilty pleasures. They make life interesting, and hot as the Caribbean sun.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Is the whole world gonna be there?

I am not an athlete, and I actually find watching sports to be on the dull side; except of course for football (soccer). Tell me it's an international competition, though, and I'm all over it.

Swimming, fencing, diving, weight lifting, gymnastics, cycling ... I don't really care for these sports on their own, but the Olympics make them my one and only concern from the moment the Olympic torch is lit, to the closing ceremony.

I love whatever brings people from every corner of the world together in the spirit of industrious competition. What's more beautiful than people with differing languages, beliefs and cultures getting together and speaking one language; the language of football, gymnastics or cycling, to name a few?

I'm not only glued to the TV watching sports I don't understand the rules for, but I have gone so far as watching the Korean and Chinese language channels broadcasting the Games. It's cool, because when a sport gets too boring on NBC, I switch to the Korean or Chinese channel to find something more interesting, even though I have no idea what the commentators are saying.

For instance, I watched fencing with Korean commentary, and the only thing I understood was observing which player got poked, and seeing the score go up. I was pretty much in the dark with regards to any other thing involving fencing-- if there is anything else-- but I still got an adrenaline rush from the energy that traveled all the way from Beijing into my living room.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Origin of the Writing Species

I found a box full of my stuff this Sunday. Among this stuff was a manila folder, stuffed mostly with all the work I turned in for my English Honor's Core class. My sophomore year in high school was the year I really began to shine in the subject of English (my favorite), and read the works of the greats like Shakespeare, Hawthorne and Poe.

My sophomore year was also the year I first tried my hand at creative writing with a short story I titled "You Have Beautiful Hair," and written with my bicycle-loving childhood in mind. This folder I found is a treasure trove, as far as I'm concerned, because it is pretty much the origin of my love for writing.

Looking at all I wrote during that year, and seeing the progress I've made since then, I've had a newfound respect for the progress and growth I am still making for myself, by myself. I've also been getting a good laugh at my at times incoherent writing, mostly about literature.

One short piece I wrote about Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat made me laugh so hard, I am giggling as I write this. First, I summarized the short story with the worst possible composition, and then gave my bold opinion. "I disliked this story," I wrote, "because Poe uses his way of confusing his reader by taking subjects that are not mentioned in the story a lot and putting them in deadly positions, like the way he killed his wife, who wasn't mentioned a lot in the story, his repulsive way of describing the ripping of his cat's eyes, I just thought it was pointless and with no real theme." That is the exact way it was written all those years ago, and though I ought to be embarassed, I am more amused by my clueless criticism, and horrible punctuation and sentence structure. One comfort is my style of criticism, which is still alive and kicking.

I have yet to read my short story and laugh at it, but I did find a letter from my sophomore year English teacher, Mrs. Ritchey, who knew something about me way before I knew it, despite my comical writing style.

Mrs. Ritchey wrote:

I see in Reem a potential for a good writer and able critic, and I certainly recommend that she continues her work towards this end.


Also, in the folder, I found physical evidence of my daydreaming nature embodied in the description of my sanctuary in a place not unlike Walt Whitman's sanctuary in Walden.



It was a nice find, and I am glad I held on to these works of mine to remind myself of just how much I've grown and still have to grow in everything, not just writing.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Passion strikes again

I haven't been doing much at Intrepid Media lately, save for one relatively short piece about The Golden Girls that I posted in the gallery a little over a week ago. That piece wasn't too passionate a piece, but rather an attempt to exercise my column writing muscles. Today, after reading about a group of American athletes passion struck me like a ton of bricks and I went right to work.

I've been sitting back and watching all the stuff coming out about China in the midst of its preparation for the Olympics, and in the shadow of scandals surrounding Chinese made products. Newspaper and magazine articles, photo essays, blogs and opinion columns have all been talking up a storm about China. My observation so far has been that almost no one has anything good to say about the country, save for those writing pieces of the travel variety. This bothers me to no end.

When I read about a group of American cyclists who'd arrived in Beijing wearing masks, my observation period ended. Since I've never been to China, I can't say just how bad the smog and pollution are, but I can't help but find it incredibly rude to get off a plane wearing a mask anywhere short of an epidemic outbreak site. It's rude, it's ignorant and just incredibly presumptuous. Suddenly, all my observations of the media's far from objective coverage of a country everyone says is a mystery, yet enough is known about it to point out its faults materialized into a piece full of passion and plenty of oomph.

I titled the piece "China. The Black Sheep" and posted it in the gallery. I am having trouble reaching the Intrepid Media web site right now, so I am unable to provide a live link, but look for the piece in the gallery at intrepidmedia.com. I hope you find it a good read.

It took much work to get my message across the right way, and it took much editing for it to be what it is now. I must've spent three hours just getting the piece written out, and now it is out there for all to see.

In the meantime, I have been doing plenty of other writing; fiction and non-fiction. My excitement is building for my class, which is actually starting on Tuesday, August 19, and not the 18th like I said in my last post.

And that is all I have for now.
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