Thursday, August 31, 2006

Nostalgia, Hardco'

I miss Austin so much today. I miss all my friends, and I miss the stupid weather, and all the places I hung out and everything I took for granted. Not sure if this is because I had my orientation today and my 2-year stay here seemed final, or because the I saw a show last night on Food Network which was shot in Austin, in the "winter" time. Sigh.

Mahfouz Remembrances

In El-Ahram, novelists like Edwar Kharrat, Ibrahim Aslan, Salwa Bakr, Miral Tahawy, and filmmaker Youssef Chahine, write in with their remembrances and praise of Mahfouz. Many of them stress Mahfouz's willingness and tendency to switch and broaden and experiment with different modes of writing.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mahfouz is dead, long live Mahfouz

Sadly, Mahfouz has passed. It's the end of an era.

Mahfouz's work-- his novels and plays (and teleplays and screenplays)-- have made a huge impact on Egyptian and Arab society. Decades before the Nobel, his first award came from Out el-Kouloub, an aristocrat and author herself. One of his last published stories, Room No. 12, is a timeless piece about corruption and society. Allah yerhamu.

Image: Bahgory

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Katrina, a year later

For a year now, New Orleanians have had to deal with despair, destruction, diaspora, and the death of their city, their past, and those they love.

You must watch Spike Lee's beautiful documentary When the Levees Broke (which aired today and will air again September 1st, 7th, 10th, 11th, 16th, and 28th) but it will fuck you up. Make sure you have a large box of tissues nearby. Or try to break it up over several days, but if you do watch it all at once, you won't be able to go for a walk or do anything without feeling the weight of water and all the dead cloaking you. Which may be a good thing. I want someone to sit W in a chair and make him watch it. How that man sleeps at night is beyond me.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Ms. Randa to you

I just got back from an orientation for this. I will be teaching creative writing to elementary school kids in Detroit once a week. Super-excited to start!

You know you want one...

Get it here before your next flight.

Male readers go here.

Thanks to Jim for the link, and to Tim for agreeing to make a female variation.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Battle in the Books"

This article in the Guardian asks Palestinian, Lebanese, and Israeli writers if they have been able to write recently. The answers are surprising, inspiring, and depressing all at once.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

"Three thumbs up"

That's Angelo's enthusiastic evaluation of Ann Arbor after 4 days here. What a relief! Also, I concur.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

I'm screwed. This place is about half a mile away from my house. Now I know where my stipend is going.
Zizek writes into the LRB this week, in response to last week's Lebanon issue:
Back to Brecht – and the Caucasian Chalk Circle, in which a biological mother and a stepmother are in dispute over a child and appeal to a judge. The judge takes a bit of chalk and draws a circle, then he places the baby in the middle and tells the two women that the first to pull the child out of the circle will get him. When the stepmother sees that the child is being hurt, she lets him go and, of course, the judge gives her custody, claiming that she has displayed true maternal love. One should imagine Jerusalem along these lines: whoever truly loves Jerusalem would let it go rather than see it torn apart.
(Speaking of the LRB, Verbal Privilege has me excited to visit the LRB bookstore when I am in Bloomsbury next month.)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Best headline ever

A Philippines judge who said he consulted imaginary mystic dwarves has failed to convince the Supreme Court to allow him to keep his job.

From BBC.

Rejoice! Books that were held hostage in Beirut have now been freed!

Copies of Qissat--, the anthology which one of my short stories and a couple of my translations appear in-- were stuck in Lebanon earlier last week. From the Independent:
At a time when bombs, shells and missiles are wrecking so many lives, it may seem frivolous or callous to worry that they also menace books. Look at history, however, and you'll find that a contempt for human beings and a contempt for the culture that they fashion never stand too far apart. In Beirut, this week, some books that powerful but truly callous people in the West really ought to read have just about survived - so far. They are languishing in a warehouse in the pulverised south of the city used by Saqi Books. ... Since Saqi prints in Lebanon, these are the books that now sit at the mercy of the raining bombs. We could hardly need them more urgently than we do now. They are Hikayat: Short Stories by Lebanese Women, edited by Roseanne Saad Khalaf; and Qissat: Short stories by Palestinian Women, edited by Jo Glanville.
I've just heard from Jo that the books have been liberated by a courageous, unnamed individual who drove them out to Damascus. Hurray! Now we will have books for the event in September.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Safe & Sound

I am writing from my living room floor. From my new house. It's cute, it's old, it's around the corner from a coffee shop/market, and I love it. Ann Arbor is gorgeous in the summer! I can't wait to take all my shit out of my car and be able to finally sit down and read something.

Total number of miles driven: just over 1,300.
Number of times I filled up: 4 (~I heart Toyota~)
Water bottles consumed: 4
Salads: 1
Sandwiches: 2
Cherry Kolaches from Czeck Stop: 4
Coffee cups: 1
Peanut bags: 1
Bags of chips: 2
Containers of M&Ms: 1
Motels: 2
Sunsets: 2
Band-aids: 1
Reststops: 6
On da Ipod playlist: The Rahbani Bros, Nouvelles Vagues, Modest Mouse, Flaming Lips, YLT, Fela Kuti, Wilco, Peaches, Pharell, N*E*R*D, Tori, Bjork, and that goddamn song "Usleless Desires" by Patty Griffin which had me choking on tears and pulling over.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Pinatas, Peaches, Palestine

I am writing this from the road-- specifically, from a motel outisde of Memphis, where I stopped for the night on my way to Ann Arbor. Interesting things I have seen and done:

In Waco, I saw a truck-ful of pinatas on their way to being painted. They were pinatas of small superheroes, so it looked like a truck-ful of newpaper-covered bodies. The woman driving was a short, tiny Latina.

In Texarkana, I saw a pick-up truck with REDNECK stenciled onto the rear window. In confederate-flag colors.

Outside Hope, Clinton's birthplace, I stopped in for a "salad"- lettuce and bacon- and on my way out, blared "Impeach my Bush" by Peaches.

In Friendship, Arkansas, my friend Zeina called to check on me. In Palestine, Arkansas, my friend Erika did.

On my way into Memphis, the moon was red and low. I wanted to chase it all the way home.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

New, Brilliant Collection of International Writings

The contents page for the new collection, Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers, is available online. The book includes international fiction and poetry, and unique introductions to each piece by contemporary writers like Ha Jin, Wole Soyinka, Cynthia Ozick, Edwidge Danticat, Naguib Mahfouz, Aleberto Manguel-- who does the intro for the story I translated by Jabbar Yassin Hussin--Francine Prose, Anton Shammas, Jose Saramago, Aleksander Hemon, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Ahdaf Soueif. It is a kick ass collection and will be available in March.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Art Heals

Douglas Coupland writes about how he managed the painful memories of high school, in the Summer Issue of the Walrus:
The first two weeks in the abandoned school were Steven Kingy, but once the creepiness left it was like working inside my dreams at night, except it was real and I had control. I could literally, legally, artistically bash the crap out of anything that displeased me. At will I could mangle and trash lockers or AV equipment or uninspired textbooks. It was like being handed a superpower: the power to reconfigure the way I existed with my memories. Within a month, I was no longer having recurring dreams of trying to remember my locker combination or being late for a test in a class I didn't even know I was enrolled in. Gone. Thank you, art.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Single Mom, Maid, Writer

Baby Halder is, according to the NYT, a literary sensation:
A single parent at 25, struggling to feed her three children by working as a maid for a series of exploitative employers, Ms. Halder had no time to devote to reading or to contemplating the harsh reality of her existence until she started work in the home of a sympathetic retired academic, who caught her browsing through his books when she was meant to be dusting the shelves. He discovered a latent interest in literature, gave her a notebook and pen, and encouraged her to start writing. “A Life Less Ordinary,” this season’s publishing sensation in India, is the result of her nighttime writing sessions, squeezed in after her housework duties were finished, when she poured raw memories of her early life into the lined exercise books.

16 years

Today marks the 16th anniversary of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. On that day, I woke up to fighter jets. My mom snuck into my room and took my boombox radio because TV wasn't working and no one else in the house had a radio. We huddled and worried and cried. Weeks later, I wore my rockin' fuschia pants, lime green hightops, and a black t-shirt, and we-- my dad, mom, brother, sister, 2 cousins, uncle, aunt, and a woman, man, and their 20-year-old son, Canadians we were helping escape with forged documents-- piled into a minivan and a sedan, and fled the country with our bare necessities. We went north, through Iraq, and stopped at various checkpoints. I had never seen Iraq before. It was beautiful and warm. Then we drove through Jordan, where my immediate family stayed for a night before we flew to Egypt.

I can't believe it's been 16 years. An exodus can expand in your memory so comfortably.

I've wondered so many times: who would I have become if I hadn't experienced that? My family would have never moved to the US. I would have finished high school in Kuwait and gone to university in Lebanon. I would never have met my friends...or my son's father. I would never have had my son. I would be so different.

So on the day they hang Saddam for all his sins, many will dance. Many will weep with pity, sadness, and relief. Many will turn their eyes. I will do all three.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Political Musical

I had the craziest dream last night...about Condi Rice of all people. She was going in and out of limos, and finally, it was revealed that she has a child and a wife. Her child was an adoptee from Africa, and her wife was a gorgeous, 200 pound BBW from Haiti. The wife wore a cute blue and green wrap and had her hair up in a scarf, the daughter was in british school girl clothes and actually looked more Lebanese than African, and Condi looked like Condi. And the kicker: It was a musical! And they were singing in rhyme and everything-- about war, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and love.

I don't know: should I write a musical about a black lesbian secretary of state and her family? It might be fun...

"all warfare is based on deception"

I am reading Sun Tzu's Art of War. You can read it online here. I seriously wish to quote the whole thing, but I'll just quote this:

If you know the enemy
and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a
hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy,
for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will
succumb in every battle.


I registered for my classes today: a workshop woth Michael Byers and a short story class with Peter Ho Davies. I also spent a lot of the day translating and meditating. I leave Austin soon. I'm literally taking it one day at a time, because it makes me feel peacuful, and happy.