Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Greetings from Austin, en route to ATL

sky so blue
The skies are blue and the weather is warm and I have a sunburn. i miss austin

Lots of taco-eating. It's wonderful. If you're going to AWP in Atlanta this weekend, be sure to check out the following panels:

Friday, 9AM
Ballroom B, 2nd Floor
Emerging Voices: Arab-American Writers in the 21st Century. (Randa Jarrar, Hayan Charara, Steven Salaita) Arab-American writers have been producing poetry and fiction in the US for over a hundred years, but with the exception of Khalil Gibran, their voices have been marginalized. With the attacks of 9/11/2001 and subsequent war in Iraq , interest in this community has grown, yet its diversity and strength remain hidden from mainstream literary discourse. This panel discusses past and contemporary Arab-American writers, journals, anthologies and cultural festivals, with a special focus on teaching issues in the college classroom.


Saturday, 1:30
Salon B, 2nd Floor

Writing Islam. (Khaled Mattawa, Raza Hasan, Randa Jarrar) This panel will discuss the difficulties and opportunities of writing poems and stories dealing with the Islamic World. We will talk about the strategies for managing references to political events, places, and people unfamiliar to American readers. As outsiders as well as insiders, we will discuss how we negotiate that position in our writings. Our discussion will raise awareness of an emerging body of poetry and fiction dealing with the Islamic World and the West published in the US .


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Maud Martha

I can't believe it took me this long to read Gwendolyn Brooks's amazing Maud Martha. In a slim 180 page prose poem, we see Maud battle mice and cockroaches, racist hat-store employees, n-word slinging lipstick peddlers, and mean santas. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Spell check sucks balls if you're Arab

I just ran a spell check on my novel, and I had to spend 80% of it calming the checker down. It freaked out because of all the weird names. Apparently, Napoleon is in the checker, but the names Fakhr, Hatim, Waheed, Nidali, Gamal, Ruz, Abdo, Madeeha, and many others aren't. Grandma is, but Yia Yia, Sitto, Tetta, Geddo, and Sido are not. That poor checker. It was having a small technological-style cardiac arrest.


I'm working on the final manuscript of my novel, ironing things out and adding clarifications for the final delivery. It's fun and not fun. I'll be in my house drinking copious amounts of coffee and working on this until friday...

You know, sometimes, when I read a sentence, I'll remember exactly where I was when I came up with it, and where I was when I wrote it. I was in a brass bed (the middle of which was broken, so that my mattress sunk in and I had to sleep as though on the precipice of an abyss) in a tiny bedroom when I came up with the novel's first line. It was really early in the morning and I crawled out of the abyss and went to my old huge desktop and typed it in. I don't remember where I was when I came up with the last one, though.

I started this thing 6 years ago. I was 23 and ambitious, but utterly confused about how to go about writing a novel. I'm glad I figured it out, but as I work on the final draft, I'm sometimes shocked that I did.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Rockslinga's Birfday

The blog is three years old this week! I've had so much fun posting and hearing from you all.

The next year will be an exciting one, and I'm really looking forward to blogging about it and sharing the new-book smell with you...

"...writing is the only refuge."

El-Ahram's Youssef Rakha profiles Sonallah Ibrahim, whose newest novel, Al-Talasus (Voyeurism) is just out. The novel, which is set in 1948, explores inter-male relationships and is "a study in the absence of woman." Ibrahim says, "While working I asked myself why this was important, other than the fact that it contained some things of a personal interest to me. And the answer is that it's about the need for woman -- as mother, as wife." I've always felt a little uncomfortable about Ibrahim's portrayal of women in his work. In The Smell of It, the only female character is a prostitute. In August's Star, it's the loose Russian blondes whose bodies get more description than anything else. And here, Ibrahim reduces women's roles to caretakers: mommies and unpaid cooks/house cleaners/sex slaves. I know, I know, I'm overreacting, but I do wonder why nobody calls him out on this.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


The following poem is from The Butterfly's Burden, a new book of Mahmoud Darwish's poems which collects all three of his most recent manuscripts. It includes the Arabic text. I highly recommend it. This poem seems appropriate always, I love how Darwish writes about love and nationhood, men and women, Jews and Arabs, in one breath (or is it two?).

the stranger stumbles upon himself in the stranger
We are one in two
There's no name for us, strange woman, when the stranger stumbles upon himself in the stranger. Of our
garden behind us we have the force of shadow. So show
what you want of your night's land, and conceal
what you want. We came in a hurry from the twilight
of two places at one time, and searched together
for our addresses. Go behind your shadow,
east of the Song of Songs, a shepherd of the sand grouse,
you'll find a star dwelling in its death, then climb a neglected
mountain and you'll find my yesterday completing its cycle in my tomorrow
You'll find where we were and where we'll be together.
we are one in two/
Go to the sea then, man, west of your book,
and dive lightly, lightly as if you were carrying
yourself at birth in two waves,
you'll find a wetland forest and a green sky
of water, then dive lightly
lightly as if you were nothing in anything,
and you'll find us together...
we are on in two/
We need to see how we were here,
stranger, as two shadows opening and closing on what
has been shaped of our shape: a body disappearing then reappearing
in a body disappearing in the mystery of the eternal
duality. We need to return to being two
to embrace each other more. There's no name for us,
when the stranger stumbles upon himself in the stranger!

Translated by Fady Joudah

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Rockslinga pal Hayan Charara writes in to alert me of David Mamet's visit on Charlie Rose: apparently, Mamet claimed that a main facet of a liberal arts education was "anti-Semitism" and that "200 million Arabs" want to kill Jews.

First: if it weren't for my liberal arts education, I would have never learned much about the holocaust, about Jewish literature, or about Jewish history and culture. I studied three years of Hebrew shortly after graduating from the most liberal of liberal arts colleges; an institution which grants bachelors' degrees in only "Liberal Arts."

Second, I grew up in a post 1967 household with parents who witnessed and were deeply affected by the formation of the state of Israel, the 1956 bombings of Egypt, and the 1967 war. I was raised among anti-zionists and spent my childhood surrounded by evidence of Israeli aggression. Never in my life have I heard an Arab say that they wanted to kill a Jew.

But I'm just one Arab with a liberal arts education. What do I know?

Monday, February 12, 2007

On my so-called "bashing"

Just to clarify something: I fucking LOVE my workshop and my MFA program. My defense of pat is simply that: a defense of something I love, too. I was simply venting and giving my POV on why pat is underrated. My workshops have been helpful and my classmates are awesome, including the ones that dislike pat. My writing has improved and I've been happy here. So, those who are linking to the pat defense and framing it as "workshop bashing": no, no, no, no, no.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Peace Train to Tehran

The lovely Naomi Shihab Nye sends along this sad and beautiful video. I want to visit Teheran.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"How Factory Girl Insults Andy Warhol"

Jim Lewis, one of my favorite writers and human beings, writes a review of Factory Girl in Slate. A snippet:
Edie... seems to fall in love with ["The Musician"] and so, alas, do the filmmakers, who concoct a brief and improbable moment of wholesomeness for the two of them. They ride the Musician's motorcycle upstate; he ditches it in a lake to show how little he cares for the toys his wealth has brought him; they talk about her childhood; they make love, in front of a fireplace, no less; and then Edie goes horseback riding.
All of this would be silly enough; what makes it disgusting is a brief cutaway, lasting about nine seconds, showing Warhol sitting all alone in his vast, cold studio, rapturously watching a film of Sedgwick that he's projecting on the wall. The movie cuts back to Sedgwick and the Musician romping, and I realized at once that I wasn't watching a film about Andy and Edie at all; I was watching an allegory of the Evil Fag, who battles with the Good Man for the soul of the Lost Girl. The Evil Fag, you see, is simply a failed heterosexual, frustrated and rancorous; the Lost Girl is well-meaning but confused; and the Good Man does his best to set her straight.
Please read the review. I'm still shaking after reading its final paragraph.

In Defense of Pat, or, I heart Pat, or Pat is Your Friend

Since I started graduate school, I've noticed a tendency against neat twists or endings to stories. The ending to Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" was "cheesy." Borges and Poe tied some of their stories up too "neatly." Maupassant's twists were "pat." In workshop, some of the stories are being called too pat. The endings are too tidy. The twists are too easy. The story just holds together to prettily, too perfectly, too... pat.

Here's what I have to say about that: I fucking love Pat.

I love Oscar Wilde's little fairytales precisely because his endings are pat. I think some of Nabokov's stories, in which he shamelessly uses cliched self-parodies, are deliciously pat. Flannery O'Connor's stories, particularly "Good Country People" and "A Good Man is Hard to Find," end in the twisted fantasy world of her neurotic characters, and the neat endings, though chilling, are also somewhat pat. Same with Eudora Welty. Borges never wrote anything over 14 pages, which makes very little room for "figuring out the character's relationship with his parents" (yawn!) and makes perfect room for pat. Kate Chopin's brilliance lies in her refusal to bend to form over fireworks.

Which is really what I'm after when I write a story. I want fireworks. And everyone knows how the fireworks show goes. You spread a blanket, you sit and wait, then someone shoots them off, one after the other, and you've seen it thirty, forty times before, but you still love it: the ballooning specks of light, the glitter, and the trickling disappearance. That's what good stories do, I think: they give you something familiar, something shiny, something satisfying.

And if this post is a little pat, I'm glad. That was part of the point.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Hi. Yeah, um, it's 1 degree here.

It's ONE fucking degree.

That is all.
The NYT goes In search of Flannery O'Connor in Milledgeville, GA:
This is where O’Connor wrote, for three hours every day. Her bed had a faded blue-and-white coverlet. The blue drapes, in a 1950’s pattern, were dingy, and the paint was flaking off the walls. There was a portable typewriter, a hi-fi with classical LPs, a few bookcases. Leaning against an armoire were the aluminum crutches that O’Connor used, with her rashy swollen legs and crumbling bones, to get from bedroom to kitchen to porch.
Three hours a day. That sounds about perfect.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Rest In Peace, Ms Molly

Diva and worship-worthy badass Molly Ivins has passed. I bet there is a huge hole in the heart of Texas tonight. Fuck. She rocked my world.