Khanversations

Rukhsana’s thoughts on her journey of life, writing and sometimes—when she dares—a bit of politics.
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People in Glass boxes…

Most of the programs I’m running at Fairview Library take place in the program room. With two walls of glass it’s basically a glass ‘box’ on the first floor. Everyone coming in and out of the library passes the program room.

It’s a favorite for people to use for quiet study. The glass walls muffle noise. It’s peaceful and there are outlets and tables and chairs.

I always set up by the big chalkboard, towards one of the solid walls so that the people I’m teaching have their backs facing the glass walls.

This way there is nothing to upstage me.

They don’t see the spectators, who stop by and gawk through the glass walls at me, while I’m presenting. They don’t see these spectators then go to the schedule that’s posted outside the door and see what’s going on, what program I’m running.

And yet the spectators don’t come in.

They just watch me, and I imagine what they see, this highly animated Muslim woman, gesticulating with her hands, marching to the blackboard and jotting down notes, often underlining points with vehemence to illustrate the importance of them in the grand scheme of what she’s trying to say.

And when I picture it from their point of view, I smile.

I must look odd indeed.

I was doing the second of three sessions on Public Speaking on Tuesday. I’ve taken a very different approach to the subject.

Instead of bombarding them with the obvious, I’ve been working on voice. Intonation, inflection, enunciation, and talking about the best use of powerpoint.

The problem is that the attendance isn’t always steady.

These are free workshops and when people don’t pay for a workshop they will often attend sporadically–I mean they’re not losing anything right?

Last Tuesday I had a new lady attend, and I was dealing with powerpoints and I ended up illustrating the issues I was covering by showing them my Roses presentation.

All the people were immigrants, so I geared the workshop to dealing with the special challenges they’re facing when they present.

Honestly just speaking English as a second language would be hard enough! Imagine trying to use your voice as an instrument with the proper inflections that naturally punctuate what you’re saying…in another language!!! I can’t imagine doing so. My Urdu is rudimentary at best. Can’t imagine actually doing a presentation in it!

So what I did was give them a very difficult exercise to do. I gave them some of the most popular poems in English literature–the old fashioned kind of poetry that actually rhymes, and I gave them the assignment to recite the poems without resorting to the rhythms.

That’s not even easy for someone like me!

But what it does is, it makes you hyper conscious of the natural tones and inflections of speech. And that was precisely the objective!

And as a result, within only two, two hour sessions, one of the ladies, a shy type, actually got comfortable enough to recite her poem and speak publicly, which is the whole point of the exercise!

It’s interesting that when you teach a subject, you actually crystallize  your own understanding of how you accomplish what you do.

I found myself telling the group that they should ‘project their personality’ to the edges of the room in which they were speaking. And I realized that this is precisely what I do. It’s the key to holding the attention of an audience.

Some performers, their performance ends at the boundaries of the stage. I was watching The Voice last night, and several of the singers were doing just that.

It’s like the audience was watching them do their own little thing, up there on the stage.

And then I thought of singers like Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam. When he sings Father and Son, it can be such a quiet song, and yet he projects his personality so strongly that it moves even the edges of the audience!

At the end of the session the new lady came up to me and said she didn’t understand why my session wasn’t jam-packed.

I just shrugged.

She said that the public speaking workshops that the library runs were some of the most popular! And there was another guy doing one and she couldn’t even get into it, it was too full. She said that he wasn’t nearly as accomplished in terms of publications and experience as I was.

I asked her what he was doing in his session and she told me he was doing basic stuff.

Then I asked her how my session compared to his and she said they were two different entities, you couldn’t compare them. But that she loved mine.

I guess I’m taking a more creative approach to the whole public speaking thing.

I’m not sure.

But it bothered me.

And I wondered if it wasn’t because I’m Muslim and the other guy was white. That might sound like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder but I think it’s only natural to wonder if it isn’t like people would be wondering, “What can I learn from her?”

And I remembered for the hundredth time, “Oh yeah. I wear hijab and I look different. It’s a stretch for some people to think that I might be competent.”

It’s so very important to keep your audience in mind.

Remember where they’re coming from and what limitations they might be operating within.

I need to remember that more because I made a faux pas.

It’s been such a learning experience dealing with the general public like this.

I’ve had some refugees in two of my sessions, both of whom had suffered persecution at the hands of Muslims in their native countries.

In one part of one of my presentations I deal with the whole adage of ‘write what you know’. I talk about how I was trying to write stories about regular kids like ‘Bobby and Sally and Joe’, when publishers were asking me to send them stories from my cultural heritage.

Then I talked about how I got an idea to write a story about a kid who farts during the prayer (which is a big deal!). You can hear me talk about this here:

Now the thing is, one of the reasons I’ve been successful as a children’s author is because I NEVER EVER EVER preach!!!

My goodness how obnoxious would that be!!!

Naturally there are times when my cultural heritage comes into play, and it would be ridiculous to not mention it! And without understanding why farting in the prayer is a big deal, you won’t get the significance of it, so naturally I do need to do some explaining.

When I’m talking about how I became an author, I tell the story of how I wrote Fajr, because it’s relevant to the topic.

I’m basically telling the listeners that they need to write what they know!

It’s not about teaching aspects of my religion. Not at all!

But a few of the people in the workshops felt like that, and these were people who were sensitized to it because they were refugees and had been persecuted by Muslims.

They even felt as if I’d turned it into a ‘religion’ class.

So…long and short of it, I’ll have to be more careful when I include aspects of my own background in a presentation.

Even though the presentation in which I tell the Fajr story is a very popular presentation in schools, and if anyone felt I was imposing anything, teachers would (and no teacher ever has complained in such a way!), I have to be sensitive to general audiences in case they feel like this is the case.

I guess it comes down to being such a visible minority.

I have to be more guarded.

Lesson learned.

I really am in a glass box, in more ways than one.

 

 

 

Baby audiences continued…

So yesterday I did the baby storytelling again at the library and I relied on poems and stories that I had grown up with.

It was interesting because most of the audience of babies and toddlers were immigrants/Asian/and South Asian and to them these poems and pieces were completely new!

I did an old favorite, “Little Rabbit Fou Fou”. It’s really funny! And Bringing Home My Baby Bumble Bee which is pretty funny too.

And I did five little monkeys and the crocodile. That one I had done last week.

I went after the other children’s librarian, and she played a cd with some toddler songs on it like “Clap Your Sillies Out” and “If You’re Happy and You Know it” and she read the babies Brown Bear Brown Bear What do you see? and a few other very simple stories.

It was lovely to see the little round eyes transfixed on the illustrations. And she had a quiet very sweet way with the kids.

And here I come with my crocodile eating monkeys in a tree, SNAP!

I think I was going too fast.

I liked the way the children’s librarian took her time. And I felt a bit rushed, like I just wanted to get the stories done with.

I also told the Lion and the Mouse, hmmm, another story where a character threatens to eat another!

But the babies seemed to like it.

There was one little boy, about four or maybe five, who’s been coming every single week. Last week he’d wanted me to tell this Persian story about a lion and a donkey, but I hadn’t. And all week I thought of that little boy, and decided at the end of the presentation, I’d tell that story just for him because he loved it so.

It’s called What Should I do? What shouldn’t I do? and is, you guessed it, about animals who threaten to eat each other.

I expected the babies to lose interest. They’d been listening for 45 minutes for goodness sakes, they were bound to lose focus! But I didn’t expect what happened next.

Some of the babies didn’t lose focus. One was lying on the floor right in front of me, watch me tell this story, and another one was sitting in his Dad’s lap.

And of course that little five year old, he was SO into the story!!!

During the baby stories, one of the Dads had been sitting there checking his phone. But what I didn’t expect was that this time it was all the adults who had their big googly eyes fixed upon me! Like their babies, sitting in their laps or wriggling out of them, were an after thought.

They LOVED the story!

And there was a funny sort of silence when I was done.

They just sat there.

And for a moment I was sure they wanted another story. But it was five to twelve, and I was feeling really sick, didn’t have the energy to tell another story, so I wrapped up. “Okay. That’s it for the day. I’ll see you next Saturday.”

And they kind of snapped out of it, and started collecting their things.

It was funny.

 

There is nothing as intimidating to a storyteller as an audience of babies!

Little boys, little girls, Asian, South Asian, white, sitting on their mommies’ and daddies’ staring at you with their big brown and black and blue eyes, and a blank look on their faces that basically says, “Okay, go ahead. Try and entertain me!”

So you give it your best shot!

You start with your ‘no brainer crowd pleaser story Big Red Lollipop’ and it always works from three to 93, but these babies haven’t hit three yet and even though their parents are smiling and listening, the babies start squirming.

I lose eye contact. Then they wriggle out of their parents’ laps and start crawling or toddling around. One of them is on the bench thing over the heater, stomping his way across it because he obviously likes the sound.

How come they sat so nicely with the other librarian???

And it completely destroys my faith in my storytelling abilities.

I want to stop the story in the middle.

Just stop and switch gears, but there’s a five year old sitting in the middle, his face lit up like a Christmas tree, and even though he’s already heard it, he is obviously enjoying it again.

The biggest challenge with this artist residency has turned out to be the Saturday storytelling. There just so happens to be a few kids who have come to all of the sessions, so that means I can’t just recycle the stories that always work so well.

I have had to learn new ones.

So I pulled out a new story.

An African folktale: Rhinos for Lunch and Elephants for Supper, and yes! I finally had the babies back.

It’s a very simple story, and I told it loudly.

And then after that I did Five Little Monkeys Swinging in the Tree. A finger play, and again the babies approved.

Oh my goodness! They approved.

One or two of them even cracked a smile!

The parents on the other hand were easy!

Of course this story would never have worked!

It’s worked in venues all around the world, and is one of my favourite stories to tell!

*sigh*

But not to babies!

I’ve uploaded it to my youtube channel.

It’s called the Clever Wife.

I hope you enjoy it.

“heh, heh, heh”

Breathe now, heh, heh, heh.

Deeper. Expand your diaphram!

Heh, heh, heh.

There now, that’s better.

Too too busy!

Good news!

King for a Day has been chosen by Kirkus as one of the best books of 2014!!!

Yay!!!

So now lesse, my little book King for a Day has been nominated for the Irma Simonton Black Award; it’s a Bank Street College Best Books of the Year ‘outstanding merit’ book; it’s a Junior Library Guild selection; it’s nominated for the Maine Chickadee award, and now it’s chosen by Kirkus as one of the best books of 2014!

Here’s the video book talk/tutorial I made for it!

 

Yesterday I went to Milton to present at the Celebrating Stories Festival.

It was a pleasure because I got to meet a number of fellow Canadian authors including Lana Button . She wrote these books about a little shy girl named Willow and one of the things that impressed me so much about these books is how well she’s captured the group dynamics of a typical classroom. And the fact that Willow is a *different* sort of character/protagonist.

Frankly I’m rather sick of all the homogeneity of characters in books these days. Most of them contain characters who are pretty much interchangeable. Willow in Willow’s Whispers and Willow Finds a Way, is refreshing!

Lana was just sitting there at a table, she hadn’t been invited to take part in the festival, she was just selling her books by herself, and I saw her there and struck up a conversation. Boy do I know what it feels like to sit there at a table selling books! (Not my favourite thing to do!!!)

Also  had a fabulous time with Kari Lynn Winters.

It was a delight to meet Kari, I’d heard her name bandied about but had never had a chance to meet her, and it was only when I looked her up online that I realized how many books she’s published! Her book about bees looked very interesting!!!

And I met Werner Zimmerman! Werner is a charming illustrator of children’s books and a staple of Canadian literature!

It was such a pleasure to meet him!

And one of the most interesting things that happened was when he showed us two drawings from his portfolio and when I was admiring them, telling him how very beautiful they were, he said, “I only see the mistakes.”

And I found that shocking!

Wow! If someone of his caliber felt that way…

Wow!

And then he went and bought Big Red Lollipop and had me sign it for his granddaughter! Just such a nice guy!

Had an audience of about a hundred parents and their toddlers.

I must say, I’m getting used to toddlers.

On Saturdays at Fairview Library my storytelling sessions are a LOT of toddlers and I have tried to find stories that would appeal to that age group. I thought I was failing horribly at my storytelling skills till the library staff told me how wonderfully engaging I was!

And the interesting thing is, the audiences have been building!

It’s nice to see people eager to hear my stories, and I am learning new ones. But it’s hard!

Out of my comfort zone.

Very very frazzled!

And today I spent most of my time doing paperwork!

Been being interviewed a lot these days!

Here’s me on Radio Islam out of Chicago:

And here’s the mayor of Edmonton reading Big Red Lollipop!

http://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/city_organization/mayor/video-the-mayor-reads-eps2-big-red-lollipop.aspx?doAutoPlay=true

 

Flushed with Excitement!

Just got off the phone with another artist, and there’s something about collaborative works that’s completely energizing.

Much better than working alone, slogging away after the initial euphoria of the concept washes over you and you have to get down to putting  your vision down on paper!

I might be wrong but I think George Lucas began Star Wars with a novel, and that seems to be the way of things. You need to get a story’s vision down on paper before people will commit the big bucks to bringing the idea to life on the screen.

Read a fascinating article on the negative aspects of perfectionism and realized that I suffer from the idea of perfectionism.

Of course you want to do the best you can, but striving for perfection can really cripple you because it’s an impossibility.

When we say ‘alhamdu lillah’ “All Praise belongs to God/Allah” we should really mean it, we should be conscious of what we’re saying.

And we should definitely not be striving for perfection in order for people to praise our work.

I think alhamdu lillah, I’ve gotten to the point where it really is all about the work. The project. I just want to tell a good story!

There is a whole load of pleasure that comes from constructing a really good story that can touch the hearts and move the minds of the people experiencing it!

Went to Calgary last Thursday and I think I’m still recuperating. It wasn’t a ‘hard’ trip, but it was extremely hectic! Rushed from the airport to do the first presentation at a school. Only problem was my flight was late and there was little time.

One of my host librarians was kind enough to give me a honey crisp apple, Oh boy! They are my new favourite type of apple!!! Yummy! Yummy!!!

That apple was enough to replenish me enough so I could do the presentation. Then it was a late lunch.

And early next morning I was at another library doing presentations and then I’d contacted the Islamic school in Calgary to see if they wanted me to do some presentations as I was in town.

I’m thinking I should have just used the time to relax. Catch my breath. Don’t work so hard for goodness sakes because it’s not necessary!

I’m not as young as I used to be! Although it’s hilarious everyone always tells me I don’t look 52.

But alhamdu lillah. I did the other school presentations and I came home in one piece.

But I think what really really gets me excited is the actual story creation process.

I do love presenting to the audiences, but my first love will always be making the stories!

Subhan Allah!

I just told a good friend of mine that when the writing is going well, the blog isn’t, and vice versa, so please have patience with me.

Sometimes there are just other priorities.

I really do feel like a juggler with too many balls in the air, and the blog ball is important, but at the risk of going nuts…well you know sometimes you just have to know when to put a ball down.

I have been trying to keep the blogging to at least once a week, but that hasn’t always been possible. It’s a testament to how busy I am that I haven’t even noticed I’ve gone over a week since my last frenzied post.

Needless to say a LOT has happened and continues to happen! I’m traveling to Calgary tomorrow insha Allah to do two presentations at libraries there, and I had contacted an Islamic school in Calgary to tell them I had time available to possibly do a quick visit.

It’s really an awkward thing to cold call a school like that!

Makes me feel like “Who the heck do I think I am?”

Reminds me of the days I’d cold call pharmaceutical and medical labs to see if they had any job openings.

Knowing perfectly well that they had no idea what a good worker I’d have been and what a good opportunity it was for them to hire me…well it’s isn’t easy.

And compound that with the fact that things were hectic for Islamic schools and for me because last Saturday was Eid ul Adha.

What a day that was! Took me right back to my own Hajj. Boy do I miss it!

I miss the Kaaba, I miss the feel of the Haram. I miss going around it in tawaf and I miss the Prophet’s Masjid in Medina.

So anyway, I had some time in my schedule so basically I’d been calling this Calgary school since last Friday, to no avail. And finally I asked the lady who answered the phone who inquired whether I wanted to leave yet another voice message for the principal, I asked her honestly, “Is it worth it? Aren’t I just bothering him?”

And she told me, “No! He knows who you are! He’s just been really busy!”

Of course. Of course. Don’t take it personally Rukhsana!

But now I’m set to leave home in less than twelve hours and my itinerary isn’t even confirmed.

So I resigned myself to just doing the two presentations I was booked for, thinking ‘hey, you snooze  you lose’,  when I get a phone call from the principal… but it was almost Maghrib time so I asked him to call me back in fifteen minutes, and he did. And it looks like it’s on.

I will be visiting the Calgary Islamic school after all. One way or another.

Oh boy!

We’ll see how it goes.

I’m looking forward to Calgary. It’s got such a different feel to it! Haven’t been out west for a while.

Alhamdu lillah.

It’s so nice when I get to meet with Muslim students! Oh what wouldn’t I have done to meet a Muslim author like me when I was a kid?!!!

LOL. I know that sounds super conceited and I certainly don’t mean it like that, but it’s true.

On another note, I’m struggling with the motivations of a very nefarious character!

It’s a crucial scene, and it’s just not sitting right!

Went to visit one of my daughters and I was telling her about my struggle with it and she said an interesting thing. She said, “It’s because you don’t think like that, Mom.”

And I thought, “Duh!” Of course! No wonder it’s so hard for me to get this character right! I would NEVER EVER do what she’s ready to do!!!

So I’ll really have to dig deep to figure out what someone says to themselves when they do this kind of thing!

If that sounds cryptic too bad, I really don’t want to give away any spoilers.

This novel has been SO much fun to write up till now! There are so many scenes that make me laugh out loud and even make me feel quite clever!

But this one scene…if I can get it right, then the rest of the novel should be pretty easy sailing.

Oh busy busy.

Had to edit one of my husband’s new ebooks too. A set of 101 motivational quotes, and two of them really caught my eye. I plan to use them in my adult writing workshop that starts on Tuesday evening.

Oh, and I did a phone interview for Channel Islam, a radio station out of Chicago. Will put up the link as soon as I get it!

Lots and lots of stuff to do! So please excuse me if I’m scarce.

I will do my best to blog but I can make no promises.

Over and out.

Another week, another new program…

I feel like a teacher with lesson plans!

Last Friday I began the teen writing workshop.

Now I’ve done hundreds of writing workshops so this was easy peasy. Hardly even planned for it because I have writing exercises ingrained in my head! I could do them in my sleep. And then I got nervous. What if my mind goes blank?

What if I stand up in front of this room full of teenagers and can’t remember a thing???

Better to over plan rather than not plan enough. So I thought of a good dramatic exercise to do to get these teens writing.

And then…lo and behold, one of the librarians was sitting in on my workshop.

It’s very nerve wracking to know  you’re being watched!

I must say, one of the exercises I did was brilliant, if I say so myself.

It got them writing tout de suite!

And they came up with some pretty remarkable stuff.

And then at the end, some of the teens were so chatty, I didn’t get out of the building for another half hour. They kept asking me questions. What about this? What about that?

Questions that really weren’t urgent, but it was one of those situations where you give a talk and the people come rushing up to you at the end of it, not so much because they’ve got a question but rather because they want to be close to you.

Has that ever happened to you?

Have you ever done that to a speaker who really moved you?

For me the answer to both is yes!

It’s like an instinctual thing. They mob the speaker if they really liked the talk!

So tomorrow, October 1st I start the teen public speaking workshop.

Again, not hard! Done lots of storytelling workshops and really, what’s the dif?

But going to the library basically every other day is grueling.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.

It’s just that they’re definitely getting their money’s worth! And in between critiquing work on line, writing my own stuff, and roughing out a non-fiction book, I’ve got enough on my plate!

Oh, and this Saturday is Eid ul Adha!

hee hee, when it doesn’t rain it pours!

But masha Allah, I am learning a LOT!

with all the new stuff I’ve been learning!

But of course it’s been a very *uncomfortable* process.

You know that feeling when you’re in the midst of the learning curve,  you’re not proficient yet, you’re still struggling…

Well that’s where I am right now.

And it’s funny but with this artist residency, I’m dealing with people who are at the beginning of the learning curve, and in explaining things to them it actually makes me feel incredibly intelligent (ha! ha!).

And I recall all the things I’ve learned and grown through.

Now to get to the next level.

Had a conversation with one of my son in laws and my hubby and my son about what they would do in a certain circumstance, and in the process I realized, ONCE AGAIN, how differently men think from women.

I really like the way men tend to think.

It seems more intelligent than women.

But not really.

They’re more blunt and up front, which is something I tend to admire.

And yet they can also be harsh and off-putting, which is something I don’t admire.

But then I realize that these are not all men I’m talking about, these are only the small subset of men that are major forces in my life.

And that leads to me to think of how self-selected they are.

I tend to surround myself with honest and upright people. Don’t have much time or use for game players and double talkers!

So the men I’m referring to are a small subset of all men in that these are honest and upright, so no way does it refer to all of them out there!

And I start thinking of all the commercials that put men down these days.

The cold commercials that refer to men as ‘babies’.

And then I think of my husband who sniffles through any cold or flu he has with such stoicism that I usually can’t even tell he’s sick.

Whereas I’m the one grumbling and whimpering under the covers.

Oh it’s all nonsense!

And I’ve been thinking how most of the movies out there tend to sell us a bill of goods that women are emancipated, liberated! And yet the movie roles all tend to feature MEN. The women and girls are reduced to Amazonian stereotypes and that’s supposed to satisfy the feministas, and it does!!!

Like in the movie How to Train Your Dragon (an excellent movie by the way), the girl Astrid character, played by America Ferrera or whatever her name is (can’t be bothered googling it!) is this hot tough chick with a few lines, but the bulk of the heroism is done by Hiccup.

You could interchange these Amazonian sidekick love interests in any of the movies easily! I’m sure! And not even miss a beat!

It’s LAZY storytelling! Using stock characters! And the audiences eat it up! And women in the west watch it and think they’re so much more better off than their Middle Eastern counter parts.

And then you have stupid stupid music videos all inspired by that stupid stupid Miley Cyrus twerking nonsense. #mileycyrus #twerking

The most recent one where the person reviewing it actually said it looked gross, so of course I wanted to see it and then immediately regretted it afterwards, but took away an interesting observation, so I kind of don’t regret it at the same time.

If you can *learn* from something is it still profane??? I actually don’t think so. I think that these people going to these lengths to get noticed is a cautionary tale for the rest of us with enough beans to resist the trends and stand on our own identities.

I won’t mention the video name, don’t want to give it any more publicity (ha!!) but suffice it to say it involves gyrating and basically nudity with a thong, and the whole theme of the song is about how large a girl’s particular body part is.

This is empowerment???

One recent promoter on line tweeted it as soft porn, and yup, that about sums it up.

I call it the  #howlowcanyougo phenomenon.

All these women are competing with each other to degrade themselves sexually!

So all these observations are rattling around in my head, making me feel all unsettled inside.

And yet curiously also making me feel all the more that I’m on the right path #islam

I *like* that I cover up the goods!

I *like* that my junk is private!

And boy am I glad that stuff is forbidden!

Let the girls struggle with it, but stay away from it. John Oliver summed it up well when he talked about fully dressed men walking by women in bikinis at the Miss America pageant. #johnoliver

And it reminded me of the ancient Egyptian concept of the fact that the more clothes you wear, the higher up in society you are. Slaves were the naked ones. And now the naked ones are the ones with their butts in the air, on stage, trying to shock the crowd.

Yuk.

And what happens when they get too old?

What happens when they reach the ‘best before’ date, when their sexuality expires?

When they’re young they never think of that do they?

But live by the sword and you’ll die by the sword. And it reminds me of that autobiography of Liz Taylor’s that I read a while back. Where some producer had told her that they couldn’t imagine Marilyn Monroe old, only young, but that Liz had aged well.

And that goes back to the way men think. It’s like they like women, and they use them sexually, but then they got on with it, and are more focused on DOING things.

Whereas women seem to be more focused on LOOKING hot, alluring, glamorous, what have you, these days. And pity the girls who don’t fit the mold!

Stupid stupid! Don’t they realize that’s just another way to distract them and keep them from achieving their potential???

And that reminded me of Pippi Longstocking, who didn’t give a hang about how she looked. She went out and did things!

More and more things to think of!

And yeah, I want to tell girls, forget the mirror! Get out and DO something! #forgetthemirror

Rukhsana Khan

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