Khanversations

Rukhsana’s thoughts on her journey of life, writing and sometimes—when she dares—a bit of politics.
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Did you ever think…

…if only I knew someone real, someone legitimate, on the other side of the world, who was struggling, who needed money for a legitimate business venture, who wasn’t just looking for a hand out but a hand up…

I remember watching one Oprah episode where she talked about some photography book that had been sent to her and her minions at the Oprah show and how it was full of pictures of war and privation, and instead of turning away, they *forced* themselves to look through it, to encounter the tragedies that were the everyday realities of people around the world.

Now there are times when Oprah can be kind of shallow. All the fashion and botox kind of stuff! You know! But there are other times when I think yeah, I know what you mean.

The more comfortable our lives become, the more tempting it is to just completely ignore all the people struggling out there.

And yet I remember that Palestinian lady who came to visit, a humble righteous woman, who looked around at my simple home and said in a profound way, “It’s good your house is simple. Then you don’t feel guilty for all the poor out there.”

And she was so right.

The first time I heard of micro-financing was about that Muslim economist from Bangladesh Dr. Muhammad Yunus who established the Grameen bank and began the idea of microfinance loans.

It really is an excellent idea!

A way of giving back and I urge EVERYONE reading this to participate in an initiative that my husband began called Helping Hands International.

First of all join KIVA.  Then join our team Helping Hands International.

Our personal commitment is to support a thousand worthwhile causes (see the page my husband set up to keep track and to help others understand how they can get involved at http://www.1000worthwhilecauses.com)  and to encourage as many people as possible to join us and then have them invite their friends and family to get involved.   We do so simply because  we want to: “gladden the hearts of other human beings, feed the hungry, help the afflicted, lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful and remove the sufferings of the injured.”

For those who only want to support loans that follow strict Islamic principles (ie no interest to be paid, so there is no exploitation of the borrower at all) please see: http://www.kiva.org/updates/kiva/2012/05/01/kivas-approach-to-lending-and-islamic.html as KIVA has local partners that provides loans that are shariah compliant.

KIVA is a non-denominational international organization that partners with locals in 76 different countries all over the world and monitors the funds that are microfinanced out to deserving people/projects, and the best thing is YOU decide who is deserving and how much you want to lend!

Now the money you give is not a grant. It is a LOAN. And KIVA has a 98.95% repayment rate of all the loans. That means the people who get the funds, repay the loan and it goes back into YOUR pot to help others!

I think the most impressive part of KIVA is that it’s lent over half a BILLION dollars to poor people all over the world!!!!

It’s like you can see the struggling farmer, and from the goodness of  your heart, and the hearts of countless others, you can reach out and give $25 at a time!

And everyone I know can afford to give $25! I mean geez, louise, we spend that on coffee every month!!! It’s chump change!

Btw, I chose the Palestinian tomato farmer!  http://www.1000worthwhilecauses.com/151/9-greenhouses/

I remember a time, not so long ago, when times were tight, when my kids were young. I remember reading in the Quran that what you give in charity never diminishes wealth! That God will multiply whatever you give, so it comes back to you! And that’s precisely what I have found to be true.

I remember when times were really tight, and I didn’t have cash to give, and in the local paper they’d send a paper bag for the food bank. We were supposed to fill it up and drop it off at the fire stations. Whenever I did that, within days, I would get a new child to babysit, or some other job would come my way.

So please, I urge you to help.  Join KIVA  and join our team Helping Hands International.

Don’t turn away!

And I don’t write.

All I want to do is fart around in my pyjamas till it’s time to go to the meeting.

The last couple of days have been busy!

They were two days of presentations at a lovely school with 900 kids! So far I’ve presented to about six hundred of them!

On Thursday I’ll be presenting to the last third.

It is SO nice when a school properly prepares for my visit!

You’d be surprised at how rarely that happens.

I often go into a school cold, where the kids and the teachers and the librarian even, doesn’t know a thing about me!

It boggles my mind!

They’re spending hundreds of dollars–I don’t come cheap! But they’re not doing any preparation!

But this school…wow!

The drama teacher went ahead and dramatized some of my books to the students! She got the kids to act out scenes of Silly Chicken and Big Red Lollipop.

She even got the kids to write a collective letter to Rubina, from Sana, saying sorry I ate your lollipop, “I’m little. I just grabbed it!”

It was SO funny!

If I was more adept with my cellphone camera and posting pics, I would have taken a pic of it and posted it right here.

And then the art teacher, what she got them to do! Scenes from The Roses in My Carpets all hung up on those portable divider type walls,  and kites from King for a Day and lollipops! Loads and loads of lollipops!

Basically for the last while they’ve been focused on my work!

And the teachers were so warm and receptive! And almost as excited as the kids!

I think the highlight though has been hearing the kids walk past me whispering to each other, “Is that Rukhsana Khan?” and then while I was sitting on a comfy sofa in the corridor, I heard again one little girl say to another, “Is that Rukhsana Khan? I LIKE Rukhsana Khan!”

Gave me such a warm tingly feeling!

Today I’m home for a couple of hours till I have an orientation meeting with the folks at the Toronto Public Libraries for the Artist in Library residency.

Have to leave by noon, and I got up by nine, so that’s like three hours in which I could do a good deal of writing???

And what am I doing?

I emptied the dishwasher, I sat in the living room, on the sofa, in the sunshine and felt the warmth of golden rays on my back and felt happy.

Even as I thought to myself, “I should go up and take a stab at those projects I’m working on!”

But I didn’t.

Instead I came down and decided to blog about my creative lethargy.

And yet…something tells me go with it.

Take a break.

I’ve been working hard.

And art really only thrives when the soul is rested.

My soul is not rested.

I actually had an epiphany of sorts the other night.

I’m not sure why I wind myself up so tight when I have early morning presentations.

I actually considered changing the parameters of when I get booked so I don’t start before 10:00 am.

I am SO not a morning person!

But I’ve resisted doing that because I don’t want to put any restrictions on schools regarding when they want to book me, and many schools are, by nature, ‘morning’ entities.

So what has inevitably happened in the past is that I cannot sleep the night before because I’m so worried that I won’t get enough sleep!

I know, I know, the irony!

I go to bed at a reasonable time, by 11 pm, and set the alarm for 7 am, and then toss and turn till about 4 am, and then drag myself out of bed, bleary eyed, right when the alarm goes off.

I was virtually petrified that I would be late! Even though this school is only twenty minutes away!

Then Monday night, when I faced another night of restless anxiety, I asked myself, “What the heck am I thinking?”

Why am I freaking out so much?

And I realized it goes back to when I was struggling.

I think I had attached so much importance to being on time, because I assumed that people would grumble about the worth of my presentations, if I wasn’t on time.

And yet, the few times I have been late in the fifteen years of my presentation experience, all I did was call ahead and let them know that there were circumstances beyond my control, and I was on my way, to expect me in ten, or fifteen, or whatever it was, minutes.

I think I’ve been late five times, where it was my fault. A matter of miscommunication where I thought I was starting at such and such a time, and it was really a different time altogether. That’s five times in fifteen years!

And there were four times I was late where it was a traffic situation. Once I was in an accident where a TDSB van backed into me in a Tim Horton’s parking lot. One time there was a shooting on the 401 and the express lanes were closed so I got to the school an hour late (we ended up combining the two sessions into one!) and another where the traffic was unusually bad, for no reason and I was about ten minutes late, and one where I got lost, that was in Sudbury where they didn’t have proper street signs and my GPS decided to conk out on me!

In all those situations the schools were completely understanding!

So there was no reason for me to freak out.

So why was I?

Worse came to worse, I’d just pull over, en route, and call and let them know I was running late. No big deal.

And then I realized that maybe a part of me felt a bit of a fraud and felt like maybe my fees were exorbitant and I didn’t ‘deserve’ them.

And then I laughed.

Hey, if the teachers didn’t think my visit would be of benefit, they certainly wouldn’t invite me!

Some authors just get up and start talking blah, blah, blah about themselves.

Not me.

What I’ve always done is try to anticipate the needs of the educators. I take time to impart skills so that the kids can be better communicators themselves. That librarian in Singapore said I was a natural teacher, that I gave them the ‘romance’ with the stories and how funny they were, and then I gave them the ‘rigour’ after I’d won the kids over. The ‘rigour’ being the learning process!

Yeah, that about sums it up.

The presentations aren’t so much about me, as they are about story!

And the fact that I continue to prosper with the presentations when other authors are struggling to get gigs, speaks volumes!

And finally I realized that I was looking at these presentations all wrong!

They were an honour!

I was being honoured!

My work was being recognized by these schools and these students, and that’s how I had to perceive this!

No need to freak out!

Just humbly accept the honour and do my best to impart as much as I can to the kids who are so eager to learn!

As a result of this epiphany, I slept just fine on Monday night, and Tuesday was great!

I am so looking forward to Thursday’s presentations!!!

Perspective…

Can’t believe the last post I wrote was on that rejection I received.

Man, that feels like SO long ago!

To say that I’ve gained a bit of perspective would be an understatement.

First of all my family was blessed with another grandchild. Alhamdu lillah, a healthy little boy, so that makes ten! Even steven, five girls and five boys.

That will definitely put things in perspective.

And then sometime after that I came across two different incidents that made me look at stuff differently.

One was a Facebook post where a bunch of authors came clean on how unsuccessful they really are.

I guess I’m gullible that way.

I had assumed that these people really were as successful as they were portraying themselves.

I know…duh on me.

And here it was like one of those movie scenes, where the first guy in the bar says he’s nothing but a phoney, and then everyone else antes up and confesses too.

I stayed silent because I think I’ve always worn my failures on my sleeve.

Hmm, maybe that’s not such a smart thing, but I suspect I’m too old to change.

When I started this blog, I decided I was going to be honest. Honest about the ups and honest about the downs, in the hopes that I could learn something from this form of navel gazing.

Plus, and let’s be totally honest, you look less like a braggity jerk, bragging about the ups, if you also share the downs.

And then the other incident, just a few days ago, I communicated with a friend I’ve known for years through facebook and found out how very much she was struggling.

Another person who I assumed was doing well!

These are tough times.

People have lost their jobs and they’re struggling!

And it made me look back at my silly little post on rejection with a lot of chagrin.

I really have no business complaining.

Alhamdu lillah, things are really really good!

I didn’t mention this before, but I guess it’s as good a time as any to mention it, but I actually received a grant I applied for. It’s to be Artist in Library at the Fairview Library in North York.

I’ll be resident artist for three months, from September 2nd to Dec. 1st, and I’m really looking forward to it. It isn’t an acceptance but it’s good money alhamdu lillah.

And with all this perspective I’ve acquired, I was thinking, “What would I want to know if I was starting out in the writing biz today?”

So I made a list of five things I would need to know to make it in the arts:

1. Use social media wisely!

That means don’t waste your time! The most important social media is your website! Keep it simple and keep it up to date. Create really good content! Include things that you’d like to know if you were a teacher or educator or even consumer of your art!

Don’t waste time schmoozing on facebook. People, including authors, go to facebook, to chill, to unwind and socialize, not primarily to promote themselves. Anyone who’s too promoting, gets really boring.

And I’ve seen people who are pretty much groupies to other authors, think that if they ingratiate themselves enough, then those same authors will turn around and promote them. Nuh uh. Authors can barely promote themselves!

I’m friends with other authors because I like them as people and artists, definitely not because I expect to get any where with them.

2. Treat people nicely! Everyone! Especially those who disagree with you! You never know how that person can affect your career.

I know this is going to sound completely contradictory to the first point, but it’s true.

When I was just getting started this well established and well respected author met me at some library convention and was really nice to me when she honestly didn’t have to be. And I met this other author who I really respected at another event and while he was nice enough, he didn’t go out of his way to be nice to me.

Years and years later, I was on an award committee where both of them were up for the same award. Both were well deserving, I would have been happier if either had won, but when push came to shove, it was 5 for the lady who’d been extra nice to me and 4 for the other guy.

And personally there have been people I have passionately disagreed with, who I was furious with, who I later calmed down and realized were people working within their own paradigms and who were as sincere in their beliefs as I am in mine. And weird, but now I’m working with some of these people. Because I never burned my bridges with the person I am actually able to be of influence, I can add my voice to a larger dialogue.

3. Kill the Green-Eyed Monster!

There really is no reason to be jealous of anyone. Every person works for the success they get, in their own way. Just because you might only see the finished product, doesn’t mean they didn’t work and wish and expend sufficient effort. And sometimes, yeah, they just naturally have what people are looking for.

When someone gets something you’ve got a hankering for, think, “Good for them.” And then you can say, “I hope that comes to me some day too.”

When I stumbled into storytelling, I heard some of the more experienced tellers say to me, ‘You’re a natural’.

But then at a recent event, some of those same experienced tellers exuded quite a bit of hostility towards me because I was being honored for some of my accomplishments.

And I thought, ‘wow’. Don’t they realize how hard I worked for this? Don’t they realize that they just didn’t put their hat in the ring? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I think the most irrational form of jealousy to me is when a person hasn’t even attempted what you did, and they’re still jealous because you did attempt it and it worked. I hope that makes sense.

4. Spend Your Money Wisely!

When I was first starting out, I met this author who had a bit of success and decided she was going to do a ‘grass-roots’ marketing campaign/tour thing, where her and her husband were going to drive out through the mid-west, set up gigs all the way to L.A. and promote her books.

I just looked at her aghast.

And it wasn’t until I watched that biography of Loretta Lynn that I thought maybe, that’s where they got the idea from.

Grass roots marketing is not usually the way that children’s books get promoted. For one thing it’s too hard!

Yes, there’s word of mouth. But listen, a lot of word of mouth success is completely unpredictable. You have to write the exact right book at the right time that taps into the right mindset or hits the right nerve.

I also spoke recently to a woman who was going to spend about $2000 of her own money to fly to Singapore and attend the Asian Festival of Children’s Content.

Now there was a time when I would have spent my own money to attend a conference like that, but that was in the early days. I probably spent close to $2000 attending the Children’s Literature New England Conference in 1996, and the Canadian Storytellers Conference in Halifax, but that was way early! And we turned it into a family vacation.

Very soon I decided they would have to pay my way to attend next time.

Which brings me to the next point. If you improve your writing eventually they will pay you to come!

5. Write your way up!

Yeah, see, all that time and energy you might expend in social media schmoozing and chasing after author celebrities…use it better to IMPROVE YOUR WRITING!

I can’t remember which famous author was invited to some fancy conference to speak and he finally said yes. Well the auditorium was packed and he got to the podium and looked out at the throngs who’d gathered to hear him and he said something like, “You wanna write?”

And they all said, “yes”.

And he said, “So what are you doing here? Go home and write!”

And he left the podium!

That anecdote always makes me laugh.

Because it’s true. Writing is a very solitary profession. You get good at it when you go deep, within yourself. And that takes quiet. Not crowds!

Basically I was pulled from the slush pile. When I started I wrote HORRIBLY! Makes me gag to read my early stuff.

I wrote my way up.

I wrote stories that eventually got published but not noticed, and then I wrote more, and I wrote differently, and this is a field of endurance. Stick around long enough and most likely they’ll HAVE to notice you!

But don’t be surprised if you write your heart out, and nobody  notices.

I am making a living at doing what I love! But think income streams, not one big chunk. When I first began it was mostly presentations. Lots and lots of presentations and the storytelling that I was such a ‘natural’ at, REALLY REALLY came in handy!

So the money came from storytelling presentations and a little bit came from books, from advances and royalties. Now it comes from many different sources.

Then I noticed that Robert Munsch used storytelling to promote his books. (Robert Munsch is the most successful children’s author in Canada)

I really couldn’t copy his style of writing, and  yes, I’m embarrassed to admit that in the beginning I did try.

Instead I copied his tactic.

There’s nothing wrong with that!

And I switched my storytelling so I created presentations that promoted the books. That was how I was able to keep The Roses in My Carpets in print for so long! (Sixteen years and counting!)

In the beginning I paid to attend every writing workshop and conference I could, but as time passed and I found the sessions repeating themselves, in that they were telling me things I already knew, I focused instead on APPLYING what I knew. Writing and writing, till something clicked in the story! And writing passionately about things that I was learning and dealing with.

And twenty-five years later, VOILA! Success. Sort of!

Basically for me, it’s been about creating a track record. And alhamdu lillah, it’s getting better.

And rejection! Pah! It really is part of the process!

 

 

 

 

When a rejection really hit me hard.

All the platitudes I usually comfort myself with, rang empty.

Even though, yeah, I still believe them.

I can say rejection is part of the process over and over again, but right now, I just find it hard to believe it.

I can say that Allah subhanahu wata ala’s rizq, that is His provision, is already written for me, and I don’t have to concern myself over it, that it was never written that this particular publisher would buy this particular manuscript…but it still STINGS!

The story is good!

I really think it’s good!

And it passes my own litmus test.

I always ask myself after having written a story…Would I read it, if I hadn’t written it? And the answer is a resounding yes!

After how many edits and pouring over its, it still makes me cry for goodness sakes!

But alhamdu lillah, this too shall pass.

And I’ve read some excellent articles, including an article in the latest issue of the SCBWI newsletter written by Tim J. Myers called Who Decides if You’re Worthy?

He talks about the seductive nature of external praise and recognition.

It’s a really good article! Read it about five times. Even want to rip it out and hang it on my bulletin board to remind me.

Basically the point he makes is a point I often remind myself of: You have no control over what gets published, or what gets awarded accolades.

No control whatsoever, so there’s no point in fretting about it.

Alhamdu lillah.

C’est la vie.

Just because I wrote my heart out, doesn’t mean any one else will buy it.

And maybe it’s a bit of a case of sour grapes, but it seems to me that it’s a bit like when I wrote The Roses in My Carpets.

I still consider it one of my best books and it was virtually ignored by the establishment.

I remember reading it at a sort of ‘open mike’ night at a children’s literature conference in Boston, and overhearing one educator say to another, “Kids won’t like that book! It’s too over their heads!”

Sometimes I think that educators and publishers and just the establishment that works with children, really really underestimate them!

You’d be surprised what kids will like.

When something is real, they can sense it.

And that’s because they’re so often fed a bunch of propaganda they can sniff out the real deal easily.

And of all my books, The Roses in My Carpets is one of those books that I can fall back on, that I know will reach the kids, no problem. Even before I start talking about the inspiration behind it.

I mean I’ve done that story in some of the toughest schools, with some of the toughest kids. Kids who I thought, when I first started out, needed funny stuff to entertain them!

These were kids who I assumed would respond to my funny  novel Dahling if You Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile before they would respond to The Roses in My Carpets.

Nope.

Nuh uh.

Sure they liked Dahling! They laughed at all the right places.

But Roses always always hit them deeper.

And there’s a reason why it’s been in print, through three different publishers, since 1998 and is still earning royalties.

I think this novel I just finished will be somewhat like that.

It might take a while to sell, Allahu alim (God knows best), but it’s a deep novel, and it’s a good story, masha Allah, if I say so myself, and when I step back and look at it, I think yeah, it will touch kids.

And then I thought maybe the publishers couldn’t get that this Muslim character would be so caring for her family.

Oh well, what can you do?

And then today I saw this and it made me laugh out loud.

Yup, basically I feel like they’re ‘typecasting’, in children’s literature!

Grrr.

Ooh, this venting felt good.

Feel better already.

Quitting is not an option.

And yes, part of me knows that this may be a time of growth for me. Allahu alim. I hope so.

 

Great Expectations cont’d…

I can’t recall when I first heard about that famous, or even infamous song Let it Go from the movie Frozen.

I must have watched the video clip of it on youtube about five or six times, it was quite compelling. (By the way, don’t bother with the Demi Lovato version, the Idina Menzel version is the only one worth watching!!!)

I’m sure though, if I had watched it in my teens or twenties it would have haunted me a lot more!

As it was it really just took me back to when I was a kid and felt like running away myself. Like I’d never measure up and what was the point, and I really did dream of becoming a bush pilot in the Arctic, and leaving civilization behind forever. *g*

But then I went on with my own life and didn’t think much of it.

Told one of the young people in my life about it and it turned out he loved the song so much he bugged me to purchase the movie.

Well…it had won best animated feature, and yeah, I was curious, although I was just as willing to wait till it came on T.V. for free—cheapskate that I am– but I went ahead and forked over the $20 to get the DVD.

The reason for my reluctance…I had a strong hunch that the movie would not live up to the song.

Being Disney, I was just sure they’d screw it up!

Disney doesn’t do ‘deep’ very often, or very well.

The song, as far as I was concerned, was an anomaly.

But then I figured, hey, Lion King was deep. So was Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Tarzan was pretty good too, well the first half anyway, so perhaps yeah, it wouldn’t be a disappointment.

As I got into the first five minutes of the DVD, yup, it was a HUGE disappointment.

The only good part was the song.

For the rest of it, they went the cheesy route. Aargh!

They could have made it phenomenal but the annoying character of Anna just had to hog the screen time! And Kristoff…every time he took a bite of a carrot that had been in his reindeer’s mouth, I cringed. What’s up with that???

Why do they have to portray the men in Disney films to be such dolts???

Is it so they don’t come across as threatening???

And why have such ditzy heroines?

Honestly there was absolutely no character difference between Anna and Rapunzel, the heroine in Tangled.

And the only thing I found impressive with Tangled was the insecurity they showed in Rapunzel, the second thoughts she had when she left her tower. That was good. The rest of the movie was typical Disney dross.

And what the heck is it with Disney that they have to have a pseudo death in EVERY SINGLE MOVIE!!!!

Omigosh!

Give me a break!

Don’t get me wrong. There were a few times in Frozen where I laughed. But for the most part, save your $20 and just watch the song on line.

That’s the best part of the whole thing, and you can get it for free, any time.

Megamind is way way better! Still makes me think!

So I went into watching Frozen with some cautiously optimistic ‘great expectations’ only to be greatly disappointed.

And yet, that felt good for me.

Because the one entity I do feel jealous at times about, is Disney. (So you can read this whole post as a sour grapes sort of thing. *g* But at least I’m up front about it.)

Weird huh?

When I read the SCBWI newsletter and see some person do well, I automatically think, “Good for them!”

There was a time when I wouldn’t feel that way. I’d get jealous over every little success someone achieved.

Not at all any more! Alhamdu lillah!

But Disney…yeah. I get jealous.

I still wish I could have written some of the Pixar movies like Toy Story, all three installments, and some of the others (funny can’t recall them right now, but there’s a lot of good ones). And I love that song in Mulan, about the girl in the mirror, and then there’s the Pocahontas song The Colors of the Wind.

Oh well. No point in getting jealous.

Just acknowledging a job well done!

But in the case of Frozen, ooh, it just hurts that they could have made it magnificent, they could have made the movie as good as the song, and they lost the opportunity!

Alas.

 

 

Great expectations…

What an interesting few days I’ve had.

Been meaning to take note of it, but sometimes life just gets too busy.

On Monday we went to the new aquarium downtown, and what a fascinating experience it is.

Made me feel like a real fuddy duddy.

I’ve never been that much into the latest high techie stuff, and this was totally high tech, and way cool!

You start with the Canadian Waters exhibit, and it is way cool to see the huge tanks and fish up close and personal!

Then we headed into the Dangerous Lagoon and it was the coolest thing! A HUGE glass walled fish tank that contains loads of sharks, rays and sawfishes and just wow!

You stood on this conveyor system that took you through it while the fish swam overhead and all around you, and it felt like you were among them, except that you were safe and you could breathe!

At one point there was a sawtooth fish lying on the glass dome, right up top, and you could see it’s little mouth, and it’s gills moving when it breathed.

And as we emerged from it, I thought YES, that was worth the price of admission, and then the aquarium went on!

And we saw the jellyfish and all the other stuff.

A very very interesting visit!

And two things happened with the human denizens that really took me off guard.

Problem with interesting exhibits, is that you are bound to be looking at the exhibit, and not always looking where you are going. So at one moment, I brushed against this lady who was standing there, a foot from the glass wall, adjusting her camera.

Of course I mumbled, “Sorry.”

And then she just speaks out loud to her companion, right in the air, without even looking at me or acknowledging me in the least, “Look at that! No manners. They don’t even say EXCUSE ME!”

And the calculated way she said that really really irked me.

She was a white older lady, and my first thought was not that she was saying it because I am brown.

That didn’t occur to me as a possible explanation until much later.

My first instinct was to tell her, “I’m REALLY REALLY SORRY. Didn’t mean to brush against you.”

Again she did not acknowledge me whatsoever. She just kept staring into the viewfinder and repeated her comment about people not even saying ‘excuse me’.

Grrr.

That really bothered me.

I certainly hadn’t meant to brush past her.

I didn’t even BUMP into her! Maybe if I had, then her behavior would have been more understandable. And I kept telling myself, oh, never mind, don’t let it ruin the visit… but I knew it would bother me.

And yup. It still does!

Not sure why she was so miffed.

But never mind, these things will happen.

The funny thing is it wasn’t even super busy there. It was a Monday morning around 11 am, it could have been a LOT more packed.

See? I said I’d never mind about it, but it’s obviously still working me up.

But anyway, later on, something else interesting happened.

I was at the place where we could stick our hands in and touch the un-barbed sting rays and this little girl came up to me and asked if I was Rukhsana.

It was so surprising!

I was recognized!

How weird is that?

Reminds me of the time I saw my grade four teacher in K-mart. It was so disorienting to see them out of place like that.

And I couldn’t help wondering if I looked all right.

Was my hijab on okay?

Did I have any stains?

It’s weird but it’s one of the drawbacks now.

I do have to be careful how I dress when I go out.

Way back before I used to be careful, I was on the way to the gym and I stopped to fill up on gas when a lady recognized me and started asking my availability for some event or another.

I was wearing my rough old white hijab (did I mention I was going to the gym?) and a rough shalwar kameez, no stains but it had definitely seen better days, and just as she finished asking me, she glanced down, just once, at my clothes, and I felt my face get hot.

I should have blurted out, “I’m on the way to the gym.”

I should have said SOMETHING!

But you know how you never think of that till it’s too late, and they’ve already left.

Never did go to that event.

Maybe she changed her mind.

But since then, I do watch what I wear when I go out.

I’m not going to dress nice to go to the gym, but I won’t wear anything too rough either.

And despite the inconvenience, I do have to admit, it is kind of cool at the same time. To be recognized like that.

Reminds of what Philip Seymour Hoffman said, that when you present to an audience (or did he say perform) make sure that they’ll always remember you!

I definitely aim for that!

 

 

Serendipity…

It’s interesting how things can come together.

You can be mulling something over, and then you get an email from some random reader talking about the issues of voice appropriation and then a day later you read an excellent column on the New York Times by Christopher Myers, the son of the impeccable Walter Dean Myers, who is an accomplished author and artist in his own right.

His article was called The Apartheid of Children’s Literature. Read it earlier and I’ve been mulling it over all day.

I agree with him completely.

There is a real disconnect between the demographics of modern society and the diversity to be found in children’s literature and I think I know why it exists.

It’s because of the ‘white doll’ phenomenon.

When the civil rights movement began in the ’60′s and people started getting all righteous about providing role models for little black girls and they actually made little black dolls, astonishingly enough many of the black children, when given a choice, still chose the white doll.

White being the dominant race in the world, is the powerful race, and thus the default setting when it comes to literature and any other art.

On a tangential note, I went to a Native school a while back to do a free program and to help revamp their library collection. I thought the librarian would choose some really good titles including native ones.

Nope. She chose whitey white white titles like ‘Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” by Judy Blume and Percy whats his face, the Lightning Thief.

Oh yeah, Jackson.

I was really surprised, and kind of disappointed that the librarian wouldn’t take this opportunity to purchase titles that would more reflect the diversity of the kids, but then I remembered what I felt like when I was a kid.

I would never have chosen a book that was too pointedly aimed at my demographic. It would have felt like I was *expected* to and that would have turned me off.

And I recalled another school I went to where the grade five kids had all made posters of their favourite authors and their favourite books. A white girl had chosen me and Wanting Mor and the one Muslim girl in the class, who even wore hijab, chose some Judy Blume title.

Yup. I would never have chosen a “Muslim” book. Not unless the other kids had approved it, loved it, and recommended it first. I just wouldn’t have had the confidence maybe. Although, I do know I would have LOVED Wanting Mor!

And at the end of his article, when Christopher Myers moans about the “Market” it’s actually counter productive.

There is a reason why ‘white’ is the default setting in society. Every other color, every other culture, comes with baggage.

And most of the time you simply can’t ignore the ethnic background of the character.

And then another serendipitous coincidence occurred, I read another article, I think it was in the New York Times as well, that talked about the nice things white people do for each other. How the lack of diversity in upper management is often because those jobs get filled by people who know each other, a friend of a friend, that kind of thing.

It’s not necessarily that they’re trying to deliberately exclude minorities from those higher positions. It’s not an active omission, but rather a slipping sort of omission. ie. they’re not out to EXCLUDE minorities, they’re just out to INCLUDE their friends.

I think the problem with the idea of diversity in children’s literature really does come down to market, but not in the way Christopher Myers says.

And you can’t ‘blame’ white people for not buying a book with a black character on it. He makes the point that people buy music with black people on it.

It’s a matter of socialization.

We accept that many black artists have shown their exceptional talent in the field of music. We get that they’re some of the best, so of course we wouldn’t be put off by seeing black people on the cover of an album.

But that just hasn’t occurred to the same degree in terms of children’s literature.

And it’s the same for Muslim literature and the same for native American literature.

In these fields we don’t see the breakout superstars.

So how can it change???

It all does come down to Market.

The diverse books will sell…to schools. But not so much to the general public.

And that’s because unlike individual parents, especially white parents, who have the money to purchase books and understand the importance of encouraging their kids to have a library in their rooms, most ethnic minorities don’t purchase books.

At the most they’ll borrow them from the library.

That does not give the publishers the incentive required to bank on diverse authors.

Basically they WANT to publish diverse stories.

But first and foremost they have to publish something that will sell!

And so you have the whitey white white series that make money because they appeal to the lowest common denominator in kids: gossip, popularity, sports and sex (or pseudo sex).

Some publishers use those types of popular fiction, that doesn’t even try to make a kid think, to almost subsidize their more literary ventures.

The native American person who emailed me liked my article on voice appropriation.

I remember when I started writing. I was in such a huff over how Muslims were being portrayed in fiction. In particular I had a real hate on for Suzanne Fisher Staples. (I still do)

But over the years those views have really changed and matured. And I’ve come to realize that Suzanne Fisher Staples wrote the book she could write, in her limited view of the situation. You can’t fault her for that.

And I hate to admit it but she probably had good intentions.

What I told the Native reader is that honestly if we ethnically diverse people don’t write about our cultures, then white people will, and they’ll get it all wrong.

So it behooves us to stop kvetching about the way things are, and just keep going.

And it behooves us to encourage our various demographics to BUY MORE BOOKS!

Invest in their young people. I tell parents during literacy workshops, “There are parents who will plunk down $50 on the newest video game but won’t spend $10 for a new book their kid wants.” (And I’m often talking about the parents in the session.)

And I wish parents would realize that while toys and video games might break or go out of style and then be chucked in the trash, a good book does not!

I am still reading books that are practically falling apart, to myself and to my grandkids!

Once we start putting our money where our mouth is, and it’s NOT just the schools and libraries buying the diverse titles, then things will change.

Or…

Just write a book that appeals to ALL demographics, where even though the main character is from an ethnic minority, the story is SO UNIVERSAL that nobody cares!

Kinda like The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, or Mama Do You Love Me? or ahem, please pardon my boldness, Big Red Lollipop.

It can be done.

It just means that we ethnic people have to write by mainstream rules and sensibilities. While still being true to our cultural vision.

Not easy, but definitely doable.

 

Sometimes I think I should have to pay…

to storytell to a great audience!

The feeling is phenomenal!

To share some of your favourite stories in a room with great ambience, to a group of about a hundred people who have voluntarily shown up on a mild Sunday, and paid what they can, to hear some good old stories!

I’m talking about the Mosaic Storytelling Festival event on Sunday.

It was in a the basement of a little church.

The organizers had made the place cozy with a nice deep carpet, some couches pulled up and chairs.

Donna Dudinsky started first.

She wanted to.

She told me I was the ‘headliner’ and she didn’t want to follow me.

It felt so strange!

I guess because for so many years I’d go to an event and assume no one ever knew anything about me, and yet this time people were actually coming to see me and Donna.

Donna had told me I had fans. That she’d gone a few weeks ago and when I was announced for March 9th people had actually cheered, saying, “Oh yeah, we love her!”

It’s very humbling!

I got up and I told two of my favourite stories: The Courage of Dajan Tigh and The Clever Wife, and then I gave them Big Red Lollipop.

Oh it was fun!

There’s something infectious about people laughing heartily at your best lines.

And even though I was intensely tired, had driven down an hour and a half from a writing retreat up north and hadn’t slept all that well for the previous two nights, I was in good form, if I say so myself.

When I looked at the time we ended the program, we’d run a whole half hour late even though I had asked the organizer if it was okay to tell Big Red Lollipop. The organizer told me that the audience hadn’t wanted it to end!

And that made me feel even better.

Afterwards people lined up to buy my books and it turned out the regional representative of Storytellers Canada had been in the audience and so were three different teacher/librarians. They’d all come especially to hear me.

The organizer said they had the best crowd yet!

So it was really really wonderful!

I’ve designed most of my presentations around my books for good reason, so it’s a real change of pace to actually flex my skills as a storyteller doing good old fashioned folktales!

*happy sigh*

Beware Arrogance…

The biggest worry in being a ‘do gooder’ is not the risk of stopping the doing of good. It’s getting arrogant about it.

Ooh, arrogance, that most insidious of faults! That creeps up on you till you really do believe you’re better than others.

And in believing that, you prove that you’re not.

Yeah, there’s more than just a little bit of irony in that whole situation.

I heard one hadith where some of the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) threw dust in the face of those people who were praising them. I remember thinking at first that it was really rude of them, but then it later went on to explain that these companions did so to stop the people from praising them to their faces, because they feared growing arrogant about the good they were doing.

And that’s a legitimate fear!

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, that I’m really fortunate to be surrounded by family members who love me enough to tell me when I’m getting full of myself!

I absolutely count on them for that!

Maybe other people don’t have that around them.

I know of one particular author who embraces every cause! Who rides like a champion out to slay the forces of darkness, kind of. And boy has he become obnoxious over the years!

I never used to think so.

I recall a friend saying that her son thought this author was really full of himself and I remember being shocked and jumping to his defence.

But later when I heard of some antics he pulled at a school where he’d been invited to speak, where the kids hadn’t participated in his little scenario to his satisfaction, where he stormed out in a huff and promised to give the school their money back, and what a sour taste it had left in these teachers’ mouth, I thought ‘wow’. Maybe my friend’s son was right. And I reserved judgment.

I’ve been watching a lot of Dr. Phil, and I’ve been sensing him getting a bit of a swelled head. He’s become more belligerent when faced with foolish people on his show. It’s sad to see really. He used to be more patient with them, to the point where I thought, wow, the guy’s a saint!

Um, not so much any more.

And you know how you can see his signature, at least I think it’s his signature, on the big sign at the back of the stage? Where the ‘P’ in Phil has a huge belly to it? Well I was observing it one day and I thought of something I’d read about handwriting analysis that said people who make huge loops or bellies in their name tend to be arrogant, and I thought, “Hmmm.”

Recently I received some interesting feedback.

I’m doing a storytelling set at the Mosaic Storytelling Festival on March 9th with Donna Dudinsky at 3 pm. It’s at St. David’s Parish Hall, 49 Donlands Ave. (Donlands and Danforth right off the subway).

Donna had emailed me asking how we would conduct the set, whether we’d do interspersed stories or take a half hour block each. I said half hour block and I’d like to go first.

The reason I wanted to go first was so I could get it done and then just sit back and enjoy listening to her stories. But Donna emailed me back and asked for the first half hour because she said I was the ‘headliner’.

That was news to me!

She also said that I had my fans and that they’d want to come up to me afterwards and take a look at my books. And I thought huh? So she told me that she’d been at some of the previous storytelling events through the Mosaic Festival and when our set had been announced and particularly when my name had been announced, some people had yelled, “Yeah! We love her!” or something like that.

Wow! It felt so strange to hear that.

And then yesterday I went to a school, actually very close to that area! I hadn’t seen the librarian for about ten years! She still remembered me, and had invited me to speak to her grade 7-8′s (my favourite group!) about my novel Wanting Mor.  Well ever since the India trip, I changed the presentation to straight storytelling minus any technology and it actually works even better! So I was doing the presentation and there was some sort of kerfuffle with one of the teachers who grew a bit belligerent and took the boys of his class out of my presentation because he wanted to give them a health test.

It was weird.

I’ve never been in that situation before.

He was yelling and being quite rude to the librarian and I actually felt sorry for him because he was making a fool of himself.

When I finally started the presentations (and was talking fast to make up for the late start) he actually came back to get some of the girls who hadn’t exited with the boys and the librarian refused to allow them to leave. Well this time he started shouting! And I had to pause for the noise to go down.

Anyway, later, during the third presentation, it went along swimmingly, many of the students came up to me and told me they remembered me from other schools in the area! And they had heard parts of the presentation before, and yet they loved the presentation again. I asked them if they were bored? No, not at all! They assured me.

In fact some of the girls who’d stayed behind, from that belligerent teacher, had snuck in to see the presentation again because they enjoyed it so much!

And I thought wow! The fact that kids would actually sneak in to see the presentation again…just wow!

And then one of them asked me to sign her agenda, and while I was signing, I grew alarmed because I noticed that my signature had changed a little.

The belly of the ‘R’ in my first name and the loop in the ‘h’ in my last name were really quite big! And I thought of Dr. Phil’s signature, and I grew afraid.

And I wondered if my previous thoughts weren’t some form of projection, where you see your own flaws magnified in others.

It definitely brought me down a notch or two.

And if I had some dirt to throw handy, I might very well have tossed it, not at them, just in the air, to remind myself not to become arrogant.

And to definitely not take myself too seriously!!!

When I was first starting out in this field, I had to go through a sort of discipline process.

I actually think that everything I went through was necessary, it was a sort of preparation for where I am now, but it is definitely possible to get stuck in a phase.

When all you have are your dreams, and then the internet beckons…it’s easy to get caught up on it instead of at work on a new manuscript.

I spent YEARS on a politics and religion forum, defending my beliefs to a body of complete strangers whom I had never met.

That was extremely valuable!

It taught me how to handle myself when I was being attacked and challenged…you know how blunt people can be behind the anonymity of a computer screen! But after about fifteen years of trying to convince the same old die hards the same old points…I realized that the usefulness of the process had run its course.

It was hard to let go.

I thought of some of these people as my friends. I had genuine affection for them and I was reluctant to leave.

But then I realized that there were a few people whom I thought of friends, who really weren’t. Long story short, I abandoned it, finally, and moved on.

Besides learning how to handle myself in a very volatile and hostile situation, I learned that some people who attack you with arguments, aren’t interested in the truth, only in proving you are wrong.

If you engage them legitimately, type out pages of proofs, they will counter with the flimsiest of arguments and present them as ironclad proofs with so much of their own confidence that it might actually shake your own.

Think of the way Republicans can obfuscate an issue like climate change, and throw enough bogus but legitimate sounding facts till they feel they’ve actually clouded the issue enough to have created some doubt.

I dealt with a LOT of obfuscation!

I researched everything and people complimented me on the soundness of my beliefs, the way I had thought everything through, and then eventually some newbie would come along and attack me all over again and I had to go back to the defence. Till one day this person stated that she lived in a university town and there were a lot of Muslims and she had a strong feeling of bigotry towards them and couldn’t seem to help it. Then she challenged me to change her mind.

I told her, “Frankly, lady, I don’t give a damn.”

And she got royally miffed.

And finally, finally, I didn’t care.

I finally realized it’s not my job to change anyone’s mind about Islam and Muslims.

If they want to be a bigot, hey it’s a free world!

I learned so much for those days, but I got to a point where I thought why am I expending so much energy on such a small forum? I need to put that energy into my books, and so I did.

Then came along Facebook and social media, and I see many rookie authors making somewhat the same mistake.

A few posts ago I posted Neil Gaman’s commencement speech, and I keep remembering something he said: He looked at where he wanted to be as an author and saw it as a mountain peak in the distance, and when he came across an opportunity, even if it was a very good opportunity, but it didn’t bring him nearer his mountain peak goal, then he didn’t take it.

Social media is like that.

Even sometimes I worry that this blog is taking away too much time from my wriitng but I look at this blog as a kind of give back. I often try to share the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

And anyone reading will notice that there are times when my posts are few and far between and the quality of them drops off. Those are the times when the writing is going smashingly! Masha Allah.

Right now I’m busy with some projects, but I did want to warn anyone who might be reading this, to limit your time on social media. Especially Facebook!

Someone told me that people who spend a lot of time on Facebook tend to be depressed!

I can understand why that would be true. It would be easy to look at all the bragging that goes on, on it and get sad about the state of your own career.

But on the other hand, I’ve come across a lot of useful articles I wouldn’t have found except that they were recommended by friends. I post very little.

I’ve seen authors take it far too seriously!

It’s much more important to keep your website updated, and keep on top of email correspondence than it is to see how many ‘likes’ you get! Or comments you generate!

It’s just a big popularity contest! And who needs that??? What you really need, what you really want… IS TO WRITE THE BEST DARN BOOK YOU CAN!

Something that will ADD to the body of literature worth reading!

And you can’t do that while farting around on social media!