Category Archives: life

The Legend of The Green Olive

kapow-1601675_1920Let me tell you a story. This is the absolutely true story of a real-life superhero who almost saved the world. Before I tell you anything else, I need to let you know that this particular superhero’s name is “The Green Olive” (cue Arrow music – look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Don’t laugh. Or actually, go ahead and laugh. You deserve this temporary relief from the grim realities of this world. Because that was The Green Olive’s mission: to save us all from the evil and tyranny that runs rampant in our times. The Green Olive’s reign lasted a brief few weeks. During this short span of time, he (and I only use he/him for convenience’s sake, so bear with me and kindly get down from your soapbox) did his job extraordinarily well. He lit up the darkest corners, and dusted away the cobwebs. He fought against injustice and made the world a better place for everyone who knew him. Unfortunately, since he was still under training when he gained his superhero status, one day he met his match. Like all superheros, he lived his short life in relative obscurity. Very few knew of his existence, and of those who did, fewer still knew of his reality. I only tell you his story because while he was anonymous to most of the world, he was and will remain a true hero to me.
Now let me tell you another story. And in the telling, I hope for healing, for myself and for others like me. This is not just a story about one person’s brief and heroic life. This is the story about my family and my child. You see, the origin of The Green Olive came from one of those pregnancy websites that tell you how long/big your baby is at any given week. At around 9 weeks, I was informed that my baby was as long as a green olive, and hence, a legend was born. A few days later, his tiny heart stopped beating, breaking mine and my husband’s in the process. Despite his short life, and despite the grief, we agreed that he had done his job, and done it well, and were grateful for every moment we got to spend with him. He spread joy and gave us hope. We fell hopelessly and fiercely in love with him when we saw his almost impossibly small heart beating for the first time, so much so that we thought our own hearts would burst. He allowed us to dream happy, crazy dreams. He made us worry about how weird he would be, inevitable, considering his geeky parents were making up wacky stories about him being The Green Olive (cue Arrow music), the adventures he would have, and the villains he would vanquish. He would be the greatest superhero of all time. He made us feel complete, that we had a future that made sense to us. The whole world seemed to open up, with endless possibilities. He proved, however, to be too good to remain in this world.
The ending of this story is not a strange one. I won’t bother you with statistics, mainly because our baby, like all the people we love, is not a number. What I will tell you is that miscarriages are more common than most people think, and yet, they rarely are discussed. Women are advised to hide their pregnancies for as long as possible so that if they do miscarry in those precarious early months, they wouldn’t have to tell everyone that they did. This advice is infuriating and unhelpful, telling grieving couples to sweep the death of an unborn child under the rug. Before I wrote this story, I debated whether I should. Should I share it with the world? Would anyone care? Would people think I was being overly dramatic, because, after all, this is “just” a miscarriage? I finally decided I didn’t care what other people would think. I decided I wasn’t sharing my grief, but rather, I was sharing the wondrous moments we got to live with our never-to-be born baby. You may not have known him, and may not think twice about him once you are done reading this, but to me, to us, The Green Olive was, is, and forever will remain, our own little superhero.

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  1. The Magic of Turquoise, written by Mai Khaled, translated by Marwa Elnaggar

    The Book I Translated. Refer to confession 5.

    I haven’t written a single blog post since December 2010.

  2. I haven’t written a single word in my work-in-progress since December 2010.
  3. I’m using the revolution that happened in Egypt in January 2011 as an excuse for not writing.
  4. I’ve considered using the hundreds/thousands of tweets I’ve tweeted during the revolution as my “See? I have been writing.”
  5. I did translate a novella, though. And it’s been published. And I’m proud of this achievement. So I’m officially a published literary translator as well as a writer.
  6. Sometimes I’m just too lazy and lack the self-discipline to write regularly.
  7. I regret writing that last confession because I’m ashamed of it.
  8. Sometimes I’m just too afraid of writing to write. What if what I write is garbage?
  9. I regret writing that last confession as well.
  10. I usually don’t wholly believe people who say good things about my writing. You guys are just being nice, right?
  11. I usually don’t wholly believe people who say bad things about my writing. You guys are just nitpicking, right? This is always true when you don’t tell me what’s wrong with the writing.
  12. I’ve started a morning pages routine about a dozen times or so. I’ve even converted other people to this ritual. Despite seeing and feeling a real difference in my writing when I stick to the routine, I still end up quitting after a few days or weeks. Is this deliberate self-sabotage? Should I get therapy? Am I a danger to society?
  13. Sometimes when I see a beautiful work of art, I get jealous, so I go paint or sketch. I feel the same when I read a good story, or even just a well-written sentence or phrase. Do successful writers and artists feel the same when they see or read someone else’s work? I want to know because I’m trying to diagnose myself (am I petty, or does everyone else feel the same way?).
  14. I’m writing this blog post while I’m at work. My job description does not include blog-post writing.
  15. I’m writing this while I’m at work because I’m pretty confident no one at the office reads my blog.
  16. I regret writing those last two confessions. I think they qualify as “stupid”.
  17. If you’ve read this far, let me tell you that I’ve missed your comments and would love to hear one or two of your own confessions (they don’t have to be embarrassing). Or you could berate me for not writing regularly. Or just send me a cookie.


Filed under life, writing, Writing related

Denying your creativity can kill you

The War of Art - book coverI’m reading Steven Pressfield‘s excellent little book about writing, how to be a professional writer, what that means, what makes you stop writing (or doing any creative work) and how you can overcome it. I’m almost finished reading The War of Art, but from the very fist chapter, I knew this was a winner. It’s one of those books that make you feel like you have to underline every single sentence.

Let me give you an example. Last night, I read a chapter titled “Life and Death”. This is a chapter I wanted to underline, quote, print out and frame, and shout out from the rooftops. In “Life and Death”, Pressfield discusses how a profound shift takes place in the awareness of a person who finds out that he/she has a terminal illness.

“Things that sixty seconds earlier had seemed all important suddenly appear meaningless, while people and concerns that he had till then dismissed at once take on supreme importance.”

How many times have we heard stories of people who, after being told by their doctors that they have just six months to live, quit their jobs to spend time with their families and do something that takes everyone by surprise?

Tom Laughlin, an actor, lecturer, author, and psychologist who works with the terminally ill, says that this “deadline” makes people start to think about what they’ve always wanted to do in their lives. They start thinking about how they’ve always wanted to play music, or paint, or write, or travel around the world.

The reason this happens, Laughlin says, is that consciousness shifts from the Ego to the Self. As Pressfield puts it, “The world is entirely new, viewed from the Self. At once we discern what’s really important. Superficial concerns fall away, replaced by a deeper, more profoundly grounded perspective.”

So what’s new about that? We all know that, right? Who would continue working in their 9-5 jobs or prefer to spend time in their cubicles or in office meetings when they find out they have six months left? So what’s so amazing that I’m dedicating an entire blog post to this?

According to Pressfield, once people make this mental shift and start pursuing their dreams, they recover from their illnesses.

And Laughlin, as well as Pressfield, ask some crucial questions:

“Is it possible… that the disease itself evolved as a consequence of actions taken (or not taken) in our lives? Could our unlived lives have exacted their vengeance upon us in the form of cancer? And if they did, can we cure ourselves, now, by living these lives out?”

How much negativity exists in our lives when we aren’t doing what we aren’t pursuing our dreams? And how many diseases baffle doctors and researchers, who end up explaining them as being a result of “negative stress”, among other things?

Call me deluded, but this makes a whole lot of sense to me.

What do you think?


Filed under books, life, reading, writing, Writing related

Good news

Finally, good news! My blog post about the recent Egyptian parliamentary elections and my experience as a first-time voter was chosen as one of “5 things that blew us away” by She Writes editors. (Yay!)

I didn’t post it up here because this blog is dedicated mainly to the topics of reading, writing, storytelling, and everything that concerns them (which obviously includes eating chocolate. Lots of it).

Read my blog post here. I’d love to hear what you think about it.


Filed under life

A page out of my daily writing (1)

This is an example of one of my recent daily writing sessions. It is being republished here unedited except for spelling, grammar, and for any purposes of clarity, although I obviously won’t guarantee any degree of clarity. Remember, this is free writing, where I didn’t plan what I was writing and didn’t revise it and didn’t try to make sense out of it. Remember also that it was written at 5:30 am.

Lately, I keep recalling a phrase I wrote while free writing about fifteen or sixteen years ago. For some reason, this phrase keeps coming back to me. It goes something like this: “It was the night of a thousand crickets.” But the strange thing is that all my nights and even mornings have become nights of people walking in the unpaved road between our house and the main street.

Well actually, that’s not really true. My early mornings have become bird mornings — something very few people in Cairo experience, I guess. But there are few birds who have decided to brave all the dangers of being a living creature in the city of Cairo, Egypt. It’s like being alive in spite of everything that conspires against this life. The pollution, the noise, the crowds, the potholes, the heat, the dirt.

Even the streets can attest to this — if you look closely enough, and sometimes not even that closely, you’ll find that the streets of Cairo are furry. They are the unofficial and thoughtless graveyards of many a furry animal and quite a few feathered ones too. Cats, kittens, dogs, mongooses (or is it mongeese?), rats, mice, sparrows, the odd pigeon and the odder crow who was too hungry for the dead rat in the road to worry about safety regulations and oncoming cars.

Sometimes, however, there is the human being who is knocked down by a speeding car or the criminal monstrosity that acts as the backbone of Egyptian public transportation, and is known as the “micro-bus”. But generally speaking, the authorities tend to pick up the human beings who fall and pack them off to hospitals, as both sides of a busy, high-speed road slow down to take a look. Is he really dead? Oh my God, I just saw a pool of blood! Did you see how smashed that car was? Look at all that shattered glass! Allah keep us safe.

Then they pass by and pick up speed, many not even caring enough to swerve to avoid the dead dog with his guts spilling out onto the street. Until a few days later, there is nothing left to swerve or not swerve from except a patch of furry asphalt.

And we haven’t even started talking about the homeless humans — never mind the animals or you’ll grow crazy — somehow surviving, or acting as if they do, or doing their best to survive in spite of everything.

And the cars that slowed down all go home — those that don’t get into their own accidents, at least — and, soliciting sympathy (or is it attention?) simply say, “There was a terrible accident on the way.” And that explains why he or she is one hour late — well, actually two, because the default here is that everyone in Cairo is one hour late to everything. And then they have to reheat their lunch, which starts to look wilted and unspectacular, and un-cooking-show-like and may get scorched a little in the reheating. And they sit down to this reheated meal, both thankful that the accident didn’t happen to them, and both silently angry about how picture imperfect the food is.


Filed under life, writing

Too many…

Painting palette

A solution to "too many"-syndrome?

I’ve noticed lately that my life is full of “too many”s right now, so I decided to post a list:

1. I have too many books piled up on my desk right now. Most of them are recent purchases from a book sale in which the fact that the books were on sale (more or less regardless of their final price) convinced me that it is OK to buy them. After all, if they weren’t on sale, I would be paying at least 20% extra. Never mind that the 80% that I did pay was technically out of my currently beleaguered budget. Never mind that I don’t have enough space to have all those books. Never mind.

2. Building on #1, I have too many books and journals I now want to read. All at the same time. Part of this is due to #1, and part of this is due to a project I’m finishing up this month that involves revisiting and translating a chapter of my MA thesis for publication in a trilingual academic journal (I’m only translating it from English to Arabic, though). Revisiting my thesis re-sparked my interest in the academic side of literature studies, which made me want to read every single piece of literature on earth. As well as everything that’s been written about every single piece.

3. I have too many things I want to write and do — all at the same time. As soon as I mentally check off an item on my to-do list (which usually stays in my head due to fear of concrete documentation of all tasks that call for attention), more seem to pop-up. This makes me dream too often about a very cool productivity tool I learned about in a fairy tale more than 25 years ago (and I’ve been dreaming about it for 25 years). The fairy tale is “The Shoemaker’s Elves”, in which the kindly shoemaker and his wife go to sleep at night, only to wake up and find that elves have happily finished all their work for them. I don’t know about you, but this nifty solution continues to feature high on my wish-list.

4. I have too many hopes hanging on the outcome of my young balcony-garden. That’s the thing with gardening, which is something I’m new to on a large scale (I’ve grown the odd plant or two or three in the past, but nothing on the scale of the project I’ve embarked on a few weeks ago). With gardening, you basically plant the seeds, try to take care of them and create as beneficial an environment for them to grow, and then wait… and wait… and wait… Of course, once any seedling comes up, the excitement makes up for all the waiting, but then you start worrying about all the other seeds who still haven’t germinated. Like so many other things, it’s too easy to take a seed’s lack of–or just late–germination as a sign of personal failure.

5. I have allowed too many days, weeks, and *yikes* months to pass without updating my blog. Enough said.

So, am I diligently working at solving  all these “too many”s currently in my life?

Well, I guess it all depends on what you think about the fact that I’m ignoring them all (except for this post) and have decided that the best possible course of action is to sign up for a painting course. Woohoo!

What do you do when you have “too-many”-syndrome?

[psssst… by the way, I’ve missed you all. Really.]


Filed under books, life, Readings