Tag Archives: storytelling

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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Break the rules (Crimes for writers to commit – Part 2)

Yes, Part 2 of Crimes for Writers to Commit (read part 1) is not going to be about how to deal with constructive criticism, because I have thought long and hard and decided that dealing with constructive criticism does not involve any “criminal” activity. I will, however, blog about it some time in the future.

Today we move on to crime #2, which involves general, broad-reaching criminality: break the rules.

When I say that, I do not mean for writers to go out and create flat characters, implausible plots, and cliché-filled descriptions with glaring grammatical mistakes and expect to produce a timeless work of art. What I mean is that maybe we should change the way we usually think about writing.

Writing, unlike most disciplines, and like most arts, is the antithesis of formula. When you go to the hospital for treatment, you definitely don’t want the doctor to break the rule of washing his or her hands before touching you. You also wouldn’t want a doctor to be so rebellious as to decide that despite all the signs and tests indicating that it is your appendix that requires removal, taking out your tonsils instead would be “wicked cool”. Likewise with lawyers: you don’t want your lawyer to show up in court in gangsta-style clothing to convince the judge that you should have custody of the children after a particularly nasty divorce. No. There are some professions that simply do not lend themselves too much to rebelliousness these days (the past is a different story).

But with writing, a lot of the time, it is breaking the rule that shows us new brilliance. A sentence with inverted word order can show you the English language in a whole new light. Genre-fusion (where two or more different genres are fused to form a completely new and never-read-before genre) is another example of how writers who break the rule end up “making it”, so that the new “way” becomes “a rule”.

I don’t agree with what I see as a primarily elitist view that writing is the domain of a select few brilliant people who are born to enlighten the dull masses with their genius. No. I believe that everyone can write. Even those who are illiterate.

But in my opinion, it goes beyond that.

I think that in a world that is increasingly becoming defined in 140 characters or less, we have forgotten that history and literature were purely oral during times considered as the heights of civilization. This oral history, often recited in poetic form, is as literary — if not more — than today’s bestsellers, and the proof is… in the poetry. To this day, the pre-Islamic epic poems recounting the history of various Arab tribes, still exist, although for centuries, they had remained purely oral, with no written records. The same is true of Greek and Mesopotamian epics, for example.

Even today, I am amazed at the number of Arab poets who can rattle off entire, well-constructed and linguistically flawless and beautiful poems on the spot. A few years ago in Lebanon,  I met a wizened old — and technically “illiterate” — woman from a small southern town who answered a question about the political situation in the country with a long improvised poem. She hardly even stopped to think of the next line. It just came out of her naturally, as if she was singing a lullaby, making tea, or merely breathing.

Would anyone dare claim that this woman is not a poet? Would the act of physically writing those same words down on paper give them more power? I think not.

So here’s me breaking a huge rule of writing: “writing” is not about putting words down on paper (or a screen).

That is only one part of the whole. The words exist before they are physically recorded. They exist in the mind of the writer, and — according to a personal theory of mine — they exist in a realm quite beyond our physical senses (this may sound wacky, but I assure you, I am NOT on any kind of drug — except chocolate, maybe). Oral traditions still hold a lot of power in many parts of the world, and they also belong in the world “writing”.

I think we should stop talking so much about “writing”, which is the medium, and go back to talking about “storytelling”, which is the art.

What do you think about writing vs. storytelling?

What rules do you think writers should break?


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