Room To Grow

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It’s graduation season, and everywhere you turn people who were kids yesterday, are throwing up their caps, and slightly older youth are taking their first steps to independence (and trying to calculate how they’ll be able to pay off their college loans!). And because the truth is that time flies, soon, it’ll be my son who’s graduating and beginning his life as an adult. Well, to  everyone else anyway…I’m pretty sure my kids will always be little punks in my eyes. But I do pray that God grants me enough time on this earth to let me see them when everyone else considers them adults.

My son just completed grade eight, but because the school system here is set up differently, they will still be in middle school next year, when my nephew and niece – who are also graduating eighth grade – will be entering high school. Anyway…so a few months ago M had two of his friends over. At about seven or eight, one of the boy’s parents called him and asked him when he would be home, and how he would get there. I heard this side of the conversation:
‘I’ll just finish this game then leave. Maybe a half-hour.’

Pause.

‘No, I can come home by myself.’

Pause.

‘M will walk me to the tram station and I’ll take the tram.’

Pause.

‘No, don’t come to get me. I can make it home by myself.’

Pause.

‘Yes, I’m sure. Don’t come.’

Pause.

‘Okay, I won’t be long. Bye.’

Hearing this reassured me; earlier that day I had been questioning myself, doubting that I was parenting responsibly. “Is M really ready to take the tram alone? To figure out which stop to get off? Yes, I went over it with him a thousand times. But what if he misses it? Will he know what to do? Should I be going with him? No, he’s old enough. He is not old enough! What if he gets mugged in the tram? Oh, God. What’s the right thing to do?”

It’s a tricky age, really; they’re too young for us to let go, but too old for us to be there, holding their hands. As a parent, I know I need to give my kids room to grow and experience new things and take their own steps…but it’s so very worrisome. I was comforted hearing that I wasn’t the only one going through this. Hearing M’s friend talk to his parents, I felt better knowing that we all have those same doubts. When I was M’s age, I didn’t live in this environment, so I don’t even have a reference from my own youth to guide me. And even though my brother and my best friend have kids M’s age, they, too, live in a different environment; the suburbs are not the city. As long as they remain in the suburbs, their kids – like myself in my youth – won’t even have the option to consider public transportation. It’s my call, and I feel a bit reassured that M’s friends’ parents are making the same decisions.

But even though I let M take the tram, I am so immensely grateful that he doesn’t start high school for another year. High school is a wonderful, exciting, scary, horrible experience all rolled into one! And I want to protect him from the ‘scary, horrible’ as long as I possibly can.

For the record, M’s friend left our house before the half-hour was up even though they hadn’t yet completed the game.

I pray for my kids and yours…I pray God protects them always. I pray they continue to be clean, honest, compassionate souls, and that life doesn’t jade them, and that bad influence has no power over them.
God, protect our youth; shroud them in Your Grace.

On Writing

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I know that most writers will tell you they write every day. They will encourage each other to do the same. Well, I don’t write every day, but every day I do perform some kind of activity that will help me improve my craft. Sometimes that’s reading. Other days that’s keeping my senses open to the world around me and taking notes. Still other days, I follow through with lessons in one or two writing courses.

I’m very interested in learning about screenwriting. I feel like maybe one day I’d like to write a screenplay. Maybe. Maybe it’ll be an After School Special (do they still have those??) or a Lifetime feature presentation. Maybe. In order to make that happen, however, I’ve decided I need to learn about screenwriting, since I have zero knowledge of the craft. I found a promising online intro course, but although I was super psyched about it, I was a bit disappointed by it. It was only two weeks, each week about 16 lessons, but it was filled with theory. And on top of that, the four instructors all had differing perspectives on those theories. I still have a few lessons left before I complete it, and I believe they will focus more on the mechanics of screenwriting, but I’m really hoping that this will give me the bases I was hoping for. I did learn, however, that screenwriters actually leave OUT a lot of detail. The instructors repeatedly stated that the screenwriter has to leave room for the director’s vision and the actor’s artistic expression. This was news to me, to be honest with you. I kind of see the writer as the main creator of a film. I know directors get the most attention, but I always found that rather strange. But I’ve learned that’s part of the business; the writer gives the story, but so much of the details are simply left out, waiting for the director’s touch and actor’s grace. (I have decided to continue to disagree with this notion until I find myself in the position of a director and have to tell the writer to back away. But that’s just me.)

The second course I’ve been taking is a sort of intro to writing fiction. I was looking for something more advanced, but I figured I should see what’s being said at the intro level. And I am very glad that I did. There is one very important piece of knowledge that I’m a bit embarrassed to confess that I didn’t know: every great story must begin with a great character. Character comes before everything else. So far, in all my fiction writing, I have first focused on the plot, then on who would fit the role. But a great story, one where your readers are emotionally invested, will always be fully focused on the character; plot will just naturally follow.

I am implementing this very staunchly in the novel I’m now working on. I know what my protagonist looks like, I hear her when she speaks, I know what kind of ice-cream she likes, that she hates slow drivers, I know her favorite childhood memory and favorite cartoon character. I know her inside out. Okay…so…that’s a lie. But I WILL know all this stuff (and so much more) real soon!

Another important thing that I was very aware of before the course but had ingrained in me even more is the importance of carrying a notebook and taking notes on our surroundings. You never know when you’ll meet the perfect character; perhaps while you’re waiting in line at the bank and his bright green pants catch your eye. Or while you’re pulling into the grocery store and the little girl’s bouncy curls distract you. Or the smell of freshly baked bread leads you into the bakery and you discover that the heavenly loaves and pink flowered cakes were perfectly designed by the most muscular arms you’ve ever seen. Take it all in. The sights, the smells, the sounds, the tastes. Take it all in and write it all down. You never know when your next character will reveal herself to you.

And here’s a bit of writing advice from me. During the online launch of my book, one attendee asked me what I would advise my younger self. Well, my advice to my younger self, and my advice to all aspiring writers, is to own that title of writer. There is no minimum age to be a writer. There is no minimum number of published works necessary before you can use that title. The only thing needed to use that title is that you write. So write. Be a writer. And DECLARE it. You will find that you will be more dedicated to your craft once you start seeing yourself as a writer.

Gotta Love Family

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Yup, that’s the view!

Funny how one week away from home can throw off your routine! We went away to visit my grandmother in a place called Ein Sokhna, on the Red Sea. The water there is so calm and clear. My kids caught a bunch of starfish and sand dollars, not to mention the number of shells they collected! If it weren’t for the ferocious mosquitoes which attack at night, it would have been a perfect vacation.

The internet there is not too stable, however, so I’m behind with blog posts and a couple of online writing courses… and I feel like it’ll take me twice as long to catch up. More writing related things on my to-do list!

As soon as we got back I started preparing for the online launch of my upcoming book, Behind Picket Fences. I practiced reading Beautiful, the poem I was planning on reading as well as the excerpt from the novel, until I finally got them right. (Well…that’s what I thought anyway. Listening to the recording, I think I could have done a much more effective job with the poem. You’ll have to give it a listen and let me know what you think!)

A few minutes before the launch starts, I sit down and adjust my computer and log into the event and everything is set up. Then I happen to notice that my parents are ‘attending.’ The reason I notice this right away, is because, despite the fact that all other attendees have their videos turned off (as they should), my father has his on. So he’s just sitting there, leaning back in his chair, focused on his computer screen..and everyone can see him! They can’t even see me! Then, despite all attendees being muted, I hear my mom say, ‘It’s supposed to start now.’ Oh, but that’s not all, folks! A few minutes later I look at my screen — the one the hostess of the launch is showing to all the attendees — and instead of it saying ‘Hostess is sharing her screen’ it says ‘Ali Hegazi is sharing his screen.’ I kid you not, people! I saw the stock page he had on his bookmark bar and all the news webpages he follows! I chuckled and thought to myself, ‘Yup, that’s just about right. My dad’s gonna ruin the launch.’ A couple of years ago when my dad went to visit my brother at his dental clinic, my brother had him wait in his office until the previous patient was finished; my dad spent those few minutes on my brother’s computer. A short while later, the receptionist goes up to my brother and tells him that the computer system is down! Apparently he had upgraded something in the system, and the upgrade didn’t go too smoothly. But we all have those moments, right? Where would we be without a little family embarrassment/entertainment?

Luckily, his sharing of the screen didn’t last long and the launch went well. I had been worried my internet would act up, but it behaved itself. Hasn’t been behaving since then, mind you (and I can’t blame it on my dad, either!), but I was relieved the launch took place without any technical glitches. We picked two winners to receive signed copies and announced the pre-order incentives, not to mention the Q & A session where attendees asked me all sorts of questions! I love helping out other writers, so that was my favorite part of the launch.

In case you missed it, you can watch the online launch here. The pre-order incentives are the current discount price at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, which will revert to full price as the official launch date (July 1) approaches. So if you’re interested, order your copy today to take advantage of the 25% discount! The other incentive is the character interviews that will go out once a week for four weeks (starting June 1), but these are only available to those who subscribe to my free newsletter. So if you’re interested in learning more about the women of Behind Picket Fences, make sure you sign up here.

In my next post I plan on spreading some of the knowledge I’ve gained through the online writing courses I’ve been taking…stay tuned!

 

 

I Sound Like a Dork

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Let me be completely honest with you, I have never been fond of the sound of my voice. I feel like it’s screechy and the exact opposite of smooth. But like so many other attributes that are less than flattering, I have grown into it; it is mine, and I accept it as part of who I am. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be breaking out into song anytime soon, but I won’t be shrinking away from listening to myself either.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself….

Last night, Sarah Rhea Werner, hostess of the Write Now podcast, interviewed me. It was so fun talking about my upcoming book and my writing journey. You know that high you get after a great conversation? That’s what I was feeling. But with it being past one in the morning my time, that didn’t lend for a very restful night. It was such a great experience, though, that I would do it again in a heartbeat!

I lay there, twisting and turning in bed replaying my answers, going through all the ‘Doh! I should’ve said THIS!’ and the ‘Oh my God, how did I not mention THAT!’ moments. We all go through that to some extent after conversations, don’t we? (Please say ‘yes.’) And it all just made me wonder: was I clear enough in my message? Will the audience understand what I meant when I explained why being God-conscious is important and how it ties into our writing? Or will it be something they roll their eyes at and tune out? Will they be able to follow the excerpt that I read? Will it pique their interest enough to have them look up the book?

Once the episode airs, I’ll be posting it here for sure. And you’ll have to tell me whether or not I sound like a dork! For now, here’s the link to Sarah’s podcast. She offers great advice for writers in Write Now and holds lively conversations with various authors on Coffee Break. Check her out!

Beautiful

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She is beautiful.

No wrinkles, no grey hairs.

Satin skin and velvet hair,

Reflections of sun kissed youth.

Her locks frame an ageless face.

There, that reflection in the mirror.

How did I not see her?

How was I focused on the wrinkles,

The blotches, the unruly hair?

How did I not see her softness, her feminine poise?

How did I not see the way her features dovetail,

Fit together perfectly by the Creator.

 

Oh, the lights return.

Now the blatant truth stares back at me.

Grey hairs, just where I’d left them,

Wrinkles, getting deeper by the day,

Puffy eyes, whiskers, pores the size of planets.

Unmanageable, frizzy hair.

There I am again, that’s right.

Huh. Beautiful? Yeah, right.

Sun spots, rolls of skin, flat chest, large behind.

Thighs outlined by unmerciful stretchmarks.

Rough hands,

Cuticle covered nails,

Collar bones piercing the skin,

Sunken cheeks,

Spider-veins webbing my legs,

Misshaped nostrils,

Mismatched eyes.

Head to toe

Saturated with flaws.

 

But with all these imperfections,

With my unbeautiful wrinkles,

My unbeautiful skin spots,

The unbeautiful whiskers and pores.

With my unbeautiful rolls,

The unbeautiful stretchmarks,

I

Am beautiful.

My softness, my feminine poise,

The perfect way my features match,

I

Am a masterpiece.

 

In all we’ve been trained to see as ugly,

I have grown to see my beauty.

Scars adorn adult knees and elbows?

Marks of a happy childhood.

Rounded middle and filled out thighs?

Marks of delicious chocolate indulgences.

Dark spots freckle the skin?

Marks of beach adolescence and innocent heartbreaks.

Wrinkles dancing ‘round my lips?

Marks of happy days filled with laughter.

 

All the beautiful marks of life,

Blessings disguised as blemishes.

I remain

A masterpiece of the Creator.

 

I

Am beautiful.

© Hend Hegazi 2016

 

Search By Voice

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Sometime last year, my brother was in his room when he heard his son say something down the hall. He opened the door and the words became more clear, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” A few seconds of silence followed, then my nephew repeated his request, only louder, “TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.” My brother just chuckled to himself and closed the door. Several minutes later, when my brother came out of his room, there was his son, spread out on the floor, propped up on his elbows watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles right on his tablet. My nephew’s experience was actually my first exposure to Google search by voice. I mean, I had seen the little microphone icon at the end of the search bar, I just never really had any faith it would give reliable results. I am still reluctant to use it. Some people, on the other hand, have complete confidence that voice searches will give them exactly what they want…

Recently, my daughter, who is only five, has gotten into the habit of watching Frozen themed YouTube skits on my laptop. She comes home, pops open the device, scrolls through the tabs or asks me to search for her, and commences to watch her shows. They’re really strange, actually, with Elsa and Spiderman and the wicked witch from some Disney fairytale that I can’t keep straight. Wicked strange really, with no spoken words at all in order to reach a global audience. The only sound any of the characters make is the evil laugh by the witch. “Mwahh… haaa… haaa,” she says. But it’s clean, so I let my daughter watch. Just last week, she started searching them using Google voice search. Sitting on her knees on the chair to position her mouth as close to the mic as possible, she directs her voice at the computer, “Frozen, real.” She thinks that’s what it’s called…because are ‘real’ people playing the parts and not cartoons. But because I myself don’t really know what this type of skit would be called on a google search, I don’t correct her. When the Google lady tells her to try again, she raises her voice a bit, and again, out come her accented words, “Frozen, real.” This goes on and on, with her raising her voice gradually until she’s basically screaming, at which point either miraculously what she wants pops up, or I put myself out of my misery and go help her.

But the other day, she did something unprecedented. She sat down in front of the laptop, and instead of asking Google to locate ‘Frozen, real’ or any of the other children’s programs she watches, she started to say something else. I was unsure of what I’d heard at first, because I was in the kitchen. Could she have really said what I thought she said? I paused my chopping for a minute and listened. And sure enough, she was saying my name! She wasn’t saying ‘Mom.’ No…she was saying ‘Hend Hegazi.’ My daughter was actually googling me using search by voice! I couldn’t stop laughing! Especially since she just kept raising her voice, thinking the problem was that the application couldn’t ‘hear’ her. She kept screaming my name at the computer, until finally, the Google lady said to her, “Kid, no one here knows your mom. She’s in the kitchen; go ask her whatever you want.”

Ok, so maybe that’s not what the Google lady said verbatim, but it’s pretty close. At any rate, I don’t think my daughter will be googling me again any time soon.

Order of Operations to Achieve Happiness

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I sit here trying to organize my thoughts so that I can have a productive day. By productive I don’t mean that the house is maintained, the laundry put away, and dinner taken care of; all these only make for a normal day. To have a productive day, I must write. It would be great to be able to complete a piece, but even a first draft is something.

There’s a digital sticky note on my screen that says ‘To Do.’ All six of the tasks are either directly related to writing (write a blog post, finish character interviews, do writing course) or are marketing related for my upcoming release. I try to get things done before my kids come home because once they get here, no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot work. Is it the fact that they demand too much attention, so I simply can’t concentrate? Is it that even if they aren’t demanding attention, we live in an apartment, so their playing is always too loud and too close for me to concentrate? I think it’s a combination of those factors. But the truth remains – once they get here, I don’t get anything done.

This fact started me to wonder how my life would have been different if I had chosen – like the majority of my high school and college friends – to focus on my career right out of college. If I had had the encouragement and discipline then to begin my writing career, where would I be today? Would my name be known? Would I have more than two books published? Most of my friends focused on their careers directly after college and are now in impressive, advanced positions. Some have married and started families, and their oldest children are in the range of seven to eight years old. I took a different path; my oldest is thirteen.

So, which is better? Which of the two paths leads to the highest level of success? Can someone who has surpassed thirty start at the bottom while their peers are all in managerial positions? At that age, will they have the necessary drive to prove themselves and fight to get ahead? Or will it become too overwhelming? And on the flip side, can a thirty-five year old woman have the same patience and energy to raise a child as a twenty-something year old? Is one path better for the overall happiness of a person?

I’ve come to this conclusion: none of those questions even matter. The truth is that if you want to succeed professionally and have a family life, you’ll find a way to do it. Life is about give and take, and this is a perfect example. Yes, it will be challenging to start raising kids at thirty-five or forty. But you know what? It’s challenging raising kids in your twenties, too. Yes, it will be challenging to realize suitable career opportunities and ambitions. But you know what? That remains true no matter what your age.

We build lives that best suit us. Sometimes we can prioritize and sometimes life has a way of screwing up our plans. Honestly, if I had continued with a career after graduating, it would not have been writing. Although it has been my dream ever since elementary school, I didn’t find the encouragement I needed from my folks to pursue writing as a career. I was enrolled in optometry school when my younger brother passed away suddenly, a tragedy that forced me and my parents to reevaluate the plans for my future. As I was already engaged at the time, we decided starting a family was more important than spending four extra years just to earn the title ‘doctor.’ Although I am sure my father wishes I had earned that title (and it saddens me that I have – at least on some level – disappointed him), I have never regretted that decision. And I’ll bet most of my friends who chose to begin their careers early on never regretted their decisions either.

The keys to achieving success and happiness have nothing to do with age. The keys to achieving success and happiness are accepting where we’ve been, embracing where we are, and acknowledging that goals have no expiration date. As long as we are blessed with life, whether we are twenty years old or one hundred, we must continue to dream new dreams, and strive to fulfill them.