Walking Through Spider Webs

lamp-and-spider-web

I just started reading ‘On Writing’ by Steven King, and although I’m only a few pages in, I’ve laughed out loud at least three times. He recreates stories from his life (I’m still on his childhood) in a way which shows his readers how they helped him form into a writer. So it’s life and writing all in one; perfect for someone like me.

There is one story in particular that really spoke to me. He tells about a teacher who once told him to use his talent for something more worthwhile. After he recounts the incident, he writes, “I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.”

This is certainly true for me. ‘Why waste your time writing this non-sense!’ he says to me every chance he gets. ‘You should write something that’ll make a difference, write about the political climate, something of importance, not just something for entertainment!’

What he doesn’t know—this person who is a valuable part of my life, who I love and cherish very much, and for those reasons, can’t resort to avoiding him (or beating him)—is that I do use my writing to make a difference. I aim to raise awareness of family and societal issues and attitudes which often go unnoticed. I do aim to teach through my fiction. But I do it in my own way. Some will get it, and others will not, but my intention is certainly there.

So if you’re an artist who has been told to devote your energy to a more useful cause, just know that you’re in the same company as Steven King…and me…and probably millions of other creators out there. Know that you’re in good company, and learn to walk through the belittlements the same way you’d walk through a spider web: At first it’s ‘Oh my God, what the ….? There’s a spider web in my face!’ But with a few waves of your hand, it magically disappears, and just seconds later, it’s as though it had never really been there. Brush off the negativity like you would a spider web, and raise your head high in the knowledge that even if the closest people to you don’t get it, you have your own motives for pursuing your craft… and those are good enough.

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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!

 

 

Search By Voice

baby with computer

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.

Skipping School

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When we were younger, my brothers and I had no choice but to be studious. We were not allowed to play outside until our homework had been completed. Our homework, though, unlike that of most children, was not simply the exercises assigned to us from school; in addition to our school homework, my father made it a point to have us practice math problems regularly. I remember once, I was in kindergarten or first grade, and my dad said we couldn’t go out until we’d finished the pages he had marked. Mohamed is two years my senior, but in my dad’s mind a two year difference meant nothing; he taught both of us my brother’s curriculum. That day, I couldn’t figure it out and I was on the brink of an outburst, but Mohamed hushed me quickly. He knew that if my dad found out I was having difficulty solving the problems, we could kiss our chances of playing outside goodbye for the rest of the weekend. My brother quietly helped me and we eventually rollicked in the freedom of our front yard.

Back then, if you were lucky enough to be a kid coming to the Hegazi household for a fun visit with your friends, you had better make sure you studied first! My father quizzed all of our friends.

“Kerri!” I’m pretty sure he raised his voice just to scare the crap out of them. “What’s nine times seven?!”

If you were unfortunate enough to answer correctly, the equations gradually progressed until you were faced with something like “What’s the cubed root of seventy-two times eighty-three?” Our childhood friends are all in their late thirties/early forties now…and they remember these quizzes fondly.

Mohamed has always been intelligent. He wasn’t as studious as I was…he didn’t have to be. Here’s a story to prove it:

One day when he was in the eighth or ninth grade, he and his friends agreed to play hooky the following day. There were all still too young to drive, so I guess they were just going to hang around the neighborhood. The next morning came and he ‘left’ for school. My dad was still getting dressed, preparing to leave for work, when he heard a noise come from the bathroom. Was it a sneeze? An unexplained shuffling? A loud thud? I’m not sure, but something made him open the shower door, and there was Genius with his backpack in hand.

Why in the world he hadn’t waited in the back yard – where he would have been completely hidden from view! – until my dad had left, was (and continues to be) beyond me! But even though I thought he was a degenerate [that’s his favorite word…quite fitting, don’t you think?] I felt sorry for him…he was in for the beating of his life.

Funny, though…I don’t remember the beating. My dad had to get to work so he told Genius he’d deal with him later. But for the life of me, I can’t remember what happened that night. It’s possible that, despite my dad’s high regard of education, he remembered his own days of skipping school. It’s possible he let it slide on the premise of ‘boys will be boys.’ Maybe Genius remembers more clearly…but at this point, would you trust his judgement?

* Disclaimer: Despite the clearly unintelligent actions of my brother as a youth, he grew up to be a respected, successful dentist, masha’ Allah. Apparently it pays to have to do calculus mentally.