Something to Help You Breathe

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Many of you know that this month I’m racing to write 50,000 words of a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month. This kind of personal challenge requires dedication, dedication which I was worried I didn’t have. This fear was part of the reason why when I participated in the past, I wasn’t looking to ‘win’; I was just hoping to use the NaNo spirit to get ahead with my writing without setting any kind of word count goals. But this time around, something has changed.

My first day of NaNoWriMo this year, I sat in the chair for more than two hours straight, squeezing the ideas out of my head and onto paper. I didn’t have any sort of outline and the story in my mind was very vague, so that first writing session of NaNo was quite painful. But I made it. I reached the word goal for that day. The following day, I broke up my writing to two different sessions, making the effort more endurable. I haven’t missed a day of writing this month. And I think I’ve hit the daily word goal each day so far. Once I finish my writing for today, I’ll have reached 25,000 words – half the goal. Right on track! And I am loving it!

Not only am I loving it, but I feel better this month. I feel good, physically and emotionally. I’m in a better mood than I have been in a while. My kids will tell you I’ve been yelling at them less. (Well, they may not admit it… but don’t believe them!) And although I still go out or see friends rarely, I don’t feel lonely.

It might just be that I’m so busy trying to reach the daily goal that I have no time to be moody or feel lonely. But I don’t think that’s it. I think I’m in a good mood because I’m busy doing something I love.

So if you’re stuck in an emotional rut, find something you love to do, and do it. Do it for hours at a time. I enjoy writing, but you may like to draw… or paint… or read or swim or walk or…whatever. As long as you love it (and it doesn’t harm you or anyone else), spend your time doing what you love, and you’ll find that you will actually breathe easier.

And I’d just like to give a shout out to all those NaNoers who work full time or who are students. And a double shout out to those of you who work AND have kids to deal with! Kudos to you all!

(Thank you for reading. If you’re interested in reading some of my fiction, I invite you to join my tribe. Not only will you be kept up-to-date with discounts and deals on my books, you’ll get to read the first chapter of Behind Picket Fences, annnnnddd… if you join before Thursday Nov. 16, 2017, you’ll receive the first character interview for my work in progress. I love writing these character interviews, and my fans love reading them. So please, come be a part of my tribe.)

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Figment or Fiction

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I recently met with one of my great aunts whom I hadn’t seen in many years. Last time I saw her she was independent, living alone, summering on her own, and enjoying her life in general. During this visit, she was someone else. She’s recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and she’s become thinner and more frail. I think this was my first encounter with someone with Alzheimer’s. I stayed with my aunt as her daughter and my mom left to run a quick errand. As they were getting ready to leave, my aunt got anxious and asked her daughter in an almost frightened voice where they were going. Her daughter threw her purse back down on the couch, clearly having seen this type of separation anxiety from her mother before, and tried to tell her that she wasn’t going far and would be right back. The behavior reminded me of a new mom dropping off her child to preschool for the first time, the child upset at being left behind. Only in this situation, the mother was the one upset that her daughter was leaving and the daughter was at her wits’ end by her mother’s clinginess.

They were gone for maybe half an hour, maybe a bit more. During that time, my aunt would reply if we spoke to her, and she kept a smile on her face. She didn’t engage in conversation the way she did before the decline of her health, but she wasn’t completely reserved either. She did, however, ask us three or four times where her daughter had gone. And when they got back, her face lit up, relieved that her caretaker had finally returned. Their roles have now been reversed; mother has become dependent on daughter. And while I understand that this happens, that often our parents require our assistance in their old age, it still makes me sad. Yes, it’s part of life, but it still breaks my heart.

I used to think it would be awkward to care for another adult. That I would be embarrassed to, say, bathe someone or help someone in the bathroom. But recently I was blessed to be given the chance to help my aging mother-in-law. Yes, I used the word blessed, because during that time, she needed someone to be there for her, and God chose me to be there. It wasn’t an embarrassing experience at all; it was truly humbling. I am humbled every time I pass by an older person who walks with a cane or walker. I am humbled every time I help an older person retrieve an item that they dropped. I was humbled to help my mother-in-law. And I was humbled to spend those few hours with my aunt. I am humbled by these experiences because I know that once upon a time, these people were as physically and mentally agile as I am now. And one day, I will probably be in their place. I praise God for the blessing of my mind, for the blessing of my body and independence, and for the blessing that both my parents are healthy and independent. Praise God. I pray He continues to shower us with his blessings for all the days of our lives.

Just a few weeks before this visit with my great aunt, I saw an uncle of mine who is also suffering from memory loss, but this seems to be onset by his medications. My cousins told me he sometimes talks about people they don’t know. It made me remember when my best friend’s great aunt, in her final days, kept mentioning a young boy—Nicholas—although there is no Nicholas in their family at all. I wonder where these names come from. Is it possible they are childhood friends, names of people they loved decades ago? Or are they simply figments of their imagination? Is it possible they were not figments but another part of their imagination…

When I write fiction, I live with these characters that I’ve created. They become a part of me—I cheer for their victories and cry at their defeats. They become so close to me that I wonder if one day—when I’m older and my mind starts to lose its edge—I’ll expect them to walk through the door. Or I’ll tell my grandchildren about them, never really aware that they only ever existed in my imagination. Is it possible that I’ll become so connected to them that in my old age I will mistake them for friends and family? I wonder…

 

To NaNo or not to NaNo

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The start of October always brings with it a certain melancholy for me. I miss autumn in New England. I’m always Homesick in Autumn.

But often that melancholy is overshadowed by the anxiety I get when my newsfeed starts to be overloaded with posts about National Novel Writing Month. I mean, NaNo isn’t until November…why are you pressuring me so early?! My stomach gets a little tied up when I consider all the technicalities of NaNo: Can I really get in over 1600 words per day? Will my kids leave me alone so that I can at least try?! Can’t I just neglect…I mean ignore…. I mean…oh forget it, there’s no escaping them! Perhaps I should show myself mercy right now and decide against this avoidable source of stress.

But the truth is, despite the anxiety that creeps in on me in October, NaNo doesn’t stress me out. I’m actually always happier, more fulfilled while I’m participating in it. Each year I tell myself that my goal is not to meet the 50,000 word target, but rather to get in a good amount of writing each day. I enjoy the word sprints and the overall NaNo camaraderie. I love that I make writing a priority during that month. I just love it.

So, I probably will participate. (I’m looking into nerf doors to drown out the sound and the inevitable banging).

But, oh my God, I haven’t planned anything! More stress!!

Not really. I don’t tend to outline my novels. Yes, I have a direction and ideas, but I love letting those ideas discover what’s in store for us. So I’ll probably just continue working on the project I have at hand. Or maybe I’ll get a better idea between now and November. In fact, the idea for the next bestselling novel stopped by the other day! It was awesome. I’m sure it’ll be widely read and make millions! The only problem is, it slipped away before I had a chance to catch it!

Too often, I let life get in the way, and my writing gets pushed to the background. NaNo is my chance to make it a priority again. And the truth is, most of the time, I like what I write. I was just re-reading the character interviews for Behind Picket Fences, and I found them rather entertaining.

If you’re doing NaNo this year, connect with me on Facebook and we can have virtual coffee as we do word sprints.

(Thank you for reading and liking this post. If you enjoyed this piece, you may enjoy reading an excerpt from Behind Picket Fences. Click here to read the first chapter.)

Fun With The Kids

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I haven’t written a blog post in almost two full months. Partly I’ve been working on my novel, but mostly it’s because I really want to post something light, funny maybe, and lately, with the distressing state of the world, I haven’t felt that way. But the other night, I had a great time with my kids…

We just subscribed to our free month of Netflix. I know, I know, Netflix is old and I’m so behind. But I wasn’t even sure how it would work here in Egypt, and quite frankly, I totally plan on cancelling before the free month is over. Anyway…so we watched our first movie the other day. We chose ‘The Prince of Egypt’ as our first pick. I was rather disappointed by it all. The makers did it a disservice to the film by removing almost all religious context from the story. Throughout the entire movie, I kept having to tell the kids, “Well, that’s not the real story; that’s not how it is in the Qur’an…and probably not how it is in the Bible.” Disappointing.

After that let down we needed something funny. Scrolling through, we found ‘Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.’ Now, most parents would not encourage their children to watch a movie about a young student who ditches school and goes all over Chicago having a grand-ol’ time. Most parents would not want their kids to get ideas about how to deceive their parents, how to trick their school administration, how to take their parent’s car without permission…and after all this, never get caught. Most parents are far too responsible to expose their children to all of that….

Well not me! As soon as I saw it on the list, I yelled out, “YOU GUYS HAVE TO SEE THAT! It’s such a good movie!”

Clearly, there is something lacking in my parenting skills…but whatever! Now’s not the time to dwell on that…

We had a blast watching Ferris as he played sick, fooling his parents and his friends (not his sister, though!). We loved watching him take the restaurant reservation for the ‘Sausage King of Chicago,’ then sneak out without his father seeing him. His rendition of ‘Twist and Shout’ on the parade float was well appreciated by all (although, the kids probably liked it just because I was making a fool of myself singing along!). They loved watching the beat-down Ed Rooney chase after his car as the tow-truck pulled it away! I wonder if they wished the same fate upon their own principal?

We laughed the whole movie through. It was a great time. And for that, I’m gonna go ahead and count it a parenting win. Not because it was a good choice (because who are we kidding?), but because we spent time together, laughed together, and hopefully, they’ll remember that more than any of the specifics of the movie. (I know, I know…not likely. But it could happen!)

Thank you for reading my post. Please give it a like. If you’d like to read some of my fiction, simply click here to read the character interviews for the women of my latest novel, Behind Picket Fences. The interviews were super fun to write and I think you’ll enjoy them. Again, thank you so much for your support. 

Help of a Three-Year-Old

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This year my sister-in-law, K, decided to homeschool some of her kids. It’s not the first year she’s homeschooled, but this school year was marked by a new addition to the family, a new bundle of hysterical outbursts…I mean, a new bundle of joy! And the new bundle has a three-year-old (ish) sister. Yeah, exactly. Craaaaziiiiness. God bless them all and keep them all health, happy and safe. But despite the craziness, I know that K is a rock; if she can deal with my brother, then dealing with a bunch of little punks is a breeze. (Ok, so not a breeze, exactly, but easy. Or…maybe…not easy, exactly, but doable. Yes, definitely doable.)

As you can imagine, K is always busy. Busy with the kids, busy with house stuff, busy with other stuff, busy, busy, busy. So sometimes, while the homeschoolers are in their designated areas doing their work, and she’s dealing with everything she needs to be dealing with, she invokes the assistance of the three-year-old.

“M, can you please go ask the boys if they need any help?”

And M, like the helpful little three-year-old that she is, climbs the stairs to the boys. And, as you can imagine, K begins to prepare herself for the ascent up the stairs. She perks her ears up, anticipating M’s call. But then the baby cries, and K nurses him, and burps him, and changes him…and forgets completely that she had employed M’s services.

Some time passes, a few moments of quiet descend upon the house, and K realizes her pint-sized assistant isn’t around.

“M,” she calls out, “where are you?”

And the answer cascades down the stairs, in the best adult, three-year-old voice you’ve ever heard: “I’m helping the boys with their school work!”

So, ladies and gentlemen, if you decide to homeschool your kids, no need to think that you must have all the answers. Not at all; all you need is the help of a three-year-old!

 

 

(Thank you for reading and liking this post. You may enjoy reading the four interviews for the women characters of my novel, Behind Picket Fences. The interviews were super fun to write, and I think you’ll find yourself wondering if they are characters from a book or real people. Click here for the interviews.)

 

Divided We Fall

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The other day I saw an image quote that said something like race, religion, and politics divide us. Well, I think that’s a load of crap. I think that while race, religion and politics may differentiate us, what truly DIVIDES us is disrespect. We can be different, and still stand together, united, as long as we have mutual respect. When we are divided, then it is not race, nor religion, nor politics which are to blame: it is disrespect, plain and simple.

The truth, which for some reason people find difficult to voice, is that when we differ, we are in essence finding fault with the other opinion. For example: I, as a Muslim, do not believe that Jesus is God nor the son of God. I believe that is false, that it is wrong. And Christians, by their own creed, must believe that I am wrong. But what the hell is wrong with that? What is wrong with thinking another person (or group) is wrong? Nothing! Absolutely nothing…as long as our disagreements are not coupled with disrespect. I have no right to disrespect my Christian brethren. I have no right to disrespect them with words, nor with caricatures mocking their faith, nor with hateful actions. I do not have that right, and they have no right to disrespect me.

But that’s not what happens these days. These days, when people talk about religion or politics, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “You’re an idiot for thinking that!” The problem we have in our society today, is that we don’t know how to respectfully disagree. And that disrespect often manifests in the form of verbal and physical hate crimes.

In the Quran (chapter 49 verse 13) it says what is translated as “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” God created us with all our differences so that we can LEARN from one another! There is an innate beauty in our differences, if only we could recognize this.

Recently one of my Facebook contacts implied that I have no right to voice my concern about the results of the recent election. She claimed that since my feet do not currently tread on US soil, I don’t have the right to care about what happens there. I am simply enraged by her disrespect, on so many levels. She tried to revoke my freedom of speech, and she questioned my patriotism. She had no right to do either! Yes, I do not currently live in the US, but it IS my home. Not only is my family there, but I was born and raised there. I was educated there, I worked there. It is a part of me. I want to see it flourish, I want goodness for it. I was blessed to have been born and raised there. And although I think I may feel this way no matter where I had been born, the truth is that freedoms and privileges in the US shine above so many other countries. I’m not saying it is a perfect country. No, it is not. There is racism and sexism and all sorts of other prejudices. But the BEAUTY of America is that its very constitution works to keep those prejudices at bay. Its beauty is that at its very core is a promise to strive for a society free of prejudice. I wanted to see it keep moving forward, keep improving. I wanted to see the incidents of hate crimes decline and to see the gap of inequality diminish.

Since the results of the election, there has been a rise in hate crimes against Muslims in the US. Latino students have been verbally assaulted with chants that a wall should be built to separate them. The list does not end there, but the point is clear: the disrespect which the president-elect showed to so many minorities during his campaign is being put into action as hate by at least some of his supporters. And that is the saddest part of this election. It’s not about one man…it was never about one man. It’s about those who show support for division. If this behavior is not quelled immediately, it will undoubtedly grow out of control, and the country will fall. It’s that simple.

I do not want America to fall. The freedoms that it represents are too precious.

So what’s the answer? How do we teach respectful disagreement? How do we teach it with a president-elect who does not show it?

I want to say, as some of my friends have already pointed out, that discussion is the solution. That learning about those who are different from us from those very people may help relieve our fears and grow a feeling of respect.

But if I’m being honest, I do not think that will work. If an adult does not already recognize that they must respect people around him regardless of their race, religion, or any other differentiating factor, I do not think that he will learn it.

I want to be wrong. I want to be wrong about the direction the US seems to be heading in after this election.

I put my faith in God and pray that He will protect my brothers and sisters in humanity from all forms of disrespect.

This poem is my prayer of love for you.

 

Rays of Love

 

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I pray the hate never finds you,

I pray you live protected from its jagged blade.

I pray it does not tear at your heart,

That it does not shred you

From the inside out.

 

I pray the hate never finds you,

I pray you live protected from its jagged blade,

I pray it does not puncture your flesh,

That it does not shred you

From the outside in.

 

Come,

Hide ourselves and our children in the bosom of compassion,

And when hate comes,

Hold up our shields of brotherhood,

Warn it off with our saber of love.

Stand our ground, lock arms,

And let it not penetrate the circle.

 

Multiple rays of love can melt the hate.

 

I pray the hate

never finds you.

©Hend Hegazi

 

(Thank you for reading and liking this post. You may enjoy reading the four interviews I wrote for the women characters of my novel, Behind Picket Fences. The interviews were super fun to write, and I think you’ll find yourself wondering if they are characters from a book or real people. Click here for the interviews.)