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The HerStories Project

It’s been a big week out here in the ‘Dhabs, I have to say, starting with the Rain Day two weeks ago.

What is this “rain day,” you ask? Well, my dears, that’s when the serene desert skies bust open and it pours, like a veritable rainpocalypse.

Or at least, that’s what you think it is if you grew up in the desert. For those of us who grew up in parts of the world with, you know, weather, it was just kind of wet and windy.  But the schools closed at noon because people were afraid of flooding. Or getting wet. Or something.

Big Event Number One.

Then? Less than a week later, schools were closed because Dubai won its bid to host the World Expo 2020.  We got the notification that schools were closing at 10:15 PM on Wednesday.  Schools closed Thursday, which was Thanksgiving Day in the US but here was — theoretically, anyway — a work day.

Big Event Number Two.

Then the day after Expo Holiday, our dear friends and neighbors hosted the fourth annual expat Thanksgiviing, with many small children, several new babies, three turkeys, the best sweet potatoes I’ve ever had in my life, and way too many pies. (Although really, can you have enough pie? )

Big Event Number Three.

Then? National Day Weekend, which meant two more days off from school and work, plus parades, air shows, decorated cars, fireworks, and of course, silly string. (All you want to know about National Day: here, and here, and here.)

Big Event Number Four.

And now? As if all of that isn’t enough? Now, I’m going to blow the horns and bang the gongs for the publication of a wonderful anthology, edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger.  These two writers have put together The HerStories Project (Histories, HerStories, get it?), and have included an essay of mine in this volume, which includes writing from Alexandra Rosas, Galit Breen, and an introduction by Jill Smokler, aka Scary Mommy.

And THAT is Big Event Number Five, which pretty much trumps all the others.

Guess what? You don’t have to admire the book from afar — oh no,  my friends, you can get one for your very own self.  Plus it’s holiday season, so you can get one for pretty much everyone else you know. See? Holiday shopping, fait accompli.  You’re welcome.



Continue Reading · on December 6, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Books, expat, Feminism, reading, UAE, writing

in defense of poetry, with apologies to Percy Shelley

I spent about six weeks this semester teaching and talking about poetry with my students.  Almost to a person, they started the term with “eh…I don’t much like poetry,” and “I don’t get poetry,” and “what the hell is poetry even about, anyway?”

All reasonable questions, I guess, for students who have grown up in a world where they almost never encounter poetry, other than in song lyrics or spoken-word events.  Poetry, they tell me, is intimidating; it doesn’t make sense; it’s too complicated; it’s weird.

Full disclosure: I spent most of high school and all of college writing poetry. Whenever I’d get too philosophical during those late-conversations about Life that seem only to happen between the ages of 18-22 and only between the hours of 12-4AM, my friends would say “oh go write a poem,” as a way to get me to be quiet.

I kept writing poetry even after college—-poetry workshops, sending things off to magazines, the whole deal—-and stopped only when I got to graduate school, which pretty much thrashed every creative bone out of my body. Took me decades to get the graduate school’s pinched-face editor in my head to stop saying things like “maudlin!” “derivative!” and “you call that writing?”

All of which is to say is that although I knew my students wouldn’t be excited about spending all this time reading poetry, I was looking forward to spending time with words, nothing but words.  Someone said once that poetry is language calling attention to itself, and while I think poetry can be much more than that, that idea isn’t a bad place to start.  Poetry gives us a chance to think about how words feel in our mouths and sound out loud; poetry’s language works by compressing, distilling, wringing an experience or idea to a kind of essence that works on us in ways that we might not ever really understand.

We roamed through Seamus Heaney’s “Digging,” in which a gun transforms to a spade transforms to a pen in the hand of the poet; we looked at John Donne’s “Batter my heart three person’d god,” in which faith becomes a kind of ravishment, a physical experience; we talked about the bleak beauty in some of Anna Akhmatova’s lines; and marveled at the incandescent anger of Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy.”  The students put aside “it’s weird,” or perhaps, actually, they began to embrace the weird; they let themselves roam around inside the poems and not insist on absolute meanings.  And I got, perhaps, a little carried away by the whole thing and put a sign on my office door that said “Today’s Poem,” and then every day, I would post a new poem — a famous poem, an obscure poem, prose poem, haiku, nabati lyric — all kinds of poems.

One of the poems I put on my door is Ezra Pound’s imagist poem about being in the French Metro, called, fittingly, “In a station of the metro.”  It reads like this:

The apparition       of these faces       in the crowd:
Petals      on a wet, black    bough.

And yes, that’s what it looks like on the page, and yes, that’s the entire poem.  And yes, it’s a little weird.

But you know? Think about being in a crowded subway station, on a rainy day. Think about the blur of faces. Now think about the blur of wet, say, cherry blossoms on a dark branch.


In his essay “Defence of Poetry,” Percy Bysshe Shelley (every time I say his name in class someone giggles, and I totally get it), said “Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known; imagination is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things. Reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance.”

I guess the student who scrawled this comment at the bottom of the Pound poem wanted to live in a world governed entirely by reason. That strikes me as incredibly limited, and not a little bit sad.

IMG_7485Doesn’t make sense. Quit wasting paper.

Continue Reading · on November 13, 2013 in Books, Education, language, NaBloPoMo, reading, teaching, writing

You Have Lipstick On Your Teeth!

If you’re a woman-type person, then I would imagine at some point in your life, you’ve been to the ladies room, aka the female toilet, aka the powder room. (Does anyone still use powder anymore?)  And I would imagine that in that powder room, you’ve probably had at least one or two really great conversations, maybe a bitchfest or two, and probably at least a few honest conversations: your hair looks like crap, love those shoes, hate your date, you have lipstick on your teeth.

Don’t we all need a friend (or two or ten) who will tell us we have lipstick on our teeth or that the person we’re currently dating is a big loser? Yes, yes, we do.

And so let me present to you an entire BOOK of friends who will do just that! 3D_coverForPRINTI love this book, and not only because I’m in it but because I’m rubbing pages with writers like these:

Leslie from The Bearded Iris, Kim from Let Me Start By Saying, Anna of Random Handprints, Ellen and Erin from Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms, Suni from The Suniverse, and many more.   I guarandamntee that you will laugh out loud as you read through this book because the women in the powder room write about babies, boobs, boys; parenting, peeing, and perimenopause…and pretty much everything else, all with wit, intelligence, and more than a dollop of profanity.

You should probably order twenty or thirty copies of this book RIGHT NOW, using this here link to our amazon page.  And then you should probably take a few minutes and write a rave review about the book for that there amazon page.  Probably you should do all these things right this very second. Like, now. Immediately. Go. Buy. Read. Rite Rave Review.  What are you waiting for?


Continue Reading · on August 8, 2013 in Books, me my own personal self, pop culture, Products, reading, writing

Books! (Part I)

I live in a city without an English-language lending library.

Think about that for a minute. Liam said the other day “reading is an expensive habit,” and I have to say that out here, he’s right. I cannot tell you–mostly because I don’t even want to think about it–how much money we spend on books.

Which, I guess, in the scheme of things, is better than spending money on meth, for instance, or playing the ponies, or a lifetime supply of chocolate (I can hear some of you thinking that maybe that last one is debatable, but not to me).  And of course, I’m delighted that my kids have turned into voracious readers because hey, that’s a good problem to have, but I’m thinking they’re going to have to start mugging kids for their lunch money in order to support their habit.

It also means, as much as it galls me, that for the most part our entire family reads on some kind of e-device. Books on kindle are cheaper and easier to get; I don’t have to drive to the bookstore, I don’t have to pay shipping.

God knows at end-of-year time, there are lots of book lists to consult. Try Outlaw Mama, who wrote her list in tweet-speak; or look at the mahvelous Marinka who already has her list of “must reads” for 2013.

My list of books to read (or avoid) should’ve been published in the waning days of 2012. Whoops. So much for New Year’s resolution #2, 455: blog with regularity. I broke that bitch before it was even the new year. Dang. On the other hand, don’t you feel better about yourself now? I’ll bet you didn’t break any resolutions before you even made them.  (And of course, you can click on any of the titles I mention and go directly to Amazon.)

If you haven’t read Hilary Mantel’s books about Cromwell, Hank Eight, and his galpals, you owe it to yourself to read these now. Like, right now. Be prepared to leave the 21st century and take up residence in in the 16th for a good long time. Mantel won a Booker Prize for Wolf Hall and another one for the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.  I’m thinking when the final book comes out, she’s going to make it a hat trick.

Front Cover

I read some great mysteries/thrillers this year: there were two by Lee Childs, Worth Dying For and A Wanted Man, and okay, one of those might have come out in 2010, but I read it in 2012. Childs’ character, Jack Reacher is a classic American loner whose methods border on vigilantism. The books are nicely atmospheric, the plots aren’t too repetitive, and the women characters are usually more than just window dressing. Don’t bother with the movie: use the price of your movie ticket to download a few of these books (go back to the first in the series) and settle in. Make yourself a bowl of popcorn and you’re all set.

Do you know the Mistress of the Art of Death? She’s otherwise known as Adelia Aguilar, the heroine of this series set during the reign of Henry II, just after the War of the Roses (the real one, not the Michael Douglas/Kathleen Turner one). Adelia was trained in Salerno as a doctor who specializes in what we would now call forensic science. In other words: she cuts up dead people and looks inside ’em. Sort of like the non-Zooey Deschanel does on the TV show “Bones.” But given that women couldn’t be doctors, Adelia pretends to defer to her traveling companion, an Arab eunuch named Mansur. We find out how this odd pair ended up in England, working for Henry II, in the first book, Mistress of the Art of Death. The plots and motives will seem incredibly contemporary–I guess people have been killing each other for the same reasons for centuries now–but the historical details, particularly about the lives of women, are fantastically interesting.

More “genre fiction:” I read The Twelve, the sequel to Justin Cronin’s The Passage, parts of which scared me so badly I had to sleep with a wee light on. The Twelve suffers by comparison, alas. Here’s the worst thing you can say about a novel that’s supposed to be really, really creepy: it was really, really dull. Too many characters, too many plot lines (many of which seemed to be “borrowed,” let’s say, from Stephen King’s The Stand).

No vampires here, but lots of demons, djinns, lesser spirits, and a few magicians capable of wrestling with these bad guys: Throne of the Crescent Moon reads like a great fantasy novel, complete with political intrigue, wise-cracking good guys, a few shape-shifters, and some seriously wicked spirits. In a change of pace, though, the novel is set in some nameless Middle Eastern country and so the entire book has a different flavor.  This novel seems to be the first in a series, which is great, but the book ended so abruptly (I thought, in fact, that perhaps the entire thing hadn’t downloaded completely) that it’s hard to tell where the next book is headed.

A book I disliked intensely even though everyone else loved it: Gone Girl. Figured out plot twist #1 about six pages in; stopped caring for any of the central characters about 25 pages in; wished the entire thing would just hurry up and be over at about page 80, and thought the final denouement, including Big Plot Twist #2 was just…meh. I’m sort of confused, in fact, by why everything thinks it’s so fantastic. Someone please clue me in.

A book everyone was curious about: JK Rowlings PHP (post-harry-potter) book. Didn’t bother to read it. Do not feel that this is any great loss, myself.

A book that taught me about psychoanalysis and cartoons: Are You My Mother? No, not the PD Eastman book about that damn bird who thinks that maybe a tractor is his mom. No, I’m talking about the sort-of sequel to Alison Bechdel’s brilliant graphic novel Fun Home. In the new book, Bechdel confronts her relationship with her mother (or tries to) and also studies the theories of DW Winnicott. Winnicott studied mothers and children; the idea of the “transitional object” is Winnicott’s: the blanky, the binky, the floppy bunny, all those things that help the infant handle separation from the mother.  That’s why that book about the bird is so annoying: there is no transitional object; nothing can replace mommy.  Mommy bird just wanted a little time off,  get out of the nest for a minute, but baby bird just keeps coming after her. Take it from this mommy bird: read Bechdel’s books, in any order you want; they are fantastic.

What did you read and love (or hate) in 2012? What are you looking forward to reading in 2013?

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Continue Reading · on January 11, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Books, reading

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