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I’ve just finished a poetry workshop. Never considered writing poetry; never actually read much poetry (at least not voluntarily). Now I find myself enamored and inspired. Feeling liberated. I’m anxious to read more and, yes, write.

At the workshop, someone suggested I look up Sarah Kay, a spoken word poet. “Her piece on Ted ‘If I should Have a Daughter’ is amazing,” he assured me. He was right.

In the tradition of looking for the silver lining, I’ve decided to categorize the receipt of my first rejection agatha-christie-portraitfrom an agent I queried as a sign I’ve entered into the world of actual writers.F_Scott_Fitzgerald_1921 After all, apocryphal or not, tales of
F. Scott Fitzgerald papering his wall with rejection slips or Agatha Christie hanging in there for five years before selling her first mystery, indicate rejection is part and parcel of being a new writer.

I admit I’m praying I don’t receive a wall’s worth of rejections or have to wait five years (I’m way too old), but I’m proud this first negative response did not send me into a tailspin. Of course, it helped the agent in question was gentle and non-judgmental. “I couldn’t relate to your writing,” was her explanation. I took that to indicate my writing was not unacceptable. However unfortunately the one thing I can’t change is “my writing.” I can edit, restructure, or polish, but I doubt I can fundamentally alter the tone or character of how I write. It reflects who I am.

In the greater scheme of things, however, I am pleased to think my writing is individual. It means if I do find an agent, a publisher and an audience, they will have chosen my work. My ego will certainly appreciate that.

After countless revisions, edits and sleepless nights, I finally sent out queries for my maiden novel, Wild Echoes Flying. The act of submitting my creative baby to the unwavering scrutiny of industry professionals is both exhilarating and horrifying. I had successfully pitched this first round of agents, who’d all expressed some interest in the concept. I should be more hopeful, right? Instead, I realize I’ll now be judged solely on my writing, no way to soften the potential blows to my nascent creative confidence.

I’ve gone to conferences, participated in writing groups and classes, submitted pages for critiques, even hired a professional editor whose detailed, yet insightful, notes almost pushed me over the edge. I’m reviewing the business of writing, studying how to effectively promote my book if it’s published, and even explored the basics of publishing contracts.

Despite all this preparation, I find myself transported back to grade school desperately waiting for someone to pick me for a team, invite me to a party or include me in a game. The act of writing is so personal. Regardless of the topic, it is self-reflective.  All the research, editing, critiquing in the world doesn’t change my voice, my story, my idea. Even when I acquiesce to the suggestions of others, those are my decisions. It’s all on me.

But if writing is entirely subjective, so is reading. No book, novel, work of art — not even the classics — appeal to everyone. I know this. I should be mature enough to believe in my own creation. Still I crave the validation of my peers, of professionals, of others.

And, yet, despite the fear, dread and nail-biting suspense, I feel liberated, brave, powerful. After a lifetime of avoiding rejection, I’m now courting it. Good for me.

And so I wait.

Let’s Talk

I’m no technophobe or Luddite, but I admit to longing for the sound of a human voice. A real human’s voice.

I use text and e-mail, but regard them as information tools. When I converse, I want to talk. I don’t need to talk long, but I prefer to hear someone’s reaction, tune into the subtleties of tone and rhythm. I particularly resent endless backing and forthing by text to iron out details of a meeting, plan or idea, which could be settled in one minute on the phone.

Before you protest, I understand texting can be done when you’re otherwise engaged — in a meeting, on a date, during a meal or at work. But such multitasking comes with its own perils.

And has everyone missed the irony that at a time when we are talking to each other less and less, we are being bombarded by devices offering to talk to us or allow us to talk to them? Truth be told, half the time when I’m texting I use the voice feature to speed up the process.

In the grand scheme my current pet peeve may be small potatoes. Studies seem to indicate babies, animals and children do not thrive if deprived of physical, tactile and real world interactions.  I can’t help but suspect the same holds true for adults.

After a week of campaigning, elections and then endless dissections of the elections, I needed something to remind me of the infinity of good things, ideas and fun the world holds.

In May of 2010 I visited Syria. I went on my own, but organized transportation between cities and hired guides to visit key historical sites.

The Theater in Bosra is now used by snipers and houses rebel forces.

The Theater in Bosra is now used by snipers and houses rebel forces.

The Syria I visited was both beautiful and fascinating — Aleppo, Damascus, Hama, the Citadel of Saladin and Palmyra were living links to a past that I had only been able to imagine.

There was a major battle in a city in the desert area of Restafa where I met  this young entrepreneur who sold me this hand embroidered treasure.

There was a major battle in a city in the desert area of Restafa where I met this young entrepreneur who sold me this hand embroidered treasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I see the images of what is happening and has happened in the last four years, my heart breaks. I don’t want to forget the Syria and the Syrians I experienced during my visit.

Palmyra, that for centuries was the crossroads of the world, has not escaped the relentless destruction of the civil war.

Palmyra, that for centuries was the crossroads of the world, has not escaped the relentless destruction of the civil war.

The Grand Mosque in Aleppo and the bazaar that abuts it have sustained significant damage.

The Grand Mosque in Aleppo and the bazaar that abuts it have sustained significant damage.

 

 

 

I fear these young men no longer have the same easy smiles and open curiosity

I fear these young men no longer have the same easy smiles and open curiosity

 

 

This post is my attempt to remind myself and others of what has been lost and what is being lost as this tragic war drags on.

A Truce

This has been a tough week. The news is filled with conflict — the fight against Ebola, the war on ISIS and, for us here in Florida, Fangate  (the conflict over a floor fan).  As a respite from all this, I offer this image: my two dogs, rivals in all things, but able to enjoy a quiet moment together.

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Whenever I see the image of the Ebola virus, I hear the theme from Jaws in my head.

 

 

 

 

 

If you think about it, that ubiquitous photo  does have  a predatory aquatic quality to it.

But I doubt that’s why my mind relates the two.  I’m waiting for Time Magazine to annoint this “The Summer of the Ebola Virus.”  In 2001 the world, particularly the media, seemed to be convinced that suddenly sharks had begun preying on innocent swimmers worldwide. Shark attacks were front page news, experts debated why this was happening and how we might protect ourselves. Only thing was, there was no particular upsurge in shark attacks that year. In fact the year before there had been more attacks and more fatalities.

This particular “crisis” is just as skewed. Don’t get me wrong Ebola is serious. It’s a very infectious and deadly disease. But let’s put some things in perspective. With the exception of health workers who were brought back after contracting Ebola while working in West Africa, there have been two cases of Ebola in the U.S.  Thomas Duncan, who is the first Ebola victim to die in the U.S., contracted the disease in Liberia and traveled here before realizing he had been infected. And now one of the nurses who cared for him has become the first person in the U.S. to contract Ebola on American soil. This is troubling. But both these cases happened in one city, Dallas. The U.S. has over 317 million people and is 3 million square miles (that’s just the contiguous U.S.) I don’t think we need to head for the bunkers yet.

I live in Miami. A young woman yesterday called me concerned about whether she should take her child to the hospital because he might contract Ebola. She seemed to feel that Ebola was everywhere. I explained how Ebola is transmitted and why she should not worry at this point. But it got me thinking. How many mothers or fathers will wait or refuse to get medical help for a sick child because they fear Ebola? How many flu victims will be shunned and demonized because people worry they have Ebola?

The Ebola story is important and  has to be reported. But the constant speculation, fear mongering and 24/7 focus on the U.S. Ebola victims is doing a disservice not only to people here, but to the thousands of victims in Africa. Because ironically, about a month ago I saw a letter to the editor complaining about the U.S. sending troops to help with the Ebola virus. The gist of the letter was that it was a waste of American taxpayer money. This latest outbreak could have been greatly reduced if resources and people had been directed to the problem earlier.

When all this calms down, I hope the lesson we take away is that what happens in Africa, Asia, anywhere is no longer just “their” problem. Terrorism, disease, even wars now travel throughout the world. When we help, and I don’t mean send troops and guns, but resources and practical assistance, we’re doing this for our own benefit as well as the benefit of those at the other end.

 

 

 

 

 

Issues of citizenship, nationality and belonging have been in the news recently. The great ‘immigration debate’ rages as Americans try to wrestle with exactly when someone becomes “American”. But these questions are not just abstract legal issues or economic ones. They represent an essential component of how we define who we are. For the vast majority of people in the world, this poses no problem. But for some of us  – and our numbers are growing — questions arise.
Citizenship is a legal term, it refers to a country within which you, as a citizen, have certain rights and for whom the government has certain responsibilities. You can have, as do  I and many I know, dual, triple or even quadruple citizenship. You can get citizenship through birth, from your parents, from your spouse or through legal means such as naturalization. Citizenship is conferred differently by different countries. In some, it’s fairly difficult to attain. In others, quite easy.

Nationality is less precise. According to my American Heritage Dictionary, nationality is “the status of belonging to a particular nation by origin, birth or naturalization.” or “a people having common origins or traditions”. But what nationality are you if you’re born one place, of parents of another country and grew up yet somewhere else? Nationality can be defined by others. The Chinese government reserves the right to claim as Chinese nationals all ethnic Chinese from any community anywhere in the world, regardless of how long it has been since any family member has ever set foot in China. A friend of mine who was of Japanese descent – several generations ago – found it very difficult when she visited Japan because she found that there was an expectation that despite her foreign ‘citizenship’, upbringing etc. that she would continue to be fully and completely ‘Japanese’ including how she walked, talked and moved. She told me she grew tired of being criticized for how she stood while waiting for a subway.

For me, questions such as “Where are you from?” Or “What are you?” always provoked a feeling of discomfort. Where was I from? I was born in Brazil, spent little time in the U.S. growing up so certainly I didn’t feel as if I was from the U.S. But did that make me ‘Brazilian’? Not really. My parents were from the United States, I received a largely U.S. style education, and spent much of my adult life representing the U.S. overseas. So I must be ‘American’.

I spent only four years of my first 18 in the U.S., the rest I was in Guatemala, Cuba and Brazil. When I was a teenager I was so rabidly, wholeheartedly and fanatically Brazilian, that my American parents, fearing I would lose my American identity entirely, insisted in my returning to the U.S. to go to college. When they moved to Tunisia during my college years, I ended up with no family or roots to return to in Brazil, so I settled into life in the U.S. Ironically because I wanted to get back overseas, I ended up becoming an American foreign service officer and took as my job ‘explaining America’ to the rest of the world But I never relinquished my Brazilian citizenship and I always maintained a brazilian heart.

My latest ‘identity crisis’ was triggered by  the World Cup. The World Cup tested my national loyalties. I have now lived and worked in so many countries – in North America, South America, Africa and the Far East – that I have emotional ties to them all. When Spain faced Tunisia, who should I root for? When the U.S. faced Ghana? (Sorry, but I just had to root for the Africans on this one). What about when Brazil faced Ghana? How I envied those friends whose loyalties were clear.
But then I remembered two important points. First, while it may be confusing and at times lonely feeling no strong sense of belonging to one place, I get such great joy from feeling connected to so many places.  As the World Cup went on those who rooted so passionately for one team, lost so much after their team was eliminated. But I just kept finding a new team to which I had an emotional attachment.

Secondly my sense of belonging in the U.S. as a whole may be tenuous at times, but I do very much feel a part of Miami.  After all, Miami is  the community version of me. So many loyalties, so many identities, so many citizenships. I could hardly have found a more appropriate place to live.

And finally as I fret about my multiple identities I can’t help but be aware of the millions of refugees that don’t have any — no citizenship, no nationality, no home. So now I’ll stop worrying about my crisis of too many identities and  focus on ways — however small — I can help those who have lost all  of theirs.

This is an absolutely fascinating talk. I’m sure many of you have already seen/heard it. But for those who haven’t, it’s very thought-provoking. (BTW – I only beat the chimps once.)

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