Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Got me thinking...

Ack... Another, uhm, month I've been gone here. Where does the time fly, eh? Now I know I say this a lot, but this time I mean it. Why else would you see me posting on a Wednesday? Oh well, aside from the fact that I just put the darndest and most harrowing uni semester ever behind me and getting on my own two feet after the other happenings...

This blog is gonna roll again! Twice a week. One for a perception-tunnel type of post (can include links to articles on the Web) and the weekly life-and-writing round-up.

Now since today is not Friday, guess what? Yup, it's the new Perception Tunnel spot on my blog.

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to an article on stereotypes, especially when one is writing multiracial characters. I won't post it here today, coz my focus is on another article I stumbled upon when reading that. It was a post by author Camy Tang, and you can find it here. In it she was talking about how she got the 'revelation' and decided she'd write what she knows best, namely Asian-American fiction.

This struck a chord in me, because she reminded me of me when I started writing. At the time, I had just finished reading the humongous A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. While the political scene-type of plot and descriptions made my eyes glaze over, I was completely taken in by the life and woes of the characters in there. Latta, the heroine, who loved a Muslim boy, Kabir, in the time of India's Partition that seemed to have set the wheels of Hindu-Muslim hate and animosity in motion. Her nagging and drops-in-a-faint-with-nerves-at every-opportunity mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra. I was lol and most of the time going, this is so much like the life me and my friends live even today.

At around the same time, I watched Bend It Like Beckham, and other culture-type movies such as Bride and Prejudice and American Desi. Movies, and ultimately stories, that called to every young person of Indian origin the world over.

That's it there - Indian culture. Be it my friend who lives in India, my cousins who live in England, acquaintances in America, random strangers in Mauritius - we all share something in common, and that is the Indian culture. We all know that when there is a wedding, you're expected to wear kurtis and churidars or saris that bare your midriff but goodness gracious, girl, your legs should not show! We all know that as long as you're playing Indian music, be it A.R Rahman or movie soundtracks or bhangra, as long as the lyrics are Indian, go on and go balle balle! No matter if the music is telling the story of girl power and how every girl should go out and just hook up with that great-looking bloke for a night of great no-strings-attached sex, it's Indian, you know. Shania Twain and her profound lyrics a la From This Moment does not stand any chance coz, shame, she's Western!

I've grown up in this kind of world, and yes, it is the one I know best. So what better than an Indian-cultural inspired story for my first novel? Now Indian-based is done out there. What would be my difference? Well, no one had written about my land, Mauritius. Mind you, there are lots of Mauritian reads out there, but the Bend It Like Beckham type? Nopes. I had my angle. The rainbow island, where almost every culture on Earth dwells in peaceful harmony. Uh, let me correct that - seemingly peaceful harmony. No, we don't break out in religious fanatism-type of riots or anything like that (thank goodness!) but there are definite little currents running beneath the surface. Like the fact that you stick with and marry your own 'kind'. That friendship is okay with others but remember your 'own'. That 'why would you do like them others?' I guess you cannot escape all that - it's human nature after all. But in all the differences, there are way lots of similarities.

Like every young girl, whether White, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Black, Chinese, gets asked the question at and after she turns 20 - when are you getting married, dear?
Like every mom, from whatever cultural, ethnic or religious belonging, goes into a fainting spell the day she hears her daughter has a boyfriend (usually tipped off by an anonymous phone call).
Like every young person, be it whatever his or her cultural and religious upbringing, having their gaze crossing that of another across a crowded room and going, could he/she be the one and immediately thinking, I hope she's of the same religion/culture/ethnic origin as I am otherwise there'll be hell to pay.

I've written my first story, The Other Side, with all this in mind, and I guess people have noticed. I've been told the issues and situations and the way they were depicted were profoundly Mauritian, but done in a light and humourous way that was light-years away from the usual drudgery of Mauritian literature. This was by Mauritians. I've had Indians telling me I could just transpose the setting for India and the issues would still apply. Even 'weirder' to me was having African-Americans telling me they 'got' the story and plot and issues too coz it had striking similarities with their world.

And then something happened. I was 'told' culture-based 'does not cut it anymore'. I was advised to steer away from the culture-issues even if I did keep the setting. Stories are universal, apparently. I was to focus on characterization and plot and leave the culture threads behind, or weave them in as little as possible coz 'culture-based is not cutting it anymore.'

From this blow and discouraging note, I moved onto culture-free writing, developing the Nolwynn Ardennes novels. I had, and still have, fun with them, but they're not all I wanna do. I want to write about nagging aunties, overwhelming moms, cultural divides, roots, identity, the culture that shapes us into who we are.

As I am now at a point where I can afford to take stock of my writing and decide what to do with it, I realise I miss the culture-based fun. Every time I watch American Desi I laugh just as hard. There is definitely something about over-confident Indian guys who brag that they can cook Indian food and then you see them tossing a chapatti directly on the flame and emptying a whole 1-pound packet of garam massala in a dish of 1-pound raw dhal (lentils)! Every Indian or anyone who has Indian culture in their makeup will laugh at this scene and shake their heads. Or when the hero, Indian-American who is totally clueless, goes to the Indian shop and asks for N-ayyy-n (when it is pronounced N-aahh-n). Or the shopkeeper who is trying to pass the barcode twice to have the customer pay more and the old auntie notices and starts whacking the shopkeeper with her mojri (flat, bejewelled sandals).

Where is that in my writing? Sadly, it's gone. I took the advice I was given and tried to streamline. I was 'scared' by the prospect that every one of my books would sound the same if I had overbearing and nagging old aunties in them. But you know what? Overbearing nagging old aunties is what maketh a big part of the world I know. I recently lost an aunt, and with her I thought we'd lost a whole generation of nagging, question-asking type. But lo and behold - her daughters and daughters-in-law are stepping in as the new wave of nagging, question-asking and overbearing aunties! Which means these type of old ladies will always be a feature and a fixture of Indian culture.

You may ask why I always mention culture and never religion. That's because, to me, religion is between you and whoever/whatever you choose to believe in. And culture is a way of life. A Muslim in India, while praying exactly the same way, will not live and experience the same kind of setup and setting as a Muslim in the countries of the Maghreb or other American Muslims. But a Muslim in Mauritius, a Hindu in India, a Sikh in England, a Marathi in Singapore, a Tamil in Australia, a Jain in America - all of them have one thing in common, and that's the Indian culture and way of life. Complete with nagging, overbearing and question-type aunties! That's what I write about, and if it never sells, well, it is what I write about, in the context of today's modern Mauritian society, a land that is about 300 years old and only stood on its own two feet 42 years ago.

So there you go - my writing as Aasiyah Qamar. Mind you, I'll still write as Nolwynn, but now I'm out to have some fun too. Starting with, you know what, overbearing, naggin-- I'll stop before I get overbearing!

From now till later, Cheers!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It did hit the fan...

...yeah, you know 'what', I won't spell it out.

3 weeks of flux, moves, changes, and yes too, hurt. By now most of you will know that around March 26 I resigned from my position as senior editor for the main line at Eirelander Publishing. What prompted this? It was a part of the flux. I was getting sucked into a sort of sandpit and just couldn't keep my head above at breathable level. Remember the issues with my oil and water and the whole breakdown thing? While all these were formenting in the background (they would've blown in my face sooner or later), well, let's just say sometimes a catalyst comes along. In my case, the catalyst was how I was living my life.

I was busy. Too busy actually. I wanted to be everything, and another thing that 'kills' with me is my desire to help. Need a hand with anything, just ask Z, because she'll never say no. In that respect, I think I take after my dad. Before retiring, he was a career nurse. People were always coming to him for help with medical stuff, or if relatives were admitted to hospital, he knew everyone it seemed and got all the info for everyone.

What I also recall is - for all my dad helped people, to me it didn't seem like he was helping us. Maybe I was selfish, but we'd see him receive a call at 1 in the morning, on one of those rare nights when he wasn't on duty, and a short while later he'd be getting into the car of some relative who needed his 'help' with some hospital matter. He'd usually start duty while still helping that relative, and we wouldn't see him until close to 24 hours later. I grew up knowing my father was almost never at home, and I treasured those moments we did have together. I also knew, and this burnt, that we never heard from these said relatives when none of theirs was in need of my dad's 'help'. But that was the man he was, still is, btw. Ask for his help and he'll never say no. Today as a grown up, I realise that's a wonderful trait of his, but as a kid, I resented it.

And now I was turning into him too. I 'helped' everyone but wasn't there for those who mattered. I 'lived' in my house, but my husband was just the man I was married to, not the one with whom I shared all my woes, dreams, issues, nonsense, like in the past, like not so long ago actually. My son was growing up but sadly, I didn't really know him and the little man he was growing into. And he too knew his mom as 'the woman who was always at her computer and always busy with work'. I never read anythin from my TBR pile; I watched movies with the hubs because otherwise he'd pitch a fit because we never seemed to share time together; on some days lunch consisted of wolfing a protein shake on the way down the stairs to pick kiddo from school, at quarter to 3 in the afternoon; sleep was after working on the PC online in the evening, working on the laptop at night, and working on the PDA phone in bed just before going to sleep around midnight or 1 AM. And in the morning it'd start again at 8.30 AM at the PC to check email before switching to the laptop to work until quarter to 3 when I'd dunk a shake and go pick the kid, to come back again online an hour later.

The fact was, I no longer had any time. I'm very much a perfectionist - when I do something, especially for others, I want it to be perfect to the dot. Without realizing, I will be sucked into the venture and helping out in any way I can. Now if I had no life, that would be great. But that wasn't the case. I was me, I was a wife, I was a mom, and I was a writer.

It came down to a choice - who did I want to be? Strangely, this scene from the movie Cocktail jumped at me - you know where Tom Cruise is eating reheated pizza and doing his assignment where the teacher asked them to write their own obituary. What would my obituary look like if I died today? What would it look like if I continued along the same path I was on? What did I actually want my obituary to say about me?

Certainly not that everyone loved me because I helped at the drop of a hat but the people who mattered said I was there in body but never in spirit and heart. Did I want my husband to ask, why did I stay with her? Did I want my son to tell his kids, my mom never had time for me coz she was always working?

And the writing - let's talk about it. Nothing there. Dry as dust. Forced. Stilted. The problem was - I had no time. Writing was akin to a chore, that I had to fit in with as much gusto as a trip around the house with the hoover in tow (hoover trip that I have to fit in this week, btw, ack!).

I had to face it - I was a writer! Wife and mom and daughter too, yes, but most of all, I was a writer. Not anything else. The choice - writer or everything else work-wise.

Every writer will know and reckon that writing is not a hobby. It's work, it's a job. It takes time, investment, dedication, heart. It takes all your brain and all your soul too.

So the choice came down to - I am a writer. Period. Which meant that while I loved to edit and help authors, that task wasn't me and what I was cut out to do. In a choice between editting and writing, I chose writing, and in the same go, I chose to be a not non-existent wife and mother.

Sadly, not everyone understood my stand. I faced some scathing remarks, some attacks on my person. It was never my intention to let anyone down, but that's how it was construed by some. Thank goodness the people I relied on and cared about rallied around me and I realised how blessed I was to know such amazing ladies. They all 'got it', and hugged and listened and cheered me up.

It hurt me that in a few instances, I saw the real face of some people whom I considered friends. But like every hurdle teaches you, it's in tough times that you realize the real truth, that you see reality for what it is.

But I am moving forward. I quit a job, a prestigious position, and though some would feel like they should regret their lives for such a 'rash' decision, I don't regret it. I'm sad it had to come to this, but I am who I am and the reality is such that I couldn't keep going the way I was. In the process, there are some indelible marks upon my heart now, but this is how we learn, innit?

My goal now? Be the writer I was meant to be all along. I took a detour along the way maybe, but I'm back in stride now. In my personal life, I am getting to know my son better. I am hearing his laughter everyday, a sad fact to mention was that while I was 'working', this 6-going-on-7-going-on-30 little man wasn't laughing anymore. I am getting better acquainted with my husband too, letting the two of us realize why we had chosen to be together for the rest of our lives in the first place (amid some china breaking, of course, but that's us, hot-tempered Indian-origin folks!).

So I am writing, and hopefully, I will have an update for you shortly. I'm thinking of revamping the blog a little too, with some posts of cross-links to life, love, relationship articles I come across on the Net. Sort of like making my Perception Tunnel sub-heading in the weekly post a weekly or bi-weekly happening on here.

All revved up - yes, my mojo is back! I am back too, and let's hope that I won't lose myself anymore!

Thanks to all who stand by me and who in any way, small or big, have touched my life with their presence, words, hugs, and friendship in the past few weeks.

Don't forget:

Live. Laugh. Love!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Aftermath beckons...

Note to writer self - in the aftermath of a black moment, your heroine should be feeling completely silly and stupid. Why? Because that's how I'm feeling now.

I did go through a black moment over the weekend, culminating in the tears and unleashing on the blog yesterday. I cannot pinpoint exactly what led it on - it was one thing built upon another and another and another, and before you know it, you are overwhelmed and fraying at all the edges.

You know the BFF in every chick-lit story? I'm lucky to have one too. She lives thousands of miles away from me but she is always there. She sat me down and had a talk with me yesterday. Her words: life happens, deal with it.

Sounds harsh? Maybe, but she was right. Life isn't gonna go away no matter how much you stick your head in the sand and wait for it to 'pass'. And if it does pass, it's waiting for you around another corner.

That's what I had done, and the past few days were one such corner waiting for me to slam in it. I won't recoil from saying that the issues involved were actually people. The people in my life, those who make me whole when I bring them together and place them as the foundation of my existence. But that's a tricky thing - family. It's oil and water and pepper and salt and sugar and slices of lemon. On a good say, you stir and shake and end up with palatable vinaigrette. On other days, you stir and shake all you want and all you end up doing is making your arm hurt when nothing is mixing. That's when you have to realize - will this mix turn into a salad dressing or not?

In this latter case, it was a not. Actually, it was a not for a long time, I just refused to see it because it was easy to just keep on stirring and shaking when the oil and water were starting to separate. And then you get old and your arm muscles are no longer so strong and you grow tired and get aches and pains. Short of becoming addicted to painkillers, you have no way of keeping on stirring and shaking so everything will keep sticking into a salad dressing.

Strange side note - I am not a foodie, not even an enthusiastic cook. Yet using cooking examples come easy to me. Go figure.

Back to that example - translated to real life, the growing old part for me was actually about growing up. I had (hopefully) acquired the maturity necessary to look at things and know that oil and water will never mix and that I cannot keep hiding in the sand. If this were my heroine, this is the basis I would've given her to get on with her life and move to find her own happiness in her arc. So if I knew all that, why wasn't I doing it? Because writing is fictional, and real life isn't. In your writing, the sh*t may hit the fan but over your plot progression the mess miraculously disappears. Not so much in real life.

That was my dilemma - I had to do this, separate the oil from the water though I couldn't cut either from my life. Face it - we need Essential Fatty Acids and H2O to survive! That was me in a nutshell. Had to scrape off the salad dressing and figure how I could get both so I'd still be healthy yet without the hassle of having to make said dressing. Yeah, I may not be making much sense right now, I know that (beauty of blogging!).

It was hard to do. It nearly killed me. But like every writer knows, a character arc cannot progress if issues aren't adressed and there'll be no hope of HFN let alone HEA. So I did it - separated my oil from water.

And guess what? We're all still alive and kicking. Yes, there was a lot of hurt on the spot, but my mistake? I never gave the people involved enough credit to believe that they'd all hold on tall and strong without me to act as a supporting pillar in the display.

I don't know what consequences this move will have in the long term. If it's bad and the people are hiding it, it breaks my heart but sadly, I can't do anything about that. I tried, and look where it had gotten me. I know now that I may approach a corner and not be afraid of slamming into this particular issue. I know my arm need not hurt anymore from trying to stir and shake an impossible mix.

How do I feel? I'm still numb, I guess. Beneath this particular issue sat a few others, little ones that appear of no consequence but accumulate to something substantial when put together. We're working on them. My water (and I guess by now you know who I'm talking about here) and I are trying to figure out where the waves are coming from and what is triggering such tsunamis on the calm surface of our life together. My oil, well, is trickling along as usual. I just hope I haven't hurt them badly and that God will forgive me if I have. And my little dose of sugar was the sweetest of the lot, of course - yesterday he saw me crying and he came up, hugged me, and said, "can't you go to one of those places where they do massages and put that icky goop on your face and all that?" Yes, in his own little guy words, he was telling me to take a break and go to a spa! I think he'll know how to speak to girls later (yikes!). I told you, didn't I - we don't credit our people with enough good sense.

Yesterday I had a breakdown, a meltdown, and a black moment all rolled into one. I agreed I needed to move forward, and I took the plunge. Strangely, like my heroines, I didn't drown. I just emerged up and out as good-looking as a drowned rat, but you know what? It means I did come out.

I'm not seeing the light just yet, but I know it's there. Up to me now to cut through the brambles of thorns to be able to see the brilliant sky.

And yes too - as soon as my paycheck clears, I am gonna listen to the sugar's advice and book myself to have all that icky goop plopped on my face!!

Thanks to everyone who have listened and bothered enough to try and talk some sense into me at my black moment. Everyone needs people like you in their lives.

Incidentally, did I mention all this gave me an idea for a story...?

In the meantime, don't forget:

Live. Laugh. Love. I am followingmy advice now.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This is so not gonna work...

... what an awful blog record! The last time I've been here was about a month ago. I could go the same route - where did the time fly? Yes, true, where did it fly? But at the same time, I know I've slacked. I watch every Friday roll by and then I am so busy I go, promise I'll do it Saturday. Then Saturday rolls by, and life is shaking me around like a rag doll.

That's how I feel on most days lately. Like everything is shaking up around me and I can't do a thing about it. You could say that's an easy excuse out, but I have nothing else to propose as reason. Everyday is like a rollercoaster and a struggle fit into one...

Most of you people know me as a chirpy, carefree, easygoing girl. But that's not who I am. Not really. It's a facet of me, the one I take on to face the world. I'm not sure anyone really knows me. People look at me and see wat they want to see. Now if you people are good at reading between the lines, you may have read me like an open book.

Who am I? Writer, editor, mother, wife, daughter, woman. Sum total of me? I don't know.

Why am I getting so heavy this time around, and the post is not even a weeks' type roundup I usually do. The reason could be that change is inevitable.

Around this same week 5 years ago, my life changed completely. I had been married for 3 years, mom of a 22-month old toddler. I'd just turned 22 years old. And I was a complete spoilt brat. March 14 marked the start of a turnng point - while showering I felt a hard lump in my breast. Strangely, I didn't panic. I called doctors, went for a mammogram, booked myself into a clinic to have the thing removed on the 17th. Was I living in a bubble? Maybe. It would burst on March 22 (yeah, that number again. Hadn't realised it was so prominent in there!). On that day the pathology report came back - the lump was malignant and spreading fast. Yes, it meant the word: cancer.

I had received the news in my parents' living room. The doctor in question was my cousin who apparently didn't think of patient confidentiality and just announced to the world, before I'd even heard it, that I needed to have surgery and chemo and all the hoop-la. No, I haven't forgiven him, and never went back to see him ever since. My husband said he'd take me home. I said no. I didn't want to be in the bubble of a car interior. I just stepped out and walked back home, 3 blocks away. The 10 min walk turned into a 20 minute stroll. I was still in pain from the first surgery, still had its gigantic dressing on my left side and its stitches itching and burning me. But in that moment I felt nothing. I stepped on the road, and I listened to traffic, people, felt the air on my face... I didn't talk for the whole day, I remember. The one thing I also clearly recall doing when I got home was that I sat down and prayed.

And then I decided to write. I had been toying with a story, one of those literary types that analyses every detail and can put a teacup on a pedestal so much it was heavy and symbolic and yes, boring. I remember writing on the eve of my surgery, because I couldn't sleep. I remember writing on the eve of every chemo session, because I again couldn't sleep.

And I remember growing up in that 20 minute walk. I remember becoming a writer consciously on that day.

A few weeks later I would meet a woman who would change my life again. Her name was TJ Killian. A confirmed author, she became a CP, a friend, a mentor. I remember she asked me - where do you want to be in 5 years?

5 years have gone by. Am I where I wanted to be? In a way, yes. I'm a writer, I'm published, people are starting to recognize my work. Strangely, it is Nolwynn Ardennes, born just 2 years ago, who is getting more prominence than the 5-year-old Aasiyah Qamar who was born back then.

I am starting to ask myself whether every 5 years is a lapse that prompts you to take stock of your life and reassess your priorities. I am asking myself questions.

Like why did I think of getting a degree? Seems like 8 years ago when I took on that program, it was more because it was what everyone was expecting of me. A good student my whole life, why did I 'cop out' and get married and have kids when I could've had a bright future before me? Sadly, I bought that crap and now that I'm one semester away from completing this darn degree, I cannot cop out and give up. I've invested too much, not just financially but emotionally and time-wise in there to give it up now. Sad, I know...

On some days I regret other decisions I made in my life. If I'm not regretting, I am second guessing. And yeah, that's personal. I'll never regret writing - that has become my life in a nutshell.

What I'm getting at is that - I may be a writer as you people know me, but I am also a person. And that comes with a whole load of sh*t. No other way of saying it. Why haven't I blogged? Because life has a way of catching up with me and twisting me around. Yes, it's a life I chose,  but had I known, would I have chosen it? I am not so sure. Lately I am feeling completely washed out, tired, and in over my head. I feel as if I've lost myself in there... for you see, one thing I hate is conflict. I prefer to dodge issues rather than address them head on because that'd be a further stress I completely don't need on top of everything else.You could say life dealt me a dodgy hand of cards and now I gotta play it. Tough but you gotta bite that bullet... Well, on some days, that gets a bit too much for me.

In the past weekend, I haven't gotten anything done. I've sat down, walked around, lost sleep over where I am at in my life. I've even asked myself if I was having a depression, a break down, a melt down, whatever.

One conclusion I  have reached is that while I may not want to disappoint everyone, I can't please everyone at the same time. I have to pick and choose my priorities, pick and choose my battles, and get over the crap. Would it make a difference if I said at some points, I've wondered if it weren't all crap that I'm living?

Might sound pathetic but in the past week I've received 2 reviews for my book Storms in a Shot Glass. 2 women, total strangers to me, who have enjoyed the story and told the world about it. Would it be strange to admit that this was what gave me a sense of validation? That this support was what kept me going?

Yes, I know - that's sad. I'm sure I've scared a lot of people today, and no, I'm not thinking of ending it! Not my life, not my writing, not my relatonships, and not this blog (lol there, for I wonder if aside from a few dedicated regulars who read my rambles more out of loyalty and friendship than because I have something to say, people don't really give a hoot about what I have to say).

But no, I'm not giving up. I'm just realizing that I need to give a new direction to my life. Face things head on instead of trying to smooth everything and please everyone and in the end hurt myself in the process. Strange - last year I wrote one such woman in a story, and it never dawned on me that she was me in a very big  part...

Change... welcome it, trash it, dodge it? It's here whether we like it or not. I may not like it, but I have to accept it in order to be whole again.Yes, it's 'that' time again...

5 years ago I grew up, but I guess I didn't grow up enough. I still have a lot of work to do in that light, especially now. This morning I cried after I dunno how long, and I think the tears cleansed and enabled me to move forward, even if that forward is a bramble of thorns. Are there a few roses in it? Very few and far between, I'll admit... Some things I'll need to do will break my heart, others will be relief after the initial storm. All of them will redefine life as I've known it so far. I'm scared, and I'm torn, yes. I don't want to be in my shoes... Funny in a twisted way, innit? If this were one of my heroines, I'd have her path all plotted out. But this is real life, sadly, and is there such a thing as HEA?

So if you're still around after reading this, I'll see you soon. And yes, not just every Friday (that I dodge and escape!). I am hauling a lot of stuff, but one thing I cannot give up on is my writing and the connection that gives me to the world. To you people.

Thanks for listening, and the ones who are there - thanks for being there.

And in the meantime, don't forget;

Live. Laugh. Love.

Yes too, I'm gonna take my own advice!