Onward and upward

The past week has been full of good things.

Last weekend, my husband and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary by taking a short trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is situated between Cleveland and Akron in Ohio. It’s an interesting park, because it is very much an urban park, but it’s still beautiful and the hiking trails are lovely.

On Monday I began in my new position as the clerical specialist at a new library branch. This promotion comes with more responsibilities and duties, and I’m excited to really dig into it. My first week has been a time of observation, getting to know the library, some of our patrons, and my new coworkers. I’ve learned a lot already, and I know I’m going to learn and grow so much more.

I’m also trying to expand my regular writing gigs to challenge myself, meet new people, and generally be an engaged literary citizen rather than just a blogger/writer of weird fictions.

And in addition to all that, I’m trying to build a daily yoga practice and hopefully begin riding my bike to work, at least when the weather permits.

All of this adds up to a lot of time, though, so expect me to be scarce while I find my footing. I’m going to bump down to a three-day-per-week posting schedule on this blog for now, and hopefully once I’m settled into my new routine I’ll be able to add more back in.

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The thing about to-do lists

Normally, I write a to-do list each week and break it down into categories: writing, blogging, Wild Age Press, “other.”

My attempts to do one action from each category each day are leaving me feeling unaccomplished and inadequate, because I can’t do EVERYTHING but always feel like I should be able to do everything.

I’m still accomplishing quite a lot, but I find that often items will linger on my to-do list undone week after week.

An analysis of my lists makes it clear that:

  1. I am putting too many things on my list each week.
  2. I am not being specific enough with the items I put on my list.
  3. I am not prioritizing items on my list, with the exception of writing.

Most articles on writing successful to-do lists suggest a maximum of three specific tasks per day, and doing a “mind dump” if your brain wanders to the other billion things you need to do.

I’m going to use these tactics to help me focus on my writing and do a better job of getting boring real-life responsibilities taken care of (like the parking ticket that sat under my dresser for three weeks).

By mindfully creating lists of important tasks each day and focusing more on the things that bring me joy, I hope to finally decide whether, as my husband insists, I’m doing too much or if, as I hope, I can do more.

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#SummerReads 2015 #1: “Arab on Radar” by Angele Ellis

This summer, my goal is to read ten poetry collections. Click on the summerreading2015 tag to chart my progress

arabonradarI found Arab on Radar by Angele Ellis by accident. I was looking for a new novel (can’t remember which one, now), and this collection came up in my search. It sounded interesting, so I checked it out.

Each poem reveals a layer of the Arab experience in American pre-9/11.

The parallels to then and now shocked me. I was in ninth grade on 9/11, and had been completely unaware of the Arab world before then (except for vague recollections of my father almost being called up from the Navy reserves in the early 90s to fight a faraway war in a faraway desert).

Each major immigrant group in this country has faced racism, bigotry, and hatred. The theme is familiar, but the details are new.

My favorite poem,  is “Through the Looking Glass:”

Dusty glass door with its skeleton key
becoming soft gauze, mist, mizna.
Scrambling through like Alice.
In my grandparents’ looking glass world,
books opened backward, right to left.
No mirror image could reveal
the riddle of a jabberwocky rhyme.
A vorpal blade on the wall
outgrinned the Cheshire cat.
The Caterpillar’s hookah sat unsmoked,
on the Sheep’s unreachable shelf.
It’s looking glass name was narghile.
When they used a word, it meant
just what they chose it to mean.
She the Red Queen, he the White King,
mismatched on their adjacent squares.
The game was checkers, not chess.
She was one of the thorny kind
yet he, moving twice as fast,
ended up with all the crowns.
Believing in six impossible things
for breakfast, lunch, and dinner–
we would have settled for jam
tomorrow and jam yesterday.
Living backward made us giddy.
It is only now that memory works
both ways. Which of us dreamed it–
those from the country of nights
five times as warm as cold,
or those who turned away and woke?

(There is a glossary of Arabic terms at the back of the book, where I learned that mizna means “cloud of the desert” and a narghile is a hookah or water pipe used for smoking hashish.)

The fact that the narrator describes various objects her grandparents have brought with them from Lebanon in Alice-in-Wonderland terms is telling: Lewis Carroll is more familiar to her than her culture of origin.

I like that the poem ends on a question that implies many questions. Should the narrator’s family have stayed in their home country, or did they make the right decision by leaving? What have they gained; what have they lost? What of those left behind?

These aren’t the kind of questions you can answer easily, but answering isn’t the most important thing. Recognizing that they exist and pondering them, even if you don’t come to any conclusions, is what matters.

Ellis’s other poems carry this theme of tension between generations and the desire to fit in. “It was all about whiteness,” the narrator of the collection’s eponymous poem states. She never outright states that she was discriminated against, but she does point out hurtful and often wrong stereotypes and feelings Americans had (and still have) toward people of Arab descent.

In “Federal Building,” Ellis describes her precarious situation as an Arab American: “Now we are lucky to stand unmolested / on the public sidewalk, / the thin edge of the wedge of democracy.”

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