24 February 2016

moving to wordpress


As most of you know, I am deactivating my Facebook account on March 8th.
This is also a great opportunity for me to invest more in my blogging platform.
I will soon be moving my blog to wordpress. I already have an address there, but still learning the technological ins and outs of it, so it will probably take me a while to have it all set up.
The new address is: www.HaifaFieldnotes.wordpress.com
Hope to connect with you there soon.


22 February 2016


*** Goodbye Facebook – deactivating account ***
I am turning 41 on March 8th. This past year has been a year full of both wonders and challenges. This past year, I accomplished my lifelong dream of becoming a published author. I also finally own my own place, with a big garden. However, this past year also brought with it the most significant challenges life has dealt me. I’ve had to deal with two suicide attempts of the two closest women in my life, which occurred only three weeks apart. I won’t go into too much detail about my coping with these experiences, but they have taught me some meaningful lessons in life. I have grown and learned from them immensely, and they have taught me what really matters in life. These two women have taught me the meaning of love, kindness, patience, and greatness. They have taught me to slow down and appreciate everything I do have in life. So this year, for my 41st birthday, I am giving myself a unique gift. I will life this year (and the following ones), as if this was my last year in life. To focus only on what is significant and truly important to me and to continue living my life to its fullest. I'll be dedicating most of the upcoming year to loving, working on my second novel, Taboos in Arabic, and tending to my garden. I’ve always lived my life to its fullest, always focused on my dreams, but this year I am also getting rid of meaningless distractions and illusions. A lot has been written on the addiction to Facebook and different strategies for it not to control our lives. Well, I decided that the simplest strategy is just to deactivate my Facebook account, as lately it’s become more of a nuisance than a networking tool for me (won’t go into details).

So, where can I be reached?
- I can be reached via email, though I don’t check my emails regularly.
- You can send me a postcard by regular mail.
- I will be posting my writings on my blog at www.HaifaFieldnotes.blogspot.com
- I will still have the Haifa Fragments Facebook page, where you can also read fragments of new fiction, my poetry, opinions, links to reviews of Haifa Fragments, and some useful articles.
- For literature lovers: connect with me on Goodreads, which I religiously update with my current readings.
- I’m active on Instagram.
- I’ll be also working slowly on updating or upgrading my website, or searching for a new, more integrated platform.

This Facebook account will be deactivated for a whole year shortly after March 8th, as I still need to figure out some technicalities re administrating pages and copy some content. Until then, I will no longer be active, and won’t be responding to any messages.

17 January 2016

Palestinian women breaking the silence surrounding sexual violence - #تسكتيش

Tuskuteesh #تسكتيش is a new initiative born out of the dire need to break the silence about sexual violence within the Palestinian society in Israel, inviting Arab women to share their experiences and personal testimonies of sexual violence. It’s a Facebook page that I initiated together with my friend, Reem Jaramneh. The thought behind it was that women don’t share their personal stories because most of the sexual violence happens within the family – the attacker being a male family member, a cousin, an uncle, or a close family friend. The fact that there is no safe space for women to share these experiences has been on my mind for a long time, and I considered doing something about it: as a writer, I wanted to bring these women’s voices out in the form of some kind of a narrative, but didn’t know how to go about it. When we came up with the idea of a Facebook page, it seemed the perfect platform: to let the women tell their stories, unmediated, in their own words and language, and yet in a safe environment. The idea came following an event organized by Kayan, a feminist organization working for the advancement and empowerment of Palestinian women citizens of Israel, at the beginning of December, as part of a 16 days of activism campaign dedicated to the eradication of violence against women.

At this event, held in Haifa, Palestinian women participants discussed various types of violence committed against women, such as economic, social, cultural, sexual violence, and the gender-based murder of women. The atmosphere was filled with difficult feelings and anger, especially in light of the large number of Palestinian women being murdered each year, when in most cases the murderers are not caught.

After the event, Reem and I spent hours talking and discussing the issue of sexual violence and the oppressive silence surrounding it. Talking about personal experiences of sexual violence is perceived taboo in our society, and isn’t discussed even among close friends or in intimate settings, unlike my experience among Jewish women, where many of them do share their experience with friends.

We opened the page at 2 a.m. on December 7, and decided to name the page Tuskuteesh, which in Arabic means don’t remain silent. It’s a call to action for women to break the silence and speak up. The following morning we were surprised to find that we had received a message of support from the head of one of the local feminist organizations, who even proposed cooperation and any support that we might need. This surprised me, and only then did I realize how revolutionary this page is, and just how strong the silence in our society is. Because of the difficulty in sharing stories of sexual violence in words, we offer women to share their stories also in forms of art: photography, painting, poetry, or other types of art.
Within two weeks, the page grew to more than 3,000 participants, mostly Palestinian women, but also some men. So far, about month into the project, we received some 20 stories of sexual violence – among them harassment over the internet, harassment in the street, and also some difficult stories of sexual abuse by close family members and close family friends. What surprised us that we began to receive stories from other countries in the Arab world – from Syria and Morocco, and we received messages of support from Egypt as well. Our initiative succeeded, in a very short period of time, to break not only the silence, but also to break other barriers: barriers of occupation and geographical barriers. A Palestinian woman from Ramallah has designed the Tuskuteesh logo and cover photo, as well as stickers and bookmarks, and some stories are coming from the West Bank. I’m personally in touch with several women from the West Bank and together we are thinking of how we can promote the page there as well and how we can cooperate further. This achievement of cooperation with Palestinian women activists from the West Bank is no less important in its significance, due to the multiple barriers – both physical and otherwise – that the state of Israel is imposing on us.
I’d like to note that Tuskuteesh is a completely independent project, led by volunteers. This is one of the reasons I think it has been able to reach so many people – the fact that it comes from the field and is a grassroots initiative. At this stage it is important for us to remain independent and not work under any organization or body. We want the freedom to act, and we are the grassroots voices from the field.
Most of the responses we’ve been receiving have been positive and supportive so far. Women are expressing their support both on the page as well as in private messages to me and my partner Reem. For example, one woman sent me a message telling me that she had wanted to share her story in the Hebrew-language page called “One in One,” which also publishes stories of sexual violence, but she didn’t feel comfortable for various reasons, and is happy now that there is a page in Arabic. Another woman posted to our page that this is the first page in Arabic that provides this important platform for women. A teacher from the Galilee sent me a private message of support, but she apologized that she couldn’t share the page on her own timeline, or even like the page. This is one example of how strong the silence barrier is. Many women are even afraid of commenting or liking the page, for various reasons.

Alongside the support, there has been a bit of a backlash, but not on a large scale. The backlash comes in private messages to me and to my partner. I, for example, received a message from a man, asking me why we are attacking the Arab men, and that sexual violence occurs in the West as well. My response to him was that yes, I am well aware that sexual violence is not restricted to the Palestinian society or the Arab world, but that it occurs in every society around the world. However, me being a Palestinian, my responsibility is first and foremost to the women of my own society. We are doing this not because we want to merely attack men, but in order to lead change that would ultimately create a safe world for us and for our daughters.

I’d also like to note the partnership with Jewish feminist friends. As already mentioned, there is a Hebrew page called “One in One,” but it doesn’t meet the unique needs of Palestinian women, nor is it accessible to us in terms of language. When we first started the page, I turned to all my contacts, among them of course the women of my feminist community Isha L’Isha, to assist in disseminating the page among their Palestinian friends. This is only one example of how Palestinian-Jewish partnership can work. Sometimes working together for a cause, while at other times supporting from the side.

Last but not least, I must say that within the last year or two, we’ve witnessed an increase in violence against Palestinian women, including murder. However, we are also seeing an increased movement of grassroots women who are taking to the streets and crying out against these atrocious crimes, and are engaged in awareness-raising activities. Tuskuteesh, not remaining silent, speaking out – is only the first stage towards a safe future for us and for our daughters.

This article originally appeared in German in the Kultur section of Die Welt on 17 January 2016.

12 January 2016

on affection - from "Taboos in Arabic," manuscript-in-progress

Old wrinkled men hugging and kissing each other three times on the cheeks, out in the allies between their homes, cousins meeting up at the supermarket, pushing their shopping carts side by side, their loud laughter echoing in the aisles, bouncing back softer, their small children running from one end to the other, slipping in behind the meat counter, hiding, only the tops of their heads visible. A five year old girl getting her weekly pocket money from her grandmother, running outside barefoot, through the garden, shouting to her friend across the street, still running, running, breathless stopping in front of the kiosk at the corner, her stomach up against the cold of the ice-cream fridge. Waiting there until her friend arrives, together they giggle, faces down, down through the glass. Small fingers pointing at this ice-cream, no, they had this one last week. Let’s try this one today. Their small hands struggling to slide the glass, the kiosk owner coming out, bald but with curling black hairs on his arms, you girls want to choose an ice-cream? Here, let me slide this glass for you. More giggles. Going inside to pay, the kiosk owner asking after their families, Alhamdulillah, they’re all tamam, fine. The little girl takes a bill out of her pocket, hands it to the kiosk owner, standing on her toes. He gives her back some coins and they are out. On the street, they find a spot on the sidewalk curb and sit down, legs crossed, tearing at the wrapping paper, in a hurry, before the ice-cream starts melting. Their heads close together, whispering childhood secrets.
(c) khulud khamis
Fragment from "Taboos in Arabic" - manuscript in progress

4 January 2016

Israeli Authorities keep a list of addresses belonging to Palestinians

Last Friday, January 1st, a Palestinian man, citizen of Israel, opened fire with a stolen machine gun in Tel Aviv, murdering two young Jewish men and injuring more than a dozen. Today, January the 4th, he is still at large. I’m not in Tel Aviv, but from the pictures I see on social media, hundreds of special forces and police are all over the city. The authorities began raiding every apartment belonging to a Palestinian in Tel Aviv. It seems that the state keeps us under separate lists and has a list of addresses belonging to Palestinians.

The photos posted beneath are taken from the Facebook page of Ahmad Amer. In his status, he writes:  “So the police decided today, 4 January 2016, that it is completely logical to enter our home in Ramat Aviv [neighbourhood in Tel Aviv], turn it barbarically upside down, take out the clothes from the closet because clearly the terrorist is hiding on the third shelf inside, turn the sofas because it’s clear he undoubtedly crawled underneath them. Of course all this was done without a warrant, and because we are Arabs, and of course, we – a physician, engineer, and a stock market director would want to hide their terrorist. I am enraged and I can do nothing except to write a meaningless status on Facebook.”

23 November 2015

assisting a Palestinian trans woman

To my international friends. We, the Haifa feminists, are trying to help a young Palestinian trans woman start a new life in Haifa. She has no support from her family and has newly arrived in Haifa. We are assisting her with housing, search for work, learning Hebrew, etc. We're also trying to help her financially until she can stand on her own feet and become independent. If any of you can donate any amount of money through Paypal, please send me your email along with the amount you wish to donate, and I will send you a request for payment. My email is khulud.kh@gmail.com. If you can't donate, please at least share. Thank you on behalf of the woman.

6 November 2015

4 October 2003 - from "Taboos in Arabic"

Salma is panting, trying to keep up with her 52 year old father. It’s a sunny day, with swishes of wind. Saturdays are their together-running days at the beach. They’ve been doing this for as long as Salma can remember. Her father, a marathon runner.
They reach the end of their running trail, at the Maxim restaurant. Salma’s t-shirt is clinging to her body like second skin. She’s out of breath. Her father looks at his stop watch, then bends to do his stretching. “You know, Susu, you will need to start doing your warm up and cool down stretches if you ever want to do any marathons.”
Salma is already lying on her back on the asphalt, staring up at the sky. Bliss. “I prefer to cool down watching the sky and the clouds. So you going to tell me if we beat our record or are you just going to do your goofy yoga stretches?”
Her father slowly turns his head towards her as he stretches his neck sideways. A stupid grin appears on his face. “Please! Do not underestimate my animal poses. And yes, by a whole minute and a half, Susu.”
“Baba, I’m almost 24 years old! When will you stop calling me Susu? Can’t you just grow up?”
“Never!” He yelped and slowly sank into the camel position. “Almost 24, Susu. I can hardly believe it. It seems it was only yesterday that you were running behind me like a little puppy. Ha! And you still can’t catch up with me!”
Salma rolled on her side and sat up on her heels. “You just wait! One of these days. And sooner than later it’s you who’s going to be watching that sand kicking from under my feet.”
Joubran rose up, his muscular body showing through his tank-top, and held out a hand to his daughter to help her up. “Yalla, let’s go.” They walked into the Maxim restaurant, warmly greeting Mtanes, the 31 year old guard, and conscious of the looks they got. A middle-aged, good looking man, with his arm around a young woman’s waist, both of them red-faced, their clothes clinging to their bodies.
They sit at their usual spot, the closest table to the kitchen, so that their body odour mingles with the smells from the kitchen. They’ve been coming here for years, every Saturday, after their run. Hanna, the head waiter, winks at Salma and she grins at him, “Hey, you’re not supposed to wink at women now that you’re engaged to be married!”
“You don’t really count, kid. Who would be interested in someone who always stinks and has sweat running down her forehead, anyway?” The three of them laugh. Salma hears his booming voice in the kitchen, “same as always at this time of day on Saturday for our dear friend Abu Salma and his daughter.”
A few minutes later, Sharbel, the 23 year old waiter brings them two bottled waters and some freshly cut up vegetables. “Had a good run?” Mtanes has the bluest eyes Salma has ever seen, and an angelic smile. “She still can’t beat me.” Joubran boasts. “Give her a few more years, Abu Salma. I’m sure she will, one of these days.” He smiles at Salma, arranges their silverware and plates, and goes to take an order from a nearby table.
“Can you tell me again what’s wrong with him, Susu? He’s intelligent, saving money to continue his law studies, caring, responsible... should I go on?”
“Baba, would you just stop it, please? I promise I’ll let you know when I fall in love. Now, can we change the subject? What about my birthday present?”
“Oh yeah, coming up in two weeks. How about I take you shopping and you pick whatever it is you’re into now? Sounds good? Afterwards, I’ll treat you and your mama to a gourmet restaurant.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Salma nibbles on a cucumber. They continue chatting, savouring this special time together. Her father tells her about a case study he discussed at a psychology conference he recently attended in Spain. Salma was fascinated by her father’s analysis, interrupting him mid-sentences to ask questions.
Salma looks to the side and sees a young woman in hijab sitting with a man in silence. They’re just finishing their meal. The man looks nervous, the woman seems unnaturally calm. The woman turns her head and looks straight into Salma’s eyes. A shiver runs down Salma’s back at the blackness of the woman’s eyes. She lowers her eyes and stares at her vegetables. “So, my last year at university, baba. I think I’ll take some classes in Philosophy this year, what do you say?”
“My daughter, the philosophical psychologist. I think it suits you well.” He says and pops a piece of carrot into his mouth.
The nervous man and the unnaturally calm young woman are now sipping Arabic coffee, still in complete silence. The man’s eyes are darting in every direction. Salma watches the calmness of the woman. She’s been staring at her hands, now with a hollow look in her eyes. She is beautiful, Salma thinks. She tries to imagine her without the veil, her black hair flowing down her shoulders. A stray thought catches her breath. The veil. The look in the woman’s eyes. The unnatural calmness and the hollow eyes. The nervousness of the man. Their silence. She quickly takes a sip of her bottled water and starts getting up. Her body begins shivering, but she must control herself. “Yalla baba, let’s go. I can’t stand my own smell.” Her voice louder than usual, enough for the young woman to hear her Arabic clearly. “What’s the rush? A few more minutes won’t kill you. Hanna? Can we have that kahwa on the house, brother?” Salma sinks back into her chair, breathes deeply. It’s nothing, she tries to convince herself. They probably just had a fight. Couples fight all the time. Totally normal behaviour.

Hanadi Jaradat, a 29 year old lawyer from Jenin, blows herself up. The sea rises and falls.

(c) khulud khamis, 2015

16 October 2015

keep the children out of it

Nura is three years old. She’s from Beer El Sabea in the Naqab. At her age, I imagine she cannot grasp the fact that she has become one of the icons for fighting racism and hate. Her photo was published in print newspapers and been posted and reposted many times in the last few days on Facebook and other social media outlets.
Nura was the subject of a racist discussion on a Whatsapp group for parents at her kindergarten, where one parent demanded she should be expelled. “If there is an Arab kid in the kindergarten it’s time to expel him!” “She has no place in the Jewish State. She should study in her village. Go to Syria; they love you there, Assad is waiting.” 
This piece is not about the racism and hatred towards Palestinians inside Israel, in the West Bank, and Gaza. Plenty of posts and articles have been written about that.
I want to write about the effect this will have on Nura and other children who find themselves caught in this cycle, sometimes against their will, other times unknowingly. Nura’s photograph was released by her parents, and there may not be any legal issue here. However, there is an ethical issue. A three-year-old child cannot make an informed decision, and we should keep her psychological and emotional wellbeing in mind. I don’t want to get into speculations of what effects this may have on her, but the possibilities are there, and they are many. Nura may become the target of negative attention such as hatred and racism. We all know how children can be cruel to each other, and we all know about bullying.
I think it is time that we recognize the dangers in posting photographs on Facebook and other social media. We have seen all too many suicides, bullying, verbal violence, and other types of violence resulting from inappropriate use of social media. All I can hope for Nura that this will pass quickly and she will not be exposed to any kind of violence in her life, nor suffer any trauma or post-trauma resulting from her becoming an icon in the fight against racism and hate. Keep the children out if it!

4 October 2015

Bisan's first day in Haifa - from Taboos in Arabic, work-in-progress

Bisan's first day in Haifa:
"Bisan was dropped off at the Haifa university dorms in the late morning hours by her brother Mahmoud, accompanied by her mother and three younger sisters. She held her head high as they passed mostly Jewish students on campus, but kept her voice low. Pride, shame, apprehension, and excitement all intermingled in her heart, making a mess of her heartbeat. Pride because her mother and sisters made her feel loved and this day even more important by their presence. Shame because she didn’t see any other students being escorted by family members; it made her feel smaller. As far as she could see, she and her mother were the only ones in hijab. Apprehension and excitement because she knew this day marked an essential transition for her. From the village to the city, from her small known world to the big unknown city, from the tightly-knit circle of childhood friends to new possibilities and uncertain ground. Her mind was teeming with questions, crowding in there like ants in the belly of an anthill. Two utterly different worlds, separated by a 40-minute drive."
- fragment from "Taboos in Arabic," work-in-progress
(c) khulud khamis, 2015

18 July 2015

On Running, Writing, Smoking

Last night, I put on my Smile-Sweat-Repeat running T-shirt on, my black running leggings, ankle socks, and my Saucony running shoes. I put on “khulud’s summer running 2015” playlist on Soundcloud, and start the Runkeeper application. I got the seed on an idea in my mind to mull over while running. It’s about what I want to write for today in my documentation project, i.e. this very piece. The idea is to write about de-cluttering my physical space as part of the process of making spaces for new writing. (i.e. what happened after my two-week long couch-potatoing, if you’re following up.)

But that piece will have to wait to be written on another day, because my run took a different turn. For me, running and writing have many elements in common. I can sit down at my computer, or with my notebook, with an idea I want to write about, but end up writing something completely different, like just now. Setting out to write a piece on making spaces, ending up writing about running and writing. But there’s a jumble in my mind as I type these words. Because I want to write all about running and what it does to my writing – I want to write it all at one go. At the same time, I don’t want to write all about it in one go. Because running does so many different things to my body, mind, and soul.

But I also want to write about the cacti plants that have been waiting, patiently, for me to plant them. And the fact that yesterday I was supposed to do that, but didn’t feel like it. But then I looked at the cacti and saw that they are ready to be planted, and thought to myself ‘tomorrow is another day.’ Another day on this journey. I try to keep my schedule as free as possible, and tomorrow I have nothing whatsoever that I have to do. So I might as well plant the cacti. Maybe. We’ll see if I feel like it.

And then, while out on my run, I see three potted plants sitting on a low wall behind a garbage bin, clearly discarded. I run past them, already knowing that as soon as I come home I will go back out with Pascal (our dog) and a bag to pick up those dying plants. And that’s exactly what I did. A sign to that the time has come to plant the cacti? Coincidence? The world has its mysterious ways to tell us things.

But back to running. For me, running is meditation. I don’t claim to be a runner, but I run. I smoke almost two packs of cigarettes a day and I run (no, I’m not crazy. Yes, you can run and smoke. They’re not exclusive activities). Part of this journey I am on, as I mentioned in the first piece, is to make spaces for writing. And part of that includes running. Because running, for me, is an essential part of my writing (I’ll come back to this point in later pieces). And if I want to run, I need to quit smoking. My partner, N., says it’s all in the head. He’s right. Two steps are needed to quit smoking, and only two. It’s that simple. And that difficult.

(1) Make a firm decision
(2) Implement the decision

There’s nothing more to it, actually. It’s similar to the decision I made to take an unpaid leave. Make the decision: I made it two and a half years ago. I played around with the idea in my mind for over two years before I implemented it. And so with smoking. I made the decision, but it hasn’t been firm. I’m still playing around with the idea in my mind. But this is how decisions are made. First comes the idea, you play with it, mull over it, digest it. It grows on you, and you begin to imagine how it would be and feel if you actually did it. It continues to grow somewhere inside your body, but most of the time you’re not aware of its growth. Until, one day, its size can no longer be contained by you. It explodes. And that’s the precise moment when you cross over. Once you do, it is released from your body in a gush. And that’s it. You’re committed to it. Now there’s no turning back. So I’m waiting this out. I guess the idea of quitting smoking hasn’t reached yet that critical size, but I know it’s a process, and I’m waiting it out, running it out, writing it out.


Progress with “The Lynch” short story for today: yesterday, I wrote the 4 single-spaced pages (1,500 words), but like I said, not the best writing. Because I can’t wait for the Muse. So I write without it. I’m going now to finish the story, there’s only one scene left, the last one, and then I’ll have a complete first draft. Yes, I already know it’s going to be a crappy draft, but at least I got the story on paper. I have a mass of writing that I can now play with – edit, rewrite, revise, tighten up.

In between, I’m going to plant those cacti and the dying plants I found last night.

Until next time.

17 July 2015

Two: Respect your Art [Spaces of Artful Living]

The feeling of exhilaration was all-encompassing once the decision to take an unpaid leave was made. It was a breath I didn’t know I was holding for so long being released. No more deadlines, no more work-related stress of whether I’ll be able to raise all the funds we need to cover salaries, program activities, and overhead for the year. No more “urgent” requests from donors to fill out this or that document or revise some parts of a proposal or a narrative report. The circle has been broken and I have slipped out.

The first reaction was that of the mind. It immediately freed up millions – no, billions – of thinking cells. Within one week, I wrote some 25 single-spaced pages of the “Taboos in Arabic” manuscript. Which, for me, is a tremendous amount. And all 25 pages were real good writing. I was on a writing spree. And when I wasn’t writing, I was constantly being bombarded with new ideas for writing: complete outlines for short stories were formed in my mind. I wasn’t even making any effort. It just poured into my mind and out on the paper. I was doing all kinds of writing, journaling, writing about writing, writing up outlines for short stories, and making huge progress with Taboos in Arabic. I felt like all the brain cells that were tied up, busy being fully committed to my job, all of a sudden and with no prior notice, finding themselves unemployed, went berserk. They jumped on the creative writing project immediately in full force.

Two weeks later, utterly exhausted, the flow abruptly stopped. Just like that. The brain cells burned out. It’s like with running. If you plan to run a long distance, you can’t sprint into it and then expect to get to the finish line alive. You have to start by warming up, and building up slowly until you reach that speed that will get you through without getting out of breath. But these are not mistakes. No. These are processes that you might (or might not) go through, and learn from them. Take them as they come.

Become aware of the process, and listen to your characters or narrative as a runner must learn to listen to her body. So if you’re on a sprint-writing, keep going. My creativity flow stopped after two weeks. Abruptly and with no prior notice. Just like it burst like a dam, it dried up. It was telling me I should slow down, maybe even take a few steps back – let the creation breathe on its own for a while. Let it settle down like. Step away.

But instead of accepting this as part of the process, I resented it. I was furious with myself. More than that, I was furious with the characters, who refused to budge. Not only that, they even started to protest and resist the path I was leading them down. How dare they! How dare they interrupt my – MY – flow of writing? Who do they think they are? I am the writer, and they are just fictious, made up characters. I can kill them if I want to. I can bury them. Or better yet, I can just press the delete button on my computer. One press of a button, and poof, you’re gone.

But in fact, this is not the case. At one point, that being page 80 for this novel for me, the characters stop obeying. They actually come to life, demanding their right to freedom of choice. I am no longer their puppet-master. And that’s the point where the initial idea of the story all collapses, followed by the caving in of the whole narrative. And I go – within moments of realizing this fact – from intellectual ecstasy all the way down. Sometimes the fall would be to frustration, other times to anger, humility, mourning the loss of the initial idea. It’s a long process that may take up to weeks, ultimately ending with acceptance. For me, this time, the road to acceptance took about a month, and was strewn with some seemingly unconnected incidents which, at the end, when looked at from a wider perspective and from a distance, all make sense and lead to acceptance.

What followed after this initial fall was two weeks of couch-potatoing, literally. I opened the sofa in the living room, and moved my whole life onto it. At first, I thought I’d give myself a couple of days off from writing. And when I don’t write, I read. And I read. Ferociously. I think I went through more than ten books in those two weeks. I had contradictory feelings about it at the time: I’m not wasting my time, as I’m reading, and reading is productive. As a writer, I must read. Reading is just hiding from facing the collapsed manuscript. Running away, finding refuge in other writers’ worlds. So let me just finish this one novel and I’ll get back to work. Ok, maybe one more novel, please? I don’t have to go for a run. I’m on vacation! I should go running tonight. At least keep up my body in shape. Nah, this couch is too comfortable, I deserved this! I’ll go running tomorrow. I’m a good-for-nothing writer. I’m not even a writer, who am I kidding? When a friend calls to ask how I’m doing, I say “I had a great two weeks writing, I’ve got 80 pages written! Now I’m just taking a few days off to read. You know, that’s how it works.” At the end of the first week, I finally gave up struggling and gave in to the couch-potatoing (Word keeps indicating this isn’t a word, underlining it with red, but I insist). I knew it was worthless to keep up this internal struggle, so might as well give in and enjoy it. And I did. At the end of week two, I was exhausted – mentally and physically. My eyes were watering from reading so much, my body felt tired, and my legs ached for a run. So I listened to my body, folded back the sofa, cleaned up the living room, and went for a run. If you think the next day I sat at my computer to deal with the manuscript and the disobeying characters, well, it didn’t happen. It would take another month, as this was a major process. More about this in the next post.


Back to the present: I had a productive day of writing today. It’s a Friday and I woke at 10:00, eager to start my day, with renewed energies for writing, as I feel now committed to this documentation process. I decided that today was a good day to go down to the garden with my laptop. For the first time. I never bring any technological devices to the garden. For me, this garden is a sacred place for meditation, reading, and writing in my notebook. But rules, even those one sets for herself, are meant to be broken. And since I decided last night to move most of my writing from the notebook to typed Word documents, I didn’t really have a choice. Beethoven accompanies me with his music. I’m not much into classical music, but for writing, it’s perfect. This garden has its own story that longs to be written, but you’ll need to be patient, because that’s for another day. Meanwhile, you can enjoy reading the poem I wrote on the spot on my first writing day in this garden, Hidden Garden behind a Row of Haifa City Blocks.

I spent four hours down in this garden today, reading, writing, and meditating. I decided today that no decision was the best course in regards to what to tackle: the “Taboos in Arabic” manuscript, which has grown into a monster of 80 single spaces pages divided into 17 separate files, or the short story, tentatively titled “The Lynch,” or the short story titled “Meanwhile, on the train.” For the past several weeks I’ve changed my mind so often between choosing the novel or the collection of short stories, that I have become disabled. Today I decided it’s not an either-or choice. I settled down in the garden, took a few deep breaths, meditated, and then read for about fifteen minutes before starting up the computer. Put on Beethoven. My finger guided the mouse spontaneously, without much thought, to the file titled “Short Stories.” I opened “The Lynch” file, and wrote. I wasn’t visited by any Muse. I just wrote, knowing that even if the writing isn’t great, I can come back to it at a later stage to edit, tighten up, or delete.

I had written the first three pages of the story back in September 2012 (almost 3 years ago), and filed it in the “short stories in-progress” file. About a month ago, I went back to this story, and wrote two more pages of it. I have the whole story in my mind, had it in my mind since September 2012, all the way up to the end. All I need to do is write it. Sounds simple, yes? Not so in reality. Even with a short story, where you know exactly what’s supposed to happen and how the narrative ends, when you actually sit down and write, sometimes the narrative takes a detour on its own, and you need to submit and follow the lead of the characters. Trust me, they always know, so it’s no use to resist them.

And so I submitted to this detour from the original storyline today, and ended up writing three single-spaced pages (some 1,500 words), and the day isn’t over yet, so I might get some more writing done. I don’t need to reread what I wrote to know it’s not the great writing I aspire to. I know most of it will have to be edited. Tightened up. But that’s ok. That’s good. I have a draft, I made progress, and I have a place from where to pick it up the next time I sit down to write. I’m happy with the writing of the first part of the story, which was written back in 2012, and this is good news. That first part is final and doesn’t need any editing. You’re welcome to read that part, which I posted on my blog a while back. The parts I wrote today are hardly in shape for reading, so you’ll have to be patient to read the rest of the story. This documenting project is proving to be good so far. 1,500 words in a day and still going is a lot of writing for me for one day, and add to it this piece, which is just over 1,800 words.
Until tomorrow.

16 July 2015

One: On unpaid leave [Spaces of Artful Living]

So I’ve been on a sort of unpaid leave from work since the beginning of June. My initial plan was to take six months off work about two and a half years ago, and I almost succeeded. I quit my job, withdrew all my compensation money and some savings. I had finished writing my novel, Haifa Fragments, and was in the process of searching for a publishing house. I had worked for six years as a fundraiser and development coordinator at Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center, and felt it was time to move on. Fundraising is a very demanding job, with tight deadlines to meet, and entails quite a lot of stress. I wanted something different. And I wanted time to focus on the publication of my novel and on my writing. I also felt I needed change in my life. But then, as soon as I quit my job, I was approached by another organization with a job offer. I accepted it for several reasons, but I think the main reason was that it was not the right time for me to take a break from life then. I just wasn’t ready.

Now, more than two years later, I have finally done it. The reasons now are completely different, but I feel that now is the right time. Meanwhile, my novel was published by the Australian-based feminism publisher Spinifex Press, with UK rights sold to New Internationalist, as well as translation rights to Italian and Turkish. The novel came out exactly on my 40th birthday, 8 March 2015. A month later, I made the decision. The beginning of 2015 brought with it not only the excitement of finally making my dream come true – becoming a published author, but also some personal crises. I was working a full-time position, taking care of my disabled mother three times a week, and basically leading a crazy schedule. In January and February, two health-related crises of two immediate family members put me completely off my track. (I won’t go into details, for the privacy of these family members). Both were unexpected, and both required from me immense energies. That’s when I finally realized that now was that time to take an unpaid leave. I needed to make space in my life to care for the two family members, to stop and breathe, and also to plunge into my writing on a much more intensive and deeper level.

So here I am, a month and a half later, with practically no income, and a mistress of my time. In May, for preparation, I made a list of things I would do while on this vacation. June came and went, and we are in mid-July, and I can’t remember where the list is, and can’t remember most of the items on it. What I do remember is on that list: finish the first draft of Taboos in Arabic, my second novel, by the end of December. And write one short story a month. And one non-fiction, political commentary a week to post on my blog. Write every single day. Spend at least 3-4 hours writing every day. Re-establish my running routine, start doing yoga. Quit smoking and stop drinking coffee and eat healthy. I was full of energies, ready to embark on this writing journey.

However, things didn’t follow according to my plan. Because when one makes such a drastic change in life, your mind, body, and soul will react. They need the time to process this new reality, and all kinds of processes are set in place. It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I have. And quite a lot, but not every day, and not as much as I set out to write.

Today I decided to officially document the process I’m undergoing. What I mean by officially is to take this from a different angle; to see this writing as documentation, to make the documentation itself a writing project. I’ve been writing about what I’m going through on a regular basis in my notebook, the traditional way: pen on paper. This is the first time I’m actually typing up words that would usually go into my journal. And why this change? I’m almost going insane with my notebooks. I’ve got five (yes, five!) different kinds of notebooks for different writings.

- One large, A4 notebook for scenes of manuscript and ideas to develop (I always start first rough drafts on paper, and then type them op from notebook to computer).
- One small, spiral notebook that’s always with me when I leave the house.
- One notebook for “practice writing” (I hate practice writing, will come back to this later).
- One notebook that is my journal (by journal I mean a notebook where I document the processes I go through with my writing).
- At any given time I have at least one more notebook, usually a smaller one, for miscellaneous.

Neat categorization, right? And quite logical. This way, I know which notebook to refer to when I need to retrieve some idea or another. So why am I going insane? Because the mind doesn’t work in such neat categories. At least not mine. I find myself writing in my “practice writing” notebook just to warm up to getting some real writing done, and I find myself mulling over the process of writing, or, if I get lucky, I come up with an idea to develop in my novel. Then the problem arises: should I switch notebooks? It can also happen when I’m writing in my journal, thinking about the progress of the manuscript, trying to figure out why the characters aren’t moving in the direction I want them to. And then an idea strikes me and I find myself writing up possible scenes, or writing notes to myself. In short, this categorization – this artificial division – isn’t working anymore. It’s come to the point where it’s actually blocking my flow of creativity. So I said to myself screw the notebooks for now, and decided to try a different tactic, and type things up. Let’s see how it goes from here.

For now, I don’t know what shape this documentation will take. I have no plans for it beyond writing it through, hopefully on a daily basis, to accompany me through the writing of “Taboos in Arabic,” my second novel, my attempts at short stories, and my attempts at living a different life. I invite you into my journey of writing and living - on unpaid leave - with no guarantees except for uncertainty and processes. 

14 June 2015

Q&A about Haifa Fragments

Haifa Fragments, first published by Spinifex Press, is about to be published in the UK by New Internationalist. Read the Q&A, where I talk about why I write in English, the connections between the themes of the novel and my life, and about my activism in Isha L'Isha - Haifa Feminist Center.

24 May 2015

hidden garden behind a row of Haifa city blocks

this morning
discovering a garden
no - a haven
after ten years in this block
hidden behind a locked gate.
last week,
I received my own key.
a tree, yellow fruit. Lemons?
need to get closer - feel its yellowness.
behind a row of low Haifa city blocks -
a virgin garden
waiting -
to be meditated in
waiting -
to be written.
(c) khulud khamis, May 2015