Get Set, Go!

It’s that time of year again, tourist pamphlets and summer offers from travel companies litter both my desk and my inbox. ‘The 100 Places to Visit before You Die’ guide has been referred to countless times by now, there are multiple browsers open on my laptop and a flurry of illegible scrawl fills the pages of my notepad. There’s even a new folder on my uber organized desktop and it has been labelled with the name of country number 17! Inside it, countless PDFs and word documents tell a compelling tale of someone in a serious wanderlust state of mind. Occasionally during my research, I stop to take a deep breath – to recompose. In some fleeting moments, I start to feel confused by the sheer amount of planning travel takes, but then as suddenly as it comes, the fog lifts and is replaced by the joy a new adventure brings with it and that familiar feeling of itchy-feet.

Calendar blocked, tickets paid for, hotel rooms confirmed – I have officially initiated ‘Travel Research’ mode – the part where I start putting my dreams into action. This sometimes results in serious air-fist pumps and a surge of joy and excitement as I begin to check things off my list and start planning out the things I want to do, the sites I want to visit and the experiences I have been waiting to have.

In a few weeks’ time I will be exploring country number 17. As I stare at my computer screen and switch between tabs, I soak in all the information I can, stopping intermittently to make notes in my diary. I check the location of my hotel, its proximity to the beach, restaurants and tourist attractions in the area and the best ways to get there. I download route maps and check on ticket prices, I read through all the websites looking for the best deals and day passes, I even watch YouTube videos of scams I should be aware of. This btw is one of my top tips for travel, the more aware you are of possible scams (and there are scams everywhere, including the country where you live) the safer you will be.

Reading done, notes made, *air-fist pump*

I can recall distinctly the first trip I took with my family. Back then, maps were paper pamphlets that you picked up at a station/ airport or found at the back of a guide book, and figuring out your location involved some thought and getting help from actual people. You did not have the luxury of pressing a button on your phone and having information within seconds. Also back then cameras still used a thing called film and the anticipation of seeing the photographs developed and slipped into the cellophane sleeves of a photo album, prolonged the wanderlust for a few days after the holiday had actually ended.

Fast forward about 26 years and in a few short minutes I can know all there is to know about a location, restaurants and best places to stay and things to do. Sure nothing beats getting lost in a new city only to stumble upon a true gem, but I am still so thankful for Google, Zomato, Uber and travel apps.byylw-kz.jpg

As with all things, you need to take travel advice with a grain of salt. Be it a blog, trip advisor review, or Instagram post everyone always has a different opinion on what they like and dislike. The trick is to take in all the information you can and then make your own decisions. There are some amazing travel blogs out there – I am trawling through many of them now and using their experiences to hopefully enrich my future travels.

Having said that, I must confess that maps, plans, itineraries are about knowing for sure, about owning your path, about control. That’s a good thing, or else you could end up in a bit of a mess in a strange place. Direction is important but what’s equally important is sometimes, throwing away that schedule and allowing yourself the freedom once in a while to not know where your next wow moment is coming from.

You see, I am a zealous planner, not because I need to plan (and ironically, I disregard 40% of my plans once I’m “on-site”), but because I love the reading and research ahead of time almost as much as the travel itself.

Life is like that too, sometimes you need to really plan and chart out a clear pathway for yourself, and sometimes not planning things will still lead you to exactly where you’re supposed to be. NO?

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Terse Verse #Micropoetry in 140 Characters or Less

This summer I have been trying my hand at mastering the new-age art of micro-poetry. Micro-poetry is not new per-se, since Japanese Haiku and other such have existed since the 17th century or further back with the masters like Basho and Isaa juxtaposing the mundane and the deep in terse verse.  However, what I am referring to is the new genre of creativity called micropoetry or tweet-sized poetry in 140 characters or less that has taken @twitter by storm.

If micropoetry (like the Haiku) is about saying something with little worry about form and structure, isn’t Twitter an ideal medium? The 140 character limit forces us to synthesize our thoughts and experiences into coherent phrases, and that is one of the main reasons the platform has become so important in a time in which we digest our information in little bite sizes trough social media and other online platforms. The limitation does make us think more concisely and sometimes more creatively. So it makes sense that wanabe writers, poets and wordsmiths would embrace it, precisely because of the character limit.

While it can be quite challenging to convey an emotion, or an experience through pithy verse, what I love most about the form is that it is similar to a photograph or snapshot of a moment in time, that can be captured beautifully, with just words. With poetry filling our @twitter feeds every time you refresh your page, logophiles are continually exposed to the power of words, their nuances, quirks, and their ability to create images and feelings which can only deepen our respect for the art form, as words simple and powerful, give us a creative escape during the average day.

You can check out some of the good work out there by using #micropoetry #soulwords and #madverse or follow me @sydneydxb for some of my attempts. More than anything, I wish you would give it a try and let good poetry give you the kind of creative release that only words beautifully strung together, can give.

——-

I write.

The swoosh of pen on paper

or fingers tapping on a keyboard,

fork-lifting the words out of my chest.

*

If you try,

you can hear more In the gaps of conversations,

In the silence between words,

than in the cacophony of everyday sounds.

*

Summer afternoon

drifting daydreams

caught in tangled branches

*

Early morning,

liquid ochre poured into my chipped cup

as the scent of tea estates

fills the dining room.

Rain Dance

The following short story was my entry to the Monsoon Romance Prose Contest conducted by http://www.sulekha.com. The story now features on the Sulekha site and is awaiting moderation.

The first drops of rain that Friday morning sent people scurrying along the bustling boulevard. Office-goers darted to nearby tea stalls and department stores to keep their freshly ironed clothes from getting wet. Hawkers whizzed by each other to cover their wares with tarpaulin, their swift movements like a frenzied ballet that had been mastered over the years. Mothers held their little children tight to their sides, screaming curses at the taxis that whizzed past them, splashing puddle water on their crisp cotton sarees. Everyone was possessed with a sense of urgency to evade the cold deluge that had begun to bathe the city after weeks of stifling humidity; everyone except little Piu.

Across the street a tiny figure had emerged from under the black plastic tent that had been hurriedly set up the night before. Little Piu was all of eight years old. Her threadbare dress had a faded flower pattern that had once been a pale yellow. Her hair was matted and rough and only a shabby red ribbon kept the wisps of brown from breaking free in wild abandon. Piu stretched, rubbed her eyes and watched in surprise as the congested street transformed into a vacant avenue within minutes.

It had begun as a gentle whispering; the faint sound of drops hitting her plastic rooftop had awakened her and lured her outside. But now, the raindrops were heavier and Piu was soon drenched in the first monsoon shower. The blue sky gradually turned a dark gravel-grey. Fat raindrops danced on top of car roofs creating a mesh of wetness that filled Piu’s heart with glee. For twenty minutes, sheets of rain passed over the city, the sounds intensifying as the droplets collected on the sides of the broad street to form brown streams that seeped slowly towards the drains that ran alongside.

The little girl could not contain her excitement. She turned and twirled in delight as she tried unsuccessfully to capture the raindrops in the palms of her hands. She ran up and down the clear stretch of road with a liberty that was rare. She tried to look up at the sky but the incessant droplets forced her to keep her eyes shut. Soon her little brother and her cousin too emerged from under their plastic dwelling and the three of them danced with glee as the first monsoon rain washed over their tiny malnourished frames ; for twenty minutes their hearts were filled with mirth and the unadulterated joy of innocent childhood.

Eventually, the snaps and crackles began to weaken and the clamor of the drops soon faded into a mellow chime. The sun emerged, casting slanted beams of ochre across the rain-washed street. The glimmering puddles of water that had collected in the cracks and crevices of the tar lined roads lay still; reminding the city that the monsoons had finally arrived.

The lady under the black plastic tent began to hurriedly collect the few belongings that she had. Quickly she tied the precious plastic and aluminum paraphernalia into a bundle in an old saree. She yelled out a curt instruction in Bengali to the three children who were playing in the street outside. Soon their tiny hands were tugging expertly at the plastic strings that had held their tent together through the night. Within minutes their home and all their possessions were packed into an old jute sack. Their spot on the street looked empty and bare. It held no hint that the four of them had made it their home for one night.

The lady draped the end of her saree over her head, lifted the tiniest child onto her hip with her right hand and reached for the jute sack with the left. She began to walk as Piu and her brother followed close behind. She needed to find another place for them to sleep tonight.

As the city crept slowly back to life, Piu noticed the people cursing under their breath. Their shoes were dirty, they dusted the droplets from their big umbrellas and ranted about how the rain made everything inconvenient. They stared at their fresh clothes and scowled at the raindrops that had left dampness on them. Slowly life resumed and the day went back to normal.

As the little family of four walked on carefully maneuvering their way along the waterlogged streets of the city, nobody noticed Piu smiling to herself. While others were griping about the weather, Piu’s heart was bursting with joy. She had not had this much fun in a long time and she prayed secretly that the heavy rains would come again. Soon.

Terminal Verbosity

Verbosity can be defined as the long-winded manner in which a writer will sometimes (or quite regularly) string together a number of complicated and seemingly necessary thoughts and ideas to say something rather simple that could have been said without the clutter of unnecessary wordiness in a sentence that might often confuse the reader.

😉

I apologize for that first sentence; my intention was not to give you a headache but a chance discussion with @pinktaxiblogger earlier today prompted me to think about some of my work.

Whenever I sit down to write I find that I can’t keep thoughts clutter free. No matter the content, I like to dress my reflections in complicated imagery so that readers ‘feel’ what I might have felt in a moment or to simply give my ideas some texture.  Often times though, I think it gets too much….too heavy but I don’t know how to make my thoughts staccato.

While bloggers don’t really need to consider word limits, I’m forced to consider how my students manage to work within the stringent guidelines we give them when they’re attempting a piece of writing. Ditto to writers and authors who have to strike a balance between reaching a healthy word count and still keep their editors and publishers from falling asleep on their laptops! Editing is a core skill for anybody interested in writing and I surely need to sharpen mine.

Verbose authors bring to mind the stories of Austen, Dickens, Tolkein, and even George Martin (A Game of Thrones) and while I do love their works, there were times when I zoned out of the narratives only to be sucked right back in when it got more interesting. They’re still geniuses though. Just Saying.

Anyway, I know several of you who read these posts are writers yourselves and I’d like your help in deciding where I stand on this. I don’t want to be stuck with a case of terminal verbosity. So, how do you deal with garrulity? Do you prefer staccato sentences or the wordy ramblings that give you vivid details every single time?

Where do you stand?

Growing Up In Gaza

Over the last 10 days an estimated 227 people have lost their lives in Gaza while close to 2000 individuals have been seriously injured. Of the 227 deceased 30% are believed to be below the age of 17.

This is a simple and original short story that voices my personal belief that such brutality will only make matters worse. Tragically, the vicious cycle will continue.

A thick blanket of smoke covers the city. It hasn’t lifted for the past ten days. It just gets worse.

And worse.

He was taught to run and hide every time a siren rings. They live in fear, afraid that the sky might breathe fire again or that the peace of the evening will be shattered and destroyed by the drones that rip through their homes and make rubble of their lives.

The fields that once surrounded his home are ravaged, the green olive trees are charred black and the soil is seeping with chemicals. There’s no place to go, nowhere to hide and more importantly nobody to run to.

But he was prepared for this. His parents had taught him well and his teachers had explained it to him. In Gaza you’re taught to survive, to endure, to bear. But there was no time to luxuriate in rumination now. He needed to get out of the bunker. He needed to find his way to the little shop; to his Hiyam; his sweetheart.

Somewhere in the distance he hears an explosion, the ground reverberates, there’s a shattering of glass. He sees men with red and white scarves trying to escort a group of women to the adjoining street without being seen. The women are hunched over. He knows the sign well; they have infants in the folds of their heavy cloaks.

He chooses his moment, crawls out from behind the rubble and dashes across the road. He’s careful to avoid stepping on the debris. Expertly he zigzags his way down the stretch of land.  Glass pieces and severed limbs litter the thoroughfare but his moves are swift and agile. He has done this before. Too many times. He’s already sixteen.

There’s a group of men huddled together on his left. In their arms lies the body of a comrade. He’s covered in scarlet and is attempting to sip the water they offer him.  But his breath will stop soon. This is the end. In Gaza you can learn to tell such things!

He runs along.

As he reaches the road he stops for a moment. He stands there bewildered. Did he take a wrong turn along the way? Perhaps he ran too far. And then it hits him, his stomach churns; he screams her name as he runs down the street that’s now been razed to rubble. There are no buildings there. No signs of life. No signs of her.

Someone grabs him by his arm, yells something at him in Arabic and drags him off into a makeshift shelter. His body trembles. His head is spinning. His eyes well up. She was all he had left.  He wipes his tears with the back of his sleeve. Growing up in Gaza you’re taught to stay calm and to keep rage locked away inside you.

Growing up in Gaza you learn that your life can be destroyed. Your dreams will be destroyed. You lose the ones you love.

He vows revenge, steels his heart to hate the enemy who did this to him; the Israelis. He’s never met a single one of them but he hates them anyway.

Growing up in Gaza you learn to do that.

 

 

 

Stuck

July 11th, 2014
10: 44 AM

So, in the middle of my ‘must complete my assignments’ frenzy I am also attempting the difficult task of constructing an original short story. I actually started writing this story a few months ago but didn’t get past the exposition. Fortunately the twittersphere is replete with tweeps who have similar passions and @pinktaxiblogger was able to coerce me back onto the writing bandwagon.

The problem is, I find that I’m stuck. There are days when the language just comes to me in a spurt of inspiration. On other days (like today) I can stare at a blank computer screen all morning and come up with nothing!

I whimper and whine and before you know it, “I can’t come up with a good idea” becomes “I’ll never come up with a good idea ever again.”

Presently, I have about five Word documents on this laptop that contain the beginnings of new stories. Some are jam-packed with ideas for stories that I thought had brilliant potential. But after they’ve stewed for a night or two, I quickly dismiss them as ‘not good enough’. I try to get it perfect in my head and never do, so I never complete them. The expositions keep adding up, I get busy with my work every day and well, fiction doesn’t stay a priority long enough. So now here I am, stuck again, because sometimes the words just refuse to come out right.

Just Saying.

“…writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all…”
Charles Bukowski, The Last Night of the Earth Poems

Gulf News – Guest of The Month – Post 1

After some years of blogging I am extremely excited to be the ‘Guest of the Month’ for Gulf News’ education supplement. Over the next four weeks my columns will share my personal experiences and advice on educational technology and educational blogging in the hopes that it will inspire some greenhorn bloggers out there to give it a shot too.

In case you’re not in the UAE or don’t have access to the newspapers, here is the link to the first post that was published today.

http://gulfnews.com/life-style/education/how-to-be-an-education-blogger-1.1205855