The Shaman School that Healed my Writer’s Block

I had scheduled a phone session for literary advice, not realizing our conversation would lead elsewhere: how the Iraq war had badly bruised my heart.

“Were you abused as a child?” Lynn asked.

The temptation to hang up the phone burnt my fingertips as if I had touched a car bumper that had been sitting under a hot sun for hours. I did not call Lynn Andrews — a shaman healer, mystic, and an internationally best-selling author with 20 books to her name — to talk about my childhood as if I was sitting in front of a psychiatrist or a talk show host. I hoped that this one-hour phone session could resolve some issues I had been having with my writing career.

“I actually had a safe and healthy childhood,” I said, wondering if I was once again being stereotyped because of the origin of my birthplace, Baghdad, or if I had been swindled by a con artist. Since Muslims are usually the ones who get a bad rap, I wondered if she would change her perception of me if I told her that I am Chaldean. Chaldeans are Christian Iraqis whose ancestors date back over 7,300 years.

“Did you have to be careful as a child?” she persisted.

I began to feel uncomfortable, and yet the conversation had an earthy and intimate hand that disrobed a garment off my character with each word. I laid down my resistance and said, “My parents never spanked me if I did something wrong. The first time anyone ever laid a hand on me was when I was in third grade — I had missed Saddam’s parade. It was mandatory to attend, but my niece, who was my age, begged me to spend the night at her house, and my family did not take the mandatory bit too seriously. The next day at school, as punishment, the school principal slapped me so hard I fainted. The second time someone laid a hand on me was that same principal. The teacher sent me to her office because I couldn’t answer a question in science class. Other than these two incidences, I led a pretty happy childhood in Iraq. I didn’t know what unhappiness was until I came here and felt alienated and isolated.”

A silence followed.

“You were oppressed by and had to be careful of an entire nation,” she said, “and then you came here and you had to be careful of another nation, in a different way. You had to be careful of two nations.”

Her words pinched my waist so hard that it shook my roots. Growing up under Saddam’s totalitarian regime, I learned that there was a boogeyman to fear and avoid through silence and good behavior. When I came to the United States, I discovered that it was best to remain silent in order to avoid ridicule.

“So, my dear, why have you called me?” Lynn asked. “What is it that you want me to help you with?”

We finally arrived at the subject I was anxious to talk about, writing, but now I was interested in further dissecting the role my two nations played in my life. I wanted to ask her what all of this meant. Why was I born in Iraq, yanked out of my birthplace at the age of 10, and placed in the United States? Being uprooted from my home made me feel as though I were a plant taken out of the soil. After repotting, plants often enter a state of shock as they struggle to adapt to the new environment.

If only there was enough time.

Ch. 5 - Receiving Wisdom from a Mentor

“I have lost my literary voice, and I want to get it back,” I said. “Last summer, I came across your book, Writing Spirit. I was in a really bad place with my work. I no longer loved it and half the time I woke up wishing I had the sense to quit and find a different profession.”

Writing Spirit had called for me to pick it up, as if it were a child, off the bookshelves. It was an odd-looking book about writing. The last thing I wanted was a book on writing. I had been writing for over 20 years, and the journey had proven so futile, I wanted to bury the pits of this desire into someone else’s backyard and start a new garden, one that resembled those in the One Thousand and One Nights stories, where the hero ends up with breathtaking trees bearing pears, apples, figs, pomegranates, and apricots made of real gold, diamonds, and rubies.

Yet the book stuck to my hands like glue. I bought it, even though I barely had time to take a shower or eat a meal sitting down, let alone read a book. I was raising two young children and doing a lot of freelance work as well as trying to write a book.

The moment I read Writing Spirit, the fragrance of that Arabian treasure garden raced out of the pages, and I remembered all the reasons I’d become a writer in the first place: the calling, the sacredness of storytelling, the freedom this profession provides, in my case allowing me to raise my children without having to abandon my career. I had scheduled a phone session with the author for a bit of literary advice, not realizing our conversation would lead elsewhere: how the Iraq war had badly bruised my heart; how the loss of my agent threw my career off track.

I sat on the carpet and told Lynn all about it, adding that shortly after these events, I got married, had kids, and attained journalism jobs and other writing-related opportunities. The jobs led to wonderful experiences, but they also scattered my thought process. Trying to return to my literary voice since then was like trying to get to a very faraway place on foot.

“Don’t get upset at some of your past mishaps,” she said. “They made you who you are today. As for your stories, there’s a time for every story. When you live through life-defying experiences somewhere in your life, you come out on the other side with incredible abilities, abilities to survive, abilities to comprehend a higher reality. The Mystery School could help you make the right decisions regarding your work.”

“What is the Mystery School?” I asked.

“It’s a four-year school that will teach and awaken the beauty and power within you. It will give you the direction you need.”

 

Four years? It didn’t take me that long to get my bachelor’s degree.

“I have children,” I said. “I can’t leave my home to go study somewhere.”

“This is a school without walls. I created it so that anyone, anywhere in the world could do this work without having to move to a campus. I wanted to create a learning environment where people could learn through their own experiences, not to try to be their teacher.”

“I’ll check it out on your website and consider it,” I lied. Yes, she said some profound things that stirred me, and yes, I felt a connection with her that was ignited as easily as one lit a match, but no, I was not going to fall for this gimmick.

Yet after we hung up, I spent a moment staring ahead.

For a long time, I had struggled to fit into two worlds, my birth country of Iraq and my home, America. The process made me feel like a yo-yo, and oftentimes, like I was living a double life. Then, not knowing what shamanism is or who Lynn Andrews was, I stepped into a four-year shamanic school that dusted off the residue that clogged up my creativity, one by one removing the particles of fear and sadness, eventually bringing me from darkness into light.

I ended up completing the book I had trouble writing, called The Great American Family, which in 2017 won an Eric Hoffer Award. I also produced and directed a documentary with the same title, which this year won two international film awards. Sometimes it’s not writer’s block that’s preventing us from achieving our dreams but old wounds, patterns, and stories that need to heal and help us transform.

This article is an extract from “Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School” by Weam Namou and was originally published by xoJane and later by Yahoo.com https://www.yahoo.com/news/unusual-phone-conversation-led-attend-210000076.html

 

A Pranic Healer

A friend of mine was over one day when she raved about a Pranic healer in India who had helped her with some family issues over WhatsApp. I listened with much curiosity. My longtime friend is a very logical person who isn’t easily swayed by non-conventional healing techniques. His name is Dr. Bhoo Prakash Sharma and his accomplishments go from healing coronary heart disease to autoimmune diseases.

After she finished telling me about this healer, whose name is Dr. Bhoo Prakash Sharma, I asked for his phone number. I called him and like my friend, was impressed with his energy work. I asked to interview Dr. Sharma to share with my audience what is Pranic healing and who can benefit from it. The subject matter was so fascinating that I included two 30 minute episodes in this blog that you can watch. Below you’ll find the contact information for Dr. Sharma.

Namou: What is Pranic healing?

Dr. Sharma: Pranic Healing is “no touching” healing therapy. Pranic is a Sanskrit word which means “life force” and in China they call it “Chi.” That’s why they call their martial art “Tai Chi.” In Japan, they call it “Ki” so they call it “Reiki.” Pranic healing can be done at any distance from any country to other countries. In Pranic healing we believe that we can be healed fully, completely, and permanently by God-given sources only. So, here we use three different God-given sources – the Sun, Air, and the Heart – to heal any ailment. Pranic healing can create a balance in four of the most important hormones which are endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and Oxycontin which are responsible from teenage to old age for total health.

Namou: What can Pranic Healing cure?

Dr. Sharma: Pranic healing can cure anything from physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual diseases and it can heal businesses, finances, relationships, and anything you can’t even think of. See, in my point of view, if a healer knows how to manipulate this energy, he or she can do miracles.

Namou: How can it heal ailments and diseases with people?

Dr. Sharma: Pranic healing is a divine energy which has various color and subtleties. An experienced advanced pranic healer knows how, where, and from which chakra he has to use as per the type of ailments and diseases. There are many different techniques to use depending on how critical the situation is and how many diseases are involved simultaneously.

Namou: How can it heal businesses?

Dr. Sharma: Businesses are also run by people so, if the person’s goal is not clear or by any circumstances they are not mentally healthy then it creates trouble to run the  business. So, with Pranic healing, the negative energies and removed as counseling is given on how one can run their businesses perfectly.

Namou: What are the six main steps to the Pranic healing System?

Dr. Sharma:

  1. Sensitising your hands.
  2. Scanning
  3. General & Localized sweeping
  4. Energizing.
  5. Stabilize
  6. Releasing the energy or cutting the cords

Dr. Sharma’s advice is to “Do everything not for happiness but with happiness.”

You can watch few of his patients video testimonials on YouTube and by visiting his website under Testimonials tab. https://heartthehealer.com/bpsharma.php

https://youtu.be/NizMiyNyROE

https://youtu.be/urLf_wUWueU

The Mystery School

Throughout the ages, as the ancient and indigenous cultures were colonized, the teachings for an enlightened and empowered life had to be kept hidden to preserve the teachings’ powerful wisdom. Without this ancient wisdom, much of the world fell prey to strife and confusion. For over a hundred years, necessity has caused the Mystery Schools to emerge, releasing the teachings once again to the public. Today, there are many mystery schools that exist in plain sight. There are Buddhist, Hindu, and even Christian mystery schools. The school that drew me to it was Lynn V. Andrews’ Shaman Mystery School.

I stumbled upon this school in 2011 after reading Lynn’s book, <em>Writing Spirit</em>. Hugely influenced by this book, and because Lynn is an internationally bestselling author of 21 books, I called her up. An author and journalist, I wanted advice on how to move ahead with my writing career. Little did I know then the journey I’d be embarking upon. I had no idea who Lynn was let alone what shamanism meant. Looking back now, I see that was a blessing. Many people get caught up in names and labels and will solely pursue or reject a study based on the definition and popularity, or lack of, rather than what their instinct tells them about it.

Like magic, the Mystery School began transforming my life as a writer, wife and mother. It freed me of so much guilt and self-esteem issues, I ended up writing over a dozen books, which include a four-part memoir series about my experience in the school.

The ancient teachings were not strange to my ears. I come from a tribal nation called the Chaldeans, which are thousands of years old. My people are from Mesopotamia, where once upon a time long ago, similar types of teachings were the norm, causing that society to create incredible inventions such as writing and the wheel. When that land was stripped of those ancient teachings, it became a hell on earth.

On her website, Lynn describes shamanism as the oldest form of healing on Earth. It has been practiced across the globe for at least 50,000 years. She writes, “When you look at shamanic cultures today, you discover people who live with joy and a sense of purpose and knowing in life, people who do not contract the serious stress-born illnesses that we in the modern world do, even though they face a world that is encroaching on them and threatening to take away their very existence. It’s not that they don’t encounter the stresses of the modern world, it’s that their way of knowing life and resolving that stress is very different from ours.”

When Lynn lived in Beverly Hills, a spiritual quest led her to her apprenticeship with Agnes Whistling Elk and Ruby Plenty Chiefs many years ago. At first, she did not know that they were part of a very private ad anonymous gathering of shaman women of high degree from several native cultures around the world – the forty-four women of the Sisterhood of the Shields.  Nor did she have any idea that her life was about to change forever, that their work and their teachings would become her life’s work and her soul’s quest for enlightenment and that she would become initiated as a member of the Sisterhood of the Shields and their public face.

Lynn’s initial meeting with Agnes and Ruby came after she attended a La Cienega art exhibit and became obsessed with a photograph of an Indian marriage basket. After repeated dreams about the basket and unsuccessful attempts to track one down, she was led by a chance encounter with a Native American author to the two medicine women.

Lynn spent her first six months in the wilderness with her teachers. She wanted to stay with them, didn’t want to return to Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. But her teachers insisted she returns to the city and write a book about her experience with them. Agnes told her, “You are not Indian. The wilderness does not need you. Where do you think the world needs to be healed but in the cities? It’s very easy to be sacred with the trees and the wind. It’s very difficult to be sacred on the freeways of L.A.”

Lynn returned home and wrote Medicine Woman, the first of a long series that followed. In her books, she shares her travels around the world in the company and care to apprentice with the women of the Shields on four different continents and many, many different countries, from the jungles of the Yucatan to the Australian Outback, Nepal, Panama, the Solala region of Guatemala and the shores of Lake Atitlan, Egypt, the Hawaiian Islands and from the far North of Canada to South America.

Medicine WomanLynn describes these women as amazing and beautiful, many of them elders in their communities, all of them shaman healers of exceptional skill and personal integrity. “These are women who have survived the ravages of war, rape, the loss of children, the ruination of their countries by clashes between oppressive governments and rebel forces, the hatred visited upon indigenous peoples in so many parts of the world. And they are women who Know.”

To learn more about the Shaman Mystery School or other programs led by Lynn V. Andrews, visit <a href=”https://lynn-andrews-online-store.myshopify.com/”>https://lynn-andrews-online-store.myshopify.com/</a&gt;

 

Unique Voices in Literature

Born in 1979 to a Palestinian-Lebanese mother and an Iraqi-German father, Rayyan Al-Shawaf lived in the UAE, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Lebanon, and the US. These days, he makes his home in Malta. Rayyan is a book critic whose reviews and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, and other publications. He recently traveled to the United States, to visit with friends in Florida and to promote his first novel, When All Else Fails. His protagonist a Chaldean, I was delighted that he stopped at Michigan to be on my show and visit our home where we engaged in the most fascinating conversations about religion, politics, Europe and the Middle East. I’m currently reading his book and enjoying it.

What was the inspiration for When All Else Fails?

The realization, ironic and disheartening, that too often the only way for you to parry discrimination or bullying based on the illogical notion of guilt by association is by playing on its equally spurious flipside, virtue by association! As I mentioned on your show, we’re basically talking about hitching your sorry ass to someone else’s shooting star – and hoping that this serves to burnish your image in the eyes of your tormentors.

How has your background and upbringing influenced your writing career?

Well, I suppose much of my fascination with communal identity and belonging stems from my status as an outsider wherever I go. As for my concern with non-Muslims’ increasingly precarious status in several predominantly Muslim countries, I think it owes much to the liberal and secular household in which I was raised.

How did being a book critic help / hinder your writing?

It helped by making me aware (often, not always) of vague or imprecise formulations as well as excess verbiage, meaning that I might need no prompting to remedy the situation. It may also, however, have restrained any impulse on my part to take off on creative flights.

Why did you choose your main protagonist to be Chaldean rather than other minority groups, such as Assyrians? What type of research went into this process?

Well, let me first tell you why I made him Christian. Hunayn is convinced that, were Iraq free of Saddam’s tyranny, it would come into its own as a democratic and secular country. This, of course, allows me to set him up for disappointment. Hunayn doesn’t seem to realize that the rot goes deeper than Saddam, whose ouster is a good thing in and of itself but is followed by the rise of Muslim supremacist parties and militias. Making Hunayn Christian meant that the upsurge in anti-Christian violence on the part of these groups would strike his very core.

Once I had decided that Hunayn would be Christian, the main reason behind my making him Chaldean had to do with a sociopolitical orientation. My thinking went thus: Hunayn’s affinity for the modern state of Iraq (i.e., not simply the Mesopotamia of a bygone era), as well as his solidarity with Arabs and Muslims who suffer discrimination in post-9/11 America, would both flow forth easily were he Chaldean. After all, Chaldeans (and Syriacs) have had a far less fraught relationship with both the modern Iraqi state and with ethnic Arabs than have Assyrians.

Amazon Link

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You emphasize that the novel is not autobiographical. Why do you think so many people assume that the protagonist, Hunayn, is you?

Some of it surely derives from the fact that the story is written in the first person. And, ironically, due to real parallels between Hunayn’s life and mine (for the most part in terms of where we’ve lived and when), people who know me and therefore recognize these limited commonalities may prove more inclined than others to view the story as autobiographical! They might well extrapolate that everything else about Hunayn goes for me, too.

What are you currently working on?

I’m about to begin a second novel, one in which a young Palestinian man whom the Nakba turns into a refugee devises what he considers an ingenious plan in the early 1950s; he will make his way back to his homeland – which is now Israel, and which is blocking the return of Palestinian refugees – via Iraq. Naturally, complications ensue!

Why have you chosen to live in Malta?

Why, because of all the Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Assyrians here, naturally! Just kidding. I took a job almost one year ago as an editor with a startup university keen on righting its course following a rocky start; I’m the in-house editor at the American University of Malta (AUM).

You have an interesting background and lifestyle and multifaceted views. Do you think you’ll one day write a nonfiction book, and if so, what would you like it to be about?

It’d probably be a collection of essays – which would mean that I’d have a devil of a time finding a publisher! The subject would most likely have something to do with the way that, for many of us, historical contextualization is not simply a means to better understand the motivations animating our national or religious forebears, but an instrument by which we redeem those of them who committed actions we would otherwise consider morally questionable.

What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?

Allocate some time to reading outside the fiction genres and nonfiction disciplines that intrigue you – not simply to learn new stuff, but to expose yourself to different writing styles, elements of which you may wish to incorporate into your own material. Also, read fiction from other cultures (whether in the original language or in translation), as well as from various eras.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

If you’re attempting to create something tightly structured, the elements in question are the musculature of the plot and the sinuousness of its trajectory. If, on the other hand, you’re fashioning a character study (in which case you can opt for an episodic approach when it comes to structure), the emotional arc of your protagonist/s is in my view paramount. In either case, try to leaven the story with humor!

Women Who Create

I’m currently working on my second feature documentary, Living Tribal in a Democracy, which features three generations of women in my family and sheds light on our Chaldean lineage which dates back thousands of years to ancient Mesopotamia. In May, I gave a talk and screened part of this documentary at a film workshop presented by Creative Many at Wayne State University.

After the talk, a woman approached me to tell me that she enjoyed watching the footage and appreciated that I was portraying real-life stories of Middle Easterners, particularly women, since they are often pigeonholed in books, media, and films. The woman’s name was Parisa Ghaderi, and Parisa, it turns out, was doing similar work. Like me, Parisa is an award-winning filmmaker who has dedicated herself to her talents while, along the way, using her influence to help other artists as well.

Parisa was born in 1983 in Tehran, Iran and moved to the United States in 2009. A visual artist, curator, and filmmaker, she earned her BA in Visual Communications from Art & Architecture University in Tehran, Iran, and her MFA in Art and Design from the University of Michigan. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and she is featured in The Huffington Post, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other prestigious magazines. She has made four short films which won awards and were screened in international film festivals in Germany, Australia, Indonesia, Ireland, and California.

Impressed by her work, I invited her on my show. In this half-hour interview, Parisa shares how she’s dispelling misconceptions about her Iranian heritage, what it’s like to be a minority working in her field, her work habits that made her such a success at a young age, and her business tactics which are essential to sustain ourselves in the creative field.

How has your heritage influenced and affected your art and storytelling as a filmmaker? What have been some of the setbacks? Some of the advantages?

I am an Iranian artist who was born and raised after the 1979 Revolution. Being Iranian has certainly influenced my work as an artist. I come from a country with a rich culture and history. I immigrated to the US in 2009 which changed my creative practice as I was introduced to new concepts such as visa regulations, distance, language barrier, and loss. As a result, I started to focus more on personal stories, childhood memories, language complexities, and the emotional distance I experienced as an immigrant. The advantage of being from Iran is that I have access to my Iranian community here so I can hear their stories and relate to their experience, and get inspiration for my work. I made a short documentary about an Iranian couple who were separated because of visa restrictions which was screened at many festivals and won awards. The setback is specifically, for this exhibition, we faced various problems in terms of selling the artworks due to lack of financial transactions and inviting the artists to attend their show because of the hostile political climate between the two countries which resulted in the travel ban and more visa restrictions.

What projects are you currently working on?

Right now I’m working on a series of short films with my other Iranian friends, gathering their stories of immigration. I’m also working on a performance about borders which I have started a few months ago and was able to workshop it with acting students at UofM. I plan to finish these two projects by the end of next year.

What’s your schedule like?

I constantly research and look for grants and funds to support my projects. I read and research about my new projects, reach out to people and ask for feedback. I also teach drawing and photography every week from 2014 to my fellow Iranian friends. This fall, I will be a graphic design assistant professor at MSU which I’m very excited about.

How do you balance your creative and business side?

As an artist, it’s been always a challenge to balance these two, since the financial aspect sometimes restricts your creative plans. I’m aware that having a steady income, especially at the start of your art career will actually help keep you creative and prevent burnout when you don’t have to worry about supporting yourself through your art, and It’s great if you can do both, but usually, I need to prioritize and structure it. For me, the creative side has always been a priority and I keep generating ideas and look for funding to realize them as I also work as a freelance artist to support my practice.

What is “7500 Miles”? How and why was it started? Tell us a little about Mahsa Soroudi, the founder of 7500 Miles.

7500 is a collective which curates and promotes exhibitions to focus on contemporary Iranian artists who are disregarded or unseen due to the absence of fair exposure.

‘7500 Miles’ refers to the distance between California, where Mahsa currently lives, and her hometown Tehran. Mahsa and I graduated from the same college, so our friendship dates back to 2006. Mahsa was working as a docent at Orange County Museum of Art, OCMA, since 2013 and she was frustrated by the image of Middle-eastern women represented in the media as oppressed and weak, overshadowing their potentials and talents. This project was initially started by Mahsa in 2015, and I joined her later when we realized how much we were interested in this idea and shared the same concerns.

The majority of Iranian artists in the diaspora have represented a different image of Iran due to the time they had left the country, 1979-1986. Their imagery is directly influenced by tragic events of revolution and war. But the new generation of artists have found their unique creative way of reflecting on current socio-political tensions. Our goal in 7500 miles is to focus on this younger generation to portray modern Iran in a different way. As artists and curators, we feel highly responsible for creating a more nuanced depiction of a group of Iranian female artists and their distinctive art practice which has developed through their tireless effort, regardless of all the challenges and complications.

“7500 miles” creates a platform to showcase and promote the work by the new generation of women artists in Iran, with the hope to go beyond clichés and what has been shown in media and the art world so far.

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As a curator, how do you specifically choose the artwork that’s submitted?

As curators, we are constantly looking for new artists with a fresh perspective and creative ideas. Since we are both artists ourselves and belong to the same generation of artists we represent, we have access to a wide network of artists inside Iran, who are active and prominent in the art scene. We interview them or have studio visits, and then choose their work based on the theme of the exhibition and how their work speak to each other as a group.

What advice would you give minority women artists who feel they don’t have the support or mentorship to pursue their passion?

If they don’t find the support they need, they should create it, and be the resource for others who seek their help. Forming collective and collaboration with like-minded people and those who share the same concerns, struggles, and passions. They need to reach out to other creatives, never give up and stay positive, because sooner or later it will happen.

If they see the misrepresented and distorted image of their country, they need to stand up and make the change, and not reproduce the misinformation the media projects. They need to keep that passion alive and burning, as a fuel for moving forward and overcoming all the obstacles ahead regardless of their nationality.

To learn more about Parisa Ghaderi, visit http://www.pghaderi.com/

An Author’s Journey

R.L. Herron once worked for some of the world’s largest advertising agencies, and had a long public relations/marketing career with an international Fortune 10 company. After he retired, he decided to be a full-time writer. Ron has published eight books since 2012, received fabulous reviews and has won multiple awards.

“I have to admit, it feels pretty good to know critics and reviewers like my books,” he says.

Reviewers have said about his characters that they become quite believable, a few adding that they couldn’t wait to find out what happens to some of them.

“I’m extremely pleased by that,” says Ron, “because the characters were obviously seen as real people with real issues, and not characters in a book.”

While his characters are not based on real people, there are elements of people he has known in most of them.

“For myself, and many writers I know, character usually takes the top spot in a story,” he says.  “Humans connect with other humans, after all, so it’s often easier to invest one’s self in characters and their conflicts. A place, though important, is a bit more difficult and, if you’re one of those writers who struggle with setting – I know I am – I’d like to share an approach that might help. Treat your setting like a character.”

Ron says that memorable fictional characters always have strong characteristics. You need to explore how to assign equally vivid characteristics to your suggests, and suggest those characteristics to your readers.

How does Ron plan out his writing? He writes at least 1,000 words a day, but, he says, “Life has a funny way of telling you what you need to do at any given moment. It often doesn’t include writing at all.”

He doesn’t plan an outline, doesn’t think that life is much like that, so instead, he starts by imagining a few personality traits for each of his characters. Then he asks himself some basic “what if?” questions. After, he tries to imagine how each character he created will react to the hypothetical situation he posed. “Then I let them surprise me and tell me their story,” he says.

Whatever his approach, his novels have been well received by readers. Reichold Street was a 2012 Readers Favorite Gold Medal Winner that Kirkus Reviews called “Skillfully written and emotionally charged…” and Writer’s Digest commented, “Readers are in for a treat when they pick up Reichold Street…”

His 2013 fantasy collection Zebulon was a Readers Favorite Silver Medal Winner. His novel, Blood Lake, a modern horror/thriller that begins with a Cherokee curse uttered in 1838, won The BookLife Prize in Fiction (Publishers Weekly), calling it “…strong prose and well developed characters… an atmospheric tale.”

“That’s nice to hear, but I think the best thing that has happened so far is having my wife say she likes the way I write.”

In his first book, Reichold Street, the dedication is written for three people, “… who didn’t come back…” and also “For Lucy, who believes in me.”

“The ‘three’ were school buddies of mine who were drafted and sent to Vietnam,” he says. “Sadly, they died over there and ‘Lucy’ is one of my nicknames for my wife, Mary Lu. She was my high school sweetheart. She’s still my best friend, confidante, and critic.”

R.L. Herron’s earliest known ancestor arrived in the colony of Virginia, from what is now Northern Ireland, in 1635. A mere 313 years later, Ron was born in central Tennessee.

His parents moved him north as an infant and, despite a monumental dislike of the winters in Michigan, he still lives there with his lovely wife, his youngest son and one <em>enormous</em> cat. A National Merit Scholar, he attended Wayne State University (Monteith College), where he worked on the college newspaper, and earned enough credits to be offered his choice of BA or BPh degree. He later earned an MBA from Michigan State. He submitted his first story at 17, maybe not imagining then that, decades later, he’d publish multiple works of fiction, including five award-winners.

You can learn more about Ron Herron’s work by visiting his website http://www.ronaldherron.com

Visions of Peace Through Art

The eldest of six children and the peacemaker in the family, Ilham Badreddine Mahfouz is the daughter of the East, that faraway land in Damascus, Syria. Her father was a teacher of history and her mother was a homemaker and educator by example. Her loving and kind parents raised their children to be the best of their knowledge and ability and good citizens of the world. But, as tradition had it, they prepared Ilham mentally to get married at a young age.

At age 16, Ilham found herself the wife of a physician who was going to America to pursue his medical specialty. Not only did she have to adjust to being a wife, but to a new culture in the United States. She had to learn a new language and become acquainted with different traditions and ways of life. Her husband encouraged her to learn English by taking adult education classes at night school and by attending Berkley High School, where she eventually graduated.

“I always knew that art and music were my patrons,” she says. “At Eastern Michigan University, I studied ceramics and paintings. I received a lot of encouragement from professors like Robert Piepenburg (ceramics and the art of RaKu) and Barry Avedan (painting).”

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Ilham received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a double concentration in ceramics and painting and a minor in art history.

“My dream came true,” she says. “I wanted to set a good example to my children, for them to pursue a higher education than I achieved.”

Ilham’s artwork has won awards and been displayed at numerous exhibitions including Amnesty International Cell Museum in Vestervig, Denmark. She considers herself very fortunate to have come from the Old World, so rich in heritage, culture, and history, and to have the blessing of living in this young country with new ideas, culture, and traditions. She has taken the better part of both worlds and worked hard.

Her artwork is abstract style painting, ceramic, and mixed media.

“In my paintings, I try to capture my life experience as well as my outlook on life,” says Ilham. “I try to display emotions and reactions in my work through several layers of paint. Beneath the many layers may lay the subconscious.”

In her book, Whispers From the East, she writes, “Through art, I express life’s events that reflect pain and the feeling of helplessness… Through art, the truth is delivered for the viewer to experience.”

Ilham3

Her book includes her artwork, heartfelt poetry, and reflections about her birthplace Damascus, where she recounts the memory of jasmine bushes along the streets, the scent of jasmine in bloom spreading throughout the city and bringing joy and contentment to everyone passing by. Most of all, she remembers the kind, hospitable, and generous people who were always ready to help others in need.

“Life is give and take,” she says, repeating lessons her mother gave her. “With giving, we derive great happiness and joy; and with sharing and helping others, we also help ourselves. We must also know when to be a good receiver. Being a good receiver makes someone else a good giver.”

Ilham points out that “The world is so vast and yet so small with our reach through the net. We are able to reach people all over the world through art and exchange ideas and learn from one another. A beautiful concept of learning and living in harmony and peace.”

Personally, I believe that through art, we can find harmony and inner peace. We’re then able to mirror that into the world. We can use writing, art, and other creative ways to spread beauty into the world, raise awareness, and end destructive forces.

To learn more about Ilham and her work, visit www.artistilhambadreddinemahfouz.com

The Importance of Empowering Others

Last week, I received notice that my feature documentary, The Great American Family, won an IndieFEST international film award (Women Filmmaker category), joining the ranks of other high-profile winners of this respected award including Liam Neeson, George Clooney, Susan Sarandon, Leon Lee, and Katie Holmes. This is the same story that won a 2017 Eric Hoffer book award.

Part of my success is discipline and hard work (I worked 8 years on the documentary and 6 of those years also on the book). Another part is faith, the belief that I can and I will do what I set out to do. Another important part is service, doing something that will benefit another without expecting anything in return. And that also describes Kai Mann’s road to success.

Kai Mann4

An author, entrepreneur, and inspirationlist, Kai contacted me years ago to interview me on her show, Conversations with Kai Mann. I followed her over the years and found that her writing is both positive and with purpose. She believes that her keen ability to provoke thought, trigger change and enlighten the lives of others has catapulted her to a literary success. Whether it’s in the form of a blog post or article, Kai strives to empower and educate followers around the world about the nature of love, the importance of relationships and how these play a vital role in life.

Which brings us to the topic of why it’s important to empower and enrich others.

Geshe Michael Roach, a Tibetan monk who’s originally from Los Angeles and who graduated from Princeton with honors, shares the strategy that made him a multi-millionaire.

  1. Decide what it is that you want
  2. Find someone else who wants the same thing
  3. Help that person get what they want
  4. At the end of the day be grateful and happy for the good that you’ve done.

Michael was the first American to receive the Geshe degree at Sera Monastery in Tibet. After, his teacher instructed him to set up a business in Manhattan to help Tibetan refugees. With a loan of $50,000 and three employees, Michael started a company that ended up making $100 per year and at one point $200 million.

I believe that serving others by lifting them up, empowering them, giving them the very thing you are striving for, does help you rise as well – especially if you don’t forget to do the Number 4 step – appreciate the good you’ve done. Rather than complain about what you don’t have, provide it. Before asking an influential and busy person to help you, do something for them. If there’s blockage with your money flow, check if you owe someone money you’re avoiding to return, or ask yourself when was the last time you donated to a cause you believe in?

Spend your time creating and providing rather than complaining and criticizing. Be the source. If nothing else, you’ll be a much happier person.

To join our spiritual and writing community, check out The Path of Consciousness’ upcoming conference and retreat http://www.ThePathofConsciousness.com

To learn more about Kai Mann, visit her website https://kai-mann.com/

The Moral Premise

“Every commercially successful story, be it a movie or novel, has at its heart a true and consistent Moral Premise,” says Dr. Stan Williams. “Without this crucial element, your story is destined to fail.”

Stan is the vice president of Unique Voices in Films, a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization, a veteran producer of hundreds of documentaries, and an active Hollywood story consultant who has worked most notably on multiple film projects with Will Smith. He’s the author of The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success, which Will Smith considered “The most powerful tool in my new tool box.”  

“The Moral Premise is the crux of successful storytelling since Plato, 2,500 years ago,” he says. “Yes, it’s been around that long… and yes, I know, my book came out only in 2006.”

In 2006 Michael Wiese Books published Stan’s book and almost immediately he was asked to give workshops on the topic, which he has done across the country, most notably in Los Angeles and S.E. Michigan where he resides.

As a result of his book, the workshops, and the numerous motion picture projects he worked on, which have grossed over a billion dollars worldwide, and due to repeated requests, Stan created a training that’s widely and readily available to people. Through story craft training, writers are able to master their story, whether it is a novel, screenplay, or stage play. Here’s a link to learn more http://storycrafttraining.blogspot.com/

I met Stan at the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan where he taught Directing and Screenwriting classes. He always had a fresh approach to the art and craft of writing, one which helps a writer focus and get to the heart of the story. We recently worked on my feature script, Pomegranate. His eye for detail and respect for the writer’s own moral premise for the characters made the process incredibly productive and fulfilling.

Pomegranate
Working on the script Pomegranate with Stan

Stan offers one-on-one story consult, but if you’re not local, there are many other ways to learn from him. You can read his book, watch the 10 episodes of Storycraft Training (7.5 hours in 20 videos) and read over 200 of his blog posts which offer much inspiration. Stan’s appreciation for storytelling has led to an abundance of material where he talks about why stories are so important to culture, and what do stories and natural law have in common? His program covers, among many other things, the correlation between a story’s moral validity and box office receipts, the role irony plays in every aspect of a successful story, why impossibilities are necessary in every story, and how Aristotle’s 6 pillars of a great story contribute to drama and suspense.

  1. PLOT: The arrangement of events or incidents on the stage. 
  2. CHARACTER: The agents of the plot that provide the reasons for the events.
  3. THEME: The reason the playwright wrote the play.
  4. LANGUAGE: dramatic dialogue which consists of narrative and dramatic.
  5. RHYTHM: The heart of the play.
  6. SPECTACLE: Everything that is seen or heard on stage.

Stan structures his Moral Premise this way:

(Vice) leads to (defeat), but (Virtue) leads to (success).

Choosing the movie Finding Nemo as an example, he writes that Marlin is a clownfish living in the Great Barrier Reef. When tragedy leaves him a widower, with only one remaining son – Nemo – his protective instincts kick into overdrive. He’d do anything to keep Nemo from harm, but in the process he’s smothering his son. Then Nemo is taken by divers, and Marlin has to navigate an entire ocean to find his son and bring him home.

Throughout the movie, the quest to find Nemo is the external story, but the “real” story is about Marlin overcoming his fears for his son. This is seen clearly at the climax, when Nemo and Marlin are finally reunited against all odds. Within moments, however, a school of nearby fish are caught in a net, and Nemo insists he knows how to save them. Marlin has to face his worst fear – the possibility of losing his son yet again – and choose to release Nemo to swim back into danger.

The Moral Premise of the story could be expressed like this:

Overprotective anxiety leads to losing those we love, but releasing those we love leads to finding them again.

In his latest blog post, Stan talks about why he is always encouraging young screenwriters to find friends who are filmmakers to make their own films. Forget Hollywood, he writes, because getting stuff done is ultimately more satisfying that spitting into the Santa Ana Winds.

Having an insight into Hollywood, he helps writers set realistic expectations and yet also encourages them to dream big – through their own work and not through a dependence on others. He appreciates the heart of a story while in the process, ensuring that the writers entertains, challenges, uplifts this generation and the ones to come.

Stan will be doing a workshop for the upcoming Path of Consciousness spiritual and writing conference & retreat (Oct. 4-6) http://www.thepathofconsciousness.com

You can contact Stan through email at Stan@MoralPremise.com 

Unique Voices in Films Website http://www.UniqueVoicesinFilms.org

Trusting What Comes

Her father was a taxi driver and her mother a stay-at-home mom. He supported his eight children and they lived a comfortable life in Al Ghadeer, a district in Baghdad where many Christians lived. She remembers wanting to be a doctor.

“My parents and grandparents called me doctor,” said Nidhal Garmo. “They were sure I would become a doctor. That was the dream they had for me.”

Nidhal went to college for just a few months in Iraq before she came to the United States at age 20. She worked as a cashier and studied medicine at Wayne State University. The strong school system in Iraq made the education process for her at WSU “a piece of cake.” Although she received good grades, and felt she was ahead of the game, she didn’t make it to medical school but she did finish pre-med. She became a pharmacist instead.

“God gave me something better than I expected,” she said. “I didn’t know I would be a charity lady. Had I become a doctor, I would’ve been too busy and under too much pressure to do humanitarian work.”

Nidhal with kids3

It wasn’t an easy path. People put Nidhal down for going to school. They said things such as, “Tomorrow you’re going to get married and have a baby. What then would be the use of your degree?”

Well, Nidhal did get married when she was still a student in the liberal arts department. She became pregnant, gave birth to a baby girl, and returned to class three days later. Her husband helped a lot with the baby even though they opened a salon.

“The same people who discouraged me from getting an education now call me asking to help them find a job for their kids,” she said. “They’re impressed with me. Life turns different ways.”

After graduating from college, she earned a position working as a pharmacist for Perry Drugs, which is now Rite Aid. Five years later, she decided to establish her first pharmacy, Nidhal’s Pharmacy, as part of the Sav-Mor franchise in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Her business grew rapidly and was a success.

During the sanctions against Iraq, Nidhal send a lot of medication, money, and other donations for people in that region. Later, the 2003 war caused her to have nightmares. Watching the suffering of the Iraqi people ignited her passion for humanitarian work. She felt she had to do much more. That’s when her missions to Iraq and Kurdistan began, 23 to date.

“I saw things that touched my heart,” she said. “Sometimes it’s difficult – when you get close to someone and when you go back and ask about that person, you learn that person is dead.”

Among many, many things, Nidhal has sponsored 12 containers of medicine and medical supplies, clothing and dry food to doctors, clinics, and hospitals in Iraq and Kurdistan to treat the sick and wounded children refugees there. She helped save thousands of lives through her nonprofit foundation, One World Medical Mission which since 2008 has provided medical assistance, food, and clothing for underprivileged, at risk refugees and IDPs in conflict areas such as Kurdistan Iraq, Jordan, and Honduras.

“There is joy in helping these people and it’s not hard,” she said.

It’s not hard because Nidhal works from her heart, not her mind. She sees the bigger plan in everything and doesn’t allow circumstances to deter her. She once said to me, “My house is big. There’s a reason my house is that size. It’s arranged by God so I could use it as storage for the medical containers and other donations.”

She’d also said, “I trust God. When I don’t have money, I talk to God and within 30 minutes or so, I receive a call or email that guides and assists my situation. God does not disappoint anyone! Just wait and see what will happen!”

Trusting what comes is sometimes not easy to do in a western culture that encourages us to push and pull rather than look inward, listen and embrace. Trust what comes. Embrace it. Love it. Be grateful for it. And miracles will happen.

For more information about Nidhal Garmo and to help her with her mission, visit https://owmm.org/