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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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/

The Oud Player

 

It was Nineveh Cultural Night. As I set my books on the author table, I heard the sound of the classical music of the legendary singer Abdel Halim Hafez. It transported me to the days of long ago, when I was a little girl in Baghdad, Iraq. Television was programmed for only several hours a day and the rest of the time my family listened to the radio.

After I finished setting my books, I turned around and was surprised to see a young man playing the oud. Not having paid any attention to my surroundings, I’d assumed it was a stereo. He then sang the songs in their original Arabic language even though I learned later that he was born in America.

This event, where I was a speaker, occurred shortly after my mother had passed away. Listening to him brought so many heartfelt memories that, for me, it became the most notable part of the evening. I sat there and enjoyed the sound of the oud, a musical instrument that’s some 35000 years old, the oldest found in Persia.

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Brian was lucky to be born to a very supportive mother who taught him and his siblings several languages and encouraged his music career. At 12 years old, he cried to her that he wanted an oud so she took him to a small warehouse in Dearborn where he was given the option to choose one of two ouds. He loved the design on one of them, they bought it, and this became his favorite oud.

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Brian was soon taught by Abdul Karim Badr, who I happened to interview in 2010, and who has since passed away. I’d had the pleasure of visiting Badr at his home and listening to his story and music. Badr was born in 1921 in Lebanon to a Lebanese mother and a Syrian father. Yet much of his music career was spent in Iraq, during the country’s “Golden Age,” where he said that King Faisal II was so moved by his music that he granted him an Iraqi citizenship. Badr said that during that time, “People wished to have the good fortune of attaining a visa to Iraq.”

Times have changed, haven’t they?

Badr had said to me, “Today’s music has no meaning, depth or talent. Authentic singing and those who value true art are gone, replaced by too much noise.”

I find this to be the case even in writing, where people spew whatever comes to mind without consideration for authenticity and literature.

Badr felt that the media attributed to this problem. He’d said, “The media has become a school for people. Children imitate and become attracted to idols like Michael Jackson who sometimes behave in an obscene fashion while performing.  And the words singers these days use! Dressed in fine clothes and wearing lots of makeup, female as well as male singers sing about their loved ones abandoning them. Why are pretty singers singing about lost love? Because they are not so pretty on the inside.”

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In the olden days, when legendary singers like Um Kalthoum or Abdel Halim Hafez sang, there was no food or drink served or any other distractions. It was pure music. Back then, when one turned on the radio, one knew a singer’s origin, whether they were Iraqi or Lebanese or Egyptian. Later different singers began mixing things up and using others’ songs and music. Today, many singers and musicians are forced to do the music people want of them, to know everyone else’s songs, in order to make a living and survive in the industry.

In August of 2005, Abdul Karim Badr was given the Golden Oud Award for his fine artistic work, teaching and inspiring a rising new generation. And on August 12, 2006, he was awarded the Michigan Heritage Award in Lansing by the Michigan Traditional Arts Program of the Michigan State University Museum. While he has made many contributions to the arts, he credits his greatest achievement to having married his beautifully elegant and supportive wife of over four decades, Evelyn, who was born in Iran to a Chaldean family.

Brian was very fortunate to have had such a teacher. And the Iraqi American community is fortunate to have a young man like Brian continue the art of music which reminds people, such as myself, of our ancient birth land’s richness. In 1932, Iraq was awarded first prize for music in the Arab world by the Egyptian Music Award. In 1956, the first Arabic television in the Middle East was set up by the British Museum.

Art is important for a healthy democracy. That is it is such a threat to some countries who want to keep their citizens oppressed.

Brian can be contacted on Facebook “Oud player in Michigan  خضر العواد.” By phone 586-424-7101 or email brianoud6@gmail.com

Literary Atmospheres

Literary atmospheres are important at home and outside it. Writing is a solitary act and being in groups will not finish an article let alone a book. However, the support, inspiration, and education that a writer can receive from workshops, conferences, retreats, and other writers help us move forward with our projects. It keeps us going.

I’ve taken as much care in my personal literary atmosphere – my home office – as I have with my outside literary atmosphere – my writing communities that go back decades. There’s a whole world out there to explore, but to have a sense of sacredness and get things done, local organizations provide the type of human relationships that keep us grounded and connected.

In the mid-1990s a university professor advised me to join a writers group that met at Barnes and Nobles in Rochester, Michigan. I was very shy about showing my work to anyone outside of my niece and my then teacher/editor. Finally, I gathered the courage to attend and for the first time read aloud Chapter 1 of my first novel, The Feminine Art. The constructive feedback I received was amazing and the friendships I made from that group was priceless. I’m still close friends with the author who led the group, Marie Gates.

The Rochester Writers Group eventually folded and then Michael Dwyer formed the Freelance Marketplace Writers Group at the same Barnes & Noble location (2800 S. Rochester Road). They meet on the third Tuesday of the month at 7:30 pm and have different topics and guests each month. However, the main conversation is always about the business of writing as it’s not a critique group.  

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At the time he started the group, Michael was already an established freelance writer, with articles published in local newspapers, national print magazine and online news outlets. I met the late Hawke Fracassa at one of these meetings. Hawke was an award-winning journalist and mayoral candidate who had several newspapers, the Macomb and Oakland Observer, where I had a column for a few years. Soon, Michael saw a want and need for professional development in the Southeast Michigan for new, working and published writers, so in 2008, he founded and organized Rochester Writers’ Conference.

The first conference, which I’m proud to have presented at, was held at Rochester College. In 2010, it moved to Oakland University where it continues until today. By then, Sonya Julie had come on board, eventually becoming the executive administrator for Rochester Writers. A voracious reader since the age of five, Sonya has been writing creatively for decades. She has published columns in company newsletters and created freelance content for print and digital publications about health, fitness, spirituality, lifestyle, travel, adventure, and community.

Sonya is a passionate believer in creative growth. She enjoys teaching, sharing, coaching, and encouraging people to find their inspiration. She loves interacting with the Michigan writing community and that love has nourished the growth of Rochester Writers. Her support has also allowed Michael a little more free time to do things that he loves, including brewing coffee kombucha, watching Doctor Who, teaching skiing, and feeding peanuts to squirrels out of his kitchen window.

With Michael and Sonya working as a team, the conference quickly grew to being held twice a year – in the spring and the fall – as well as now including tailored workshops throughout the year. The annual fall event in October is a traditional writers’ conference for fiction and non-fiction writers with a variety of genres presented in lecture, workshop, and panel discussion formats. The annual spring event is more of a focused approach – topic, genre, business – that changes every year.

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What’s so special about this conference? It’s an easy one-day event for a reasonable rate. You don’t have to travel to New York or L.A. to find good, effective writing instruction, to meet other authors, and to move your career forward. Local writers’ groups and regional authors are involved with making the event happen each October.  Most presenters are Michigan based or have a strong connection to the area. The event is truly Made in Michigan.

I’m happy to present at the upcoming spring conference (March 30) where my wonderful colleague, Sylvia Hubbard, will be keynote speaker. I’ve had her on my show before and she’s truly a great inspiration for emerging and established writers. This year’s theme is “All About Self-Publishing” and other speakers include Lev Raphael, Mel Corrigan and Colleen Gleason. 

A writing career can be quite a struggle, but it has many rewards. Aside from the ability to express ourselves on paper and share our stories with people we may never meet, the lifestyle is beautiful, contemplative, and permits us the opportunity to meet creative writing souls who are worth our time.

For more information or to register for the conference, visit https://rochesterwriters.wordpress.com/conference-registration/

Encouraging and Fostering Writers

Once a retired professor of Middle Eastern Studies said to me that the highest thing any of us can achieve is to be human beings. “Al-Inssan,” he said, is an Arabic word that means more than being man or woman, but being humane, caring, governed by reason and searching for purpose. This man did not try to sell anything to anyone. His motives were simple: “to encourage and foster as the end of my life is nearer than the beginning.”

I learned much from this man and people like him who make it a priority to encourage and foster others as they make their dreams come true.  One such person is Terry Hojnacki, author of I Can See With My Eyes Shut Tight. Terry is an award-winning flash fiction writer, children’s book author, poet, novelist, editor, and lover of words. When not lost in her own words, she edits manuscripts, reads, and encourages other authors to improve and promote their work. Although she had written for decades, with stories getting published in various publications, last year was the most productive year for Terry.

“You never know what moves timing along,” she said. “A great motivator was showing dad something I produced so I got it done.”

The founder and editor-in-chief of Sterling Script: A Local Author Collection, Terry feels that this book is one way she can promote her local writing community.

“In Detroit we have an incredible writing community,” she said. “So many people don’t know that and many writers are afraid to submit their work. Sterling Script was my way of opening up that opportunity for the community. The reward was seeing these authors of diverse background and stories see their name and work.”

Amazon link to Sterling Script

Terry's Book2

Terry is involved in a multitude of writing communities. She is a member of the Detroit Working Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Rochester Writers, and the Tuesday Morning Writers. She is the facilitator of the Creative Writers Workshop and volunteer event coordinator for the Local Author Book Sale at the Sterling Heights Public Library. Check out this link for scheduling https://www.sterling-heights.net/590/Library

Her current projects include a contemporary fiction novel, a middle grade adventure, and the 2019 edition of Sterling Script.

The secret to good writing is simply to continue to write and write. If you write a book, continue to the next and the next. For that matter everything comes from plugging away at it. Artistic projects like other endeavors of creativity start with the author and when shared with other collaborators gain life as opposed to being mere words on a page. When the work is finally produced it becomes about the audience. Like the words that you see before you, it’s all about how they can move life forward in the manner where you can find them useful.

We all have something to learn from each other. What’s most important is the singular focus on being the best person you can be and let that reflect upon those you come in contact with. Knowing who you are solves the problems of purpose and your reason for being here. Labels do not serve anyone while you’re in the grave.

Those closest to you are the most important people. Here in America there is too much focus on fame to the point of distraction. The process is more relevant than the fame and fortune because the love of doing something with passion lasts longer. The saying goes, “Be patient with most things, but mostly with yourself.” I wish you success in a whatever field you’re in, but most importantly to find fulfillment in whatever you do.

To learn more about Terry Hojnacki’s work, visit http://www.TerryHojnacki.com

 

Conversations in Silence

Narenda (Nick) was a customer at a family video store I managed for 12 years, called Video Castle. He would often have long conversations with me about God, meditation, and how to live a healthy and well-balanced life. He eventually invited me to his meditation group where I met interesting people from all backgrounds who were in professional fields and dedicated to spiritual growth and connections. Originally from India, Narendra was an engineer so his practical concepts were easy to understand.

“True spirituality is simple, contemporary and practical,” he would say. “It never loses the yardstick of common sense.” 

He introduced me to life-changing books such as Conversations with God and Daughter of Fire. He later wrote his own book, Conversations in Silence, which is a diary of three years which reveals his transition from a fairly typical, stressed-out businessman to a blissful, loving man eager to share his newly spiritual gifts. 

Conversations in Silence

To learn more about Conversations in Silence, click here:

The book focus on his experiences with spiritual master, Mother Meera. Narendra met Mother Meera through a picture. He noticed something extraordinary loving and mesmerizing about this young Indian lady’s big eyes. He learned that she lived in Germany and hoped that one day he would get to meet her. That opportunity came when his work sent him on an assignment in Germany.

Born in a small village in India, she allegedly had her first samadhi, a state of complete spiritual absorption, at the age of six, which lasted for a whole day. When she was 12, her uncle met her for the first time and was convinced that the girl had already appeared to him in the form of visions. He came to believe that she is the Diving Mother and started to take care of her, allowing her to unfold her inner experiences. In 1981 she made her first trip to West Germany, where she settled with her uncle. She married a German in 1982.

Mother Meera.jpg

Mother Meera is an embodiment of the Divine Feminine, the Divine Mother on earth. She gives thousands of visitors her unique blessing of Darshan – in silence – and teaches the unity of all religions. Everyone can go their own ways. It is only important to be connected with the light (the personal spiritual role model) every day by praying, reading or meditating. She doesn’t charge any money for her work and she will not give lectures. Her reported task on Earth was in calling down a dynamic light-force from the Supreme (Paramatman – the supreme Self) in collaboration with other saints and diving beings, as she says, making spiritual progress on earth easier. About this light she says, “Like electricity, the light is everywhere, but one must know how to activate it. I have come for that.” 

Narendra’s accounts in this book, his determination to attain enlightenment, are inspiring. After work as an engineer, he is anxious to drive for hours to sit – even if briefly – in front of Mother Meera. One wonders how this world would be if we gave as much attention to our spiritual growth as we did to the physical and mental aspects of our lives.

In her presence he had numerous supernatural experiences, including many healings. When fully convince, he accepted Yogananda as his Spiritual Master. Through Mother Meera’s help, he was put on fast track and given many spiritual gifts. Most of his spiritual education came in the form of pictures during meditations. One of the gifts is his ability to measure a person’s consciousness level. As a Perceptor, Narendra has the ability to quickly transform people of all faiths and Masters, as ordered by the Divine. In his workshops, he uses everyday language, graphics, and common-sense approach. 

He notes in his book: Reading holy books is a great; the practice of prescribed values comes next. Beyond a point, an individual spiritual journey is so unique that copying someone else’s path alone will not help. During the advanced stage, one cannot join a spiritual club and expect faster results. This journey has to be completed alone just like a surgeon performing a surgery himself. During training, however, a surgeon must be in the company of other experts. Similarly, the spiritual journey requires that we accept our unique true-self once we have been “normalized.”

Here’s a video where Narendra talks about meditation and he holds workshops on some Saturdays in the mornings at the Rochester Library.