Mastering the Craft of Writing

I interviewed Barbara J. Rebbeck on my show and for this article about her novel, teaching, and mastering the craft of writing. She has quite a bit of wisdom to share!

Barbara J. Rebbeck  is a teacher, consultant and author who holds degrees from Eastern Michigan University and Oakland University in English, French, and the teaching of gifted and talented students. She has published poetry, essay and professional articles. She is currently a writer-in-residence for the Beverly Hills Academy and a member of Detroit Working Writers (DWW).

Barbara’s father was born in England so she loves to visit there to see lots of theater and her British relatives. The WWII romance of her mom and dad is the basis for her second novel, The Girl from the USO.  Her first novel is Nola Gals, a tale of Hurricane Katrina, which was a semi-finalist for the Kindle Book Award and a finalist for the IAN Award. It also won bronze medals from Readers Favorites and Moonbeam and has been adopted in several school districts.

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When did you decide to be a writer?

I never really decided, it just happened. I was fortunate enough to have a fourth-grade teacher, Miss Lillian Downes who was a drama teacher placed back in the classroom due to budget cuts. She picked up on my early scribblings and gave me free reign to write and produce little plays all year long. I expanded my audience to the neighborhood and worked on plays there, too, using my family and neighbor kids as cast and set designers.

When I moved on to junior high, I had the legendary, Mrs. Vestal Hartwig, a gentile southern lady for English, American History, and Homeroom for grades 7-9. Every week on Friday she would give us a topic for our composition due Monday. That Friday she would read what she considered to be the best of show, so to speak. I was honored to have many pieces read. For those three years, I was also editor of the “Lincoln Leader.” I still get a kick out of the blast from the past I feel when I read these newsletters.  She also had us do a term paper each semester. Our last year with her we wrote career books on our future professions.

By the time I left her classroom, I knew I wanted to be an English teacher. I still have that career book. The front and back cover are two real slates. My dad painted the title, School Daze which sat above the lush red apple he added. Vestal Hartwig was a superb teacher. In fact, when I wrote my master thesis years later, I sent her a copy, saying I had all the skills I needed to write it before I moved to the high school.

What inspired you to write NOLA Gals?

Like many Americans, I was stunned with the vehemence that Hurricane Katrina drowned the city of New Orleans. Even worse was the incompetence on all levels as city, state and federal resources all failed. I wanted to write the fictionalized story for teens to read so it was not forgotten. As I wrote, I felt the novel deepen as I wove in the importance of reading by having my two teens, Essence and Grace read To Kill a Mockingbird. From the classic, they learned powerful lessons of survival.

What influence does your British background have on your writing?

My father came to this country as an RAF cadet in 1943. Not many people know that pilots were sent here and to Canada for flight training to avoid the German bombardments during the war. He met my mother, a USO hostess, and they married six months later in 1943. So, I grew up leading a double life. One of my earliest memories was getting up at dawn to watch the film of the coronation of Elizabeth II. Another memory was having my poor petite friend who lived down the street, pull me in the stake wagon around the neighborhood. I was the Queen, waving to the crowds. The biggest influence on me has been the rich heritage of British literature, including their enthralling theatre.

When I began to visit my British relatives in the UK, I discovered that nothing could beat an evening in the stalls in a London theatre. The warm welcome I always received from my dad’s brother, Ron and my aunt Jean on my visits added to my British heritage. I was able to experience family life and hear all sorts of accents and expressions on frequent visits. I loved every minute of my time in London, but also the trips outside to the beautiful countryside. A few years back I visited Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey was filmed. My record for seeing plays on a trip was 9 plays in 10 days, by the way.

When I wrote a play adaptation of NOLA Gals called Turbulence, I knew exactly how I wanted it to look to teens. I also write fiction as a play in my head. I visualize all my characters waking about, talking. Sometimes I act out the scenes to see if the actions make sense with just my cat as the audience. My British background and WII play a huge part in my new literary suspense novel, The Girl from the USO. My parents’ meeting and whirlwind courtship in Detroit form the basis for the beginnings of the novel. Then it veers away as the plot thickens like clotted cream in Cornwall, England. Fingers crossed as I have a couple publishers interested in the novel. My mother’s heritage was French which set up a triple allegiance for me and resulted in my undergrad degree in French and English and my advanced degree in French.

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What has been your experience teaching at Beverly Hills Academy?

I began their several years ago as a volunteer writer-in residence working in the middle school with teacher, Sara Coyle. The first year I worked just with her 8th graders when they read both To Kill a Mockingbird and then NOLA Gals. We worked on the writing technique of extended metaphor which I use in my novel to describe Hurricane Katrina as an angry teen. From that year I began to extend my work to the 7th grade working with memoir writing and then the 6th grade working with poetry. Along the way we began to produce an annual collection of student work. Mrs. Coyle and I always included pieces of our own writing. We dove deeply for family tales and heroes, making these anthologies powerful works of art. This year I cut back on my visits to give me more time to work on finding a publisher for my new novel. I will be back in March to work with this year’s 8th Hopefully, they’ll be able to read aloud Turbulence just as the 4th graders back in the 50s read my childhood plays. It has been a rewarding experience to work with students at the Beverly Hills Academy as well as Waterford, Hazel Park, and the Academy of the Sacred Heart. There can be no better review of a book than a 6th grade boy telling the class, he had never had a book make him feel so deeply.

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What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Writers are a strange bunch. Myself, I’ve always been a solitary writer during the process. In the last few years I have joined two groups, the Detroit Working Writers and Sisters in Crime. In education, I was respected and held some important post including such as President of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English and Director of the Oakland Writing Project. I was also the language arts consultant for all the districts in Oakland County. The transition to author was a rough one. I published with a small press and definitely found a bias against my poor NOLA Gals. Things are getting better though. Among my author friends are Anne Marie Oomen who I’ve known for years as my teacher. She was kind enough to write a review for NPR for my novel. Terry Blackhawk is a goddess as a poet and a rare teacher and human being. Reading her books is always an inspiration. New friends are Cindy Harrison who unselfishly pointed me to her own publisher and the other Sisters in Crime, and Roberta Brown who has let me write a program for three nights of DWW authors reading their works next spring. And Weam Namou is a gem of a new friend. Thank you for this opportunity, Weam. 

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Watch for the scam artists or unethical publishers out there. Don’t be so desperate to publish. You will lose friends and make friends on your journey. Learning whom to trust is tricky. There is more than one way to skin a literary cat. It took me five years to find a publisher for my first novel. I regret that choice. Study the market, and go to lots of conferences. It’s a business.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I don’t think it changed it much. What changed it was working with so many kids in schools and sharing my writing with them along the way. As models for their own writing. I found a freedom in that process.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I have to return to that dimly-lit living room when I was an entranced 5-year old watching the coronation of Elizabeth II on TV. The film had been developed on the plane bringing it to the states for broadcast, my dad told us. Although never a royalist, he made sure we were up impossibly early that June morning. The regal clothes and jewels, the Latin words, the hymns. I was ready to swear allegiance as Prince Philip did that day. “Vivat, Vivat, Regina.” Yes, indeed, I was hooked on pomp and circumstance. Words had power.

What’s the best way to market your book?

“No reason to market a book. If it’s good, it’ll sell itself.” Thus spake my first publisher. Wrong, wrong, wrong. You have to have a strong social media platform and so should your publisher. Join writing groups and get advice. Rochester Writers did an entire conference on self-publishing last spring. Explore what fits your work. One thing I did for my YA novel was to set up a website (with my nephew’s help) that offered all sorts of ideas for the writing teacher and classroom based on writing samples and photos of my work in classes. (Thanks, Sara.) I wrote an article in a local magazine that got me into Hazel Park schools. (Thanks, Toby.) I reached back to teachers I knew from the Oakland Writing Project to see if I could work with them. (Thanks, Sandy.) For my next book, the number one thing I’m looking for in a publisher is a solid marketing plan. Oh, and someone who will communicate with me, too.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I love research. For NOLA Gals I did about a year’s research. I handwrite notes in a large notebook, I share with kids. I had two crates of books, articles, CDs, and DVDs by the time I was done. I also kept a journal with sketches of “sets” from the scenes in my heads, the ones I acted out for my cat. I reread To Kill a Mockingbird My copy is covered with post-its I used to decide what quotes or scenes to refer to. For my second novel set in WII, The Girl from the USO, I ended up with two journals of notes on my research, and again two crates of media and novels. The classic literary suspense novel, Rebecca forms the basis for this novel. The heroine loves that novel and yearns for that passion in her life. I had to coordinate all the dates to decide on the year of their novel. I opted for 1941, the year Rebecca won the Oscar. I found a classic DVD of the film that also included a Lux Radio Theatre play that aired in February, 1941. It is a marvelous piece of quaint history, including the original ads for Lux soap and a Gone with the Wind brooch. A bargain at 35 cents. This research took about 6 months. I had a great deal of family history to write from. For instance, I knew my parents’ first date had been a concert by Evelyn and her Violins. Okay, so now I had to figure out which theatre in Detroit that concert might have occurred and what music they had played. It’s like a cat and mouse chase. One step leads to another. A big help for the second half of the book were my trips to Cornwall over the years, too.

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What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Early on when I first started writing poetry, I submitted my pages for a critique from poet, Naomi Long Madgett at an Oakland University Conference. I was brave, and she was kind. She gave me advise I will repeat and have done so often. She wrote on my pages that I did have talent, but I needed to learn my craft. Got that? Learn your craft. The best way to do this is read everything you can get your hands on in your genres. In the last year while writing suspense, I reread Rebecca, sticking it up with post-its. My novel begins with a poem from that novel. In question #5 above you asked about authors as friends. In the past year, I have been in touch on twitter with my new well-known suspense authors, Ruth Ware, Clare MacKintosh, and AJ Finn. Just casual, but reassuring tweets. Finn’s The Woman in the Window that I read half way through writing my novel, gave me confidence I was headed in the right direction.  Suspense needs twists that the author won’t see coming. You have to stay ahead of the reader. Teachers are everywhere.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Deciding when the book is finished. I think it’s all wrapped up. After all, I’m submitting it. But then I’ll be watching a British TV show and suddenly a character comes out with an expression such as “getting a leg over,” a euphemism for having sex, and my author mind kicks in. I have got to include that in my book. It’s a perfect phrase for my pilot to use. So I’m off, taking hours to skim the ms. and find the exact position for him to sling that phrase. I wasn’t finished after all.

Do you believe in Writer’s Block?

I believe that the “writing process” has become so entrenched in schools and in writers’ minds that it has become a dogma. Everyone writes in their own style. I’m sitting here on my couch, still in my robe at 1:20 pm on a snowy day. Did I write anything yesterday? Or the day before? No. But I do have a draft of a memoir piece to type. I’ll get to it. I’ll never have Writer’s Block. It doesn’t exist for me. Go easy on yourself. And teachers, if you have a student who doesn’t need to do pre-writing activities, let it go. Start the story.

If you are interested in student work and Ideas for the Classroom, Barbara Rebbeck’s website is http://www.nolagals.com

#BRebbeck and Facebook.

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The True Path of Consciousness

Sometimes Spirit gives us a little nudge and sometimes spirit gives us a big nudge when we are not following the true path of consciousness. I moved through my blocks in an unusual way for me. Along the way I found something that could lead me into living a more fulfilling life on all levels, especially helping me with my writing career. I found the four-year Mystery School, led by New York Times bestselling author and mystic Lynn V. Andrews. Eight years later, I’m still closely involved with Lynn’s teachings.

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Teri Williams interviewed me recently on her show Soulful Living about my experience in Lynn’s school.  Some clients describe Teri as a “Shaman for business.” She also works as a Reiki Master and Shamanic Practitioner assisting others to release and shift that which no longer serves their highest good. That’s why she invited me on her show. She realizes the importance of these teachings which have transformed my life so much that I’ve created an opportunity where others can do the same through the Path of Consciousness, a spiritual and writing conference and retreat which takes place during the first week of October.

The Path of Consciousness is an idea born from a little spiritual hideaway in the Riviera Maya, Mexico where shamans perform a Mayan ceremony using a Temazcal steam bath. This relaxing mystical old-age rite is good for the soul and mixes a spiritual journey with an encounter with the basic elements of our planet: water, fire, earth, and wind.

Similarly to the Temazcal steam bath in the Riviera Maya, this community is about reconnecting to our inner power, healing and transforming ourselves, and creating a better world for our families and communities.

A number of medical schools such as Columbia University now have Narrative Medicine master’s program, recognizing the power that practices such as the art of storytelling provides for people to heal and grow.

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https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-path-of-consciousness-with-weam-namou/id648639542?i=1000450909380

To learn more about the retreat, visit http://www.ThePathofConsciousness.com

Unique Voices in Films

In 2009, Nabil Nona decided to study acting and filmmaking and felt it was one the best decision he had ever made. A year later he wrote, acted in, produced and directed his first short film. Since then he has been producing and directing other shorts, TV commercials, music videos and TV shows. His goal is to keep creating and making meaningful films or shows that entertain the audience but also make them think after watching the film.

Nabil, who’s on the Board of Unique Voices in Films, is a producer and director known for Nightmare (2011), The Summoner and Consequences (2017).  Born in Iraq in 1971, he was as a child infatuated with American cartoons, movies, and TV shows. He learned English by listening to American dialogue and reading subtitles in Arabic.  Nabil immigrated to the United States in 1994 where he found himself going to theaters to watch the latest movies, analyzing every performance by the actors, cinematographers, and directors. He would wait for the movie to come on DVD to watch it again but with the added bonus of behind-the-scenes footage where it explains how the movie was made and how the actors performed under whatever conditions and still gave their best.

I interviewed Nabil on my TV show (watch the youtube video) and here he tells us a little about himself.

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Since I was a child, I was always interested in films especially how they were made. I would always look for extra footage of the film and see how the director made the film. In 2009 I studied acting, and after that I became more interested in making a film even more than being an actor in a film.

How did you start in film and what keeps you going?

In 2010 I made my very first short film. I wrote, acted, directed and produced a 2 minute slow motion scene followed by a 5 minute second scene 2 weeks later. It was a great experience and from that I decided to explore doing more shorts then music videos and TV commercials.

What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your work? 

I realized that team work is the most important aspect in making a film project. You cannot do everything on your own no matter how talented you are and you will always need the help of other talented people to complete your film project.

Making a film requires a team. How did you discover your team and how do you keep the relationship with them? 

When working on different projects, I meant many talented people in the film industry and I formed a solid relationship based on mutual respect. I stay connected with them and would love to work with them on future projects, hopefully.

How do you nurture your filmmaking skills and talents?

I keep myself informed and I try to learn from other filmmakers. I try new things even if I fail at times but I keep trying until something great comes out.

What makes a film great for you?

The story, the performance execution of the cast, the well-directed scenes, and the editing process which includes music and sound design.

What films have been most inspiring and influential to you and why? 

The Devil’s Advocate, The Matrix, Good Fellas, The Exorcist, Inception, The Dark Knight, Sleepers, Fight Club, The Mask, Reign of Fire, 300, The Hangover, and many more.

How did your love for movies start and what can be done to help others discover similar pleasure and appreciation for film? 

Since my early childhood, I would watch movies on TV. I was fascinated by all of it and I would be hungry for more films to watch, however, I didn’t have the resources we have today. Creative people love movies, because movies are the interpretation of our imagination, and in movies we see that imagination comes to life. The more we imagine the better chance we have into making it into a movie.

What failures have you been able to learn from? How did they change you and your process?

Making a film project without having a budget is extremely difficult, but the good part you learn how to be creative and use whatever resources you can use that are not money.

What is the most important advice you can give a filmmaker starting out?

Do small but completed projects, even if you have the budget for your project, do not start with big long projects where you may not be able to complete or execute them the right way. Start small and bigger as you go, because whether you make a 5 minute film or a 2 hour film, the way you tell your story through the movie is what matters, not the length of the film.

Growth and Self-Care through The Wheel

By Guest Blogger: Sonya Julie www.SonyaJulie.com

This present time is perfect for honoring ourselves through the act of self-care, and not just the materialistic kind that you might read about in a pop-culture magazine. We need to authentically care for ourselves in all our many aspects and one way to approach this is to use The Wheel.

Medicine Wheel

It’s the perfect time to explore and tap into feeling from our hearts and living from our higher selves. If we are to gain personal freedom, we must learn to understand and balance all our aspects so that through healing and growth we may become sovereign beings. Accessing our inner wisdom allows us to move forward on our paths.

What does that mean? Many of us start on our healing path because we want to feel better, overcome trauma, or find more meaning in our lives. As we begin to explore our gifts, manage our energy, and stop focusing on our problems, we open up the space to start pondering the mysteries of the Divine. This is when we truly begin to awaken to our higher selves, tapping into the universal collective and innate wisdom.

Our human ego-self is limited in vision and scope so it is important to remember that we can overcome this smallness. You are invited to release self-imposed limitations and to cast off the illusion of lack. Seeking to clear ourselves of limitations and negativity can be done through the ongoing development of a deep understanding that reflects love, compassion, strength, and patience.

All indigenous cultures have used a form of The Medicine Wheel – traveling from one direction to the next, exploring all the facets of the human existence. The term medicine does not refer to medical matters, rather medicine represents the inherent life force found in all of nature. Travel occurs in the South, West, North, and East as we circle through the seasons and phases of life.

There are numerous variations of the medicine wheel, yet they all drive us to reflect on similar principles and ideas. As we journey through the wheel, we tend to all our aspects – physical, emotional spiritual, and mental. This allows us to honor ourselves by integrating all our aspects and to connect them with the present emphasis on manifestation during this time of the Lion’s Gate.

You can read more about the wheel by reading 

We begin to travel through the Wheel from the South, where we consider physical aspects. Self-care can take on the form of exercise, massage, diet, and other self-care modalities. Also be aware that the south represents manifestation. Tend to your finances, make lists of what needs to be done, make plans for your business, nourish your dreams, care for your living spaces and belongings, and give care to all areas of physicality in your life.

Next we travel to the West, the place of emotion. It is here where we watch for our inner cycles for understanding of the subtle tides that regulate the inner workings of self. When we take time to examine, understand, heal, and grow our emotional selves, it allows us to heal and grow in other areas of our lives as well.

Society often teaches us to block out our emotions or to dwell on negative emotions such as hate, jealousy, judgement, and greed. By examining and learning to direct your emotional health, you can make major changes in our life. Carefully select what media you consume and find time to connect with nature all year long. Eliminate anything that does not honor your sacred soul and embrace that which gives you joy, hope, courage, and confidence.

Take time to examine your emotions, seeking to clear out anything that feels less than benevolent. This often requires hard work and determination. You might decide to seek out a life coach, therapist, counselor, past life reader, energetic healer, or another professional who offers insight. Be sure to select someone who intuitively feels like a good fit. You might also seek out self-help books, videos, workshops, resources, and materials that resonate with you.

The North is the place of the spirit and connects to our soul’s journey. Every step we take is sacred and offers us the opportunity to learn and grow. Understanding that we are one with the universe and connected to every thing and every living being helps us to align with our higher selves and our life purpose.

Walking into Our Center

Seeking out spiritual wisdom and experiences are a part of the north path. Deciphering the messages in our dreams, delving into a yoga practice, meditating, visiting an Energy Healer, and paying attention to the messages of the universe are ways to connect. Incorporating positive affirmations, creating inspiring spaces, working with the elementals, and spending time in nature connects you with your spirit; we may assimilate elements from the other directions in developing our spirituality in the North. These are tools that help us to transform. Our goal is to find that place of stillness, where we are divinely connected. We absorb this energy and then spread it out into the world around us, sharing our light.

And finally, we visit the East, the direction of the mind. Ancient wisdom allows us to create using wisdom, knowledge, and our mental abilities. The east is represented by the Eagle who flies high over the land with courage and swiftness. This represents an expansive view that offers great detail as well as an understanding of the overall picture. It signifies an awakening of the mind that represents our visionary selves. It is here that we learn about tools of personal alchemy and how we can harness the natural forces of the universe.

Having a balanced life means having more fun in life. Here I’m with Weam Namou at Colombiere retreat center, planning for the first Path of Consciousness spiritual and writing retreat.

Working to reduce and eliminate mind chatter strengthens the mind and provides us with the freedom to be our authentic selves. Purposefully utilizing the mind is most helpful when you are first and foremost connected to your heart. Living through our heart and soul is the path to living a life of purpose. When we recognize this, we can then utilize the mind as a tool (a computer essentially) and understand its purpose.

Travelling through all the segments of the Wheel allows us to be more thorough in our self-care efforts and affords us greater opportunity to manifest. The Wheel also represents peaceful interaction between all living beings on earth. This is a reflection of that which we wish to achieve within and without ourselves.

People have celebrated the cycle of life through circles and wheels throughout all of time. The wheel is an integral part of our spiritual heritage. As we grow, we change like the seasons as we pass through layers of the wheel, learning from each segment.

We live at the center of the wheel and we want to be in balance. We want to be at the center of knowledge and the rhythm of life. We often circle back around in layers to certain people and situations throughout our life, each cycle offering a lesson and an opportunity. It is your choice to take responsibility to face your fears, overcome your shadows, and to know that you have the power to heal yourself and set the course of your direction.

The present is a powerful time to conquer our shadows and honor the divine as we grow and create. I invite you to take time to examine your aspects through the directions of the wheel, to care for yourself, and to embrace the manifestation of that which brings divine love and positive self-empowerment into your life.

Sonya is leading a workshop at the Path of Consciousness retreat (Oct. 4-6) taking you around the Wheel through journaling.

Sonya Julie

Sonya Julie has been writing creatively for decades. She has published columns in company newsletters and created freelance content for print and digital publications about health, spirituality, ancient wisdom, lifestyle, travel, adventure, and community. Sonya facilitates workshops, creates jewelry, and is currently writing her memoir, due to be published by the end of 2019. She is the executive administrator for Rochester Writers and loves interacting with the Michigan writing community. She enjoys crafting social media content and marketing for select entities and teaching, sharing, coaching, and encouraging people to find their inspiration. Find her at www.SonyaJulie.com and https://awakeningthecore.com/

 

 

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;

 

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).”

Ilham2

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