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Finding Little Sanctuaries to Work In

November 28, 2020

I had an incredibly busy October month with a business trip to Los Angeles, coming home to ten days of three guys painting our house, my computer freezing then dying on me, and finally now – some peace! Wait, should I write that and risk jinxing myself? J

Despite this hectic month, on a few occasions I was able to formulate some chapters for my next book. Yes, book number 13 is just around the corner – maybe a little further than that, but it’s closer to publication now than it was yesterday. How on earth did I write in this – how should I describe the messy situation in an elegant fashion? Well, to save time, I just won’t. But I will say that accidentally finding little sanctuaries here and there had a lot to do with it.

My favorite sanctuary is the one in this picture (note: the black around my nails is ink not dirt). I found this place after dropping off my daughter to her first recreational class, located in an unfamiliar town. I asked the receptionist, “Is there a library or café nearby where I can hang out until the class ends?”

“Library?” he said. “There’s one a few blocks down, right past the cemetery.”

I drove to a library I’d never been to before. There, I stumbled upon a beautiful garden where I sat on a bench under the sun and wrote to my heart’s content while squirrels chased each other, birds chirped, and ants busily went to and fro doing I don’t know what. The end result was a rough draft of Chapter 8 of my upcoming book.

While I’m leaving the name of the library a mystery, I described it my book chapter well enough that possibly one of patrons might recognize it. Not that it matters. There are little treasures and sanctuaries on every corner of our streets, waiting for us to discover and utilize them. What little sanctuary is calling for you to visit it and use it to create and inspire?

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Visiting the Jewish Community Relations Council

November 28, 2020

Visiting the Jewish Community Relations Council

Last week I was invited by my editor from The Chaldean News to attend a luncheon hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council. They were featuring Yonah Jeremy Bob, an intelligence, terrorism and legal analyst of the Jerusalem Post. The subject was “Confronting the Next Wave of Terror: The Age of Lone Wolves.”

I accepted the invitation because part of what I love about my journalism job is the opportunities of meeting new people, places, and subject matters. This subject is particularly timely – we all witnessed the horrific terrorist act that happened yesterday in New York – and I felt I could learn quite a few things, some of which I could pass along to my Middle Eastern community.

Just before I received the invitation, a colleague contacted me wanting to have a better understanding about the Chaldean-Jewish newspaper partnership that was formed about seven years ago. She asked, “In your opinion, how has this affected relations between Chaldeans and Arabs in Metro Detroit, especially in regards to Palestinians?”

I told her that when I met with the administration of the Arab American National Museum, they praised the Jewish community for supporting their causes and efforts. Chaldean leaders and professionals praise the Jewish community for supporting their causes and efforts. As for the Chaldean/Arab relations – that’s another story. We discussed this issue a little further, but there were opinions I didn’t share with her which I will do so here.

As a Chaldean (Christian Iraqi) born in Baghdad, my ancestors have deep roots to Judaism, primarily through Prophet Abraham as he was from Ur, land of the Chaldeas. As a journalist and book author, who for the last ten years have mostly written nonfiction and memoir, I’ve learned much about the Jewish community, not merely through research but from the people who I encounter. For instance, as the 10th Anniversary of September 11 neared, NAAJA (National Arab American Journalists Association) held its 6th annual conference entitled “Strengthening the Voices of American Arabs.” Its objectives were to address challenges journalists faced in the pro-Democracy movement in the Middle East and Arab world. I was one of the speakers and so was Dawud Walid, the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Michigan branch.

Here’s a passage from my Eric Hoffer Award winning book The Great American Family: A Story of Political Disenchantment, quoting Dawud Walid:

“We complain about how the media views Arab Americans. But until Arab Americans get involved in journalism, become those people who are over the editorial staff, we’re going to keep getting the same of what we’ve been getting. The Jewish experience is very rich and we should draw from it. Jewish Americans were involved in the civil rights movements. I challenge our community in that we need to stand up and get involved in other peoples’ struggles as well and this will help bring us more friends to support us.” (pg 248)

Here’s another passage from The Great American Family: A Story of Political Disenchantment where I have a conversation with a CIA operative, a Muslim born in Iraq but who spent the majority of his life in Europe. I told him that I’d heard a rumor that the houses in Iraq were being bought at huge prices, paid cash, by Jews so that they could make Iraq their land, since so much of their history lives there. His response was this:

“Iraqi Jews have strong ties in Iraq. Daniel, the guy in the Den of Lion’s biblical story, is buried in Iraq. Ezra is buried in Iraq. In the Hebrew Bible, Ezra returned from the Babylonian exile and reintroduced the Torah in Jerusalem. The Jews have been in Iraq since Babylonian time. Iraq and the Jewish are very interlinked. They are part of Iraq’s tapestry. If some of them come back and buy in Iraq, well, why not? If Iraq was wise, they would allow them to come back to Iraq. I know a lot of Iraqi Jews and they are the kindest people outside of Iraq.”  (pg. 277)

He also mentioned that not long ago, the Jews, Christians and Muslims lived there in harmony, which I’d read in the book My Father’s Paradise by Ariel Sabar, a Kurdish Jew whose family still spoke Aramaic.

The next passage is from my memoir series Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World (Book 1). It’s a conversation I had with Dr. Emily Porter, an artist, writer, historian and human and women’s rights activist. She was born to a British father and an Iraqi mother, studied in Iraq, Moscow, the UK and USA, and had worked at Baghdad Museum before fleeing Saddam’s regime. She said to me:

“Iraqis are Jewish. Jews stem from Iraq. Iraqi Jews make up one of the world’s oldest and most historically important Jewish communities. That’s why, when I was in Jerusalem, there were so many streets named after Iraqi regions. Dig deep in their history and you will find all their beauty.” (pg. 258)

Emily exchanged more information, which I included in the book, basically talking about how the Jews understand, appreciate and support art and culture while our community – not so much.

I too once visited Jerusalem and enjoyed touring Israel. I observed, learned from, and listened to both sides – the Israelis and the Palestinians – to comprehend their underlying problem and why it’s so difficult for them to a middle ground. While the answers are not black or white, I do think that in order for Middle Easterners to change the story that has been ruling that region, they have to let go of old mentalities, attitudes and beliefs that have kept them from moving forward and generally not served the Arab World – especially when it comes to women. Adopting more western values would likely help them enter a more empowering story.   

At the luncheon, I asked Yonah Jeremy Bob several questions, and I’ll one day share this dialogue in more detail.  For now, in my opinion, the most important words he said, repeated, and emphasized were, “We will work with anyone who works with us.”

 

Detroit Women Writers

November 28, 2020

 

 

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I drove to the Detroit Public Library yesterday where I met a fellow writer and long-time member of Detroit Working Writers, Iris Lee Underwood. That’s because I’m writing an article about this 117-year-old organization and Iris, as a past president and currently serves as a board member, has the literary keys to their archives.

We sat in the Burton Historical Collection and she showed me how the archives are filed and the procedure to request them. With over two-dozen boxes belonging to DWW, we asked for three of them to start our research. Then, as the librarian went to retrieve the boxes, Iris took me on a tour of the library, and I had the wonderful opportunity to see where DWW formerly held their board meetings – in the Rutzen Room, located in the newer part of the library which opened in 1963. Detroit Public Library opened in 1865.

After our tour, we returned to the Burton Historical Collection where the stacks of archived files awaited us. The scent of over a hundred years of history, achievements, correspondences, conferences, and other literary activities filled our hearts and minds as we went through the documents, a few decorated with coffee or tea stains and others so old and frail you had to hold them with extra gentleness.

To help in my research, Iris handed me the book Centuries of Voices: Detroit Women Writers Anthology (1900-2000). At home, I went to bed early so I could read the book. It includes pieces by 87 members of the Detroit Women Writers beginning with the first president Alice Bartlett in 1900.

DWW, originally called Detroit Press Club, was established on June 5, 1900 by 13 professional women journalists and literary writers. From 1914 to 1966, the group was known as the Detroit Women Writer’s Club and from 1966 to 2004 as Detroit Women Writers. When men showed interest in joining, the group expanded to include men and women writers and once again the name was changed. Today it’s known as Detroit Working Writers. Past and current members include Joyce Carol Oates, Judith Guest, Naomi Long Madgett, Gloria Whelan, and many more.

Since becoming vice president of DWW, I’ve been intrigued by the history of this organization. After looking through some of its archives yesterday, then reading the stories written by its former and current members, I’m impressed and inspired by the talent and progressive women and men who have helped sustain it through collaborative efforts and creativity. I can only imagine what I’ll discover in my next visit to the Burton Historical Collection because obviously one visit is not enough and I’m glad that that’s the case. The over 150-year-old Detroit Public Library is worth many revisits.

 

The Awakening of Women

November 28, 2020

The Awakening of Women

My niece, Sandy Naimou, is a yoga instructor, speaker and one of the board members at the Theosophical Society in Detroit. She invited me to speak in December about a topic that I dearly love; the roles of powerful women in ancient Mesopotamia.

I’m not a historian, but I studied this topic thoroughly when I wrote my four-part memoir series Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School. So, I’m aware of my rich lineage and of the fact that priestesses and princesses thrived in ancient Mesopotamia and made great contributions to the cradle of civilization including poetry, peaceful governance, and beer! Female freedom sharply diminished in that region when secular males acquired more power and religious beliefs evolved leading to the habitual pattern of, in Scarlet O’Hara words, “War! War! War!”

That region has suffered nonstop violence because of many factors, especially the exclusion of women in its political and social arena. Their leaders continue to aim for a peaceful existence through fighting and wars, and although that strategy has not worked for a dozen millennia, they won’t try a new technique. They’d allow their egos to destroy the entire planet before they stop, reflect, and admit that “Folks, this isn’t working.”

It would seem logical that if half the world’s population is women, then half of our leaders should be women. The case is not rocket science but as simple as 1 + 1 = 2. This is after all the 21st century and if we were to study history, not for mere pleasure or to solely boast of our accomplishments but to learn a lesson or two, we would find the necessity of having more women leaders to create a balanced society.

My teacher Lynn Andrews once told us to observe how far the Middle East will go without women. Not very far, I presume, and without their counterparts they will keep going backwards, further and further into the Stone Age.  The indigenous people of Iraq, my ancestors, now make up only one percent of the population in Iraq, and most of them are living in dire unpredictable conditions.

Lynn had also echoed what the Dalai Lama once said, that “The world will be saved by Western women.” His words were a call to action to women throughout the west.

Well, reading the headlines in the last several weeks has proven that women are finally awakening. A few weeks ago in Detroit, about 4,000 people, mostly women, gathered for the Women’s Convention at Cobo Hall. Over 11,000 women have run for office, with a majority of women winning the elections last week.

One thing I’ve learned from reading about how my ancestors’ land went from being the Garden of Eden to a hell on earth is that when teams are diverse, they perform better. When they perform better, we all benefit.

Learning From Masters

November 28, 2020

 

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One beautiful April morning in 2015, as my family drove to Suttons Bay for a weekend trip, I read Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles. It made the four-hour ride feel short and sweet, and it gave for great conversation with my children, at the time 9-years-old and 6-years-old. I shared with them Principle #1 – taking a 100% accountability for your success; then principle #2 – finding your life purpose.

“My life purpose is to be a teacher,” my daughter said.

“You want to teach children or adults?” I asked.

“Children. Adults are crazy.”

I noted this conversation in my journal and continued to read the book, intrigued by the countless stories of people who’d used these principles to transform their lives.

At Suttons Bay, we stayed at a cottage, and the first morning there I woke up at the break of dawn while everyone else was sound asleep. I made a cup of coffee and went outside. The shops still closed, I walked through the calm and quiet streets until I found a bench near a water stream. Listing to the water and chirping birds, I drank my coffee, read The Success Principles and did the visionary writing exercises in it.   

Reading the stories of those who’d applied Jack’s success principles was touching and uplifting. Many would approach him after he gave a talk to share how his books had changed their lives. At the time, I’d thought, “I’d love to meet him” because I knew from past experience the power of being in the presence of such individuals. As author Irina Tweedie’s Sufi Master told her when she wondered if a student actually needed a teacher, guru, or master, “You must cut cheese with a knife which is harder than cheese.” 

 

The autumn of 2015, on a night where I felt extremely frustrated after an amateur colleague caused me to lose time, money, and energy, I enrolled in the Quantum Leap program by Steve Harrison which also involved Jack Canfield’s Bestseller Blueprint. Years ago, Steve Harrison had helped launch Jack Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul series, which ended up selling over 500 million copies. Jack has set two Guinness records, one for the largest book signing and a second for having the most number of books (7 books) on the New York Times bestseller list at one time. Having achieved this amount of success, he has teamed up with Steve to help authors do the same.

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Through their programs, I was surrounded by a team of professional, creative, and spiritual people who support and elevate each other’s work. They particularly understand and cater to authors’ and speakers’ career needs. Don’t get me wrong, it was and still is hard work, but it feels much easier with coaches by your side who provide numerous tools to help an author move forward.

After two years, I finally met this “team” in person in Philadelphia for a four-day meeting that was packed with information, workshops, and networking opportunities. My favorite part was when Jack Canfield did a guided meditation to tap into an area of our lives that was holding us back. The night before, a woman had shared with me how when he did this meditation the previous year, the lifelong back pain she’d had went away. For me, something else happened but it too was incredibly powerful.

Later that night, I went up to Jack for a picture. He complimented my book, its subject matter and the front cover, Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School, and I told him how two years ago when I read his book I wanted to meet him in person.

“Well, here you are,” he said. “You manifested that.”

Everyone is capable of manifesting their dreams by setting their intent and staying focused on and committed to the end result. It truly helps to associate with those who have gone ahead of you and mastered the very thing you’re trying to do. In the past, writers’ careers depended mostly on publishers, publicists, and intuitions that promised them success. If they didn’t follow through with the promises, the author felt pretty much helpless. That’s not the case nowadays. With the availability of the internet and technology, with so many opportunities for indie authors, we can learn, at our own pace, the secrets of success from literary and marketing masters like Jack Canfield and Steve Harrison, who turn others into masters.

 

WEAM NAMOU