Thursday, October 24, 2013


I am hiding
I am hiding from your reality
I am hiding from hour reality because it is my nightmare
I am hiding from your reality because it is full of social interaction and slime and employment
Your reality is made out of things such as love and religion and pancakes
It is frightening
I am hiding because pancakes have 247 calories
And I add maple syrup to everything
Like my car's engine and my burger patty

I am hiding
I am hiding from your love
I am hiding from your love because it is dirty
And it stains me with emotion
I am hiding from your love because it involves physical interaction and fluids and damp sheets

I am hiding
I am hiding from you
Come hide with me

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Days of Iowa

Days have been nothing but inconsistent blocks of time. Some long, some short. Some so vague they hardly existed. And now the clock ticks and all that remains are a few weeks, which can either last as long as a one night’s dream, or a song, or as long as they hours permit.

Iowa City is a town of beautiful demons. You see them scattered, darting, imposing, at times fleeting. They look at us with awe and disgust, us writers from another planet, us writers from across the borders.

Here, there are no borders. Here, there are no limitations. Here, there are pools and each pool is of a different color. But still, they are all pools.

In Iowa City you drink and you dance and you love. Pretty much like anywhere else, right? Wrong. Here you do the living with a bunch of writers and poets, most confused, some amused.

It’s a funny thing, being part of a community of writers and poets. As one myself, I’ve never felt this odd sense of foreign belonging.

There’s constant chatter of literature, which I often find rather pertinacious. But every once in a while, you engage in a revelatory conversation that brings your own writing into prospective. And often, these happen when we are NOT discussing the “impact of the global novel” and the like.

I’ve asked myself many questions that I thought I will have the answers to here. All I ended up having is more questions. We are in this bubble and life is happening out there in the world.

And we convince ourselves that what we write will somehow save the world, one day, one word at a time. But that’s an overly romantic view.

A crazy person in a town full of crazy people will seem like a normal person.

This is what Iowa City is like for writers.

The clock ticks.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I'm lying on the floor staring at the ceiling
And it's not even a ceiling anymore

This is not a call to arms
Rather a question
As a misguided statement

I’m on my knees in my boxers
And the light burns

My book is sleeping in my bed
Its naked pages exposed

Words erotically ejaculating from my mind
My mind is unthinking
My mind is non-present

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why I Hate Writing

"I HATE writing."

That's not the kind of start you want to go with when you're speaking to a bunch of undergrad writers. But I didn't stop there.

"I hate writing as much as I hate reading!" I told them.

After the hesitant giggles subsided, I went on to explain to them what I meant.

I was giving a short talk to the students of the International Literature Class at the University of Iowa as part of my participation in the International Writing Program.

If a writer tells you that writing is a joy, know that they are lying. Writing is associated with misery and here's why:

When you're not writing, you are miserable.
When you are writing, you are not happy with what you're writing.
When you finish a piece, you find it horrible it is.
When you publish your work, you think of how you could've made it sound better.

Get the picture?

When it comes to reading, well. We were brought up associating reading with school textbooks and homework. Anyone who's gone through government schooling must've grown up hating books. We never explored the idea that reading can be for pleasure, and not just punishment.

At home, my parents had a big wall library full of all sorts of books on religions, politics, history and philosophy. My father kept insisting that I should read. The idea never appealed to me.  Later on in life, I discovered that I can read what I want, when I want, for nothing more than passing time.

Following the talk, a bunch of the students asked me about the short story 'The Red Hand' which they had read as part of their class. I was both honored and flattered by their comments, questions and responses.

Here are some of them:

"From the cryptic description of the Red Hand in the beginning, I was on the edge of my seat" - Matthew McLaughlin

"Your story intrigued me from the beginning. I thought that this story was a metaphor about our society and the way we look at inspiration," - Aubrey Davidson

"First of all, I must say I really enjoyed your short story, 'The Red Hand', as it was very good at hiding it was going to be a short horror story, instead opting for a more traditional mystery novella kind of feel," - Akira Mizobuchi

"Your story was so descriptive and realistic," - Erica Jennings

"Your story left me fixating on this idea of whether it's worse to know or not know," - Kelsey Chingren 

It was a real pleasure to speak to these bright young things and I was pleasure with the way they responded to my story and my talk.

I ended my speech by saying that the less we know, the more we discover. And it's that notion that kept me going as writer. I wanted to discover things for my self. My life was defined by NOT doing what I have been told to do.

Photos by Asma Nadia 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering to Forget: 9/11

My first visit to the United States of America was exactly two years before the horrific events of 9/11 in 2001. 

I had spent 3 weeks traveling across country as a journalist as part of a print journalism program for international journalists from around the world. We visited large cities and small towns and met amazing people.

But more importantly for me, it was my first real taste of the actual America, the one we grew up watching on television and it was my first time away from home for such a long time, away from family, all by myself.

I was standing in the newsroom at the paper I worked at when I saw the first images of 9/11. I dismissed it as a fluke incident, thinking one of those small planes or choppers somehow lost control and hit it. I wasn't prepared for the magnitude of what was happening.

Later that night when I was home with family, I was in total shock and utter confusion. My brain just couldn't process what my eyes were seeing. To this day, when I try to conjure up moments and images from that day, my mind fails. 

For years to follow, I would become paranoid about revisiting the States. After seeing the aftermath of 9/11 ripple across the ocean to reach the rest of the world. Just as Americans thought all of us Arabs/Muslims hated them, I was convinced that all Americans would hate us.

That was, of course, an absurd assumption, on both counts.

Today, on the 12th anniversary of that horrid day, I am here back in the United States of America, as the first from my country to be selected for the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, feeling oddly at home. 

People are people no matter where you go. They are not how politicians and religious figure describe them. They are not out there to destroy you, or steal your wealth, or take away your faith, or freedom. And more often than not, they'll be nice to you regardless of how you look.

They are just people, after all.

I read a column which argued if it was time for Americans to let go of 9/11, as the younger generations grow up, having no connection or memories of it. I was in my early 20s when it happened, so it'll always somehow be etched in the back of my mind, but my little nieces and nephews will grow up in a world where 9/11 is a historic event, not a memory.

What scares me is the notion that every generation, it seems, has to go through such a devastating event in history. Be it war, terrorist acts, invasions, natural disasters, revolutions. 

The one thing we mustn't forget, as time passes, is that we are all just people. 


Saturday, September 07, 2013

Upcoming Readings & Talks in Iowa City

The IWP folks will keep us quite busy over the coming weeks. I will be taking part in several talks and readings in various institutions and events, including the University of Iowa and the Iowa City Book Festival, all of which sound exciting and I’m thrilled to be asked to appear in them. 

Here is a list of upcoming events so far: 

Talk and Reading 
Cornell College, Iowa City 
September 12th 

Talk with ILT Class
University of Iowa, Iowa City 
September 16th – 3.30pm 

Freedom Limits Panel  
Iowa City Book Festival, Iowa City 
October 10-13 

Prairie Lights Bookstore, Iowa City 
October 27th – 7pm

Thursday, September 05, 2013

A Novel Approach

The question of what differentiates a novel from a short story might at first seem obvious. Many immediately refer to the ‘length’ and word count of each form

But the reality, as I am discovering more and more from my chats with numerous fiction writers scattered in every corner of Iowa City, is that length is the last difference to consider.

Van, a first year fiction writer at the Iowa Writers Workshop, whom I met following a rather entertaining, albeit odd, poetry recital at The Mill, jokingly said that he doesn’t even know what a novel is anymore.

He told me how short fiction is a much more fluid form that he enjoys exploring. I agreed with him. There is something far more refreshing and rewarding about writing a short story. I pointed out that novels spend the first couple of hundred of pages building up to this ultimate climax that the reader is meant to care for, this of course doesn’t apply to every novel. But it often is the case.

Where as with short stories, you don’t have to have such a climax. It’s an exploration of the human condition rather than a telling of a series of events. The night before, I was dragged by the ever wise and wonderful Canadian/Egyptian writer Karim Alrawi to the Foxhead, the famed bar that many great writers spent their time deliberating literature, and writing, and naturally, enjoying the odd drink or two. 

I had expressed my anxiety to Karim about starting a new novel. I had two unfinished manuscripts that I no longer felt attached to and felt the need to use my time during the IWP to begin a new project.

And what he said sounded so simple, yet something I’ve never considered before. He said. “Start with your ending. Figure it out and build your story from there.” Your final act, your ending, is the reward that the readers looks for after investing time in reading your novel. So it is crucial.

Short stories, sometimes, don’t even have to have plot. But approaching a novel from the end would allow it to grow organically and gradually, branching into the events and characters that leads it to it.

That and choice.

Present a moral choice that your protagonist has to make in order to resolve the conflict. A choice that builds suspense by the time the reader has developed an emotional connection with the character.

With that in mind, let’s get to writing.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

One Week in Iowa

It’s been a week in which I partied like I was 22 all over again, kayaked on a beautiful day in Lake MacBride and was told off by the ‘lake’ police for swimming off the ‘grid’, randomly met a well-known political cartoonist in a bar full of writers and poets late one night, ate more burgers than a healthy person ought to eat in one week, picked fresh apples from the orchard, wrote some, sat through a bunch of mind-numbingly boring ‘orientation’ sessions and two entertaining readings at the warm and cozy Prairie Lights Bookstore, was mistaken for some poet from Chile named Steve, got an Iowa City Hawkeyes t-shirt for five bucks which upon wearing people would randomly yell ‘GO HAWKS!’ at me, had the misfortune of spending my first night with my window almost shattering from the noise coming from the annual freshman party in the park literally meters away from me, wrote some more, and drank, probably, an entire barrel of coffee.
So that’s one week down.
Nine to go.
I think I love this place.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Curious Case of the Overzelous Luggage

I arrived in Iowa City yesterday afternoon to start my 10-week writing residency at the University of Iowa.

Russell met me at Cedar Rapids airport with a tiny bit of paper with the International Writing Program logo on it.

Then I lost my suitcase.

I had a feeling that that might happen when I had dropped it off at the weird check-in system in LaGuardia. So I was partially not surprised when it didn’t show up on the conveyor belt, but still slightly annoyed.

Russel and I went up to the counter as I anxiously waited my turn.

As it were, and oddly enough, I was told by the lady at the counter that – get this – my suitcase had arrived on an EARLIER flight! I realized then where it all went wrong.

See, my flight from New York to Chicago, where I caught my connection flight, was HALF AN HOUR early. It arrived at O’Hare around 30 minutes before scheduled time, so my luggage just kept on going as I wanted for my flight at O’Hare.

This was probably the only time in the history of my flying that A) a flight was half an hour EARLY, B) my luggage arrived at my destination BEFORE me.

American are good like that. The get shit done before they even happen.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Last of the Angry Wild Beasts

It’s amazing what ten years can do to a man.
It changes him. Changes him beyond recognition.
I look back at the man I was ten years ago and I hardly find any resemblance, any similarities. Who was that person? Who is this person that I am today?
I was filled with restrained, suppressed anger. It felt like a fire burning in the pit of a volcano’s stomach, awaiting eruption.
I could be the most calm, quite, nicest person one minute. And a switch would flip and I’d become this scary, destructive agent of anger.
Mind you, I never hurt anyone physically with my anger bursts. Only emotionally. Which I realize now that it could be worse than the physical damage.
I’d punched walls, kicked in doors, smashed windows, broken things. The only bone I ever broke in my body was when I throw my fist at the wall. I was in pain for days but I never said anything, didn’t even realize I’d broken a finger under I finally caved in and went for a check up at the hospital.
Another time, more recently, I’d smashed my hand against a table so hard that it left a wide gash open. I sat down fuming, with my hand trembling, until my terrified mother noticed the red liquid dripping out of my hand and into the carpet.
My dad took me to the hospital that day. And I could sense the pain and concern in his voice. “It’s not worth it, son,” he kept pleading, “Nothing is worth a drop of your blood. Nothing.”
I wanted to calm him and tell him it’ll be all right. I kept whispering sorry, but I don’t think he heard me.
My hand needed four stitches. When the doctor asked me what happened, I hesitated and came up with a lame lie about an incident with a door. It was very clear that he didn’t buy it, but played along regardless.
But in all my fists of rage and anger, I never once laid a finger on anyone. I never even had the urge to hurt anyone. It’s because I now realize that I was always ever angry at myself, for failing myself, for not being in control of the situation. And it’s that feeling that drives me to doing things that hurt me instead.
What did that teach me? Where did all that go?
In comparison, I now feel tamed. Like a wild beast that’s been broken by a beast master for his final circus act. The burning fire reduced to nothing more than a fading flame. Was that what drove me? Passion? Fire? With it gone, am I not the same person?
On the other hand, with the anger gone I can sometimes see things more clearly. In a sense, I am now more confident, more aware, of myself. I am now okay with not having control over everything. I am now okay with letting things go. Often, it feels as if a part of me has died inside. But now, for better or worse, I can simply dismiss such a feeling and move on.
Maturity? Is that what you would call it? Perhaps. You can see it as defeat, or victory. As hope, or despair. I no longer care. It no longer matters.
I have the scars of anger to prove that it had been part of who I was.
Once you accept that you cannot control everything. The people you love, and who love you. Your future. Your day. If your boss likes you or not. Or if you have the right job to begin with. If you accept that those are things that do not define you as a person, you’ll come to the conclusion that everything you thought was a fundamental part of who you were, is truly not. That every rule you’ve imposed on yourself, you yourself can break.
I will drink what I want.
I will smoke what I want.
I will sleep with whomever I desire.
I will pray for whatever god I believe in.
I will beome a good man.
The right man. 
The last man.
The only man.
And if the day returns wherein I find myself corners and out of control, my repressed anger about to unleash itself upon the world around me, I will close my eyes, open my arms, and fall into my own peaceful abyss.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Zombie Love

Here's a  little poem about love and zombies...

by Ali Al Saeed

The living keep dying
Shame they keep rising
From the graves we dug
With our own falling teeth

Why can't they stay dead
A little while longer
So we can make promises we can't keep

The good keep going bad
Shame they've turned sweet
Before they were bitter
Too late to taste the difference

The hearts stop beating
Long before the bodies start rotting
A kiss is all it takes
To become infected with rage

It may leave your body intact but
Love is the most grotesque form of cannibalism