Quick update and an invite

The update:

My family and I are in the middle of quite an intense season. Early 2022, I was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. Because the cancer was aggressive, we did not know what to expect, except that I needed major surgery and possibly more things after that. I had a complete hysterectomy in March 2022 followed by 27 sessions of radiotherapy and we hoped that that was that. Unfortunately, in the second half of 2022, we discovered that we were not done.

At that time, we were offered two options, take part in a clinical trial which offered the possibility of immunotherapy which isn’t standard treatment yet for ovarian cancer in the Netherlands, or go the traditional route which was chemotherapy and more chemotherapy. We opted for the clinical trial, got lotted in for six rounds of chemotherapy which seemed to have a hopeful result, except the results weren’t enough and my values just kept dipping so we had to keep postponing almost every other session. After six rounds, my oncologist looked at the results and decided to move me from the chemo arm of the trial into the immunotherapy arm of the trial.

In the midst of all these things, I somehow managed to send off two short stories–one for New Suns 2 (which I have been dreadful at promoting since chemo-brain is a real thing) and one for a Dutch anthology titled De Komeet. Hymne van de Overlevers is my first Dutch story ever and I am thankful for the patience of my editors and thankful to my awesome friend, Marielle who went through the final edits for me when brain fog meant I couldn’t even remember what my story looked like and couldn’t keep my characters names straight. (She thinks she did a minor thing, but trust me, it was major for me.)

My final round with chemotherapy was almost three months ago and I am waiting for immunotherapy to start. I have a tumor in my armpit which creeps me out a bit and we hope that with immunotherapy, this tumor will be brought under control. We don’t know if it will ever go away, but I am quite healthy (aside from this thing) and interestingly, the chronic hypertension for which I took daily meds to keep under control has been miraculously cured. I am no longer hypertensive. I just have cancer. A disease which I abhor utterly since I have lost a number of friends to this disease already. I hate cancer and I am sure God hates cancer more than I do.

In the meantime, my hair has started to grow out and thankfully the brian fog is less of a problem. I believe I can properly talk about my work again and recently, I have contemplated writing again. As usual, the question is: where do I start?

The fight against cancer is an ongoing one.

Where I’ll be at:

I have said yes to a number of things related to De Komeet. On May 29, I will be in Nijmegen doing a panel together with other authors at a convention called Novio Magica. It feels like forever since I’ve done anything related to science fiction and fantasy and I confess to feeling a bit shaky–it’s also been a while since I have been anywhere that isn’t hospital or church related, but I am looking forward to it. If you happen to be in the neighbourhood, do drop by and say hi.

How cool is it that they made a poster and my name is one of the names on it.

I dreamed

I dreamed that it was possible to invite people into a space and invite them to dream the past, the present, and the future. I dreamed it was possible to bring people of color from migrant groups in The Netherlands into this space and it would be possible to see their dreams enter the world. When I shared this dream, I didn’t know how it would happen or even what it would look like. I only had a vague idea of how to create that kind of setting and that kind of space.

I think back to the final day of the workshop and I think of the work coming from the hands of the writers around the table, and I find myself completely blown away. On the morning of the final day, when I asked participants to think about a story connected with personal items they’d brought with them, I did not expect that they would all write. After all, throughout the workshop, we’d used all kinds of different methods of story making. But this third day, they were all writing.

Before we did the first exercise, we read the Bridge Poem together. Hearing it read in chorus was just so powerful. It was like a presence entered that space and made it possible for us to reach that place where stories were waiting to be told. I’d brought along that quote from Alberto Rios and shared it with the writers after the first exercise.

“What surprised you?” I asked. “What did you discover?”

We were all in a thoughtful mood because the stories from that first exercise were so personal and moving.

“I didn’t know I had this story inside me,” one of the participants said.

“I didn’t realise that I remembered so much,” another replied.

Writing is also about remembering. Writing is also about being surprised by what you remember.

“What is it that you worry about and that keeps you from making or sharing your stories,” I ask.

“I worry about grammar,” someone says. “Because I want to post my stories on Facebook but when I do, people tell me right away that my grammar is wrong or what’s with your punctuation.”

I think about this thing–this grammar thing–the way in which the world can be so hung up on using perfect language and perfect punctuation as if that were the heart of what makes story. I think of all the things we forget when we jump on someone who is trying to share their story but tells it in a way that doesn’t align with how we think it’s supposed to be told. I think of how we are quick to say: your characters are wrong, your theme is wrong, your story is too bloated, your words don’t match. You are just wrong.

When we do that, we forget the most important thing. Someone who has taken the courage to share their story is someone who’s taken a risk. To tell a story is to come out of the shadows. To put your voice out into the world is to become visible. We forget that story often comes from vulnerable places. That it takes courage to share what’s vulnerable and painful and for writers coming from the margins, becoming vulnerable is risk.

I think about this as I reflect on the workshop. I think about the final exercise of the day. There I was saying: “this final exercise is optional. If you don’t feel like doing it, then you don’t have to.”

I had a moment of doubt where I wondered if I should ask writers to share and so I left it there in the middle until one of the participants raised their hand.

“I want to read my work,” they said.

And after that another one did. And another. And another. Until the circle was round.

These amazing writers who’d never attempted fiction before this workshop, they blew my socks off.

We shape the space in which stories are told. How we receive another person’s story determines the world into which the stories take their place. If we’re really serious about wanting to see more voices coming from the margins, we also need to think seriously about how we receive those voices.

Stand still. Respect the courage it takes to be visible. Speak your story into the world. In your response to the work, tread lightly.

workshop prep

Saturday will be the third and final session for the first iteration of the Invitation to Dreaming series. I am in the midst of preparing what’s called a draaiboek for Saturday. This is a useful tool that I highly recommend for people planning workshops. Basically, what I’ve done is create two different scripts for the day. One that’s detailed and one that’s bare bones. The barebones script is an approximate time schedule with lunch and breaks figured out while the detailed script includes notes and reminders to myself with highlighted notes on what it is that I want participants to take away with them. I’ve also written out my lesson plan so that I hear the words I want to say in my head. They may undergo transformation in the telling as I don’t do the workshop with a script in my hand, but the gist of it remains the same.

For this final day, I want participants to reflect on how the exercises we’ve used during the first two sessions are useful when we think of planning out a longer work and working over a longer period of time on a particular project.

Because not all of my participants may end up embracing a writing project, I want to emphasize that while they might not think of story making in terms of publishing professionally, they can also think of writing or creating and sharing stories as a form of legacy related to their journey as BIPOC and as members of a migrant community. We can never underestimate how valuable such sharings are for the younger generation or for the generations that follow. I am still very grateful that my Dad wrote lengthy letters to his children and that he decided to try and write a little about his personal history before he died. Knowing that I have that record that I can look back on now that he’s no longer here gives me this feeling of still being connected.

I have participants who are very interested in embracing writing or storytelling in some form. Some might want to embrace doing roleplay or theater type performances together, while others may go on to write their memoirs or continue to explore other kinds of fiction writing and that’s definitely something I want to encourage. These different types of making are beautiful and magical and transformative in power.

I feel very privileged indeed to be witnessing such flowerings and also to hear people say that they’d never imagined that writing a story was a possibility for them (even if they’d always wanted to)–well, that’s the reason why I felt and do feel it’s important to bring this workshop to communities.

During the communal worldbuilding exercise, one of the women said that it was hard to imagine in a science fiction way and that it was hard for them to envision a future world without thinking of politics. (Imagine me doing mental squee.) And then, this woman went on to share a story that was so damned good, I was like: what do you mean you can’t write science fiction?

In its naked self, story is about writing, sharing, telling what you see, what you envision and what it means to you. And the best stories are the ones that come from that place of feeling safe enough to be vulnerable. I have heard so much joy and laughter among the participants during the first two sessions and I want to continue to remind them that this is the joy you hang onto when you’re in that space facing your story.

I know there are many other things that go into stories, but on the journey, joy is one thing we need to take along with us. Hope, joy, and love, and also community.

thinking about the project of creating connections

In preparing for the final meeting in the workshop series, I find myself thinking around language, colonisation and alienation. A number of exercises in this final meeting are inspired by this clip where Ngugi wa Thiong’o talks about colonisation and alienation.

As I listen to Ngugi talk and as I reflect on ways to bring this to the workshop participants, I can’t help but reflect on how the project of alienation continues on to this day. I think of how conversations these days can quickly become angry or hurtful ones and how essential it is to create space where we can just be and become bridges to our own selves and to our own power and how important it is to create moments where we create true and deep connections with one another.

In discussing the format of the sessions with Hodan, we felt that an important part of workshop practice was to remind participants that the act of sharing, of opening up or of voicing out what you think or what you genuinely feel means we are taking a risk. We remind participants of how vulnerable we all are and how we need to shape the kind of space that we want to be in with each other and so, we try to create a space where there is mutual respect and kindness of each other’s differences.

Edouard Glissant’s work and Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s work have been important to me in preparing and developing this workshop and so it made me really happy to witness how an application of certain thoughts works out in real space.

Thus far, the workshop has been bilingual, but I would love to encourage participants to tap into other languages that they carry with them. It would be so great if that could happen, but if it doesn’t perhaps it’s something to think about more for the next iteration of this workshop.

For my next project, I am thinking of how this kind of workshop can be used to create dialogues that can transform our connection with one another. I’m discovering that I rather enjoy the challenge and this practice of life, art and activism give me joy.

Be the bridge to your own power and may you embrace joy in the work that you do.

Day Two

It’s the end of the second day of the workshop series. I’m thankful that we’ll have a few days before the third and final session as these two days have been quite intense. We had a number of new participants join the workshop today and so I had to think a bit on how to introduce them into the workshop without making the session feel repetitive for participants who’d attended yesterday.

Here’s what I learned: given a space where people feel safe and accepted, they will share amazing stories. By creating a safe space for others to tell their stories, I’ve created a space that feels safe and warm and loving for myself and created a space to which participants tell me they want to return to.

Removing the mystery around story creation and throwing out the myth of talent or giftedness opens the door for those who’ve felt uncertain about writing or telling their stories. The realisation that story can be as simple as taking a walk around the block and noticing things and talking about them is enough to free participants from uncertainty and the fear of even attempting story.

At the heart of today’s session was a moment of history making. I’d prepared a science fictional scenario. In it, I asked participants to create a history of that future world from the perspective of five groups of people who are often overlooked. It was a risky exercise since I was asking participants who had never engaged with science fiction before, to imagine or envision in a science fictional way. But just as yesterday, the workshop participants blew me away.

Next week, we’ll be holding the final session of this workshop series. I know I am being ambitious yet again. Who in their right mind gives fledgling writers and storytellers only 30 minutes to build a world and create a story?

The thing is…when you tell people to just have fun, they will take you at your word. There will be laughter, there will be lots of chatter, but in the end, they will blow your socks off and to me, that’s just magic.

Images from Day One

Day one of the workshop series was everything I hoped and imagined it would be with wonderful and rich sharings coming from workshop participants, some of who were discovering the joy of story creation for the first time. Sharing some images from the day here as I feel that images sometimes say more than words alone can do.

When the participants come in, they see this colourful display with toys and cards from which they can pick something that they feel represents or feels like their self.

This was the room at the end of the day. Some of the participants left their chosen objects by their places as we are coming back tomorrow.

Sharings from the opening exercise. I’ve discovered that this is a really fun vehicle for participants to engage immediately with story and it also becomes an organic springboard into talking about vulnerability, respect and the creation of space for each other to just be.

We ended the day with a communal session where participants worked together to think about a particular subject and then made a decision on how to share about their discussion. One group decided to present a dramatic role-play while another shared beautiful stories created on the spot. I was so blown away by the sharings and the presentations that for a while I was quite speechless having forgotten what it was that I’d planned to say. All I could do was express my thanks for the beautiful sharings that took place. Thankfully, my lovely partner was there to remind me that I had intended to talk about assignments. 😆

Tomorrow marks the second day of the workshop. It’s going to be another intense day. We’ll be missing a couple of participants as they go to church on Sundays, but we will be having participants coming in who could not attend today. As I go through my preparations for tomorrow, I’m taking this into consideration and thinking of how to tweak exercises retaining continuity and warmth while adding in new and deepening exercises.

In creating a community workshop, I’ve realised that we have to let go of this rigidity of thinking that participants must be present everyday. Rather, I’ve decided to shape each day in such a way that they can stand alone and if participants miss a day or come in later, they will still find something to take with them that will be useful.

Many of us carry stories inside us and it’s by creating spaces where we share stories with each other that deep and meaningful connections can be made. Being able to create such a space for people of color is a dream I’ve cherished. Seeing it happen is joy.

To you who dream: share your dream, speak about it, believe it will become real.

It’s finally happening

I sit here on the eve before the first day of a workshop series I’ve been working on for quite some time. Thanks to the WereldMuseum Rotterdam and to Dona Daria, the workshop I’ve been dreaming of will finally become a reality. Tomorrow, will be the first day of a three-day workshop for BIPOC participants in Rotterdam and I am looking forward to it with anticipation.

In preparing the final schedule for the workshop days, I’ve had to refine and narrow down exercises. Creating exercises that will be doable for participants who are a mix of people who might have done some writing before and people who have always thought of creating stories as being something not for them for innumerable reasons, has been a challenge. And I am really thankful for my partner, Hodan, who’s given me such great feedback and encouragement throughout the process of putting the workshop and the schedule together.

I still don’t know what the class will look like exactly, but the programme includes a mix of individual and communal work, and a mix of spoken, written and visually expressed work. I’ve used different elements of this workshop in different environments with different groups and now I’m eager to see what will happen when these elements are used and applied together over the span of three days. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this workshop is the multi-lingual aspect, but I will cross that bridge when I get to it.

Most important to me is to let the participants experience how much fun it can be to engage with story on their own terms. That is what I’m keeping in mind as I wind down for the night.

I just had to quickly write about it because it’s finally happening.

Oh yes. We will have fun.

Workshop Prep

Yesterday, I had a lovely moment of shared thinking as Hodan and I went through the lesson plan and necessary preparations for the upcoming workshop. I love the dynamic that arises from working together with a partner on a project–what kinds of thoughts emerge from the conversations we have as we look over the outline together, and what kinds of things I didn’t think about but which my partner thinks about when they look at what I’ve proposed for the workshop setting. This feeling of comraderie, of being more than just two people working together, makes bringing this project into the world feel very organic and warm and I hope this warmth will carry over into the workshop space.

It feels like we are creating this space with room to breathe and I find myself in anticipation of what that space will look like. In putting together inspirational readings for the workshop, I thought of Kate Rushin’s “The Bridge Poem” from This Bridge Called my Back. It’s one of the works that I want to share with workshop participants and in particular, the final lines in which she writes:

The bridge I must be

Is the bridge to my own power

I must translate

My own fears

My own weaknesses

I must be the bridge to nowhere

but my true self

And then

I will be useful.

(from This Bridge Called My Back, writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzualda)

More than sharing the building blocks of story, more than mastering elements of craft, it’s becoming the bridge to our own true self that allows us to tell stories that will linger in the minds of those who hear or read it.

Be well and be blessed.

Lesson Plan preparation

In preparing the lesson plan for three intensive workshop days, I’m putting in the work that I’ve thought about and used in various iterations leading up to these series. I think about this as I finally arrange the lesson plans in the order that I have in mind.

When I first told Hodan Warsame that I wanted to create a space for BIPOC people to write and engage with story, I didn’t know at the time that it would lead to me creating a different way of giving a workshop. But it has led me here and I find myself feeling grateful for the opportunity to share this with the participants who will come to the workshop.

I think about the initial response in the small groups where I’ve tried out some of the things that are going into this workshop and I can’t help but feel excited (although I will admit it is also scary). The thing is, until the workshop happens, there’s really no way of knowing how a particular group will respond and how certain exercises will work. Will the time we’ve planned for each activity be enough? Will it be too much? Have I paced the rhythm of the workshop right so participants don’t fall asleep? Will we be able to shape the space in such a way that it feels welcoming and inviting?

And then, I also have to face up to my own unpredictable stage fright. I know I have to be prepared and so I’m writing as much detail as I can because I am aware that I have moments when I suddenly freeze and my brain just blanks. Not something you want to happen when you’re doing a workshop as that tends to lead to awkward silences or to me just mumbling about unrelated stuff or rifling through my mental notebook.

But I’m learning too to remind myself that it’s okay to have those uncomfortable and awkward moments and it’s okay to tell participants that ‘my brain got stranded for a bit’. In my sharing with the guerrilla writers, as I talk about my own struggles with my work, I realised that doing this, being open about how I don’t know or how I am uncertain or unsure about how to say things also helps fledgling writers as it removes the ‘mystery’ often associated with writing.

I may be a bit farther in the journey, I may have written and done a lot of things, but it doesn’t mean that I am the expert. I think of it this way: my role is to share what I know. But the experts are the participants. Because each one comes to the workshop with their life experience, with their personal history, with the sound and rhythm of their own language, their songs, their dance, with the embodiment of culture, they are the experts. But what I can do is share what I know and gently encourage them to launch out on their own journey. If we can built a support network while we’re at it, that would be fantastic. At the very least, I want to take this opportunity to let participants know that they’re not alone in their journey.

I’m smiling as I think of how we had lesson plan preparation included in curriculum at the conservatory. Back then, I really didn’t know what they would be useful for. Now, I’m putting that knowledge to good use. I can’t help but think of this line right now: Everything you need, you already have with you or you will acquire it during the journey. (I think my son who loves doing those quest games would appreciate that line. 😆)

If you’re reading this, I wish you inspiration as you continue on the journey.

An invitation . . .

Posting the flyer for a mixed media story creation workshop that I’ve been working on and developing with the migrant BIPOC community in mind. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of Hodan Warsame, we will be able to share this workshop with the people we had in mind when we launched our efforts a year ago. This is a project that’s come about through the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam and in collaboration with Dona Daria. There are still places available, so do send your application to Hodan. All that’s needed is an email or a text message. I do want to emphasise that this iteration is specifically for the migrant and BIPOC community.