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Laughter, Rest & Hope

Yesterday was my husband’s 39th birthday. The celebrations will continue all week with table tennis (he’s a tournament-level player), good food, friends and family, laughter and stories.Planning the celebrations was a welcome break from work and worry, election propaganda and its unrelenting hyperbolic speech. After a while, no matter our political preference, everything the candidates say sounds like a big lie.

I am getting into a virtual hammock for a few days. I leave it to my news junkie 39-year-old husband to keep me apprised of important developments that cannot be ignored. And, of course, I do scan the news alerts and worry about terrorist attacks and my Turkish student, but I will take it a bit slower for a few days, not carry all the world on my shoulders, and swim as as much as I can. That’s where I relax the most, where ideas for new writing come to me. The text of Nomads 3 is finished. More reason for a refueling hiatus.

The Guardian newspaper in London is running a series of articles this summer about books that give us hope. The first on their list is Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead.” She is what some call a “meditative” writer; she writes with intention, not to cure us, but to give us perspective.

I have a few such books on my shelves also, books I return to often. Here’s a shortlist of the authors whose humanity, psychological insight and literary skill have joined my personal pantheon: Graham Greene, Anne Tyler, Raymond Carver, Kent Haruf, Willa Cather, Alice Munro and Edith Wharton.

And that’s just a shortlist.

I find that reading a lot of history also helps me maintain perspective on this violent world we are living in. I have just finished "When Paris Went Dark" by Ronald Rosbottom, which was riveting. It's a well-researched book about the Nazi occupation of Paris. As Ur-Fascism is still with us...you can fill in the blanks.

Enjoy what is left of the summer, dear reader, and if you are traveling, travel well, home safe.  Read More 
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Freedom to Write; A Turkish Student

I last heard from my Turkish student—I’ll call him D—on July 21, just a few days after the attempted coup, but before the arrests of 61 journalists.

In that email, in response to my concerned email, cc’d to his workshop class, D wrote: “Hey everyone, I'm okay & safe now. Still in Istanbul, and working at my office, _____Newspaper. Thanks for your support & messages, Carol. It means a lot. Best, D.”

D came into my workshop at NYU last spring. He had been posted to New York and wanted to improve his reporting and writing in English. My high-powered writing class was not the best place to work on his English, but he was determined. He did very well. He was lively, engaged, perceptive and brave. Yes, brave enough to begin writing about a demonstration he’d participated in as a student in Turkey and the arrest of two friends.

I have had more international students in my class in recent years than ever before. They have come from China, Russia, Thailand, Iran, and other despotic regimes where there is no freedom of speech or freedom of the press.

It’s hard for them, at first.

Learning to write well in English—in America—demands a bold, unfettered voice. I have to assure my students that my workshop is a safe room and that they are not obliged to publish anything they write. But while in my class, I insist that they assume an absolute freedom to write. And they cannot remain quiet; they must participate in discussion.

My American-raised students benefit from this mandate, too. They also carry fears into the classroom, though ending up in jail is not one of them.

I try to stay in touch with my overseas students after the workshop is over. If I hear that someone is in trouble, I do what I can from New York. Both PEN America and Amnesty International advocate for persecuted and incarcerated writers.

I am confident that any students who have tasted the freedom to write in my classroom will never again be able to self-censor their words. I wish them all safe passage and courage in the difficult years ahead.  Read More 
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