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Today I am 24 years old. I will never be 23 again, ever. I will never be the age I am while writing this, ever. I am already older than when this entry began. That’s a thought I’ve tended not to preoccupy myself with, but as I inch toward completing a quarter of a century, it seems that the value of time becomes increasingly more important, especially as it seems to be speeding up as well!

I will never be as old as I was this morning when I wore my favourite tights – the ones with the most colourful pattern of flowers you’ll ever see – and stepped out into the crisp morning, enjoying the sun on my face and the breeze through my hair as I took a walk through Shepherds Bush and Notting Hill to my morning meeting.

As I walked through Shepherds Bush Green a man walking towards me turned his head away very suddenly and only returned to normal as he passed my line of sight. A strange occurrence; as I could see there was nothing in particular that would have distracted him so suddenly and for such a prolonged time. Then it struck me that perhaps his ridiculous head movement was simply to avoid meeting my eye, which made me sad. Isn’t it very sad that this man was afraid of meeting my eye? What’s the worst that could happen? A smile?

Thus the first of my birthday vows was born: this year I will endeavour to meet everyone’s eye, to smile and stare life full on in the face, to make sure I don’t miss a single connection. I will try never to avoid someone’s gaze unless there’s good reason for it (i.e. they’ve been stalking me for several blocks and don’t need any more encouragement), and especially not if it comes from a lack of confidence in myself or a feeling of pity or guilt towards the other person.

After another 20 minutes of the London tube and slow meandering through the sunny streets of Notting Hill Gate, I breakfasted at Charlie’s Cafe with a friend, Rima, and enjoyed a perfectly cooked breakfast butty of bacon, cumberland sausage and egg with an earl grey tea – perfect. We sat by the window looking out onto the most beautiful pink flowers in bloom in the cute little courtyard outside the cafe, and this is when the second birthday vow was born – to start learning the names of plants and flowers. It’s such a shame not to know because it’s rather bland to have to reduce specific species to their colour. Nevertheless, the pink flowers and the wonderfully simple ambience of the place convinced me that it wouldn’t be long before I returned. The staff were particularly friendly and sang me ‘happy birthday’ as we exited, having overheard Rima wishing me many happy returns upon arrival.

I then walked through Portobello and took the tube to work for a brief visit before heading to lunch at another wonderful discovery, St Clements Cafe, with my dear friend, Pets. St Clements is on Middle Temple Lane and is a scrumptious place which looks out onto a pristine lawn which, as Pets mentioned, would be the kind to play croquet on! Customers at St Clements can get picnic blankets from the bar and take lunch outside when the sun shines, so we’ve promised ourselves to go back and do just that. We had a terrific roast chicken and couscous main and shared a brownie and pistachio meringue, topped off with a lovely glass of wine. Divine!

From Temple I made my way home to Hammersmith, reading and dozing on the train. I’ve almost come to the end of a truly wonderful book, Any Human Heart, by William Boyd. It’s a fictional diary of Logan Mountstuart whose life spanned the 20th Century and was, as the blurb says, a ‘life lived to the full’. An Oxford contemporary with the likes of Evelyn Waugh and Virginia Woolf; a published writer and new york art dealer in the 70’s; a spy in the second world war and a newspaper-seller in his old age for an underground cell fighting fascism ‘in all it’s forms’, Mountstuart’s life is a testament to living spontaneously by the heart’s desires. It’s profoundly inspired me.

After an afternoon of music rehearsals for the Davoud Azad concert I’m taking part in, my parents joined me on a short stroll round the corner to dine at the third and final culinary adventure of the day, Chez Kristof. Having read rave reviews about the place (and some not-so-rave ones too), I thought it time to see for myself what this neighbourhood joint had to offer. Though I wasn’t overwhelmed, I was pleased with the food and had a lovely time. My pimms aperitif was satisfying and the duck confit I had was deliciously tender, literally peeling off the bone. The lighting was a little too dim for my liking and the music was a little erratic, but that added a certain charm to the evening in it’s own special way.

So it seems like this birthday has been one of trying out new eateries, and so I shall make the third birthday vow to continue the explorations; I’ll continue to seek out the perfect hang out and share my favourites with my favourite people.

The fourth is, as always, to write more. To write something every day (and to do lists don’t count), even if it’s 100 words before I collapse into bed.

And so, bonjour 24! Here I go…

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Married Life

Having tied the knot just over three weeks ago, it seems the opening line of conversation for almost everyone with me is… ‘So, how’s married life?’ 

It seems like a reasonable enough question, except that I always go blank when the expectant face looks at me with a smile waiting for me to overwhelm them with emotion. The smiles vary based on the marital status of the person in question: single friends are either genuinely curious or slightly cynical; married people have a knowing edge to their smile, as if to say ‘Yeah, that’s right, I know what you’re going through and it (a) bliss, or (b) a let down’; and divorced people have this sly smile, the ‘just you wait a couple of moths before reality sets in’ smile. In each case I can’t help but think ‘what do they want to hear?’ and then a stream of thoughts about what this person might have experiences to influence their intonation of the question runs through my mind, instead of the answer that should come from me! That thought will stay with me for a long time I’m sure. 

Being the (sometimes) naively romantic person that I am, I imagined that after marriage we’d step into a new world together, one full of light where anything we’d ever disliked about each other, and any niggling annoyances we held on to would evaporate in a golden cloud of fairy dust. Marriage was this marshmallow cocoon of love where everything we did was tinted with ecstasy and passion. In my marriage world dirty dishes and bills didn’t feature. Round-the-world tickets, cosy nights by the fire and moonlit walks took their place. 

In short, I have to wonder that perhaps I was high the three months while I was planning my wedding. Either that or I’m a hopeless optimist 🙂

But the euphoria of that dream filled my being at our wedding. It was absolutely the happiest day of my life. Surrounded by many of my family, friends and faces that I have grown with was exciting enough, and then to think that they were all here to celebrate our union (oh, and the food, cake and party time) was so heart warming that I spent the day strung between tears and elated dancing.

After the wedding day, however, married life is much the same as life was before. We still share the same apartment and all of the things we love and hate about it. We still argue over the washing up and hoovering, and still choose to watch Live at the Apollo over a river-side walk along the Thames. We’re still wondering where next month’s rent is going to come from and those round-the-world tickets are still hiding under the pile of tea-and-pizza-stained bills that we tend to conveniently forget about. We still have the same history and relationship past with all its highs and lows. We still have the same families and friends. The same jobs and responsibilities. 

But there is a magic to all of it that wasn’t there before. There is an invisible thread connecting our hearts and minds together. Now everything we do, we do for two. We’re no longer two individuals living out their individual lives in the same space, we are a unit that works together to create a life that both of us aspire to. That’s a daunting and beautiful thing all at once, and it’s that mixture of commitment and knowing why you decided to commit to it that brings butterflies every time we look at each other’s rings and say ‘My God! We’re married!’ 

It’s also what has given our tolerance levels a boost 🙂

So, married life is wonderful and wonderfully mundane. We are still who we are, living our lives much the same as before. But beneath it all is a current of togetherness and an infinite investment of love that carried us through each day. 

In three years everything could be different, but then we shouldn’t forget that life is sweetest when lived in and for the moment…

Anyone care to share their experience of newly married life?

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Yes, this sounds like the title of one of my course books this year (in fact I’m sure it is), but it’s also something that fascinates me, both as a creative individual and as someone who cares about the things that nourish goodness in society

A degree in creative writing was ultimately a lot of fun. It was also a lot of hard work, and incredibly fulfilling. It was cathartic, self-challenging and revelatory. The writing we did was creative, was a product of creativity, and the creative process was something that was discussed in the commentaries we submitted alongside our portfolios for assessment. The commentary that complemented a portfolio was supposed to illuminate the process of writing: where the idea came from, how it was developed, what reading was done to supplement the subject and style, what research was done, and demonstrated one’s understanding of genre, style and command of language.

The finniest thing about these dissections of my writing was that they were usually written in hindsight, rather than being the true depiction of the conscious process i went through when writing the particular poem or story. I would appropriate things that I’d been reading to say that they’d contributed to my narrative style, and justify it too. For when I looked into the heart of what I’d written, of what often came seemingly “from nowhere,” I could see the effects of authors, poems, knowledge and my own experience embedded in the work. This was obviously not coincidence, it was the product of a process of which I was not always aware.

It was in my masters degree in Creative and Media Enterprise that this “process” of creativity was explored more thoroughly in our Theories of Creativity module. Here, my eyes were opened to the theory and scientific work that has gone into explaining, or attempting to explain, creativity as a concept and process. As a “writer” (for I’m still weary of awarding myself that title) I was fascinated by the almost mechanical workings of the creative process, and yet also its effervescence, evading any concrete cross-disciplinary explanation because of the “pixi dust,” “X-factor” or whatever else people call the “eureka” moment that occurs when a creative idea is born.

My interest in the subject broadened with the management literature, societal theory and views of guest speakers on the course, and my focus has shifted from how people attempt to explain creativity (for that, in my opinion, is a discussion which will never really end) to the purpose of creativity in its social context.

Why is creativity important? It is the seed of innovation, and the reason for development, both on a technological and natural level. It is also something within the possession of every man and woman. Why is it, then, that creativity is often perceived as being something bestowed upon certain people in society? There are many myths surrounding creativity, which have given way to stereotypes and alienated some people from perceiving themselves as creative. What effects has this had on our society? How does a lack of creativity manifest itself?

I hope to pursue this topic in my course dissertation, specifically looking at social groups who are deprived of creativity, whether it be through opportunity or self-perception, and the effect of an input of creativity into their community. Is creativity something that is necessary to the well-being of everybody?

My ideas, as I am sure you can tell, need firming up, but I hope that this research will lead me somewhere interesting. I hope it will lead me closer to the essence of creativity and the importance of it in our lives, whatever exactly “it” may be!

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Well, I am on the mend from a bout of tonsilitis, which has forced me to take some rest – the first true break I’ve had since last summer. I have had holidays, yes, but they have either been sleepless family affairs, or I have had projects to pursue while on holiday. I suppose my body just gave up and said “F*^k you, I need time off!”

Its timing wasn’t brilliant – getting ill caused me to cut short my stay at the Hay Festival last thursday!

Until I became ill, Hay Festival had been a whirlwind of fun, hard work, learning, meeting some incredible people and listening to some top music. I didn’t see too many events during the day as I was interning for the festival press office, but I got to look after a couple of authors and sneak out every now and then to catch something I really wanted to see. Though I didn’t catch any of the huge festival headliner authors/speakers, I saw some events which I may not have otherwise seen but am glad to have attended. Eevnings off also meant I caught some incredible music, and overall (without listing everything) my personal festival highlights were:

Tinariwen

These desert Tuaregs from Mali put down their guns and picked up the electric guitar in the riots against the Mali government to use music to campaign for their equal rights. Music is more than just a pastime for Tinariwen, and it is a family affair: the whole tribe is involved in music making and this is reflected by the fact that the band changes a couple of members every time they tour. I’ve seen them four times now and each time, without doubt, there have been one or two new faces among the band members.

Their music sits somewhere between blues and African traditional melodies, in a unique, soulful and uplifting sound. Listen here.

International Fiction

Sasa Stanisic & Joseph O’Neil

This event was designed to be a cross-section of good international fiction. It turned out that both writers were preoccupied by the subject of identity, specifically identity negotiation between two, or more, cultures.

I had volunteered to cover this event on behalf of a friend (also interning), and it turned out to be of great interest as I am personally preoccupied also with the question of identity when caught between two cultures, places, traditions and languages. It’s something I’m trying to deal with in my current project and listening to these two accomplished authors speak on the subject was inspiring and encouraging. They have both dealt with the topic in different ways but there are common themes that lace their way through both novels. Storytelling, the importance of interests, food, and pastimes from the homeland feature heavily, conjuring memory and nostalgia.

I am yet to finish reading both books, but what I have read and heard rate them highly on my list!

Seckou Keita Quartet

Seckou Keita is a Senegalese griot master of the Kora, an African instrument akin to the western harp and lute, though it can have up to 25 strings. Keita appeared at Hay with his culturally diverse quartet – the double bass/electric bass of Davide Mantovani (Italy), the distinguished sound of the violin by Samy Bishai (Egypt), and the eclectic percussions of Surahata Susso and enchanting voice of the gracious Binta Suso, Seckou’s younger brother and sister.

Seckou’s music carries the flavour of traditional Senegalese music, but has a fresh kick with the influences brought to it by the western elements of violin and double-bass. The percussion is superb, and Binta’s voice is absolutely sublime, especially when she lets go at her full volume. Seckou’s own Kora playing is unique with his very own Kora tuning style, and it has earned him a place among the most innovative and creative African Kora masters alive today. His compositions incorporating the quartet are succinct, subtle, and new.

As a fan of fusion music, I was moved and inspired.

These don’t even scratch the surface of what Hay had to offer, and for more events and info visit the website where most of the events are available as podcasts. With everyone from Jimmy Carter to Jaimie Oliver, and Salman Rushdie to Karen Armstrong, this years festival was a cultural triumph.

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I am 20

It’s been two days since I left the teens behind. And yes, in answer to that inevitable question, I do
feel a little different. For the past few years I have known that the
day will come when I have to clean up my act a little; clean my car,
clear out the junk that I insist upon hoarding, start doing my work,
read more, feel responsible for my life. And, for the past few years
I’ve said to myself…pah! For now I’ll get away with what I can and deal
with the rest when I’m 20. Well, the time has come. Ive hoovered my
car, made an effort to do an essay more that two days in advance and,
to change this aridly boring subject, seen my first Surrealist
exhibition.

I’ve finally found an art movement that I really
enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, I like art and I appreciate most art on
some level, although to be fair I’ve not seen that uch compared to many
people I know. But a few of the surrealist paintings (see below for
favourites) touched me deeply, or made me genuinely laugh, or
profoundly disturbed me. I think could be partly to do this the fact
that the poetry and some of the prose I write is similar to Surrelist
art in its dream-like and incoherent narrative (see Dream Poetry.

Anyways, it was a fun way to spend a birthday and here are some fvourite works that I managed to find online:

Man Ray Pisces

Jackson Pollock Naked Man With Knife

Picasso Three Dancers

Francis Picabia Hera N.B. The painting I actually saw was called Otaiti but couldn’t find it online. Ths one is in the same style as Otaiti.

Dali Mountain Lake

I also went to RSC Stratford to see Romeo and Juliet.
If you get a chance go see it – I enjoyed it immensely. There was a
fantastic arrangement of subtle live singing and accordion that
accompanied the play , and the stylised fight scenes involved some
aggressive stomping/tap dancing with wooden staffs. It was better than
I’m making it sound! It was, on the whole, well acted, conjouring a
nice tension between light-hearted comedy and heartbreak (although
Romeo’s sobbing did get a little to much…I wanted to strangle him at
one point, he was a bit of a pussy-Romeo). This is the first
modern-dress Shakespeare that worked for me, on the whole a great night
out.

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Sri Lanka

We leave for Sri Lanka at 10am on Sunday morning. I can’t
believe we are leaving so soon. I have spent the past week locked in a
room with ten lovely people, to devise a piece of theatre related to
Tsunami: The Politics of Aid. We have brainstormed ideas, emotions,
snapped at each other’s throats…

I mean’t to post the
above paragraph over a week ago. I get back from Sri Lanka just after
5am yesterday morning and collapsed into bed.

It felt
strange coming home. It was as though we’d been away for months, but I
simultaneously felt as though the travelling had been cut short. We did
so much in 7 days, more than I imagined we could have done, and the
trip was a wonderful balance of creativity and travel. We managed to
drive through a quarter of Sri Lanka in under three days and somehow
pulled off our play, which went down very well with the ISTA festival crowd.

One
of the most moving moments of the week was driving along the south
coast of Sri Lanka, along many of the beaches which had been utterly
devistated by the Tsunami. There was still much to be rebuilt. We
stopped at one particular beach to see a temple which had survived the
impact of the tsunami and remained the only unscathed building along
the shoreline for miles. It was a miracle of sorts, to be hit by a 15
metre wave and not shed a brick. We took a look inside the temple and
saw how the painted celing was unmarked but for a few saltlines.

We
had spent the past two weeks locked in Union North researching the
Tsunami – survivor stories, press conferences, aid organisations,
politics, poems, songs, pictures of the devistation, discussions
between ourselves about how should depict all of this information – but
I think being on the beach and seeing the temple was the first time
that the reality of the Tsunami hit us.

Having researched
how much aid, how many millions of pounds had been pumped into the
country, it was sad to see that the rebuilt shacks were no better than
what they’d been before. It was sad to still see wrecked buildings with
messages scrawled on the side asking for assistance for people trying
to rebuild their homes.

The rest of the trip look us along
most of the south coast, Hikaduwa beach being one of the highlights. We
did body boarding and poy on the beach. Some o the local guys also
brought out some firesticks and to our surprise Karl turned out to be a
genius with fire. From the beach we drove to Yala national park and
then inland towards Nureliya, the tea county. Miles and miles of tea
fields later, we found ourselves on white water rafts, heading down the
river where ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ was filmed. A picture gallery
will be uploaded as soon as people get their snapshots to me.

Sri
Lanka is a beautiful country. The scenery and landscape is one of
exceptional vibrance and, strangely, even the shanty towns scattered
amonth the trees had an aesthetic quality to them. I was secretly
gutted that I hadn’t taken a camera with me, however wrong it seems to
take visual pleasure from another’s life of poverty. The Sri Lankan
people were friendly too, on the whole. They were intrigued by our
white skin and loved to stare/smile/wave at us, very keen to have
photos taken. They were eager to know what we though of Sri Lanka and
we happy to hear that we were in love with their homeland. The only
trouble we ran into was with a couple of trishaw (motorised rickshaw)
drivers who tried to drastically overcharge us. Trishaws are a lot of
fun, weaving through the traffic, honking at each other, and really up
for racing 🙂

The festival was great too. Stressful – we were told that we had to do tech and rigging ourselves but we roped in some ISTA
festival kids to help out. There was a wonderful moment for me in the
dress rehearsal when, for the first time, I thought with confidence this show is actually going to work, and it did.

So,
overall I’m glad that I did this. It was a trip that was productive and
amazing fun. This blog entry is probably really jumbled, but hey, I’m
jet lagged and a little fuzzy and thinking about how I’m going to catch
up with the mountain of work I’ve built up for myself! Watch this space
for pictures and more thoughts/memories as they come.

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“and we all know about Iran

The other week I attended a debate on the Freedom of Speech in Britain, put forward by members of PEN,
the international organisation of writers who stand for freedom of
speech and campain, amongst other things, for the freedom of writers
who have been imprisoned for holding view deemed politically dangerous
in their countries of origin.

The debate was engaging and provoked much response and questioning from the audience. What the members of PEN
seemed to be putting forward was relatively simple: there should be
absolute free speech to the point that it is possible. Obviously there
will always be restrictions, but their case was for allowing
controvercial diologues to be had so that the public can see the
extremism of dangerous group, such as the BNP, challenged and deduce their own moral judgements.

Anyway,
the subject of this blog entry is not so much about the freedom of
speech. It is to make an example of a quote from one of the speakers,
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. This quote can be used to perfectly express why
it is that I feel the need, or rather the deep want, to write about
Iran. Yasmin was talking about art and how there is a conception of
Muslims that they have no understanding or tolerance for art. To
enlighten the audience on how artistic the Islamic culture is, she used
an exmple from a recent bbc documentary on Islamic art which examined
frescoes on the walls of Iranian mosques depicting beautiful unveiled
girls dancing and drinking wine. It was not the fact that she pointed
this out that struck me, because she was quite right to do so, but the
way in which she introduced it: ‘In Iran, and we all know about Iran…’
I suddenly had a wave of defensiveness at the sarcasm of the comment
because I knew that at that point everyone in the audience would be
thinking of the veiled Isamicised Iran portrayed in our media, shocked
at how such a place could host such controvercial art. This was
Yasmin’s point, but the fact that she was sarcastically suggesting that
everyone in the audience knew all there is to know about Iran, when
really they knew relatively nothing but the modern politics of the
country, made me realise how important it is for me to write about Iran
wholistically.

*

I want to write about Iran so that
maybe, one day, Iran’s name will be mentioned and people, even if it is
only one person whose perception has changed, will think of it’s
diverse and intelligent people, it’s phenomenal historical monuments
and rich cultural heritage – not its nuclear policies and religious politics.

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