Women in History: Fatima al-Fihri

In the year 850 CE there was no such thing as a university. By 859, there was— thanks to Fatima al-Fihri.

The cover of a children’s book about Fatima al-Fihri’s life by Maryam Yousaf, available on Amazon

Fatima al-Fihri was an Arab Muslim woman who, having received an education and understanding its value, established the first ever university in Fez, Morocco.

When her father died, he left his estate to his daughters, Fatima and Mariam, each of whom used the money to establish a mosque. Fatima’s mosque grew to hold thousands of worshippers while at the same time evolving into a place of learning that offered degrees for different levels of education in the subjects of Islamic studies, mathematics, natural sciences, music, medicine and grammar.  A library was also established,
providing the resources and documents
needed by students and teachers alike.

Image: Abdel Hassouni via Wikimedia Commons

The University was not exclusive to Muslim students, and attracted scholars from both Jewish and Christian traditions. One of those students went on to become Pope Sylvester II, who introduced both Arabic numerals and the idea of zero to Western mathematics.

By the time Fatima died at the age of eighty years old, The University of Al Quaraouiyine had been running for twenty-four years,
alongside the mosque from which it
had developed.

Image: Mike Prince on flickr via Wikimedia Commons

This makes the university more than two hundred years older than the oldest Western universities at Bologna (est. 1088) and Oxford (est. 1096).

Both the mosque and university are still running today. Both the University of Al Quaraouiyine and its library are the oldest of their kind in the world. The library contains many ancient documents, some of which  date right back to the 9th century origins of the library, and other texts and books written by renowned academics.

What an amazing and enduring legacy, and a testament to foresight and wisdom! 

WordyNerdBird’s note: 
Having grown up in Australia and enjoyed a very Western education, I had no idea until much later in life that the concept of the university was something that came from the Muslim tradition. 

Perhaps if we were taught more overtly and deliberately about the legacies that have come to us from traditions other than our own,  our places of learning and society in general would be far more respectful of those traditions and the people who still hold them. 

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Women in History: Claudette Colvin

We’ve all heard of Rosa Parks, and rightly so. Her refusal to give up her seat to a white person on a segregated bus sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. 

The very bus on which she rode is in the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, commemorating her actions and their importance in the history of the nation. 

Have you, though, heard of Claudette Colvin? 
Probably not. But you should have. 

Nine months before Rosa Parks’ defiant actions, fifteen year old Claudette Colvin was riding a segregated bus home from school in Montgomery, Alabama, and refused to give her seat up for a white woman. 

Source: Claudette Colvin Biography, https://www.biography.com/people/claudette-colvin-11378 Accessed March 13, 2019

Colvin was arrested and tried in juvenile court for her defiance.  Her mother discouraged her from speaking publicly about her actions, preferring to let Rosa Parks take the spotlight. 

I have to wonder, though: just how much did Claudette Colvin inspire Rosa Parks to refuse to give up her seat? And why aren’t we taught with equal admiration about this brave young woman who made her stand by remaining seated?

I am sure of one thing, though: I will be including Claudette Colvin in my lessons on the Civil Rights Movement from now on. My fifteen year old students need to know that nobody is too young to change the world for the better. 

Indie Authors: Don’t Let The Scammers Win

There has been quite some consternation among Indie authors over past months in various ways that dishonourable people have found to scam the system and get quite rich selling books that are not what they should be, particularly on Amazon, or who steal others’ books and make them available on pirate websites, or plagiarise and “rebrand” them as their own work.. 

Understandably, those who put a lot of effort into writing and publishing excellent books find such situations discouraging. It’s hard to be upbeat about what we do when others seem to “win” with shortcuts that are plain wrong. 

As I commented in yesterday’s post on integrity and ethics, it seems as though the floodgates have opened to allow all sorts of deceitful behaviour.
It’s hard to know how to respond.

What honest writers must not do, however, is quit. 

It’s up to us to keep on creating fantastic stories and poetry for the readers out there who crave excellent books. 

It’s up to us to hold our heads high, proclaim “I write every word of my books!” and then show the world what we’ve got. 

In short, it’s up to us to show the cheaters and scammers how it should be done. 

Nobody but honest and hard-working authors can restore the faith of readers in Indoe and self publishing. The only way to do that is to maintain a premium of quality in the books on the shelves in stores, libraries and homes all over the world. 

We may have to work harder, smarter and cleaner than ever before. Still, we’ve had to do that in order to give traditional publishing a good shake, and we’ve certainly achieved that. 

We Indies have so much to offer. We have each other for support and an entire future that is yet to be shaped ahead of each of us.

I refuse to quit. I refuse to let the scammers win. Who’s with me? 

Why I Love Audiobooks

I am a relatively recent convert to the audiobook experience. 

Before October last year, I had really only used audiobooks when teaching Shakespeare texts in high school, as it took the stress out of the actual reading for kids who weren’t sure how to approach or pronounce the parts of the language that were unfamiliar to them.  Beyond that, i had suggested them for people, especially kids, who weren’t keen on actually reading, or people who were sight impaired, or… you get my drift. They were always a good idea for someone else.

Of course, thinking of them in that way meant that I never really tried them out for myself. 

It was only when my own circumstances changed that I learned my lesson. Quite unexpectedly, I found myself recovering from emergency spinal surgery, spending a lot of time lying down, and unable to work for an expended period. I was in pain, forced to rest, and couldn’t really focus my eyes too well for some time.

On an impulse, I purchased an audiobook and found myself completely engrossed in the story. When it finished, I bought another. And another. I was hooked. 

The audiobooks I listened to during my recovery kept me company when I couldn’t sleep, and gave me something to think about other than the pain. They took me out of my hospital bed and carried me to different places. They gave my mind something to do when my body couldn’t do much at all. They were great for my mental health. And I really enjoyed them. 

Now, I listen to audiobooks on my commute to work each day, instead of getting steamed up over news and current affairs on the radio. I listen when I am resting, which I still need to do as my back is still healing. I often listen during my lunch break at work, which is actually much healthier than working straight through it as I have tended to do for most of my career. I listen while doing the dishes. 

Audiobooks have not replaced my reading time. I love reading books, and treasure the time I get to spend in them. That will never change. I’m a book nerd, through and through. Even a cursory glance at my Goodreads profile, Twitter feed or Book Squirrel blog will testify to that. 

Listening to audiobooks has also enabled me to add another dimension to my book blog, with audiobook reviews being added to the repertoire, along with Indie book reviews, author spotlights and interviews, and other bookish goodness. As I like to deliver varied and interesting content, that has been a bonus. 

Audiobooks have enhanced different times in my day when I can’t read, and made them more interesting and stimulating. They may not be for everyone, but adding some great listening time to my routine has been a positive and enjoyable development for me.  

fyke-fack

Originally posted on Sesquiotica:
If this sounds like something someone from Scotland might say when having to do a lot of boring busywork for some pernickety pest, well, yes. But it’s not an expletive. It’s a word for the tedious trivial tasks themselves, or, as a verb, for busying oneself about them. Here’s a citation:…

I love discovering great words that I can insert into my everyday discussions.

fyke-fack is definitely going to get a workout… especially when school resumes this week after the summer break.

And it’s not even bad. In fact, it will effectively replace some that are, which is always handy when you’re a teacher and trying hard to be professional. Adulting is hard, you know.

Sesquiotica

If this sounds like something someone from Scotland might say when having to do a lot of boring busywork for some pernickety pest, well, yes. But it’s not an expletive. It’s a word for the tedious trivial tasks themselves, or, as a verb, for busying oneself about them. Here’s a citation:

Yet after a’, wi’ this fyke-fack an’ that fyke-fack, this thing an’ the tither thing, it cost me tippence or thretty pennies by the time I got without the port.

View original post 323 more words

A Change That Is Long Overdue.

Sometimes, you reach the point where enough is enough.

I have reached a new landmark in my journey of self-acceptance and self-care:  I have finally decided to stop saying and thinking horrible things about myself. 

When I posted this image last night, a friend responded with the observation that ” The trick is to catch it and recognize it. That’s the hard part.”

What she says is true, but the fact is that I’ve already been recognising it, and it’s something that has been bugging me for a while. 

For me, the hardest part is that I see my flaws and failures much earlier and more honestly than anyone else does. I know I’m valued and loved, and I know I have talents and abilities that others admire, but I am much quicker to comment on my mistakes and shortcomings than on anything good or positive that I might do. Sadly, this is the habit of a lifetime. 

It’s often said that we’re our own worst enemies. When it comes to cruel words, I think that’s definitely true of me. 

I write poetry that moves people and touches their souls. I write horror stories that chill my readers to the bone. My books get good reviews, and readers tell me they love my work. I teach teenagers, and from time to time, some of them tell me I’ve had a positive impact on their life. 

At the same time, I know full well that not everyone loves me. That doesn’t actually bother me: I don’t like everyone else, either. None of us do. 
Yet it seems that my most consistent critic is none other than myself.  It’s fair to say that on some days, even the people who really, really don’t like me – and they do exist – would be hard pressed to say worse things about me than I do.

Why do I accept it from myself, when I never would from anyone else? Why do I allow words about myself that I refuse to hear my best friend say about herself? I don’t allow my students to talk about themselves or others that way. I’ll unashamedly call someone out for putting another person down, and remind them that they don’t get to talk that way to other people. 

I’ve written previously about having to learn to be patient and kind toward myself physically, especially since my back injury. Now, I’m taking the challenge to master the words and thoughts I use, and to be as quick to defend myself as I am when it’s others on the receiving end. 

I know that making this decision is only the first step, and that actually doing it will be harder than writing about it. I do hope, though, that putting it into writing makes my commitment more binding and less of an impulsive thing that I can forget about. 

This is a change that is long overdue. And no matter how flawed or prone to error I may be, it’s a change that I really need to make. I deserve better treatment than I have been giving myself, and today is the day I will start to make it happen.

Cover Reveal: Smoke and Shadows

Smoke and Shadows releases on January 6 in paperback and ebook.

One of the most relatable scenes in Gilbert & Sullivan’s musical H.M.S Pinafore, which I had the pleasure of directing in September, is where Buttercup sings these lines to Captain Corcoran:

“Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.” 

The Captain appears puzzled, as though thinking about this for the first time, before replying, 

“Very true, So they do!” 

It’s a common thing.  As we go through life, we discover that people and things are frequently not what they seem to be, and what we understand to be the truth of our own experience often turns out to be something quite different instead. Life is as full of illusions as it is of genuine experiences.

False friends abound while finding a true and loyal one is like discovering gold. Trials hurt, but then deliver unexpected strength and blessings. People put up smokescreens to hide their true intentions or feelings; and only sometimes do we ever discover why. The world seems hateful until someone delivers light and love in a surprising way.

The poems in this new collection explore some of the illusions and deceptions people experience in their lives, the clarity and wisdom gained from hindsight, and the lessons we can learn from them.

Both the title of the book and its blurb come from the poem titled ‘The Simulacrum’. I considered using the title of the poem as the book title because it’s such a fascinating word which does, in fact, mean ‘a representation or image of something’. I wanted to go beyond that, though, because the book is really about the multitude of ways that something or someone might not be exactly what we think, or what we are led to believe, rather than focusing on a physical representation. 

“Smoke and shadows yield to glimpses of light—
Only then we begin to see:
When we learn to perceive things as they are,
We can have peace with whatever will be.”

So, without further ado, here is the cover of this new book, which will release on January 6th.  It is available for preorder in all major outlets  via this link

The cover of Smoke and Shadows has an image of smoke in shades of blue, gold, red and white on a black background. The title is printed in gold.

Sledgehammer.

A short reflection on the significance of my newest poem.

I finished a new poem today. It’s only short, but it has great significance.

The idea for this poem came to me in a moment of reflection while I was thinking back to how broken I was just a year ago. Back then, I would not have been able to write this poem: it would not have been true.

In fact, it’s only since I did some “housekeeping” via the publication of ‘A Poet’s Curse’ at the end of August that I’ve actually begun to feel free of some of those things that were holding me down and tormenting me. I wrote in a post back then that it was a cleansing experience, but I had no idea just how liberating it would turn out to be.

I also wrote in my previous post that writing is, for me, really effective therapy. I’ve used it to resist and fight my own personal demons. I’ve used it to grieve, and to rejoice. And I’ve used it to say any number of things that it might not be appropriate to communicate in any other way.

‘Sledgehammer’ is not even defiance. For me, it’s like a milestone that shows me how far I’ve come.

IMG_5851

My walls may not be perfect— they have, after all, been damaged and repaired. I am, without a doubt, both stronger and harder than I was before. That’s not to say I am insensitive or uncaring: I’m not talking about being hard of heart. I’m referring to the kind of hardness that can not only resist the assault of a sledgehammer, but also remain completely indifferent to and unmoved by it.

As far as I’m concerned, that sledgehammer does not exist.

 

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

If you appreciate this poem or the thoughts behind it, please leave a “like” or a comment below, so that this post becomes visible to more people. 

The Story of My Life.

If a book were to be written of your life, what would the title be?

This question was asked recently in one of the authors’ groups I belong to on Facebook:

Slip Wrong Error Oops Accidental Slip Mistake

The answer came to me in a blinding flash of little-appreciated genius.

Slip Wrong Error Oops Accidental Slip Mistake

Alternate title: Crap That Wasn’t Meant To Happen.

Precis: A woman goes through life generally trying to do the right thing, but situations and people keep backfiring on her. This is further complicated by her own big mouth and her failure to learn the basics of human nature.

Tone: Initially comical, tending toward darkness and cynicism as the story progresses.

Chapter titles:

  1. How Not To Fit In… Ever
  2. How To Lose A Friend, Simply By Being Yourself
  3. Dairy Farming: The Idyllic Life
  4. How To Injure Both Hands At The Same Time
  5. How To Lose A Friend By Standing Up For What You Believe In
  6. Be A Teacher: They Only Work From 8.30 to 4, And Get All Those Holidays!
  7. The Sneaky Ways Awful People Conceal What They Really Are
  8. Apparently, I’m A Slow Learner
  9. How To Get A Tropical Disease 2500km South Of The Tropics
  10. Fibromyalgia: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
  11. No, They Will Never Understand That ‘Introvert’ and ‘Shy’ Are Different Things
  12. A Published Author: How Nice! You Must Be Rich.
  13. Oh, You’re An Author? I Don’t Read.
  14. Needles In The Haystack: There Are Actually Nice People Out There
  15. ‘One In A Million’: A Ridiculously Optimistic Ratio
  16. How To Get A Knife Out Of Your Back
  17. Why You Should Never Give That Knife To Someone Else
  18. When Adding Extended Family On Social Media Backfires
  19. Old Friends Can Turn On You, Too!
  20. Why They Can Post Whatever They Want To On Facebook, But You Can’t
  21. Why Doing Something Nice For Someone Is Often A Really Bad Idea
  22. The Block Function: How To Slam That Door Well And Truly Shut
  23. How To Offend Your Family And Friends By Succeeding
  24. Why You Should Never Assume That People Are As Sincere As You Are
  25. Vulnerability Explained: Discovering You Are An Empath
  26. The Achilles Tendon: ‘Heel’ and ‘Heal’ Are Not The Same Thing
  27. Still Hobbling? There Goes Your Other Ankle.

I know. It will never sell.

Marketing that kind of stuff is exhausting – I should know.  It is, after all, the story of my life.

What A ‘Critical Review’ Really Means.

How to respond to a review that you see as less than ideal.

Ignorance is, for some people, bliss.

However, when that translates into comments in their book reviews, it can also be rather revealing.

I’m not talking about the nasty trolls who leave one-star ratings with hateful comments that demonstrate no evidence of even having read your book. Those are in a class all of their own, and way beyond anything I could logically explain.

I’m talking about the reviewers who buy and read a book, then leave a review that leaves you with more questions than answers.

Consider these examples. In the interests of brevity, I have paraphrased them.

 

Facepalm 1

What they wrote: “A mix of Romeo and Juliet with Rapunzel… too much like spoiled five-year-olds instead of sixteen-year-olds. Sex on the first day? 2 stars.”
What I thought:
Have you even read Romeo and Juliet? Or watched the movie? Those were Shakespeare’s ideas, not mine.
Oh well. Some people don’t like his writing, either. I’m in good company.

 

facepalm-6.png


What they wrote:
“I didn’t expect a horror story.”
What I thought:
But it clearly says it’s a horror story! Did you read the product description? Did you check the categories in which it’s listed? Obviously not.
Wait.
Does that mean you “one-clicked” me? Awesome!

 

Facepalm 4

What they wrote: “I don’t read poetry. I don’t like it and I don’t understand it. So I didn’t really understand this book of poetry. But it was OK I guess.”
What I thought:
If you don’t read poetry… and you don’t like poetry… why would you buy a book of poetry?
Wait.
You “one-clicked” me, didn’t you? Alright!

 

Freakin’ A! I have two fans who buy my books, even though they don’t like what I write. Brilliant. Now I just need about a million more and I’ll be set.

To be honest, I actually very rarely read my reviews. Those are there for the benefit of other customers who need to know if they want to read my books (they do) and if they’ll enjoy them (they will).

Oh No Raccoon 2014-09-12 18.07.36

I certainly don’t respond to them. That’s like hanging a target on your own back, and can cause far more heartbreak for an author than any review ever might have done.

Of course, the stores like us to get reviews, too. Amazon say it’s to inform other customers, but every Indie author I know thinks it’s so that they have something to feed their algorithm monster in the basement, and so they have something to take away from us when it appears we’re doing a little too well. Thankfully, other stores let us keep the reviews we get.

I don’t worry about the occasional baffling review. Reviewers are so rare that I’m reluctant to complain. Besides, it balances all those lovely shiny five star ones and makes everything look much more realistic. I don’t think any writer can reasonably hope for their work to be loved by everyone.

If your reviews are consistently negative, it’s fair to assume you probably have some work to do. The best way to avoid that happening is to ensure your book is properly proof-read, edited, and has been given a thorough working over by beta readers. You’re not doing yourself any favours by skipping those things. If it’s worth writing, it’s worth doing it properly.

Squirrel 2014-08-14 21.04.23

A critical review here and there doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, nor that your book is terrible. It just means that your book, like any other author’s book, isn’t to everyone’s taste. And that’s perfectly okay.

The best response is to ask yourself if there’s anything useful you can take from it, make a note, and walk away.