Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On The Words Of An Uneasy Writer

It just occurred to me that the title of my blog: Musings of an Uneasy Writer, as well as the tagline: Ten Thousand Words could do with a bit of explanation. Since interviews are moving at summer pace (meaning it’s a thousand degrees in the shade and no one wants to do anything), I’m focusing on reading, writing, and catching up on some blogging. It seems like a good time to explain my header a bit.

Both the title and tagline are references to songs by The Avett Brothers, far and away my favorite band of all time. The Avetts (consisting of brothers Scott and Seth Avett, plus Bob Crawford and Joe Kwon) are very important to me, especially while I’m over here. For one thing, they make me feel at home. I will never be able to dissociate the Avetts from my family...my whole family. It’s truly amazing how my mother, father, brother, sister and I can all bond so strongly over a single band. Whether we travel together to concerts, listen to new albums together, or get in arguments over interpretations of certain songs (especially The Ballad of Love and Hate, which I tend to re-interpret annually as my understanding and experience of both Love and Hate change), the Avetts have been a uniquely unifying influence in our family life.

The other reason the Brothers are so meaningful to me is that their playlist can dispense advice as a good friend, with nuance covering the spectrum of emotions and situations in life. It allows a temporary indulgence in "negative" emotions such as bitterness, anger, or revenge...then gently steers me back to a more balanced view on life, with wisdom and simple but profound honesty that are hard to come by.

The title of this blog references the alternate title of an Avett song called Denouncing November Blue (Uneasy Writer) off the Avett’s 2006 album, Four Thieves Gone. In the song (which is itself a take-off of the Charlie Daniels song “Uneasy Rider”), the narrator denounces a previous Avett Song called (you guessed it) November Blue. The original song (from the 2002 album Country Was) laments the fading of a summer love that is “bit by the cold of December, falling like the leaves.”

The denouncement of this song is clear in the Uneasy Writer’s opening lines:

November came and went like the summer that I spent with a no-name girl that walked in jelly shoes. I returned to my home with a heart part made of stone, and cried all night for a girl I never knew.

The rest of the song (“Denouncing,” that is) tells the story of what happened next. The narrator saw much, experienced much, and wrote several books, including:

Being a Free Man
People Don’t Know Nothin’ (No Matter What They Tell Ya)
Life in Prison: Volume 1

In a way, I guess that’s what I see myself doing at the moment. I’m striking out into the world, seeing people, places and things, and trying to write about them. I hope that the people I meet and the things I experience will eventually materialize into a coherent book (preferably not a single volume called “Life in Prison,” since a Moroccan prison is the last place I’d like to be). But at the moment, this blog is simply the haphazard musings of an Uneasy Writer.

Now onto the tagline...Ten Thousand Words...

A song with the same name is included on the Avetts’ most recent album, I and Love and You (2009). The song speaks to the importance of words and how we use them.

Aint it like most people, I’m no different. We love to talk on things we don’t know about.

As a writer, a linguist, and a human being, I’d have to say that words are a pretty important part of my life. How I use them matters. And what shall I use them for?

Truth, apparently.

That’s something that an Uneasy Writer can always be reminded of in a world where “there are no lines separating the truth from the lies.” (And It Spread). In my research, my writing, my blogging, and my life, the purpose of words is to convey TRUTH. I don’t want to forget that.

The songs that the Avett Brothers write are oozing with unpretentious truth. If I can write a book like they write music, I might be in good shape.

November came and went,
Like the summer that I spent
With a no-name girl that walked in jelly shoes.
I returned to my home
With a heart part made of stone,
And I cried all night for a girl I never knew.
From the east it comes,
Her love and the rising sun,
And I pray each time they come it's not the last.
You see, I've gotten strong,
I made it through what came along,
But I can't move on for the beauty of the past.

I came across a pretty girl,
For about a month she was my world,
And I held her hand, and swore we'd never part.
I moved on, she stayed behind,
I said I'd call, she said she'd write,
We lost touch the moment I drove off.
I left town like a gambler with
The sense to cash in all the chips
Before I lost them all on a bad deal.
I made believe I was in a race,
Drove ten thousand miles in seven days,
While writing a book called "Being A Free Man".
I Met more people than the president,
The good times came and the good times went,
And I learned how to ignore my hunger pangs.
I looked ahead to the open road,
Thought about the people and what they know,
And wrote a book called "People Don't Know Nothin".
(no matter what they tell ya, man)

Once I spent my last dime,
And counted the ratio of miles to time,
I looked up to my disdain and my surprise.
I had driven my car around the world,
Ended back in the town with the girl,
So I wrote a book called "Life in Prison".
(Volume. 1)
I see that girl every now and then,
And we drink to having such good friends,
And apologize for the way it did not last.
Funny thing that it's all true,
And I'll always love November Blue,
But I turned her down for the beauty of the past.

November came and went,
Like the summer that I spent
With a no-name girl that walked in jelly shoes.
I returned to my home
With a heart part made of stone,
And I cried all night for a girl I never knew.

Ten thousand words swarm ‘round my head
Ten million more in books written beneath my bed
I wrote or read them all when searchin’ in the swarms
Still can’t find out how to hold my hands

And I know you need me in the next room over
But I am stuck in here all paralyzed
For months I got myself in ruts
Too much time spent in mirrors framed in yellow walls

Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about

And everyone around me shakes their head in disbelief
And says I’m too caught up
They say young is good and old is fine
And truth is cool but all that matters
Is you have your good times

But their good times come with prices
And I can’t believe it when I hear the jokes they make
At anyone’s expense except their own
Would they laugh if they knew who paid?

Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about

And after we are through ten years
Of making it to be the most of glorious debuts
I’ll come back home without my things
‘Cause the clothes I wore out there I will not wear ’round you

And they’ll be quick to point out our shortcomings
And how the experts all have had their doubts
Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about

Monday, July 26, 2010

On My Home On Derb Errome

I moved. I felt like Fes Jdid was sucking the sweetness right out of me, so I opted for a fresh start: back to the medina, to a little place called DERB ERROME.

The house I live in is beautiful. It’s owned by a friend of a friend...one of those brave souls who bought and is in the process of restoring an old Moroccan home.

I live on the first floor...a lovely little apartment with plenty of space for dancing (a must), and a nice big window. The window is key. It lets in sunshine and the noise from the street below. (Of course by “street” I mean what anyone in America might call an alley...in Arabic we call it a DERB.) The noise from the street took some getting used to, but it’s certainly grown on me. It’s the noise of guides leading groups of tourists in English, French and Spanish. It’s the clinking and clomping of donkeys carrying Coca-Cola or tanks of gas to the hanut on the corner. It’s the music of weddings in the huge house next door, where the owners rent their home out for parties. It’s the noise of laughter and gossip and boys playing soccer. It’s the noise of people living. I love it.

Upstairs I have a terrace. A beautiful terrace. It has an incredible view of the city I love. Already this terrace has become the site of dinner parties, dance parties (thanks to the free live music from weddings next door), movie nights, guitar jams, morning coffee, and sunset beverages.

Have a look. DAR DARKOM (My home is your home.)

Look, Mom! I cook! That chicken that I'm cutting up in my sink was alive when I bought it, and we ate it several hours later. Also, notice the window.

A view of Derb Errome from my terrace.

The terrace view of my city in the evening.

(Photos taken by my lovely little sis)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

On Sugar and Spice

Coffee is a very important part of my life. Moroccan coffee is intense. It’s strong, often spiced, and extremely sweet. However, most everyone knows that I like my coffee MASUS – with absolutely zero sugar. It makes me an oddity...welcome to my life.

Sometimes people ask why I don’t want sugar, in which case I usually quote The Great Santini: “I don’t want anything to make me sweet.”

indulges my obsession with masus coffee, but Soukaina refuses. She insists that drinking unsweetened coffee is “so un-Moroccan” and dumps absurd amounts of sugar into the pot as she’s brewing it. She knows I’ll still drink it because I can’t function without it. What really gets me about Soukaina’s coffee, though, is that as sweet as it is, it still has the kick from the spices. Interesting.


Last month I got in a fight with a cab driver. He wanted a tip. I refused to give it to him because he had offended me. He had muttered some uncomplimentary things about me while he drove me to my destination. He didn’t realize at the time that I understood Darija.

You can imagine his surprise, then, when we found ourselves in the middle of the street, screaming at each other in Darija over a Dirham (roughly 11 cents). A couple of bystanders came, intending to rescue their local GAURIA (white girl), and gave him the dirham he asked for so he’d let me be. I walked away, still furious, shaking my head and thinking, “you guys just don’t get it.” It was the principle of the thing, right?

Minutes later, by the time I reached my door, I was still furious, but no longer at the cab driver. I couldn’t believe I let myself explode like that. True, he started it, but I absolutely lost it. I kept replaying the scene in my head. Who was that girl? Where did all that rage come from? Where was my sweetness? Where was my grace?

The cab driver was the proverbial straw that broke my back. At that moment I couldn’t take it anymore. I’d had enough. Enough of fighting for respect. Enough of having to defend and explain myself. Enough of letting things go, or pretending I don’t understand what people mutter. I had built up months of anger and wounded pride.

I definitely am not that girl, screaming like a lunatic over an insult and 11 cents. But nor am I the Sugarplum Fairy of public diplomacy, conquering hearts and minds with sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. There has to be some middle ground.

A particularly poetic Moroccan said to me a while back, “If you’re too sweet, people will eat you like a cake.”

True, friend. But if you’re too bitter, they’ll spit you out altogether.

What to do?


My mom sometimes refers to my little sister JENNA and me as Sugar and Spice. When we ask which is which, she diplomatically answers that there’s some of both in each of us – with different proportions, of course. But everyone knows that Jenna’s a tender-hearted darling and I’m a bit more ornery.

Jenna’s been here visiting me in Fez for the past couple of weeks. Through the dance parties and dinner parties, adventures in Fez and beyond, and good old-fashioned sister bonding, her sweetness has rubbed off on me a bit.

I’m realizing that the only way to maintain my sanity in Morocco (or elsewhere) is to stay as sweet as possible (apologies to the Great Santini) without losing my spice.

Kind of like Soukaina’s coffee.