Saturday, August 30, 2014

Featured Author: Sahar Sabati

Sahar Sabati is here today with a guest post and an excerpt from her new book, Warp and Woof: Weaving Community Life.

About the book:

Man is a social creature; relationships are an inevitable part of his life. Formal ones, informal ones; constant ones, intermittent ones; those that make a heart race with joy, those that make it race with dread, and those that are just there because of the way society is structured. Relationships are essential to personal and collective spiritual and material development. One of the most mysterious relationships of all is that of marriage. It is a big commitment, often portrayed as the union of two individuals when in fact it is the union of two families, of two groups of friends, and, at times, of two communities, which means that a large number of relationships have to be adjusted. It is a fundamental building block of society, as married couples create homes in which two families are welcome, children are raised, and members of the community can find solace and love. It is therefore a powerful institution that exerts its influence on the two spouses as well as on those surrounding it. In this series of short stories, real life situations, conversations, and continuous study of Bahá’í Scripture come together in an attempt to understand what can go right and what can go wrong in relationships and how they can influence a community.

Guest post by Sahar Sabati

I was recently asked if I am happy with my latest book, Warp and Woof: Weaving Community Life. My friend was surprised when I was unable to answer the question, because when it came to my previous books – Spirit Within Club, Chills: A Short Story Collection, and Love: A Short Story Collection – the answer has always been clear.

The hesitation seems to be related to the fact that my latest book took me somewhere I had not gone before. The topic of community building is one that is dear to me, and I often blog about it. I could have written innumerable straightforward stories about it, but fiction is imagining what could be in the many facets of its glorious complexities. So I decided to push my thinking forward; I wanted to take a concept related to community building (relationships), pick one specific version of it (marriage), and write about community building in light of it.

I won’t lie: it was a very messy process! At first I thought to make all the stories in the collection directly related to marriage. But I very quickly understood that because marriage is about everyone that has a relationship with the spouses, friends, family, coworkers, the people we buy our coffee from, and even strangers all have an influence on and are affected by a marriage. In turn, each marriage has an effect on the community.

See why it was getting messy? I wanted to look at the prism of community building from a specific angle, only to realise that I did not have the capacity yet to isolate the prism like that. The result: a collection of stories that are not obviously related in the way the other two abovementioned short stories collections are. So much so that I sat on the book for a good two weeks before going ahead and publishing it because I realised that it should be shared to generate a constructive discussion that would feed into my next books on the same topic.

I have already been feeding my personal learnings about this process into my next novel, which is going to be about the influence a single person can have on the development of her community through the relationships that she nurtures. You read it here first! A Summer of Firsts, which will be written in large part during NaNoWriMo14, is slated for publication in early 2015. I have already had a few conversations with readers about their experience reading Warp and Woof that have helped refine the ideas behind A Summer of Firsts, and I hope that, by the time NaNoWriMo14 comes along, I will have had many more.

An excerpt from Warp and Woof: Weaving Community Life

The Ghost of My Former Self

She couldn’t get away fast enough. Unfortunately, the speed limit was low, as they were driving through a school zone. She longed to press the pedal down and feel the motor of the car kick in and pick up speed. It was a trusty little old thing that packed quite the punch, after all. Thankfully the highway wasn’t too far away.

Spying the white of her knuckles, she forced her hands to relax. No use mistreating herself the way she had just been mistreated at her latest family reunion. The minute she had walked in, every person directed a backhanded compliment to her about her trimmed physique.

“Not bad – let’s see if you can maintain it.”

“Look who is trying to be America’s next top model!”

“I guess you finally realised what you needed to do to keep a husband!”

That last one particularly hurt. The reason why her first marriage had not worked out did not have to do with her weight. Quite the contrary, actually. Her weight had had to do with her bad marriage. Ana was surprised that no one had clicked on that, since her family had a well-known history of emotional eating. Her marriage, which had begun as a fairy tale and ended as a psychological thriller, had triggered to the point of her gaining 100 pounds in a matter of three years. She had already been struggling to keep her weight at a healthy level; ever since she was born, she had a propensity for storing fat. No surprise it was downhill and “up-scale” once the emotional abuse started.

She hadn’t told many people about what had happened in her marriage, nor had she explained how it was her marriage that had driven her to overeating. They wouldn’t have understood, since overeating is, after all, a socially acceptable addiction. But more importantly, she didn’t want to waste precious energy explaining it to them. Rather, she chose to pour her energy into healing emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. 

For the fiasco of the last five years had taken her away from her one true love: teaching children. Once a dynamic teacher, both in the elementary school she had found a job at straight out of college, and in the neighborhoods where she volunteered in the evenings and during the week-end, she had fallen out of both. Where she had been a constant dynamo of energy, channeling the children’s thirst for knowledge and love into learning opportunities for them and service projects that contributed to bettering the community, she became a ghost, going through the motions, trying to survive one day at a time. She was lucky though. Not only had both been more than willing to welcome her back once she was feeling well enough, they had practiced the skills of serving others she had helped them develop into helping her.

“You serve without expecting anything in return,” she had tearfully told the school principal. “But sometimes, you are gifted beyond your wildest dreams. Thank you.”

The weight loss had been a secondary effect of her emotional healing. As she dealt with her demons, the crutch became increasingly obsolete. And as the weight melted off, mostly without her even noticing it, she also felt the urge to move more. She started with longer and longer walks, tried jogging, then splurged on a brand new elliptical machine. Her biweekly twenty minute workouts became too easy too fast, as did her triweekly half an hour long ones; even her current five times a week for an hour was becoming easy, but she chose to leave it at that; more time dedicated to exercise meant less time with the children.

The tightening body brought with is some interesting experiences, most of which she had never had before.

“Want to hear about something totally cliché that happened to me today?” she asked her then only friend Nathan over coffee.

“You know me,” he grinned. “I love me some cliché.”

“I was walking by a construction site and a couple of the guys said hi to me and one of them said that I looked fantastic.”

“How did it make you feel?”

“It kind of validated the fact that I feel fabulous,” she admitted with a soft giggle.

“I sense some guilt,” he said.

“Definitely. I didn’t set out to lose weight. It just happened. But I love the feeling, the energy, the vitality that is rushing through my body – it really makes me feel alive in a way I haven’t ever been. That I’m OK with, because it comes in handy when I am working. But I also kind of like the superficial benefits that come with this thing.”

“I think you need to be kinder to yourself. It’s OK to appreciate the attention, as long as you keep your feet firmly on the ground and don’t lose sight of the reasons behind your weight loss. However great you feel, you are not a better person because you lost the weight; you lost the weight because you dealt with the emotional trauma that was making you eat.”

“I guess I have to remember that the doors that are opening for me are mostly because of how I feel in here,” she tapped her heart. She hesitated, then added, “I feel ready to take on more now, things that I just wasn’t ready for a mere couple of months ago.”

Nathan had been asking her out for ages, but she kept turning him down because she felt that it would be unfair to him be saddled with a girlfriend with such big issues, both metaphorically and literally. She didn’t want a relationship to start in such a dark place, because she felt that their entire lives together would be defined by it. But she did like him, and had been hoping he would still be available when she was.

Nathan smiled; he immediately understood what she was implying.  “So is this just coffee, or are we on our first date?”

She giggled, blushed, then batted her eyelashes at him. “I paid for my own coffee, so this is not a date. You could try to ask me out though. I might say yes this time.”

So he asked her out, she said yes, and a year later, they were engaged.

About the author:

The author of Spirit Within Club, Chills: A Short Story Collection, and Warp and Woof: Weaving Community Life, and both editor and contributor for Love: A Short Story Collection, Sahar was born the first of three siblings and eight cousins.  Thrust in the role of head of the brood at a very early age, she honed her imagination by creating stories and plotlines the eight of them could play to all summer long.  But soon, her interest in the paranormal took its toll on said brood.  Worried on the long-term effects (as well as potential therapy costs) of this continual exposure to increasingly scary stories her oldest was (too) expertly weaving for their terrified ears, her mother gave her a typewriter – and a writer was born.  Many books, a couple of screenplays, countless short stories, numerous essays and two blogs later, Sahar also joined the ranks of Blogcritics, delving into the world of reviews.

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Buy the book:
Amazon | Barnes and Noble | iTunes