I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.
~ Helen Keller
I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.
My two favorite quotes from the article that follows:
Sultana reminds us that the greatest untapped resource around the globe isn’t gold or oil, but the female half of the population.
I wish we understood that sometimes the most effective weapon against terrorists isn’t a drone but a girl with a book.
Meet Sultana, the Taliban’s Worst Fear
Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, JUNE 4, 2016
Sultana pursued an education from inside her home in Afghanistan after the Taliban threatened to douse her with acid if she went back to school. Because of the danger to her and a photographer if she was visited there, her picture was taken via Skype. CreditAndrew Quilty for The New York Times
OF all the students preparing to go to college this fall, perhaps none have faced a more hazardous journey than a young woman named Sultana. One measure of the hazard is that I’m not disclosing her last name or hometown for fear that she might be shot.
Sultana lives in the Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan, and when she was in the fifth grade a delegation visited her home to warn her father to pull her out of school, or else she would have acid flung in her face. Ever since, she has been largely confined to her high-walled family compound — in which she has secretly, and perilously, educated herself.
“I’m unstoppable,” Sultana laughs, and it’s true: She taught herself English from occasional newspapers or magazines that her brothers brought home, in conjunction with a Pashto-English dictionary that she pretty much inhaled. When her businessman father connected the house to the internet, she was able to vault over her compound walls.
“I surrounded myself with English, all day,” she told me by Skype. Today her English is fluent, as good as that of some Afghan interpreters I’ve used.
Once she had mastered English, Sultana says, she tackled algebra, then geometry and trigonometry, and finally calculus BC. She rises about 5 a.m. and proceeds to devour calculus videos from Khan Academy, work out equations, and even read about string theory.
Sultana, now 20, says she leaves her home only about five times a year — each time, she must wear a burqa and be escorted by a close male relative — but online she has been reading books on physics and taking courses on edX and Coursera. I can’t independently verify everything Sultana says, but her story generally checks out. After reading a book on astrophysics by Lawrence M. Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, she reached him by Skype, and he says he was blown away when this Afghan elementary school dropout began asking him penetrating questions about astrophysics.
“It was a surreal conversation,” Krauss said. “She asked very intelligent questions about dark matter.”
Krauss has become one of Sultana’s advocates, along with Emily Roberts, an undergraduate at the University of Iowa who signed up for a language program called Conversation Exchange and connected with Sultana.
By Skype, Emily and Sultana became fast friends, and soon they were chatting daily. Moved by Sultana’s seemingly unattainable dream of becoming a physics professor, Emily began exploring what it would take for Sultana to study in the United States.
With Emily’s help, Sultana has been accepted by a community college in Iowa, with a commitment by Arizona State University to take her as a transfer student a year later. Emily started a website to raise money for Sultana’s university education.
Sultana reminds us that the greatest untapped resource around the globe isn’t gold or oil, but the female half of the population. Virginia Woolf wrote that if Shakespeare had had an equally talented sister, she never would have been able to flower — and Sultana is Shakespeare’s sister. Yet it’s also clear that internet connections can sometimes be a game changer.
Sultana’s family is wary of her passion for education but surrenders to her determination. “My mom said a lot of mouths will be open, a single girl going to the Christian world,” she said. “But I will die if they stop me.”
Unfortunately, the United States isn’t helping. Last month, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul rejected her application for a student visa. That happens all the time: Brilliant young men and women are accepted by American universities and then denied visas because, under U.S. law, they are seen as immigration risks.
(As a Muslim, Sultana would also be barred by Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims. I asked her what she thought of Trump, and all she would say, with quiet dignity, was: “He thinks all Muslims are bad. It’s painful.”)
Michelle Obama has pushed an impressive campaign called Let Girls Learn, yet her husband’s administration has never seemed as enthusiastic, and America routinely denies visas that would actually let girls learn. The United States spends billions of dollars fighting terrorism by blowing things up; I wish we understood that sometimes the most effective weapon against terrorists isn’t a drone but a girl with a book.
The Taliban understand this: That’s why their fighters shot Malala Yousafzai in the head. If only we were as cleareyed as the Taliban about the power of girls’ education to transform societies.
Sultana now spends her days working on calculus equations, listening to Bon Jovi and doing household chores while listening to the BBC or self-help audiobooks. It also turns out that she is a longtime Times reader and gets my email newsletter. She’s now working her way through more serious reading: Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.”
Sultana has set up another appointment for a visa, for June 13. It won’t be Sultana who is tested but American policy itself. I’ll let you know what happens.
The second book in The Innocence Cycle continues Elena’s courageous journey to find healing for herself and her land. Again, $1.00 from each book sale will go to help victims of human trafficking. From the back cover of the book:
Seventeen-year-old Elena is adjusting to her new life as the adopted daughter of the Lord Protector of the Shalamhar realm and his companion, the Prince of the Elrodanar. For the first time, she has friends, a devoted dog, and the possibility of love. With two fathers, seven personal guards, and a keep full of warriors, she should feel safe—but she doesn’t.
The rogue Guardian who nearly killed Elena still hasn’t been found. In addition, Anakh and the remnant of the ancient Alraphim race have vowed to never stop pursuing her until she is theirs again to use, sell, and destroy. While Anakh makes direct attacks on Elena, a new foe—a race of strange half-human, half-wolf creatures—raids her home village and another Guardian stronghold. Soon reports of missing children and brutal assaults are coming in from every corner of the Shalamhar.
In order to save her new family and protect the rest of the realm, Elena knows she must embrace the shattered parts of herself and learn to use the powers hidden in her complex inner world. The answers she needs most are in the place she least wants to go—behind the third door.
Here’s the link to my first interview as a published author. So exciting.
This is a powerful visual presentation of a poem written and performed by a survivor of domestic sex trafficking. Not for the faint of heart.
And I would add: not only are America’s daughters at risk, but our sons as well.
The article linked below appeared in the New York Times this morning and describes the development of a human trafficking network within ISIS and the theological justifications used by their leaders to condone rape of women and girls. In it, escaped Yazidi captives tell their stories. I was shocked, disgusted and disturbed by the treatment of these girls and especially so because their rapes were surrounded by acts of prayer and justifications from the perpetrators that, in essence, blamed the victims–if they had not been infidels, they would not be treated so.
Then I reined in my outrage and asked myself: is this anything new? Once a person/group decides that another race, religion, or gender is less than human, he can justify whatever he does. It happened in this country in our own slave history–owners repeatedly raped their slaves. It still happens in this country–not just in other parts of the world, but here too, lest we be tempted to point fingers at these “barbaric” people as if we’ve evolved above such things. Unchecked, hiding in the shadows, humans are capable of all manner of atrocities in any country, anywhere. One need only scan a few days’ worth of news article to see that.
Yes, ISIS’s deeds are horrible. Yes, Boko Haram commits cowardly inhumane acts. I am not diminishing the horrific nature of their crimes. My emotional response: I would love nothing more than to see their own barbarity turned back on them. But there is a bigger picture here. These groups have developed a “culture” around their behavior that makes it socially and morally–even theologically–acceptable for them to commit these heinous acts. If someone raped one of their little sisters, they would probably behead him. The difference: the captives are not considered human, they’re property. And it is no different for the wealthy Coloradan, whose purchased domestic worker is his to rape at will. We, as a combined human race, must say that NEVER is it right for one human to do this to another, that no religious conviction, no social conviction, no caste system, no economic condition can justify the brutality of rape. This requires a basic understanding that all humans have the right to be treated as humans, not chattel, even if we dislike them or don’t agree vehemently with them.
So, even though my emotions would like to see the barbarity returned onto the perpetrators in kind, my moral and ethical code says they must be treated as human beings, deserving of due process and respect. We need to process these actions as war crimes in the world court.
I found myself saying those words this morning, over and over—in truth, sobbing them. And at the very time I need to be the opposite of those things, or so I tell myself. I wanted to hurry past the feelings, push them away, like I have been doing for weeks. I know better. I spent years in therapy trying to expose the buried emotions that kept me from functioning at my fullest. I also spent years as a counselor encouraging clients to “embrace their brokenness” rather than push it away or bury it. And yet, here I am.
As the release of my first book approaches, the turmoil has increased. Rationally, it is not surprising. As a survivor of severe abuse, one of my strongest defenses has been to be invisible, blend into the woodwork, never draw attention, and now I am asking myself to do the opposite: be visible, expose myself, my thoughts, my very heart. And the broken part of me says that is dangerous, deadly. I can argue with the thoughts, but changing the feelings is near impossible. My counselor self says, don’t change the feelings, embrace them.
So I allow myself to feel what I have been pushing away. It’s ugly, painful, terrifying. This world seems huge, unfriendly, just looking for a way to crush me. I am not wanted here.
Oh, I hit a core belief. I am not wanted. Who I am is a mistake. My thoughts are not wanted, my feelings are not wanted. I should never have been born. Ouch. My heart twists with the pain. It is so deep, so fathomless.
I want to rush to counter the belief. I am loved by many people. I am wanted now. I have gifts, thoughts, skills that are valuable and needed. But to rush to that argument diminishes the value of that broken part of me and confirms her beliefs: nobody wants to hear that negative talk, nobody likes a loser—just ask Donald Trump. The world wants to see confidence, power, strength, not ugly, self-pitying weakness.
I have learned over the years, however, that I make truer, deeper connections with others in and through my brokenness. A huge percentage (don’t ask me for numbers; I have no idea) of this world’s population is more familiar with brokenness than power and “success.” Exposing my broken places, being honest about who I am and what I feel, has built more bridges to others than my façade of confidence ever has or will.
My entire novel series, in fact all I’ve ever written, has come out of my brokenness, not my learned skills or my inner power.
The reason I am a modern day abolitionist, the reason I fight for the rights and dignity of all people comes out of my brokenness. What I’m feeling today—little, broken, invisible, lost—those trapped in slavery, those being trafficked, those being abused, feel every day. I don’t want to shove away my feelings because they keep me connected to 27-30 million slaves around the world and uncalculated numbers of survivors of abuse.
And so, I embrace my brokenness, and I embrace our broken world. If you are one of the broken, I hope you feel my heart reaching toward you. And if you should choose to reach back, my heart is open.
Living with a two-year-old can give one a new perspective on life. This stage of development is so much fun to watch as toddlers discover new skills and determine what is within their power to control—all things, of course!—often leading to battles of will with other toddlers or parental figures. I should mention, this is more fun to watch when you are not the overwrought parent who has to deal with them.
While this is a developmental stage through which all humans must progress, those that grow up in unhealthy or unstable environments sometimes get stuck in this two-year-old mentality. It may manifest as “if I want it done right, I’ll have to do it myself” or “I don’t need help; I can do it myself” or as one is emotionally falling apart, “I’m fine. I’m NOT tired.”
What does this have to do with me as a writer? Well, I’ve found myself doing a little self-check recently. In November, I made the decision to independently publish my first novel, which is book one of a five part fantasy series. I came to that conclusion after considering many things, which I won’t bother to list here. But in the back of my mind, questions needled at me: Is my choice being influenced by my trust issues? Am I back to being a two-year-old and stomping my foot saying, “I’ll do it myself”? (I mean no offense to two-year-olds; they have good reason to hold their ground.)
It’s always good to question our motivations and to take a critical look at the reasons for our decisions. It can save us from making emotionally-driven, poor choices. In this case, however, I think the questions came out of self-doubt and lack of trust in my decision-making abilities. Either way, I have answered the questions and am surprised at some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
First of all, independently publishing should never be “I do it myself.” It certainly hasn’t been for me. The number of alpha-readers, beta-readers, critique partners, writers’ groups and writing conferences alone create a tribe of helpers. Then add a mentor, an editor, a graphic artist, and a cover artist, who have all helped to make my vision a reality, and the tribe grows. In addition, there are authors I’ve never met, who have blogged, Facebooked, tweeted, or published how-to books with wisdom from their own journeys that have smoothed my way.
Secondly, I’m learning to trust my decision-making ability. While I have sought the skill and wisdom of many along the way, the decisions are ultimately mine to make, and the consequences mine to bear. On a good day, I’m certain I am making good decisions, but there are always those bad days (artist temperament, right?) when I’m sure they all suck and I’m doomed to fail and fade into oblivion, or worse yet, undergo the knife skills of vicious one-star reviewers. In the end, it has been a good experience for me to face these doubts and move past them.
Thirdly, perspective is essential. While writing and publishing my novels is very important to me, if they are not “successful”—if people don’t love them as I do, or if few copies sell—it will change nothing in the universe. I have friends battling cancer and other life-threatening illnesses—that’s important. I know others whose families are falling apart—that’s heartbreaking and truly hard work. Daily, I see the ongoing suffering of those enslaved and trafficked worldwide—real life and death issues. I remind myself of these things, and I find balance. I hope my novels make a difference in some people’s lives, and I hope to raise funds to support survivors of human trafficking. But if that doesn’t happen, life won’t end.
I realize no matter what the future may hold, I’m still better for having taken this journey. I am richer for the people I have come to know along the way. I am wiser for the multitude of things I have learned. I am more confident than when I started. And maybe, just maybe, I’ve conquered some of my two-year-old trust issues.