Jan. 19, 2022
My gaze was looking downward awhile, drinking a cup of tea, then singing, suddenly looked up: I sent the sky so many kisses; I didn’t count them…😊😘😘😊
Our literary salon yesterday May Ziadeh hosting here was so diversified: music, meditation, comments, silent reading, and it closed with my latest painting.
A journalist had noted…
“The date of my birth is unknown,” Kahlil Gibran once said.
In an isolated village like his birthplace of Bcharri, North of Lebanon, births and deaths were as ordinary as the tasks of the seasons, events only imprinted in the memories of men and women who later told stories without any regards to written history. Through these stories, with a fair amount of accuracy was it deduced that the poet was born on January 6, 1883.
The confusion over his date of birth, however, Gibran thought to clear up in a letter he wrote to one of the foremost women Arabic literature writers during that century:
“… Let me tell you a little story, May, and you may laugh a while at my expense. Naseeb Arida, wishing to collect the articles of A Tear and a Smile and publish them in one volume, decided to append that assortment of meager pieces with the article “My Birthday” and add the appropriate date to it… As I was not in New York at the time, he began searching for my date of birth. He is an indefatigable researcher until he eventually identified that date in the distant past, and translated the English January 6th into Kanoon al-Awal 6th! In this way he reduced the span of my lifetime by nearly a year, and delayed the real day of my birth by a month! To this day, ever since the publication of A Tear and a Smile, I have enjoyed two birthday celebrations each year….” Here is the footnote to the Arabic date: Kanoon-al-Awal (literally the 1st Kanoon) is the month of December, and January is Kanoon al-Thani (literally the 2nd Kanoon).”
I say now, That’s nice, Gi. If a man has two birthdays, then he can give one of those away…
And I took that one for my May Day! 😉😅 In the wintertime.
I also see, Gi you might’ve been just as troubled with mathematics as myself, and I like that I actually caught a math mistake ’cause it’s a helpful skill to develop. Being born earlier doesn’t shorten your lifespan, my dear! Only older that particular year…But anyway…
This is poet and author, May Ziadeh’s book of professional letters over the years. I got it from a bookstore online in Lebanon that shipped it here.
I thought I’d just find May’s name (one of the two words I can fully read now; the other is ”from…”) kiss a page and put it away on the highest shelf ’til I learn Arabic. I’ve wanted to read the language she wrote most, to read this book and others she wrote. I learned recently that my Kindle will translate languages into English with the dictionary. (I understand grammar is the most complex part of Arabic and hard to translate into English, so I will learn it more casually and verbally, and try the translate feature on the laptop instead of device.)
…I looked through the whole book; there were a few letters in English too. And it is a very soft book to fall asleep within: more like close my eyes, my face upon the open page in a yoga fold, as I cannot read most of the book yet. 😊
Glimpsing letters like these were a great saving wakeup call for me to be aware of caring for my own energy and not giving in to fear of missing ”good opportunities.” Sometimes we do better with more rest than we may think we need, and other people can have their own ideas and desires for us that can instill a fear of missing out, but this glimpse let me know I wanted to and would simplify my life, refocus my attention, and be mindful of what is most necessary.
I got this book too! At first I was going to need to decline the book because the shipping cost would’ve been too high for me then learning it was even heavier than the first book.
This is a complete book including articles, poems and other letters, stories, and speeches—so more pages than I could afford to ship from Lebanon to Boston. But the bookseller’s friend happened to be traveling nearby, and he sent the book with him! My husband Dan drove us to meet him— 💗it wasn’t far.
I was so happy to get to meet someone who was carrying a book with May Ziadeh’s face on the cover; from inside the car, I was smiling and very happy to see the book. The air of confusion met with an equal kind of impressed-ness and kindness from the man was wonderful, as I am an American woman speaking only English requesting a great book mostly in a foreign language, Arabic…and May Ziadeh isn’t particularly ”famous” worldwide in our time…but my heart☺️💗, my treasures. I was really grateful for the man, too who had come from far and brought the book, placing it gently into my hands.
To my surprise, the book contains an article that was written in English by May:
I could tell by reading the full article how easily I could learn about the history of the women’s movement in May’s part of the world, Egypt from her writing. This cause, which was really for and about compassion, equality, wellbeing, and the freedom of one’s education, intuition, and personality, for the individual and the widest circle, but also not so beyond the practicality of what May herself knew.
She showed need, but not divisiveness, and she wrote with a clear sense of the whole and community beyond her own circle. I could confirm that she was an organized, direct, and methodical teacher and writer; I’d felt that already by how she may speak to my own heart and desire and struggles, so simply, and with great love.
Many people didn’t write about May’s own writing or review her books in her lifetime. After she published her first book of poetry, Fleurs de Reve (1911) Dream Flowers with a pen-name and a kind of writer’s novice caution and modesty also in her introduction; (many writers know this feeling…)—she began publishing books under her own name. I’d found she was seeking and valued greatest, in what I’ve read of her writings and my research, not fame or individual status, but love, in deep understanding and connection, with her own deep attention reciprocated back.
She wrote reviews of books she’d read, including ones by well-renowned male writers she’d known personally, like Ameen (Al)-Rihani and Kahlil Gibran, both years older than her and much esteemed by their audiences; they had sent her copies of their books, which she’d write honest reviews for published in magazines in Egypt where she lived, from her own part of the world. And it was there she’d held her literary salon at her home in Egypt on Tuesdays, welcoming both female and male guests. May’s literary salon was modeled on the European ones that had been started in the 1700s, and they were not really found in Egypt or Lebanon in her time period of the early 1900s, before she’d begun this one of her own.
She also wrote a few book-length biographies of women who were also working for the women’s cause in the Middle East and were her colleagues (and poets she’d admired like Aisha Taymur.) A lot of people encouraged her that she was part of the women’s movement in the Arab world, but a deep look into her mind, heart, words, and senses was something really lacking by those intellectuals of May Ziadeh.
I love to write about her writing and about her in an attentive way; you will find plenty of what I’ve seen of her mind and heart on this blog, with my adoring eyes, and more to come. She’d written in her last will in pencil on paper: that she thanked those who had been kind to her in her lifetime, and also that she’d hoped someone would do justice to her small, humble writings after she died, to find within them the sincerity and truthfulness that they contain. I say…not just justice; that is inevitable, but love.🥰
The English footnotes of famous people May wrote the articles about— authors, inventors, composers—in this second blue-covered book were a surprise I did not see coming. You might’ve read of my music playlist 🎶 ”Music for May.” 🎶 Well, now she can add her own music. I saw the name, Camille Saint-Saens, a French composer, in that book of hers I got, and I added a piece by him to the playlist.
“I like the first one,” I said of a piano concerto by Camille Saint-Saens, the First piano concerto by a French composer from the mid-1800s. “But these others continue on like the heavy metal of Classical, May! They’re just too loud for my ears, Baby…”😅👵🍼 (An endearing, teasing nickname she’s called me—we joke.)
And I am glad we can hate and love different things!
“Music for May” has 210 songs and soon I will select a song to share from it. I place shuffle; sometimes she picks; sometimes she’s DJ May! 🎶😊🎧
And this little music box on my side table just now played a very sweet, gentle melody (perfectly gentle for my ears) without me winding it (it’s never done that before)…sent me giggling…a short, two line melody—it stopped just in time for my video ready—so here’s a silent picture. 📷