Monday, November 18, 2013

If I Knew Then What I Knew Now

1. My good friend Sherwin once said, "With any relationship in your life, remember there's always someone who can take your place." Her point was that any relationship can atrophy without effort. 

2. Someday, you'll appreciate the beauty in letting go. 

3. There's something about December that feels like a boulder at the very top of a hill, seconds from rushing down. The moment before momentum.

4. See that first draft you've got there? It's about 40 drafts away from what it will be someday. Embrace that. Don't prioritize some preconceived deadline over potential.

5. Find gratitude in absence. The people you've let go of have made your life better----simply by not being a part it.

6. Some of your happiest and proudest moments will be secrets.

7. Put in time towards your friendships. Make a phone call. Send a handwritten card. Surprise someone with flowers on their birthday. Show up.

8. Spend years cultivating your voice. Repeat.

9. Remember that every human being has something to teach you.

10. Allow yourself to be excited about things that have already happened. In moderation, looking back is one of the best ways to learn.

11. Don't forget the three P's for any goal: Patience, Priorities, Plans.

*This post is an addition to a series about what I'd tell my younger self**

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

An insightful quote from an insightful writer

*I'm not doing NaNo but will continue to share thoughts on writing (and other facets of life, of course). Tonight, though, I'd like to share this quote by Alice Walker. It's true for anyone.

Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.”

                                           Alice Walker, Living by the Word

Friday, October 4, 2013

give your work that "it" factor

The past weeks have involved a lot of research on how to take a book to the next level. At some point, most of us will hear things along the lines of, "The characters are compelling and the plot is well paced and the writing is beautiful BUT I didn't fall in love."

How can we get rid of that BUT and everything after? I don't think there's one magic formula but there are tips I've learned (the hard way, of course ;)) that have helped.

1. Make things worse for your character(s). How can your character's world fall apart? Break that answer down into smaller plot lines and see how those can be woven into your work. Something I had to do was write individual scenes on a separate document and then assess whether they could be included in the manuscript.

2. Leave some things unknown. This can be in the form of a secret or a new development in the plot that isn't resolved right away. Either way, don't tell the reader what happens quickly. Let them keep turning the pages to find out.

3. Make your main character's motivations clash with those of the other characters in the story. Maybe your hero wants to travel but his family wants him to stay at home and take care of them. Or perhaps your character wants to support one friend at another friend's expense. Make sure that picking one thing means letting go of another. Center it around a difficult choice.

4. Show some hardship that your character has to overcome. We don't want to root for a perfect character with a perfect journey. Yawn. See if your character has a sympathetic back story that can serve as a reason for us to root for him/her.

5. Think of elements that only you can add. I truly believe that originality goes a long way. When I read author interviews, a lot of their stories are influenced by their own upbringings, struggles, and professions. A chef can include enticing recipes in a narrative about cooking. A historian can set the scene for an old war drama. What are your interests? How can you include them to make the reading experience a fun learning one?

How do you think a book gets that "it" factor?

something to think about when pursuing fulfilling work

"The misguidance of love is that it’s all about feeling good. But pride is what makes something worthwhile. Pride is what makes you care about the quality and impact of your work.
Loving what you do is not enough. The love we talk about when it comes to our work is fleeting. You can fall out of love through boredom or distraction, but pride runs much deeper. Pride doesn’t come and go with how fun things are. Pride is what gets you through the tough times when you just want to quit. Pride is the understanding that what you do and how you do it is a reflection of your character."

-Francisco Dao from Brain Pickings

Also from Brain Pickings, a poem by Charles Bukowski on the myth of creativity: 

”– you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
you’re going to create blind
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses

Saturday, September 28, 2013

redefining time

This week, I began an interesting schedule: 24 hour shifts every other day. It's as though time was put in a blender and poured out in a different form. I've woken up at 6 p.m. for breakfast and called my friends at 3 a.m., confused when they thought I was deranged. 

I'm still not sure what field of medicine I want to go into, since my interests in global, mental, and women's health can intersect in many ways. I've found that when there's a little bit of uncertainty, the best thing to do is focus on the now. Right now, there's magic to bringing a baby into the world. Right now, I'm humbled by the way a macho, tattoed man can break down in tears when he holds his little girl for the first time. Life from life from life.

With each year, I found that life is both uncertain and certain at once. We evolve from a question into a solid, declarative sentence. But there's little that's linear about it. Instead, it tends to be about braiding the contradictions together into a solid path. 

"What makes a book good?" Someone asked the other day.

There's never one answer. Some books are good because of the characters. Some have poetic writing. Others are quickly paced. This truth is the same reason why rejection is inevitable. Our work won't be good or bad to someone for the same reasons. This fact then leads to the other piece of advice we've all received: never give up because you never know who your work will connect with.

So, it goes:

Books can be good for different reasons---> Not everyone will connect with your particular reason---> Keep improving your work and looking for someone to "get" your view

I'm not sure where I was initially going with this post; something about time and linearity and books. Maybe when night and day have a clearer separation, my thoughts will, too :)

In the meantime, I'm excited to catch up with your blogs!

Also, I've heard so many great things about Alex's books (why am I not surprised?). Next weekend, that's the plan: Alex's books + normal schedule!

the only way to complain

Sunday, September 15, 2013

writing (and life) lessons

A couple of weeks ago, a close friend told me he realized he wants to write a novel. We got into a (3 hour) discussion on things to consider and it took me back to the little lessons I've learned throughout the years. The best part about writing is that I'll never consider myself good. In fact, I don't even use an adjective but the word "becoming". I'm always becoming. 

I wanted to share three lessons about various aspects of writing (and then a few of life). 

Getting started:

1. If you have a genre in mind, read at least 50 books in it and study them. How did the author create a compelling first chapter? Why did you want to turn the page? What did you think was done poorly?
2. Dedicate (read: protect) time to write. Since nobody is asking you for drafts, you are the only keeper of a deadline. If you don't take it seriously, nobody else will.
3. If you find yourself lagging, take a shower or walk or do the dishes. I call this my "half writing" time. I do another task, keeping the book in the back of my mind. With enough time, a conclusion of some sort arrives. 

Making a Sympathetic Character:

1. Humor always helps
2. Make his or her motivation clear and if possible, make that motivation conflict with the other characters'
3. Have the character on a journey. It can be completely psychological but there should be a sense of evolution from the beginning to end. 


1. Change! Change the setting, conflict, insert a subplot, take the reader by surprise, etc.
2. With each page, ask yourself, "Is there a sense of tension and theme here?" With each chapter, ask yourself, "Did enough happen where if I skipped this chapter, the reader would be confused?"
3. Sprinkle in some secrets if possible; some hints of mysterious backstory or hidden relationships. 


1. Learn from the moon and the way it only reveals as much as it needs to
2. There's an inverse relationship between the amount of experiences you've had and the amount you judge others
3. Controlled chaos is the best kind

Saturday, September 14, 2013

links, quotes, thoughts


*An insightful article on studying medicine with compassion

*Mindfulness training is good for physicians and patients


"If you wish to achieve worthwhile things in your personal and career life, you must become a worthwhile person in your own self-development." Brian Tracy

"I am learning everyday every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire me and not terrify me." Traccie Ellie Ross

"People need to be encouraged. People need to be reminded of how wonderful they are. People need to be believed in and told they are brave and smart and capable of accomplishing all the dreams they dream and more." -Stacey Jean Speer


*I've found that last quote by Speer to be especially true these past months. So many people come to the doctor just to be encouraged. It's our duty and privilege to be empowering cheerleaders. Sometimes it's been as simple as acknowledging that someone has been through a lot. Nobody likes feeling that their battles have gone unnoticed. 

*It's a blessing to be at a place where every relationship in my life is based on mutual respect and love. The people who aren't in my life have made it lighter. Isn't that wonderful---for an absence to be a positive, tangible force?  I hope they are well and that in the future, they handle their mistakes with insight and courage. 

*I have to make my tender self hold hands with my aggressive self. Outstretched, so neither can travel too far without the other. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Create! Create! Create!

I've been thinking about this topic for awhile. The people who I admire the most are the ones who, to an extent, created their own educations. I've been fortunate to have incredible teachers throughout the years and something my favorite English teacher taught me is that at some point, it's up to each of us to be aware of our strengths and do something about it.

"Just because a trait is in the chromosomes, doesn't mean it'll flourish."

To an extent, there's little benefit to having a talent/interest if it isn't put into action. Every one of us has a unique combination of skills and when they're put into gear, incredible things can happen not just for ourselves, but for others as well.

For example, I've met so many authors who literally learned how to write from Google. They didn't take classes or have family members who already wrote. They recognized a gravity towards weaving words and then made something from it. And maybe it took a lot of deleting and rewriting and nail biting and doubting but it developed organically. And it'll always be something that nobody else could have given them. 

I went to an engineering college and threw too many internal pity parties. Nobody there valued grammar or creative writing or anything that wasn't about electric circuits and physics equations. But instead of whining, I should have created my own opportunities. Creation. Quite frankly, the answer to everything. 

So, if you like writing but don't want to fit into a genre, create your own genre!
If you think of yourself as compassionate, volunteer with a cause that speaks to you!
If you see a problem---in your family, in the world----think of a different solution and implement it!

I'm not sure if  you had a chance to hear the Ashton Kutcher speech and no, I never thought I'd say this, but it was wonderful. One of his last lines:

"Everything around us that we call life was made up of people that are no smarter than you. And you can build your own things and you can build your own life that other people can live in."

Edit: Someone pointed out that the above quote is originally from Steve Jobs and Ashton Kutcher was reiterating it during his speech. Sorry for the confusion!

Monday, August 5, 2013

tips to get out of a writing funk

Image from here

Editing sometimes erodes my desire to write. I like the end result but the process----whew. 
When the words haven't been flowing the way they usually do, these are some steps that have helped in the past:

1. Step away from all types of screens: Studies have shown that the blue light from computer and phone screens actually prevents your brain from going to sleep! Going through a lag with your project might just mean it's a sign to take a break. 

2. Free-write

3. View your story from different vantage points: I do a large, zoomed out story summary on a poster board and a smaller scaled look at each chapter through index cards. Some people find it helpful to write the conflict, characters, and plot movement for each chapter.

4. Novelty---of any kind: Read a different type of story. Try a new restaurant. Run. 

5. Whether you're self-publishing or going through the traditional route, ask yourself, Did I give this story my all? Did I go above and beyond with editing so that the first draft and final one look entirely different? Is it at a place that's good enough to be read by others? Did I ask multiple people to critique it?  

6. Read a book written by one of your inspiring blogger friends. My current list: Alex, Sangu, and Talli (more to come soon!)

7. Offer help to someone else on their journey. Put those query letter/beta reading/synopsis editing skills to work so that someone else can improve their work. For me, other writers have been extremely supportive and valuable.

P.S. In case you missed it, why Stephen King sometimes spends years writing an opening line!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

We are a collection of stories

This past week, I started a palliative care rotation. One of our days was spent at a memory care center, where patients with dementia live. Outside each resident's room, there is a glass display filled with yellowing photographs, medals, crafts, paper with faded ink, etc. The tour guide explained to me that these were memory boxes, collections that were put together with the hope of triggering something familiar for each patient. 

Patients with Alzheimer's Disease tend to lose their short term memory first. Past, present, and future become jumbled up. Often, their only sense of stability comes from stories. Stories about their first loves, their children when they were young, and accomplishments that are behind them. 

Ask them to take their blood pressure medications? They'll often grimace or worse, comply apathetically. 
Ask them about their families? They'll turn to face you and offer a few sentences or on a good day, share a memory. 
Sometimes, when someone is struggling, a sense of familiarity, of recognition, can provide comfort. 

In a way, writers are making their own memory boxes  with their stories. Character motivations, settings, important plot points, antagonists, etc. All of these elements are trying to convey a sliver of life, if nothing more. 

This week has made me rethink the role of stories. They're not just a source of entertainment. They're a form of preservation----maybe even healing. When all of those landmarks that construct a life have passed and time seems irrelevant, maybe all we have left are the stories.


It's been too long since the Kathak bells have been wrapped around my ankles but pictures like these are a beautiful reminder of what dance provides:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

to surrender

One of the biggest hurdles I've faced throughout life is knowing when to surrender. There are things that I can work for, dream of, and people whom I can show love but there are also just as many, if not more, facets of life that can't be controlled.

Writing has taught me that. It has given me a lot but the biggest gift so far is the acceptance of uncertainty. The only thing I can count on is the rush that comes with putting black against white and that's always been enough. 

On this path of trial and error, ebb and flow, I've learned some things (and have yet to learn many more):

-I was asleep when the year began. My flight from India landed just a few hours before midnight and when I woke up, 2013 had already arrived. My birthday was spent studying. On Memorial Day, I was in front of a glowing computer screen, scrolling through practice questions. The "important" days don't necessarily happen when the calendar tells them to. They happen when they can.

-Motivation is contagious.

-Your calling in life is malleable to an extent. Be adaptable to its changing face.

-Every once in a while, it's important to take some time to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and ask if you've been contributing to the world outside of yourself in the best way possible 

-Apathy can be liberating in small doses

-See everything that you've worked on as practice

-Everyone has that turning point---a springboard that changes the trajectory of the future. Sometimes it looks a lot like failure and sometimes it looks like nothing at all.

-The biggest key to getting anything done is working on it when you don't feel like it. 

-The most radiant pictures of Audrey are from her older years, when she chose not to get photographed as often and  buried herself in humanitarian work. The way she surrendered to time and allowed it carve grooves in her face will always inspire. 

Link love and quotes

*This man fell for a woman through her poetry before ever meeting her. Is there anything better than a literary love story?

*4 things powerful women tell themselves

 *A clear, well-written piece on feminism and its misconceptions

*My favorite first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, on conformity and living on your own terms

*Two great topics: fiction and gender roles! This article asks if characters are judged more harshly when they are female

*Fiction and empathy

*New screening methods for post postpartum depression

*No, the quote obsession never ends. From two inspiring authors:

Maya Angelou: "You are only free when you belong no place---you belong every place---no place at all."
Khaled Hosseini: "And that's the thing about people who mean everything they say. They think everyone else does too." 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Proposal story

Samir and I are so appreciative of all the sweet messages from fellow bloggers. Also, with the exception of this post, this won't become a wedding/engagement blog, haha!

Some back story: 

 Samir was part of a singing group called Penn Masala when he was in college. I had been a fan of the group since I was 13 and we always relished that when I first saw him, I was literally cheering for him on stage. I even turned to my best friend and in a total schoolgirl tone, exclaimed, "That guy is way too cute!"

Music quickly became the foundation of our relationship. We passed a lot of weekend mornings with him either playing the guitar or keyboard while I sang. Our first Valentine's was spent at a concert. We always scoped out restaurants with live bands or dance floors. At one point, Samir worked for Sony Music and would always send me the latest songs from our favorite artists.


A few weeks before I came to New York, Samir told me he had arranged for us to go to a private concert with one of my favorite artists. (Since he used to work at Sony Music, he attended these types of things often.) I asked him who it was and he insisted he wanted to keep it a surprise.

"It's one of your all time favorite artists," he promised.

I immediately blurted, "You're actually my favorite artist. You should perform."

On Monday night, we dressed up and headed to the theater near NYU (we had actually been there before to meet my writing inspiration, Nicholas Kristof). Once we got there, Samir made a phone call, turned to me, and said, "The artist is actually setting up and I want you to be surprised, so I'm going to blindfold you until everything's ready."

He took my hand and led me down to stairs and into a seat. Then he said he had to speak with the artist's manager and would be right back.

A few minutes later, he yelled, "You can take off your blindfold now."

When I uncovered my eyes, the entire place was empty (Samir had rented out the whole theater!) and he was sitting on the stage at a grand piano. Before I could say anything, he began playing one of our favorite songs and singing along.

Holy crap, this is it. This is that moment, I kept thinking as I tried not to get emotional. Everything around us seemed to blur and there was some mix of shock and excitement and surrealism.

He continued singing with lyrics he composed himself-----lyrics about our beginning and everything that brought us to our present.

After he was done, he asked me to come on stage. When he got down on one knee, he said, "I wanted to recreate the way we first met and then I had an entire speech and now I'm blanking."

"I don't care!" I shrieked.

He had also hired a professional photographer who took pictures for a bit. After we left, he told me he had made reservations at our favorite restaurant in the city, Gramercy Tavern. We kept repeating, "we're engaged" in the hopes that it would sink in. (It still hasn't.) A lot of our night was spent retelling the story to our families and friends on the phone.

Now, it's as though I simultaneously have the wonder of a little girl and the peace of a grown woman.  He's taken me in both directions of time.

This is something I wrote for him later:

" you see, I’d been trying to create you for many years, either by combining the best of other people or by substituting you altogether. I had no idea that once I’d actually find you, we’d recognize each other right away. And we did, right? We had this feeling that we were supposed to know each other. I know they say you’re supposed to love yourself first---and I did---but being with you has given me a deeper understanding of who I hope to become and more importantly, what it means to be inspired by someone on a daily basis."

All photos are by Isaiah Tanenbaum Photography

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Back from a long hiatus....and engaged!

Samir proposed on Monday night!

I can't wait to catch up with everyone's blogs and will definitely post the proposal story soon. 

We are soaking up the beauty and warmth of Napa for the next few days and then it'll be time for an amazing Maternal-Fetal Medicine rotation! 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On studying and passion

**While reading all the great A-Z posts in the blogging world, I decided to do a non-writing related post tonight**

If you've ever been around a medical student, you've heard some variation of this phrase: 
"I'm soooo behind on studying."

It's expected to complain about how much studying there is to do, how it never ends. Weekend nights are spent wearing an oversized hoodie and reviewing lectures. My desk is a sea of Post It Notes, stacked review books, and pastel colored gel pens that should have disappeared in middle school. In the midst of sleep deprivation, a crammed schedule, and bit of isolation from society, the big picture can become blurry. 

Today, while I was finishing a patient write up, a new perspective on studying emerged. 
At the end of the report, I made a list of the patient's health issues and how to manage them. I looked up different forms of therapy, tests that could reveal more, and future problems to look out for. That was when it occurred to me:

Maybe studying----truly learning the depth of a condition----is a form of compassion. Understanding an ailment's pathophysiology, treatment, and management is the fertile ground for providing the best possible care. 

That's the point, right? Why is it always easy to forget the point

No matter what our profession, all of us study somehow so that we can improve and provide. Studying is doing justice to work, whatever the end goal may be. 

You don't have to look far to find quotes about passion (often with a picture of a sunset in the background). Follow your passion, they say. 
Do what you love
Forget the rest.

It's all true--to a point. Medicine will always be a challenge but I've found that when I've studied and understood the material, the passion gets its mo-jo back. 

Sometimes passion will come first and sometimes, it needs a nudge. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Quote of the moment (oh Amy, Tina, and Mindy, how I wish we were friends)

"Opening your heart and being courageous and telling people that you care about them or like them or that you think they’re special only makes you a better, bigger, kinder, softer, more loving person and only attracts more love in your life." 

— Amy Poehler

Monday, April 15, 2013

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

1. In honor of National Poetry Month: Poems will teach you a lot about writing and life. Try to say a lot with a little. Make sure virtues are given agency. Defy rules in grammar books. Use a blank sheet of paper and few lines to convey an entire experience.

2. Make sure you are always writing----even when you're not. Record thoughts onto faded receipts. Use the notepad function on your phone. Trust the embryo of ideas. 

3. The writing process demands patience. Yes, it demands a lot of other things as well but this is one you will struggle with. Let it humble you. Let revisions take just as long, if not longer, than the writing. 

4. Celebrate your friends' accomplishments: large, small, and in between. It's an act of true love to do so. 

5. The marker for who should be in your life is simple: how do you feel after you've spent time together? Lighter? Inspired? Dejected?

6. Forgive the mistakes of others. It's rare that people set out to be hurtful. Most are really trying to do their best. Wish someone well even when they've hurt you. Don't stop seeing the good in people. It's the best way to make sure they don't add any more negativity.

7. When things seem bleak for those you care for, know what they need to feel better. For some, it might be a handwritten note. For others, an evening of venting and old movies. The recipe for healing is variable.

8. Everyone wants to feel appreciated and noticed. Ask people their stories. Sometimes sharing is the most important point of connection in a graying world. Your mom always said that every human has something to teach another. 

9. Art and life have a way of braiding together. The way you perceive a play, movie, or book will often correlate to what's already on your mind at that point.

10. Trust in your hardships and remember, it's important to earn the life you want.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Quotes for National Poetry Month

“Always learn poems by heart. They have to become the marrow in your bones. Like fluoride in the water, they'll make your soul impervious to the world's soft decay.”

Always be a poet, even in prose. Charles Baudelaire

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mental Health in the Creative Community

    One of my most memorable experiences in medical school was participating in a project about mental health in the creative community. As it turns out, there are higher rates of depression and suicide among all types of artists in comparison to the rest of the population. Let's face it: everything from rejections to low pay to uncertainty can make the line of work brutal. Some of the artists I spoke with admitted that the dark, brooding, unhappy artist was a romanticized stereotype---a sign that the individual was taking his or her work more seriously. 

   Couple all of that with the fact that as an area of study, mental health was not always regarded as important. Thankfully, this has changed in recent years. The thing is, mental illness of any kind has a pervasive effect. Depression even changes sleep patterns. And unless you or a loved one has experienced it, it's difficult to truly understand. The worst thing anyone can do is tell someone to "just snap out of it." People aren't always encouraged to discuss it but that's one of the most important things someone can do when they are struggling.

   I realize this isn't the most pleasant topic to discuss but somehow, that seems to make it even more imperative. As writers, we always discuss innovative ways of improving our work and nurturing our craft but often, the most important thing for all of us is to take care of ourselves first. Reach out to your loved ones for support. Offer yourself to them when they need you. Be good to yourself. Distance yourself from anything toxic. 

    Most importantly, know if and when it is time to seek outside help or to tell your friend/family member that it's time.  There are professionals who are trained in coming up with customized therapy plans. Research has also shown that exercise and healthy diet can alleviate some symptoms. Don't fear that you are alone or that you have to let anything spiral out of control. 

                                                               Photo: Late night editing

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Quotes of the moment

"I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you."
— Frida Kahlo

“And then something invisible snapped insider her, and that which had come together commenced to fall apart.”
 ― John Green, Looking for Alaska

“Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here. Believe in kissing.” 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Happy International Women's Day!

Happy International Women's Day!

Every day, I uncover more gratitude towards womanhood. Strong, creative, and resilient women have sculpted my life in more ways than I'll ever be able to recall.

My mother worked three jobs when we moved to America and through her own actions, taught me the empowering nature of art, and instilled a lifelong romance with books. "Always cultivate things that are your own so you're never dependent on anyone else. Invest in virtues that will never be taken away from you." 

From my incredible friends to professors who always pushed me to do more, and to so many whom I've never met, I've been one lucky lady. 

Make it a point to celebrate the passion, beauty, and strength of all women today!
(Actually, make that a point everyday but feel free to do a little extra today ;).)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

IWSG: What I'd tell my younger self about criticism

This IWSG post will be written in the format of my previous If I Knew Then ones with a focus on criticism.

1. You need critique partners to show you the weaknesses in your work. There is no getting around this. They may come in the form of an amazing blogger/kindred spirit (Laura!), an agent, editor, etc. These people provide imperative insight into your work.

2. Sometimes it will be tough to accept criticism. Sometimes you won't want to cut out that entire chapter or fix a character's story line. It's okay that letting go isn't always easy---that just means you invested a lot of yourself and that's great. Be aware that the closer you are to your work, the more difficult it will be to remain objective about it.

3. There's the constructive criticism that's offered so that you can improve. Then there's the insulting criticism that deserves to be ignored because inherently, it's far less about you and far more about the provider. Whether they try to say their writing is better because it is thoughtful with quality or whether they try to use silence as a form of retaliation, just let it be and hope they find peace 

4. Following the previous point, remember that life is too short to hold a grudge. People make a variety of mistakes for a variety of reasons and there is so much to be elated about. When someone tries to bring you down, see that as a call for compassion and not combativeness. Forgiveness is the key ingredient to cultivating and spreading inner peace.

5. There is an abundance of love and friendship in this world. The people who are eerily similar to you will provide a sense of understanding. The ones who are different will force you to grow and expand your views. Writers by nature are a supportive and encouraging group. Relish that and give back whenever you can.

6. Rejections can provide that essential criticism to push you forward. It's okay to feel dejected for a bit after a slew of rejections but remember, even the seemingly unfavorable events can lead to something valuable. Welcome all different forms of criticism and use them to improve your work, outlook, or behavior.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On Women's Empowerment

Women's issues have always been important to me, even before I realized it. In elementary school, my mother told me about how marriage and children were expected for most women. A girl married over the age 25 was considered "old". Sometimes education was emphasized but it was always in the context of finding a good husband---the ultimate prize.  

Her experiences, even the ones I was not around for, molded me into questioning the roles we get into, the definitions we cultivate for what a successful future is. She's always pushed me to find purpose and make something that's truly my own, whether that's through words, medicine, or causes to fight for. She found power through her singing. Most of all, she reminded me to respect the choices of my fellow peers. 

Last night, I shirked any hope of studying and writing when the documentary Makers came on PBS. It reminded me that because of many strong women, from Gloria Steinem to my mother, I have the luxury of choice in so many ways. Even my confusion and uncertainty are luxuries. I can have open, insightful conversations with my friends who have chosen to marry early and those who are choosing not to marry at all. I can sift out messages from the media that skew body image and discard them. I can define parts of myself that have no relation to anybody else. 

In addition, I have recognized that various men in my life have also been empowering. My father always quizzed me when I struggled in certain subjects. He promised me at a young age that I'd never have to worry about getting support for education. When I began driving, he taught me how to make sure I'd never get ripped off at a car dealership. He's also the reason I always had high standards for the way a man should treat me.   

Things have changed since my parents and I immigrated here in the late 1980's. There's still a long way to when it comes to equality but I think it's okay to celebrate how far we've come. 

"Some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry." Gloria Steinem

"Human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights."  Hillary Clinton

"Well behaved women seldom make history." Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

"I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives." Jane Austen, Persuasion

Monday, February 25, 2013

4 writing tips from revisions

During editing, I've found that my plot is sometimes slow. Here are some tips that have helped with that:

1. Group events together: If possible, have a subplot intertwining with the main plot. If more than one event can occur in a chapter, that adds tension and action. 

2. Take out extra dialogue: Dialogue that isn't pushing the plot forward is just wasting page space

3. Remove events with similar settings: Do your characters always sit around in someone's room or in the same coffee shop or at work? Take out any repetitive scenes to tighten up the story.

4. Write a one sentence summary of something important that happens in each chapter. If you can't think of one for a part of your book, maybe it's time to cut it out or add some trouble for your MC!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The power of a book: The Lover's Dictionary

The days had become monotonous since the new year. Work, sleep, errands. The monotony broke when I spent Valentines weekend with Samir and before I left, he gave me some gifts. Among them was a book titled The Lover's Dictionary.

I don't usually gravitate to romantic books but this one was different. It's a novel written in the form of a dictionary. Each entry is akin to a poem: short yet satiated with insight. It goes into the morose places love can sometimes fall into and the hope that makes this emotion so sought after. 

Interrupting the monotony of the present and providing something to beat it in the future. That's what love and books are capable of. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

On purpose

Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it” 

There's duty, love, and then there's purpose. Purpose is in the answer to these questions:
What makes you lose track of time?
What keeps you distracted but fulfilled?
Purpose can be woven into a career or it can be an underlying current among different facets of a life. It's different for everyone and evolves as we do. 

I've learned that so far, purpose has been about devoting my time to causes and issues far grander than myself. It's also about shifting those subtle wishes into wills. 

Often, I don't realize that answers are everywhere if I'm willing to see them. A few weeks ago, I watched this video for the twentieth time and wondered, "Why can't I connect with others to talk about body image?"
Then the other little voice in my head challenged, "Why not?"
With that, I thought of making a body image workshop at my school as part of the Women's Health Association (which I put the building blocks down for a couple of years ago). It turns out, there are a number of physicians, professors, parents, and advocates who also want to discuss this issue. 

I've often been frustrated at feeling as though I'm not living out my purpose yet but slowly, I've discovered that this isn't true. Maybe I can't dissect women's issues as a clinician but I can take baby steps with the resources and skills that are here now. I can use my love for words to explore a woman's journey by writing feminist poetry or visit a professor who has worked with mothers in Africa. 

Across the internet, I read about different people taking the time to weave words, care for their families, and pursue their numerous interests. Purpose and passion, intertwined into one life. 
You guys are incredible and even though I don't say it enough, you serve as daily reminders that purpose is the best treatment for burnout.  
I hope your Valentine's Day is filled with purpose in many forms!

  What gives you a sense of purpose? 

Happy Valentine's Day!

Whether you're spending the day with your significant other, friends, family, or yourself, I hope it's wonderful! Here's what I'll be doing:

1. Sending some books and money to Room to Read, an incredible organization that works on increasing literacy and gender equality in developing countries through books! Spreading a love for books---is there anything better? Note: There are many facilities that accept donated books, from the Salvation Army to every local library. 

2. Escaping with Samir. I took the photo below while I was attempting to organize my suitcase. There's nothing like statement necklaces, bold red lipstick, and of course my Kindle to get me excited to travel! 

3. Telling everyone close to me how much I love them. Valentine's Day isn't just about romantic love. Nobody ever gets tired of being reminded that they're loved. Nobody. In the day to day hustle, it's too easy to take those close to us for granted and assume that sentiments are understood. Verbal appreciation has the power to uplift. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

On writing when you're busy

Everyone I know has a fairly busy schedule. It's been difficult for me to feel efficient when it comes to my writing in the midst of day to day momentum. There's always more to edit, more to expand on. After typing up how many medications a patient is on or when he or she was diagnosed with liver failure, sometimes the last thing I want to do is gaze at another lit screen. 

Here are some things I've learned the hard way when I'm especially swamped:

-It might take a long time to get back in the proper state of mind for writing.
When my days are crammed with science---drugs, diseases, Powerpoints---it can be difficult to shift into writing mode. It's important for me to remember to set aside that time in order to avoid frustration later. 

-Every day should be filled with some hint of creativity.
This might mean reading a quick poem, an insightful quote, or re-reading old edits but each day has to have a peek into the writing world. Otherwise, I tend to get too caught up in my surroundings and it's a slippery slope from there. The point is, even creativity can wither without use. 

-Reading things from an entirely different genre helps.
There's a level of novelty that keeps our own mind on its toes. The unexpected is where growth happens. 

-Free-writing can be the answer
Whether it's in a journal or on the margins of hospital notes, I find that my thoughts can always take on a life of their own if I allow them. Keeping a notebook nearby is always helpful (a lot of people also like the notepads on their phones).

-Being surrounded by books gives motivation
Any book, whether you think it's wonderful or terrible, took a lot of work for the author. That person deserves credit for finishing such a task and finding a home for it in the world. Learn from their persistence and drive.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

When Do You Feel Most Like Yourself?

Over the past few years, I've learned that part of finding gratitude in each day, part of evolving and learning, comes from introspection.

While sifting through a magazine, I came across this question:

When do you feel most like yourself?

An array of answers came to mind:

-At the end of a hot yoga class, when I'm pressed against the mat as my muscles and thoughts relax
-In front of a computer with a blank Word document and a cup of strong coffee by my side
-On monthly phone dates with friends who always inspire, encourage, and support
-While I'm learning about someone's struggles and coming up with ways to help, whether that's medically or emotionally
-When I'm perched onto the island in my parents' kitchen, my siblings snacking on potato chips, my father snapping pictures of us on his iPhone, and my mother turning up the volume on a dance song
-Sitting in coffee shops alone
-Pumping frozen yogurt into a paper cup and then sticking in two spoons, one for Samir, one for me, before we walk through New York
-Opening a new book to learn about a character or cause to root for

When do you feel most like yourself? Which daily moments give you gratitude?