My Day with a Death Pimp

Life is funny.

You laugh and then you die.

Seriously. Life is funny in a magical sense, for we never know who we are going to meet.

I recently had the chance to interview Stimp Hawkins, an 82-year-old Buddhist and former hospice chaplain who is on a mission to make people comfortable with death and end-of-life issues. Stimp is anything but morbid. He heads up the monthly Death Cafe at the local independent bookstore. He is Zen even when he drops foul language with his hands clasped close to his heart.

Dammit, he says, he we all going to die so we better plan for it. Better than leaving the arrangements to the bereaved. Better than leaving it up to anybody or nobody. Besides, thinking about death makes sweeter the time we have amongst the living.

Life is funny because I worked this talk with Stimp the Death Pimp into a collaborative multimedia project with writer Steve Mitchell for Yes!Weekly, a local independent newspaper in Greensboro, NC. Steve wrote the feature and I produced the podcast.

Good things, my friends. All good things.

Ask A Muslim Anything!

Thank goodness for local independent bookstores, especially Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, N.C.

Scuppernong is brave and mighty; braver than some of our current politicians who want to close doors (and borders) to all things Muslim.

The bookstore is providing space for everyday, average folks to meet everyday, ordinary folks who happen to be Muslim during a three month series called “Ask A Muslim Anything!”  The first event will take place Jan 5th at 7 pm and will be an informal discussion featuring a diverse group of Muslims (moms, dads, artists, writers, immigrants, American-born, you name it) on any topic that comes up relating to Islam and Muslimy things. Bring your questions– the ones who’ve always wanted to ask — and we will do our best to answer with humor and compassion.

If you are in the N.C. Triad area (or anywhere within driving distance), save the date.

More details to come!

Rain, Writing, and Storytelling

Snapped during a rainy day during my writing residency in the N.C. mountains.
Snapped during a rainy day during my writing residency in the N.C. mountains.

A lot has happened over the past few months.  Lots of good stuff!

August welcomed the release of Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay (White Cloud Press). I produced a podcast featuring several Muslim contributors to the anthology. What an honor to hear from women about their journey of faith and feminism. You can listen to that below!

Late summer, I showed up at a local story slam and told a story. I won that particular slam. Not too long after that — and in totally unrelated circumstances — Jeff Polish from The Monti contacted me to tell a story during the season’s opening night.


I did just that, extrapolating on the evening’s theme of Danger! I discovered that standing on a black box stage in front of several hundred people ( a sold out crowd) was nerve racking, empowering, and wonderful. You can listen to that podcast here (episode #152).


A few weeks later, I ventured in the opposite direction towards the N.C. mountains to attend my first writing residency.

Wildacres2What a good day it was in March when I received word that I was a recipient of a Wildacres Retreat residency, which meant a week in the mountains, a cabin to myself, and all meals provided.

I had this beautiful space to call mine for a week!
I had this beautiful space to call mine for a week!

It rained the entire time. But as it poured from the sky, so did the words onto the page. I am now officially writing my memoir.

In between writing, storytelling, and podcasting, I pondered a bit on love and dating.


A couple of years ago, I wrote a cultural studies book about America’s fascination with the paranormal.  I am reminded of such contributions to the world every Halloween, and I was thrilled when Bethany Chafin at Wake Forest University’s WFDD called me into the studio to discuss the book.

Pictured with WFDD Associate Producer, Bethany Chafin.
Pictured with WFDD Associate Producer, Bethany Chafin.

I loved fleshing out such cultural goods to a public radio audience, finally going beyond the cliched nature of the subject matter. You can listen to our conversation starting around the 33:50 mark.


One of the most exciting things to happen was a November invitation to StoryCorps to talk about expanding the Muslim-American narrative! 


What a delight to meet the StoryCorps staff and fellow panelists, including Buzzfeed and RadBrownDad’s Ahmed Ali Akbar, TARAB NYC’s Bashir Makhay, academic activist Donna Auston, and an old blast from my Palestinian activist past, Palestinian extraordinaire, Anan Ameri.

Selfie of staff and panelists, courtesy of Ahmed Ali Akbar.
Selfie of staff and panelists, courtesy of Ahmed Ali Akbar.

While in NYC, I ended up AirBnbing with the owner of Fort Greene’s legendary South African restaurant, Madiba . Mark Henegan is the man behind a Brooklyn institution
honoring Nelson Mandela in the best way possible: attracting diverse, committed, caring patrons to an establishment that celebrates globalism and community. Shame on those who venture to NYC and fail to journey towards Brooklyn for the Madiba experience.


But the most significant part of the trip was returning, even briefly, to a city I love: New York. I am home there. The experience highlighted how empowered I feel when I’m in the right place and around the right people.

Back in North Carolina. It is raining. I am writing. The future is waiting.


It had rained for five days. Hard, like a rage spilling into the earth. I had my mountaintop writing residency waiting, the one with scenic hiking trails and early hints of fall foliage.

To be honest, the rain made me mad.

“Maybe,” my son said, “…maybe the rain is coming to wash your old stories away so you can go to your residency and write new ones.”

The rain continued another five days. I hiked only three times, right up the side of the mountain, breathing so hard I tasted blood in my throat.

Everyone talked about the rain; the mountain monsoon. We pounded the dining room table in frustration. We worried about the road washing out. We worried about downed trees and losing electricity.

I sat in my cabin and I wrote. Five days of writing. Five days of graphic dreams where I finally tasted myself. Five days of parched earth soaking in the manna that fell from the sky.

The official announcement arrived on the last day: Be grateful for the deluge, for it meant that the state of drought was officially over.

A Summer, Some Stories


What a summer!

The summer began with my son’s return from the Middle East.  He got off that airplane now man-size and full of wit and sarcasm. I’m happy to be a mom again. Having a 13-year-old eight grader keeps me relevant.  I now know more than I ever imagined about YouTube and gaming.

This season was abundant with creative accomplishments. I had the joy of speaking with a friend and fellow writer, Aisha Saeed, about her YA novel, Written in the Stars, and her role in the We Need Diverse Books Campaign. Aisha is also included in Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay (August 2015). The anthology features my essay, “Speaking Forward.”  I produced a podcast with several contributors, and you can listen to that here.

One of the most…unexpected developments of the summer: I became a storyteller.  Like, on stage. I participated in my first story slam, and won.  Then, I participated in another event.  In a totally surprising development, I was invited to be part of The Monti’s season opener. This is sort of a big deal. I had great fun crafting a story and performing in front of a sold out crowd on September 12th. I have another storytelling event lined up at an October fundraiser, and then a late 2015 local grand story slam ( a showcase of all story slam winners).  This storytelling stuff started out as a “this looks like fun I’ll think I’ll try it” and quickly morphed into a thang.

And, on the subject of story, I’m giddy with excitement to head to my first writing residency at the end of this month. I have a cabin in the mountains for a week to work on my memoir.  This summer has been one of story; I welcome the change of season, the cooler weather, by finally writing mine down.



My stories are coming to life.

Sort of.

In you are anywhere near Chapel Hill, NC on September 12, 2015, please come out to The Monti’s season opener where I take the stage and expound on Danger!  I’m honored to be part of a NC storytelling tradition, and I think I’ll look great on a black box stage.  Click here for tickets and more details. 

Sat, Sep 12th, 8:00
The Monti
The ArtsCenter
Season Opener: Danger!

To learn more about The Monti, visit Our State magazine.