Interview with Dina Nayeri, Author of A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea

A Teaspoon of Earth and SeaWhat did it take from you to create A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, and what are a couple things the creative process gave you?  In addition to an engaging book.  The process of writing this book gave me an entirely new perspective on my life and my purpose. I became a writer while creating this novel. I had other published projects before, but this was the first time I threw myself into a work completely, immersing myself in research, in my characters, and in the imagined world I wanted my readers to inhabit.  In some ways I lost myself in the process, spending days just listening to Iranian music, reading books on the region, watching videos.  I certainly let my personal life falter, and there were days when I barely did anything but work and drink espressos.  So this novel took a lot from me.  But it also made me who I am as a writer.  In addition, the process taught me to value rigor and brevity and detachment in my writing. It taught me to dig for the most important details and to present them concretely and imaginatively. These skills will always be valuable to me.

You describe yourself as an exile.  How has your exilic condition impacted your writing?  Mostly in the themes that capture my attention. I often write about home, about displacement, and fear. These are familiar topics for me because of my experiences as an exile. They are like obsessions. I can’t get away from them.

To quote Saba’s reflection, “This story is about fathers and daughters.”  As much as the novel is a large story between sisters and their mother, isn’t it as much about a father and daughter?  I think it’s even more about a father and daughter, because theirs is the only relationship that isn’t already dead. With the other members of her family, Saba has only memories and her imagination. She can turn those over in her mind, but she can’t have anything new.  With her father, she has a flesh and blood person who loves her and wants to be allowed into her world.

Part of my experience reading was in learning Saba’s opinions about the differences between American and Iranian men.  How might American fathers be different from Iranian fathers?  I think fathers are fathers. To love and protect your children are universal instincts. The cultural differences seem minor compared to that.

Talk about how Saba’s life became an echo of her twin sister’s.  Where did that come from in your writing process?  How did you connect with both Saba’s experience and Mahtab’s?  I consider their stories representations of the two ways that my own life might have gone.  I was raised in America and so the Mahtab stories mirror my own. But the Saba stories are the Iranian experiences I might have had, if I had stayed behind.  To parallel them seemed like a natural exercise, and something I took great pleasure in.

Where would Saba call “home”?  Cheshmeh, Iran

Dina NayeriThe novel returned to themes of desire, hunger, memory, and love.  Did you learn particular things about such themes in writing or revising?  Did you develop a love or appreciation, for instance, of your own family history?  Absolutely. The research alone gave me a great appreciation for the richness of my own history and roots.  But, obviously, I also used many of my own emotions and experiences in writing Saba and Mahtab’s stories. In doing so, I deepened my understanding of the themes you mention.

What are you reading these days?  “The Woman Destroyed” by Simone De Beauvoir.

How can readers connect with you and support your work?  You can like my Facebook fan page:  http://www.facebook.com/dinanayeri

And you can visit my website: http://www.dinanayeri.com

Attending to the Details

When history is collapsed into myth, responsibilities become diffused, and repentance and reconciliation become impossible.  In the inflated realm of mythical oppression, villains are so villainous that no one sees themselves reflected on the image.  Few can trace accrued privileges to specific and intentional evil acts.  Similarly, victims become so quintessentially and epically victimized that all escape routes from the condition are sealed off by a maze of self-doubt, blaming, and low self-esteem.  The antidote to this phenomenon is to attend to the details, to understand the specific events, ancestors, life stories, causes of oppression, and avenues of social change.  Historical and spiritual specificity is salvific.  Then and only then can the movement toward moral flourishing begin.

Poetry for the Day: Writing

Writing by Joyce Rupp

I wait out sluggish days,

empty evenings, mulish

attempts to capture words

hiding themselves

inside the undulating sea

of my mental thesaurus,

not even remotely available

for me to scoot them

onto my fingers and

into necessary revision.

So I wait, and wait,

and wait some more

while I fumble uselessly

with worthless concoctions

until

one early dawn

the tide comes in

and the first word peeks out.

then they all follow,

and like a flock of gulls

I swoop in to snatch

the sea’s latest prey.WIP

Slow But Productive Work

Have you ever thought about how long it takes to accomplish what you spend your days doing?  I met with a media PR person and an architect the other day.  He’s in a supervisory role at work and he is new to parenting.  His wife, new to parenting as well, works to promote the events of a film center in Chicago.   Both of them spend a lot of time with their son and in their jobs.

And it occurs to me that people like my meeting friends–including me–have work we’re doing that takes a while to complete.  Does that make sense?  Whether planning for an event, reviewing building plans, or mentoring a staff person, these things take more than one moment.  They take a series of moments, meetings, and interactions.  It’s slow work.

Writing, teaching, ministry, cleaning, fathering–these are all slow jobs.  And slow work takes time to complete and time to appreciate.

I read this in an email newsletter from Preaching Today, and it feels right for preachers and appropriate for people doing other slow work too:

Last week I talked to a pastor who nearly quit during his fifth year at Church ABC. He wanted to quit, the church wanted him to quit, but for some reason he hung in there. Now he’s in his 18th year at the same church and his preaching ministry has finally hit a sweet spot.

My point is not that you should always stick it out. My point is that deep, effective, Spirit-anointed preaching is slow work. It takes time to build trust. It takes time to hone your craft. It takes time to study a biblical text. It takes time to know your people and your cultural context. So, preacher, I urge you to accept this slow work of God. Don’t be in a hurry to change the world with one amazing sermon or one flashy sermon series. Learn the art of slow preaching, long-haul preaching, week after week preaching. It will bear more fruit than you could ever imagine.

I hope you get a glimpse that your work, whatever it is, is fruitful.  Not pointless but productive.  And I hope you do it as well as you can.