Gender Politics. Racial Politics. Power Politics. Some of our paradigmatic models reconsidered.
I am an associate professor at a major state university in the U.S. My creative works usually center upon the gendered and social politics of romance, as well as religious-secular tensions and questions about Divinity. These dynamics very often include inter-ethnic and inter-religious components in my stories. I am a political ethnographer; some of the insights that I cannot report in an academic manner because of privacy or other issues I strive to present in fictional context in my short stories and other creative works. That is, while we often dismiss romances as juvenile or low politics at best, for some of the women I have interviewed in the Middle East, issues of marriage choice have been hugely salient, emotionally, materially, and otherwise.
All of my stories are completely fictional. I often write in first person, singular as a literary device. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, my life is exceedingly tame by comparison to my characters! That said, my own (Eur-Asian) inter-ethnic background has been highly significant in my life, despite its overall masking, which may provide some explanation for my interest in putting such (usually hidden) issues front and center in my stories.
In reading my creative works, including my musicals, it is important to remember that I am a political science professor and a political ethnographer whose work is political-sociological in orientation. I am proud to say that I have a fairly long list of national research fellowships and commendations to my name. My creative works are written to be accessible to 10th grade and above reading levels. So, they are presented simply. They should not, however, be read as reflecting a weak emotional state on the part of an individual woman or creative artist; they are, instead, intended as a rather scathing critique of our society to the extent that we automatically go to that place when confronted with women’s perspectives, feelings, and their own priorities about who they will love, who and when they will marry, and other “personal status” issues that we have for so long considered to be issues of “low politics”.
For many women, love and marriage are emotional issues. (Aren’t they supposed to be??) For many of us, on the other hand, women’s emotions make us deeply uncomfortable such that, as a society, we tend to diminish and deny those feelings by calling them, among other things, “juvenile”. Feeling itself, then, becomes equatable with immaturity. And, yet, to Love is to feel. My stories, then, present young love — as well as older love — in a variety of situations and contexts. The feelings as presented are, at times, raw and are meant to be so. Moreover, the male characters in my stories tend to love with as much ardor, enthusiasm, and innocence as the female. The stories are, however, tame and virtuous; they are emotional rather than graphic. A very few may be mildly evocative, but they remain on the side of the chaste. The screen play is a bit more pressing in its treatment — still chaste — of certain issues relating to the politics of sexual identity and polygamy.
As a Middle East scholar/expert and an American, I have frequently found it irritating that we pretend to care deeply about women’s autonomy and individual rights to choice in these areas when we talk about women in the Middle East. We have a much harder time applying those lessons to our own families and our own daughters’, sisters’, mothers’, and wives’ emotions and choices. When I began writing, I felt that, given my academic and research status, I could relay stories and perspectives that would be more difficult for some women to do; although, in no way do I pretend to relay “all” women’s perspectives. I am presenting a certain range of perspectives in my stories: moderately religious women and traditional women who are nonetheless fiercely independent and who love their chosen intended with an equal fierceness. (I am aware of the titter that sort of language may cause for a Western audience. I capitalize upon it in my stories with intention. We are supposed to feel something when it comes to Love — and to leave others to do so as well.)
Some of my creative writing reflects real stories from the Middle East, although they are entirely fictionalized and come from no single account. They are intended to remind us of those examples in our own midst at home, which scar individual women — and men! — across our society on a daily basis without any sign of ceasing. Between those parts of my research that have focused on women in the Middle East, and my training in comparative gender politics, which was conducted in the United States, it appears to me that we as Americans — despite our best intentions — tend to be entirely in denial about the extent to which this scar upon our society is epidemic rather than anecdotal. Think, for example, of the number of women and men you may know who were once forced by their families to give up a child due to a pregnancy, planned or unplanned, with their young love, who they desperately wanted to marry but were not allowed through various forms of social sanctioning and real threats.
We all know these stories and strive carefully to keep them safely at the back of our thoughts. In my creative writing, I seek to place such denials of the Autonomy of Love front and center so that we are forced to confront what we do — and allow to be done — to our compatriots. At some point, I finally decided that, because I cannot write about women in the U.S. as a Middle East scholar; and because I could not write in a social science framework about some of the stories and observations that I brought home from the Middle East; I would bring out those points through my musicals, short stories, poetry, and screen play. Where the songs in my musicals are painful to listen to because of the raw emotion presented, that is intentional. It is meant to make us uncomfortable. It is meant to bring our attention to the (life-long) pain inflicted when (well-meaning and ill-meaning) family or society interfere with women’s autonomous rights to their own choices in love, marriage, and family right here at home. Other parts of my stories and musicals are lilting and uplifting, and are meant as a contrast to the former — as a sort of statement of: this (love/peace) is how it is meant to be. The lead song to Paris is Burning: The True Story of Paris and Helena (“Paris is Burning”), then, I see as a sort of symbolic act of resistance against those parts of our society that break young women and men whose only crime is the desire to marry and create a family — perhaps the most conservative of all life goals.
I had the great good fortunate to be part of a state-award-winning, amazing Ensemble choir (madrigals, theatre music, & chamber music) in high school; and a wonderful classical piano instructor who trained me such that I spent my first year in university as a concert piano major (by audition). It is in these contexts that I received the training that made me able to reflect that pain and joy in otherwise imperfect musical performance/recordings, which, as mentioned below, are for demonstration purposes only. My goal for the musicals is to have them performed and produced.
Because I am a specialist in Modern Middle East politics, many of my stories are either located there; or, they draw from characters with whom we may be familiar, and who originate from the Middle East and North Africa (e.g., Anthony and Cleopatra, Ara the Great, Ishtar, Isis, Rama and Fara, Paris and Helena, etc.). In that way, I aspire to contribute to bringing traditional Middle Eastern characters or personalities to a Western audience, although the stories are entirely my own and fictionalized, culturally speaking. Indeed, in those contexts, I endeavor to follow literary models coming from the Middle Eastern fairy tale/parable going back as far as Shaharezade [sic]. A few stories extend beyond the Middle East and into Asia (e.g., Rama and Sita, the Asian Flower, Samarkand, Lord Ram musical, Koronation: The Story of Mars and Venus musical, etc.). Some are located in either small town or urban U.S.A. (Gilgamesh rock opera); a few may be located in Europe (e.g., The Camel, Dunluce: The Story of Anthony and Cleopatra musical, etc.); while others bring traditional European characters to the Middle East (Tristan and Isolde: The Fall of Babel rock opera). Rural-urban dynamics and/or ecological themes may appear in a few stories (e.g., Sophia and the Magic of the Jungle). Overall, I am interested in the on-going, real-life-changing salience of Romeo and Juliet stories of various types to our contemporary context. (Or, to frame it more academically: Why do individuals and communities intervene still so frequently, and with so much righteous indignation, in the [inter-racial and/or inter-religious] personal marital choices of young people?)
I have been accused of being a Romantic, a characterization that I wholeheartedly embrace. My stories may even include small or significant magical, supernatural, and/or mythological elements. Many assume reincarnation as an empirical fact; that is, my characters are often “meeting” one another again after millennia or “lifetimes” apart. These aspects of my stories may or may not be influenced by Magical Realism, Buddhism in general, and an East Asian literary and film tradition that parallels Magical Realism in Latin American context. Some of my characters gush in their love and enthusiasm for one another. I find our discomfort with that (realistic expression of mature, life-long love) interesting — and a bit distressing for the overall happiness of people in our society, young and old. That is, if the most fundamental message of all of our major religious thinkers in the past 6000 years is “Love One Another”, why is it that we continue to be so uncomfortable with open, simple, chaste and public expressions of Love?
Some scholars today might answer that we have become materialist-rationalist in orientation — which some see as positive and others as negative — and that our materialist-rationalist orientation leads us to distrust open expressions of love even among family members, to say nothing of (youthful or not so youthful) “new” love. I am not an anti-materialist; I collect tile work and Asian porcelain to my heart’s content and bask in its material, artistic, and Super-Natural Glory. I love Asian furniture. I keep a small collection of (non-fermented) Asian teas. And I boast a small art and book collection. I have also been known to show a strong preference for Egyptian, high-count cotton and other Middle Eastern or Central Asian hand-woven textiles. So, I am plenty materialist. I am also plenty rationalist. I am a neo-Positivist who still believes in Truth, albeit claims to which made more modest since late-19th and early 20th century social sciences, and the end of normatively accepted colonialism with the postmodernists and post-structuralists of the mid- and late-20th century. Postmodernist relativism taken to extreme in which empirical Truth no longer exists, however, is just that — too extreme. That leaves me with a neo-Positivist multiculturalism as the only solution to coexistence. And, so, in that One-Worldly context — do we privilege Love, or do we crush it, even today?
I grew up reading Aesop’s Fables, The Arabian Nights, The Brothers Grimm, Robin Hood, Treasure Island, the Narnia series, every title I could find in The Wizard of Oz series, as well as Alcott, Austen, Twain, Hemingway, Dostoevsky, and other classics. I am no expert in literature, however; these are simply works that piqued my interest and held my attention in my youth. Unimpressed with the otherwise genius work, The Lord of the Flies (Golding), as a positive model for structuring a society, I endeavor to model my short stories and fairly tales on those that I grew up reading. I hope to present a message of joy, honesty, pain, love, and coexistence — as well as resilience. We do live and survive through horrifying pain and injustice. However, the presentation of “resilience” as an excuse to inflict pain, injustice, and suffering while the rest of our society looks away should be seen as the excuse-of-tyrants that it is. My screen play is dedicated to the tyrants still among us today.
While I have written a number of musicals (script and songs, or libretto and songs), I have no aspirations to performance. I am a writer — and an introvert. I prefer to stay home and read, do my academic work, cook various international cuisines, ride my pony, or write short stories. I live in a beautiful, pastoral, small town called Waldo (Where’s Waldo??), which you could drive through without noticing. I would be just as happy in a small town in the Himalayas. The performances in the musicals/songs that are available on-line are for demonstration purposes only. Performances are rough cuts. They are home recordings on a small, hand-held Sony digital recorder. I use one acoustic and one small electric piano amplifier, live, one track, and no editing except to clip the front and back feed of the recording. I do not include harmonies since it is one track. Most are recorded in 2-3 takes due to time constraints. Some harmonies are available if interested. The musicals are available for original direction, choreography, and complete score or extemporaneous score construction. I am happy to read my stories out loud.
If you are interested in performing, producing, or buying the rights to any of my creative works, please contact me!
My new collection of fiction, Kabul: Stories, Fairy Tales, & Parables, is linked here and above right on this page. Two musicals, and a few short stories, including one in serial format, are currently available free on-line at: https://patriciasohn.blogspot.com/. Descriptions of my musicals are available at the Musicals tab above on this page.